Centuries of self-imposed isolation have left the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan virtually untouched by the influences of the modern world, and the traditional way of life, inseparable from a deep-rooted belief in Buddhism, continues virtually unchanged to this day. Modernisation is strictly monitored - new buildings must be made in the age-old Bhutanese style, and people are obliged to wear national dress in public. Remoteness and a profound and time-honoured reverence for nature has led this ‘land of the Thunder Dragon’ to be one of the most biologically diverse countries in the world and a leader in environmental conservation. Urban settlements like Thimpu have sprung up in the last few decades, but the majority still live in small rural villages, the pace of life is slow and businesses open depending on the mood of their owners. You should not be surprised if your tour plans are changed at the last minute following an auspicious sign or warning from a monk or perhaps even a generous invitation to join a religious celebration. It is this adherence to Buddhism and the dismissal of the material world that make Bhutan such a fascinating place. For those with an interest in Buddhist culture or the prospect of visiting a country little known beyond its borders, Bhutan provides a unique experience.
When to Travel
The southern part of Bhutan is tropical, and in general the eastern region of the country is warmer than the central valleys. However, the higher the altitude, the cooler the weather, and with a brisk wind blowing down off the mountains even low-lying valleys can become chilly. The best time to visit Bhutan is from October to May when the climate is mainly dry and sunny, while in December and January snow may block mountain passes and travel is therefore restricted to the western valleys.
One of the highlights for a visit to Bhutan is to attend a tsechu or festival held at a major dzong (fort-monastery). Held in honour of Guru Rinpoche, who brought Buddhism to Bhutan, the tsechus are taken very seriously by the Bhutanese who have unquestioning faith in their religion. As well as bringing the devotee great merit, it is also a time of much rejoicing and merriment for all and a colourful and enthralling event that you will enjoy. Due to the high number of tourists at this time demand for accommodation is extremely high so specific hotels cannot always be confirmed in advance and there can be lastminute changes to itineraries. If you wish to visit a festival during your time in Bhutan please book early and take plenty of film as the vibrant dances are a riot of colour and a photographer’s delight.
As an emerging tourist destination you will find a limited choice of accommodation in Bhutan, although the king recently permitted the first luxury resorts to open in Paro and other new hotels are planned countrywide in the next few years. In the meantime, most accommodation is much more basic and in many rural areas there are often power failures. However, all the rooms we use have bathrooms en suite and often have a bukhari (a woodburning stove) to take the chill off the cold night air.