If you have the cash saved up, a little time and planning can get you to this land locked Himalayan Kingdom and open up a wonder world of picturesque landscapes, enchanting villages, snow capped mountains, ageless forests, erotic sculptures, dark musty monasteries and a culture so rich and steeped in time you will think you have indeed been transported back a few hundred years.
Firstly you have to get to Paro. The government imposed rule is that you must fly at least one way with the National Carrier, Druk Air. As Druk is actually the only carrier that flies into Paro, Bhutan’s airport, then the choice is easy. Druk flies a couple of times a week from Kathmandu, Bangkok and Dehli.
Booking your trip is no easy task with so many online tour operators all offering package tours to Bhutan. The Government of Bhutan has set a daily tariff fee for foreigners visiting the country. Many people confuse this with the visa fee and think that is what costs so much. In fact the visa to visit Bhutan is only US$25. Tours are expensive due to the imposed daily tariff.
Many companies offer what look like value for money Bhutan Tours, but inspect the itineraries closer, especially for tours that commence in places like Kathmandu, Bangkok or Delhi, they may include your flight to Paro, but check out how many days you will actually be spending inside Bhutan as that is where the money should be spent. Some tour agents fluff out tours by selling a ten day trip, where only five days may actually be in Bhutan and the rest doing sightseeing around the joining point country.
Look for a tour that you can meet in Paro, making your own way there will ensure that you get 100% value for money inside Bhutan. If you book a tour with an agent they will most likely be able to help you with arranging your flights.
The best time to visit Bhutan is of course the main festival seasons where the culture and colour is at its best. During these times, normally March, April, September and October, it can be very hard to book a flight. So make sure you book well ahead and get your agent to arrange and confirm flights for you (most airlines can be booked up to 10 months in advance only). Also double check that if you are booking your tour to coincide with a festival, that you will get the chance to see one. During these festival times the tariff rate will be at a premium. If festivals are not your thing, then try going outside of season and you should be able to get as much as a 30% discount on your tour.
As a trip to Bhutan is such a ‘once in a lifetime experience’ a true travel investment you should choose your tour operator wisely. As all tours to Bhutan are pre arranged, it’s all too easy for a travel company to tack Bhutan tours onto their list of tours without having properly made contacts with agents inside Bhutan. As Bhutan tours are 100% operated by Bhutanese tour companies, you should be looking for a company that either represents a Bhutan Agent or is a certified tour operator for Bhutan. I could not think of anything worse than spending a lot of money and not getting to see half the things mentioned on the itinerary or having a poorly arranged holiday.
When planning your trip, obviously your budget will factor the amount of days you are able to spend in Bhutan. Here are a few places that you must see, so make sure that your itinerary and time frame covers them.
Kichu Lhakhang- This Monastery is one of the 108 monasteries built across the Himalayan region by the Tibetan King to subdue the Demoness that lay across the Himalayan region.
Taktsang Monastery- The Tigers Nest. This is one of the most famous sights in Bhutan. The monastery is perched on a cliff in the midst of a lush green jungle. It is reached by a short walk and offers stunning views. This is one of the most memorable sights to visit in Bhutan and the main reason why a lot of visitors come here. The primary Lhakhang was built around Guru Rimpoche’s meditation cave in the 1684 by the Penlop of Paro Gyaltse Tenzin Rabgay, this incredible monastery clings to the edge of a sheer rock cliff that plunges 900 meters into the valley below. Legend has it that Guru Padmasambhava, the tantric mystic who brought Buddhism to Bhutan, flew here on the back of a flying tiger, Dorji Drolo, said to be his favorite consort.
The Tango Monastery- The trail Tango is a climb of 280 meters and it takes an hour to reach the monastery. Lama Gyalwa Lhanampa founded the monastery in 12th century. The building was re-built in 15th century by the “Divine Madman”. This is one of the best places for meditation in Bhutan.
Chimi Lhakhang- Built by Lama Drukpa Kuenley in 15th century. (This monk is popularly known as the Devine Madman for his philosophy, “Salvation through sex”). He subdued the demons with his “Magical Thunder bolt”. The Temple is also known as “The Temple of Fertility”. Sterile women from far and wide come to this Temple to get blessed.
Wangdiphodrang Dzong- Built in 1638. Legend has it as the people were searching for the site of this Dzong, four ravens were seen flying away in four directions. This was considered an auspicious sign, representing the spread of religion to the four points of the compass.
Chendebji Monastery- This Monastery is patterned after Swayambhunath in Kathmandu and was built in the 19th century by Lama Shida, from Tibet, to cover the remains of an evil spirit that was killed at this spot.
Trongsa Dzong- I think that this is the most impressive fort in Bhutan. The present form was built in 1644 and was built in aim to unify Eastern Bhutan. The Dzong, which means fort in Bhutanese is the present home of the Royal Family and the first two hereditary kings who rule the country from this place.
Gangtey Gompa – This is famous for the Black Necked Cranes during winter. These cranes are very rare and endangered and highly protected by the Government. These cranes fly to Phobjikha valley which is their winter habitat. The Cranes circle three times in a clock-wise direction around the Gangtey Gompa as a reverence to the Monastery before landing in the valley. They repeat the same practice before flying back to Tibet in early spring.