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Top 10 Things To Do In Bhutan – The Last Shangri La
Bhutan – The Kingdom of Happiness remains unexplored, and unseen by millions of travellers till date, but is on the bucket list of a lot of people around the world. Read along to find the Top 10 Things To Do In Bhutan that will give you an exhaustive experience in Bhutan.
- Top 10 Things To Do In Bhutan – The Last Shangri La
- Learn more about Buddha and Buddhism
- Visit the various Dzongs – Punakha | Paro | Thimphu
- Witness a festival – Paro Tsechu
- Visit the Temple of Fertility near Punakha
- 108 stupas at Dochu La Pass
- Visit the Thimpu Post Office and send a post card to your closed ones
- Visit an Artisanal Beer Brewery overlooking the Paro Airstrip
- Explore the vibrant night life in Paro and Thimphu
- Experience a rustic farm house stay at Punakha
- Hike to Tiger’s Nest and Rejuvenate with a Hot Stone Water bath
Learn more about Buddha and Buddhism
Did you know that Bhutan claims to be the most Buddhist country in the world?
By this, the Bhutanese mean that almost every aspect of daily life, and government, is permeated by Buddhist teachings and philosophy. Buddhism was first introduced into Bhutan by the Indian Tantric Master Guru Padmasambhava in the 8th century. Since that moment Buddhism has taken hold of this tiny country and has shaped its development.
The Mayahana form of Buddhism that is practised in Bhutan can be seen in evidence in the dzongs, monasteries, stupas, prayer flags and prayer wheels that form part of the landscape, and the monks & nuns that you will meet in different villages and towns.
Thus, in Bhutan, history and religion are intertwined and as a result many of the historic sites in Bhutan are also religious sites. This is something you’ll learn more about from your guide as your tour proceeds forward each day during your 7 Day Trip to Bhutan.
Visit the various Dzongs – Punakha | Paro | Thimphu
Monasteries in Bhutan are known as Dzongs or goembas, pronounced very differently from the Tibetan equivalent, gompa. They provide the necessary solitude for both study and meditation. Usually built on rocky buttress or on a remote hillside. The architecture is massive in style with towering exterior walls surrounding a complex of courtyards, temples, administrative offices, and monks’ accommodation.
In Bhutan, Dzongs serve as the religious, military, administrative, and social centers of their district. They are often the site of an annual tsechu or religious festival.
The most popular Dzongs that you should visit are the Rinpung Dzong or Paro Dzong, Punakha Dzong, Simtokha Dzong (Thimphu) and Tasichho Dzong(Thimphu) – which has been the seat of the Government of Bhutan since 1952.
Witness a festival – Paro Tsechu
Paro Tsechu is one of the most popular festivals in Bhutan. Featuring dances performed by trained monks and laymen in amazing masks and costumes, Tsechus (festivals) are one of the best ways to experience the ancient living culture of Bhutan. A Tsechu is a Buddhist festival in honour of Guru Rimpoche, the saint who brought Buddhism to Bhutan.
The tshechu involves a series of dances, held over three days, to honour Guru Rinpoche. The timing of the event varies by district and from temple to temple, but are always held of the 10th day of a month in the Bhutanese calendar, a day dedicated to Guru Rinpoche.
Paro Tsechu is held in spring and Thimphu Tsechu is held in the autumn, and these two are the largest of the festivals held in Bhutan. Interestingly, Tshechu dances generally follow the same sequence, although there are local variations.
Visit the Temple of Fertility near Punakha
Chimmi Lhakang also known as The Fertility Temple of Bhutan, is dedicated to the Divine Madman and childless couples from all over the world come here to pray for children, and are believed to be blessed with a baby after the visit.
The hike, through open fields and specially through the village of Sopsokha, will surely stun you up. As you will see plenty of Phalluses, painted on walls, and also available in different sizes as souvenirs.
As travellers, we come across so many unique traditions and beliefs across the world, and getting to know more about this tradition in Bhutan by visiting The Fertility Temple of Bhutan, is one such experience without which your trip to Bhutan will be incomplete.
For your information, in Bhutan, the phallus is a symbol of prosperity and luck, and is also used to ward off evil and malice, which is why you’ll see phalluses everywhere, being sold off as souvenirs in different shapes, or as paintings on walls, not only in this village of Sopsokha, but also in other cities of Bhutan, like Thimphu and Paro.
108 stupas at Dochu La Pass
45min from Thimphu and about 2 and half hour from Punakha, is Dochu La Pass, which is a popular pit stop for tourists, travelling from Thimphu to Punakha and vice versa, as it offers amazing 360 degree panoramic views of the Himalayan ranges.
The highlights of Dochu La Pass are definitely the 108 memorial chortens / stupas also known as the ‘Druk Wangyal Chortens’. The 108 memorial stupas were built in memory of the 108 Bhutanese soldiers who were killed in the 2003 battle against separatist insurgent groups during the first ever operation “Operation all Clear”conducted by the Royal Bhutan Army.
There is a nice cafeteria offering panoramic view of the Himalayas, on a clear day, and if you’ve got time also check out the Druk Wangyal Lhakhang monastery, which overlooks the 108 chortens of Dochu La Pass.
Visit the Thimpu Post Office and send a post card to your closed ones
Send a postcard or two, from the Last Shangri La, to your near and dear ones. You can get a post card for around Nu 20 and the international postage stamp amounting to Nu30 or more depending on where you want to send the postcard.
The unique thing about this post office is that you can get yourself clicked or have your desired picture on a postal stamp.
While you are at the Post Office, you might also want to check out the Postal Museum, and see the different first day covers, which Bhutan has released over the years.
Visit an Artisanal Beer Brewery overlooking the Paro Airstrip
If you love your beers, or fancy trying out some new tastes, make your way to the Namgay Artisanal Brewery, located at Dumsibu, Paro, Bhutan. This picturesque brewery, offers amazing panoramic views of Paro city, and of the Paro airstrip as well, which is directly in your line of sight.
They brew many styles of beers, considering the different drinking palates for taste, making sure that all beer-lovers are satisfied. The beers are dirt cheap, and the artistic labels also make the Bhutanese beer as nice souvenirs to take back to India. Try out the wheat beer, and the red rice beer for sure.
If it’s the first time you’re visiting a brewery, you can even request them for a tour around where they’ll explain the whole process, followed by a tasting session thereafter.
Explore the vibrant night life in Paro and Thimphu
This is something which usually takes a lot of travelers by surprise, who haven’t read about the thriving pub culture in Bhutan.
Do yourself a favor and visit Mojo Park in Thimphu and Park 76 in Paro, and you’ll see what I am talking about. You might also want to check out Om Bar, Barz Brothers in Thimphu.
Live music, beer on tap, lively vibes, a variety of alcohol on offer, and some yummy finger licking food – your evenings can’t get better than this for sure, especially after a long day of exploring the different attractions.
Experience a rustic farm house stay at Punakha
If living with a local family, interacting with them, and having traditionally home cooked Bhutanese food is on your bucket list, then you have to stay at this rustic farm house on the outskirts of Punakha known as Aum Leki Wangmo Farmhouse.
Aum Leki is a very welcoming host who loves to interact with her guests to practice her English. The house itself is rather new but very cosy and the view over Punakha valley from the front rooms is amazing.
With a cozy atmosphere, created by the central bukhari, and with views of an organic farm to enjoy, this is one of the offbeat experiences and top things in Bhutan which you should definitely tick off during your 7 Day Road Trip to Bhutan.
Hike to Tiger’s Nest and Rejuvenate with a Hot Stone Water bath
Tiger’s Nest or Taktsang Lhakang in Bhutan, located 10 km north of Paro, at an altitude of 10, 000 feet, is Bhutan’s most iconic landmark.Tiger’s Nest or Taktsang, constructed back in 1692, is located on a cliff about 3000 feet above Paro Valley, with the temple being one of the most important holy sites in the kingdom.A hike up the Tiger’s Nest is a 100% must thing to do in Bhutan, and trust me, the 2 hours of hike up, is definitely rewarding.
The legend says that Guru Rimpoche flew to the site atop the back of a tigress and meditated in the cave for 3 years, 3 months, 3 days and 3 hours in order to subdue evil demons residing within it. The cave has been considered a sacred site ever since and many famous saints have travelled to meditate in it.
The climb up to the viewpoint will take around 1 1⁄2 hours and from there you will enjoy a spectacular view of the monastery clinging to the side of the cliff. Stop for refreshment at the View Point Cafeteria. Then walk further up to the monastery which will take about 30 – 45 minutes. Ideally, you should be done in a matter of 5 – 6 hours, including spending around one hour at the monastery itself.
Start the hike up by 8 – 8:30 AM, and you should be back at base by 1-2 PM just in time for lunch. The entire trail is a wide dirt trail, and is easily doable by almost everyone. The trail gets easy once you cross the view point, as from this point on, there isn’t much of an altitude gain.
Have you already experienced this kingdom of happiness for yourself? Do share your experiences in comments, and feel free to add more things to do as well.