Treasures of Bhutan on Show for Personal Travel Manager
When Lonely Planet recently revealed their list of the top ten countries to visit in 2020, Bhutan was ranked at number one: a feat which came as no great surprise to TravelManagers’ Kate Bevan, who recently spent a week fulfilling a long-held dream to visit the tiny, landlocked kingdom.
“Bhutan has been on the top of my bucket list for a long time, but the cost and logistics involved in getting there had kept me away until now,” she explains. “When the opportunity arose to tour Northern India on a famil with China Travel Services, I jumped at the chance to add on a self-organised famil to Bhutan.”
The flight into Paro, which is the site of Bhutan’s sole international airport, approximately 50 kilometres from the capital city of Thimpu, has been described as one of the most spectacular in the Himalayas, and one of the most dangerous in the world. However, Bevan reports that her own experience was remarkably calm: a fitting introduction to a country which she describes as “beautiful and serene.”
Serenity is Bevan’s catch word for this nation, which is nestled into the Eastern Himalayas and pioneered the concept of measuring “gross national happiness”. She spent her time in the capital exploring the sights, including the National Textile Museum (which showcases this integral aspect of Bhutan’s culture and heritage), and the Institute for Zorig Chusum (a school that focuses on Bhutan’s thirteen traditional arts, including woodcarving, sculpture and painting).
Although visitor numbers are strictly regulated, Bevan discovered they are well-catered for in terms of accommodation: from Zhiwaling Ascent hotel, located just outside Thimpu and featuring tranquil views of the surrounding valley and cypress trees from her room’s floor-to-ceiling windows, to the breath-taking Bhutan Spirit Sanctuary in Paro.
“Staying at the Bhutan Spirit Sanctuary was like the silver lining on my trip into the clouds and heavens – it was a haven of serenity, calm, love, peace and giving, encompassed in one amazing retreat. I would happily make the 14-hour-plus journey again just to enjoy a few more nights here, knowing that I would come home feeling relaxed, refreshed and at peace.”
Paro serves as the gateway to what was to be the ultimate highlight in a country filled with beauty: a challenging hike to the incredible Tiger’s Nest Monastery. Also known as Taktsang Palphug Monastery, this sacred site and temple complex clings to the cliffs of the upper Paro valley, and Bevan offers a few expert tips to anyone contemplating making the climb to visit this iconic location.
“As you climb through the mist, the chanting of the monks and the sound of their horns draws you ever higher up this spiritual peak. The path can be pretty slippery, especially on the descent, so I would recommend that clients take a walking stick. As long as you take your time and focus on enjoying the journey rather than getting up and down as quickly as possible, you’ll be fine – although without the pre- and post-climb massages, I probably would still not be walking properly a month after the trip!”
As much as Bevan loved her time in Bhutan, some of the culinary specialities did suit her palette and left her less enthused, from the butter tea (a brew of dark tea, boiled with yak milk and served with butter and salt) to the astonishingly spicy national dish: Ema Datshi.
“I don’t recommend trying to keep up with the Bhutanese levels of spice – this took my breath away and gave me a serious case of the hiccups. That being said, my favourite meal was another national dish – Shamu Datshi, which is a much milder, mushroom version of the same chilli and cheese dish.”
Expert tips like these are important to Bevan, who is looking forward to sharing her experiences with clients considering making the journey to Bhutan.
“I’m excited to show my clients that there are still some beautiful, untouched places in the world, waiting to be explored. Bhutan has the cleanest air I’ve ever breathed, scented with the slightest tinge of cypress and lemongrass – as soon as you step off the plane you are enveloped by it, while the eyes are soothed by countless shades of green. It has been described as heaven on Earth and the last Shangri-La – this is not underselling it, and I struggle to find the words to describe the serenity, peace and kindness of its people and I can’t wait to return.”