14 Nov 2023

Bhutan For The Novice Visitor

The new tourist season in Bhutan is headed for a more user-friendly experience for the travelling community from around the world. Bhutan’s fabulous natural and cultural offerings are ranked amongst the most inspirational and alluring visitor experiences. But it comes with a hefty price as the tiny Himalayan kingdom is also amongst the most expensive holiday destinations in the world.

In order to give fresh impetus to tourism, because of its prohibitive pricing, the Bhutanese government has taken a call to bring down airfares, a primary obstacle for tourists contemplating a visit. Furthermore, a number of incentives, such as lowering the Sustainable Development Fee (SDF) from USD200 to USD100 per person, each night is also being set in place. Other steps being considered include allowing low-cost hotels to accommodate tourists and creating other long-stay incentive programs.

So, if you were mulling over an unforgettable holiday experience as a first-time visitor, Bhutan is surely beckoning with these added allurements.

Arriving in Thimphu you really should go native to get the best ‘insider view’ of this picturesque gateway to Bhutan. As the national capital, it offers a slew of tempting insights into Bhutanese culture to encourage you to expand your travels around the country. If you are a bit hesitant still, it’s a good thing to take on the services of a knowledgeable local guide who takes pride in showcasing the many charms of this beautiful country and wants to share it with everyone.

Join the groups of locals who pay their respects to the Buddhist deities in the 12th-century Changangkha Lhakhang. It offers you an intimate insight into the lifestyle ritual of the local community. Follow their steps as they turn the two huge prayer wheels while invoking the blessings of the Buddha. The temple is a popular place for parents seeking an auspicious name for their newborns from the monks.

The National Folk Heritage Museum presents an intimate showcase of Bhutan’s centuries-old folk traditions. It provides a wonderful place for visitors to see how the combination of exhibits, educational programs, demos, and documentation has created a platform for preserving important sides of the rural culture.

At the Mojo Park complex chill amongst the locals amidst the chatter of football and music. Tuck into local dishes such as the national dish Ema datshi a fusion of hot chili peppers and cheese wash it down with a chilled beer, a growing fad amongst the youth. Druk 11000 is the brand of choice amongst the locals.

In the event your visit is timed around a festival, it’s one of the finest ways of enjoying an immersive experience of many aspects of Bhutanese culture, whether it’s the masked dances by the monks and lamas, the costumes, the spiritual rites or the shared response to the event by the citizens. Do keep in mind, that, for the Bhutanese these festivals are not a tourist showcase; rather they are an intrinsic aspect of their centuries-old traditions. It is one of the most compelling reasons for enjoying these cultural spectacles.

Hike up the trail to Thimphu’s amazing Buddha Dordenma, a stunning gilded statue set high above the atmospheric ruins of Kuensel Phodrong. At 169ft it's one of the tallest Buddhas in the world. This lovely nature park makes for a popular weekend outing for the locals.

You will love the scenic drive up to Punakha, via the Dochu La, fabled for its gorgeous Himalayan panoramas. But not everyone is aware that this picturesque pass is a great place for star gazing. Time it right and you could be mingling with monks and astro buffs on a clear new moon night when the stars are shining bright and even planets Uranus and Neptune can be spotted.

If you are a nature-adventure enthusiast you could take advantage of trekking bits of the newly re-opened Silk Route-era Trans-Bhutan Trail, which served as a cross-country highway in the 1950s. Plan ahead by checking out the short trek options on this historic trail on the Trans Bhutan Trail website.

Thimphu itself has a slew of diversions for first-time visitors, so it’s a good place to wet your feet (as it were) before heading off to Bhutan’s many other alluring destinations. You have years ahead of you to enjoy many immersive experiences in this ancient Himalayan kingdom. You are bound to go home with many takeaways from this land which mindfully pursues its goals of happiness as GDP and sustainable living for a better, cleaner, greener Bhutan.

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