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Things to do in Bhutan

Discussion in 'Bhutan' started by TahirAhuja, Nov 28, 2016.

  1. TahirAhuja

    TahirAhuja New Member

    I would like to go to Bhutan to explore the place as I hear it has some great monasteries and is a clean and one of the best countries to visit.
    I am someone who likes to make an itinerary for my trips, so I know what to do on each day, so holiday time is not wasted. For me to make an itinerary I need to know what things to do in Bhutan so I can make the trip plans accordingly.

  2. briannagodess

    briannagodess Well-Known Member

    Hi, welcome to the forum!


    The landlocked nation of Bhutan is one of the most unique destinations in the world. This nation measures its growth, not on the economic side only, but rather on the the combined aspects of environmental, heritage, socio-economic and good governance developments, also known as the Gross National Happiness. The government has preserved such aspects, especially the environmental area, having maintained its forest covers in about 76%. Aside from this, the government maintains a 'High Value, Low Impact' tourism, which is why a tour in Bhutan can be more costly and restrictive, in a way. However, don't let this discourage you from visiting one of the most pristine nations in the world, where heritage and nature still abound. With proper planning, permits and a bit of a budget, you can enjoy sightseeing in Bhutan, along with a myriad of activities that would be highlighted below.

    Things To Do in Bhutan (Activities)

    1. Visit one of the largest statues of Buddha in the world - The Great Buddha Dordenma is located in the city of Thimphu, as if overlooking and guarding the city. This statue of Buddha is one of the largest in the world at a height of about 169 feet. It stands tall, with its gold-gilded facade, amidst the clear, blue skies of the city. In fact, the statue can be viewed from any part of the valley. It is not just a statue, nor a tourist attraction, as even locals regard the statue as sacred. Venture into the lower shrine and also the hall containing over 100,000 smaller statues of the Lord Buddha. Yet this spectacle of a statue isn't fully completed, when it is, the government aims to make it a primary Buddhist pilgrimage site of the city. As of now, enjoy the view of the huge Shakyamuni Buddha along with the smaller statues around it.
    • Where - Thimphu
    2. Test your limits with moderate to difficult treks - Whether you're an expert trekker or a newbie trekker, Bhutan has plenty of trails that you can indulge in. For the expert trekkers, you can indulge in several-day treks around Bhutan. For instance, the Druk Path trail is a six-day trek, starting from Paro and ending in Thimphu. It is a mild to moderate trek, passing through thick alpine, pine and rhododendron forests, as well as small streams and lakes. You can also get a good view of the Mount Gangkar Puensum at the highest point of the trail. A bit on the difficult side is the Jomolhari trail trek, which can give one a good view of the Mount Jomolhari. This is a nine-day trek, taking you through alpine forests, rhododendron meadows, waterfalls and numerous streams. Feeling quite adventurous? Why not take on the thrilling Snowman trail trek then? Passing through the mountainous borders of Tibet and Bhutan, this is probably the most difficult trail in Bhutan. The timing for this trek is equally important, you can't do it in the midst of the monsoon nor the winter season, as you'd be trekking through high passes. This 25-day trail passes through the most remote and pristine mountainous regions of Bhutan but it's certainly not for the faint-hearted individuals. If you don't have much time for such trails, then you can opt for day treks, which are also suitable for beginner trekkers. Most trails involve trekking through forest areas and hidden monasteries like the Jamjalo Monastery in Paro or the Phajoding Monastery in Thimphu.
    • Where - Paro, Thimphu and Gunitsawa
    View of Mount Jomolhari (Image from Christopher Fynn)

    3. Laid-back rafting and kayaking in the rapids of Bhutan's rivers - Bhutan is home to various rivers, locally known as chhus. Not all rivers are suitable for rafting though, because some are too steep, but they can be great venues for kayaking instead. For rafting, the Pho Chhu, also known as the Punakha River, is a suitable option. It has Grades III and IV rapids that even beginners can enjoy. The Dang Chhu is another good option, but only its lower and middle sections are designated for rafting, with Grades III and IV rapids. For experienced kayakers, the upper section of Dang Chhu has Grades IV and V rapids. Other rivers that you can choose from for kayaking are Paa Chhu, Kuri Chhu and Mangde Chhu.
    • Where - Pho Chhu and Dang Chhu Lower or Middle (Rafting) & Dang Chhu Upper, Paa Chhu, Kuri Chhu and Mangde Chhu (Kayaking)
    4. Take a glimpse of history with a tour of the dzongs of Bhutan - Dzongs are basically amalgamation of both fortress and monastery. They have thick exterior walls with windows on the upper parts only. Usually, dzongs were placed in areas of strategic importance, and even if not, there is usually a nearby watchtower for the defence of the structure. Now though, dzongs are mainly hubs for monks or for cultural events of the country, though some are still used for government purposes. A must visit dzong is the Punakha Dzong, located at the confluence of Mo Chhu and Pho Chhu. This dzong is mainly used as a retreat centre for monks residing in the higher areas of Bhutan. It was built in the early 17th century through the guidance of Zhabdrung Namgyal. Its whitewashed walls contrast with the bright hues of the roofs and windows. There are various thangkas, paintings and statues inside the monastery too that are worth exploring. In contrast, in Thimphu, there's the Tashichho Dzong, which functions as a government hub. This is a massive dzong, with whitewashed walls and brown sloping roofs. It is only accessible during evening time, after all the government offices are finished. Other must visit dzongs in Bhutan are the Rinpung Dzong, Tongsa Dzong and Wangdue Dzong.
    • Where - Punakha, Thimphu, Paro, Trongsa and Wangdue
    5. Attend or be part of an archery competition - Once the defensive strategy of the Bhutanese against invading forces, archery is now regarded as the country's national sport. It does have distinctions as compared to the way archery is played in other countries. For instance, in local fields, men are the usual players, donning traditional robes, high-knee socks and rubber shoes. While you might still find traditional bamboo bows and arrows, the more modern compound bows and arrows can also be seen used in many localities. Unlike the national side of the sport, the distance of the target from the player is about 145 metresAdditionally, archery is more than just a sport for the Bhutanese, it's a way of life. The whole family enjoys the sport, with the women cheering for the men, taunting the opponents or just preparing for the meals of the players. There are even singers and dancers in more formal competitions, making the event more lively and social. For those who want to try out archery when in Bhutan, there's the Changlimithang Stadium in Thimphu, where both traditional and compound archery competitions are held. Most localities or districts of Bhutan also have a local archery field where you can try out the sport or just watch the locals playing archery in.
    • Where - Thimphu (Stadium) and All Districts (Local Fields)
    6. A glimpse of the national animal of Bhutan with the Motithang Takin Preserve - The takin is the national animal of Bhutan, uniquely having the body of a cow but the face of a goat. The takin shares some similarities with the muskox and also the sheep species. There is a legend surrounding the origin of the takin, and that is that Drukpa Kunley created this animal from the bones of a cow and goat. The takin is a vulnerable specie of animal, only found in Thimphu in Bhutan and some areas of Arunachal Pradesh in India. The Motithang Takin Preserve is the main habitat of the Bhutanese takins. It is mainly an enclosed forest area where takins roam around freely. It is believed that there are over 100 takins in the preserve though their exact numbers are not known. From the car parking area, you can walk to reach the enclosure proper, to see the takins closer. There are various species of deers like sambars and barking deers in the preserve too.
    • Where - Thimphu
    Motithang Takin Preserve (Image from Stephen Shephard)

    7. Explore the heavenly valleys of Bhutan - The most sacred and pristine valleys of Bhutan are located in the Bumthang district. First of all, Bumthang district is regarded as the spiritual hub of the country. Why? Because this is where Buddhism began in the nation, the place where Guru Padmasambhava showcased his healing prowess that cured King Sindhu Raja from a spirit-induced ailment. From then on, Buddhism spread far and wide into the nation. Bumthang district has various valleys, from which you can indulge in treks in. Noteworthy of which is the Bumthang Valley, where you can indulge in day hikes to various attractions like the Jambay Lhakhang and Kurje Lhakhang. Also worth visiting is the Ngang Lhakhang, once visited by Guru Padmasambhava so regarded sacred by many locals. Next is the Ura Valley, regarded as the Switzerland of Bhutan, a bit of an offbeat destination in the region. Lush forests, grazing cows, ruins of ancient structures and temples line the landscapes of the valley. It is here that you can enjoy a glimpse of the truly rural side of Bhutan. Other valleys that you can visit in Bumthang are Tang Valley and Chhume Valley.
    • Where - Bumthang
    8. Try out a bird watching expedition - Bhutan is home to over 600 species of birds, thus, it's not unusual to find them in every nook or corner of the country. However, for a truly satisfying bird watching experience, there are designated bird sanctuaries in Bhutan that you can visit. The Bumdeling Wildlife Sanctuary is one of these, located in Bumdeling of the Trashi Yangste district of the country. This wildlife sanctuary shares borders with both India and China too. Aside from the lush alpine forests of the sanctuary, it is also home to two rivers, the Drangme Chhu and Kholong Chhu, which are the major water bodies that birds of the region flock to. The vulnerable specie of bird, the black-necked crane, can be found during migratory season in the wildlife sanctuary. Other rare bird species found in the wildlife sanctuary are gould's shortwing, wood snipes and yellow-rumped honeyguides. You can also visit the Phobjikha Valley, where you would find various species of birds, including the black-necked crane. Keep in mind that the best months for bird watching are from December to February, when migratory birds from nearby or distant countries reach the region.
    • Where - Trashi Yangtse or Phobjikha Valley
    Phobjikha Valley (Image from David Broad)

    9. Be courageous and explore the different high passes of Bhutan - Bhutan is home to many high passes, which can give one a bit of vertigo, but they do offer great views of the greater Himalayan ranges. The Dochu La is a high mountain pass, located in between Thimphu and Punakha. With an average elevation of 3,100 metres above sea level, you need to be properly acclimatised prior to reaching the pass. Spend a few hours exploring the Druk Wangyal Khang Zhang Chortens, built in memory of the Bhutanese soldiers who dedicated their lives during the Bhutan and Assamese Insurgents War of 2003. On the other hand, the Cheli La is located in between Haa and Paro, it is a 3,810 metre-high pass. This pass gives one a panoramic view of both mountain ranges of Jomolhari and Jichu Drakye. Cheli La is also the location of the Kung Karpo, a sky burial method, where deceased bodies are placed in the peaks of mountains for vultures or other carnivorous animals to feed on them.
    • Where - Dochu La (Between Thimphu and Punakha) and Cheli La (Between Haa and Paro)
    10. Take part into merry tsechus - Tsechus are basically festivals dedicated to the man who brought Buddhism to Bhutan, Guru Padmasambhava. The first ever tsechu in Bhutan was held in Bumthang, the place where Buddhism originated in the country. Nowadays, tsechus are held in various regions of Bhutan, all throughout the year. The focal point of the festival is the masked dances, depicting the life of the Guru Padmasambhava. The festival ends with the showcasing of the thongdrel, wherein an image of Guru Padmasambhava, with his consorts and incarnations can be viewed. The largest and grandest of it all is the Thimphu Tsechu, which attracts over 3,000 visitors each year. The festival is usually held during the month of October or September each year. This festival is held at the Tashichho Dzong, which was mentioned before as well. Equally festive is the Paro Tsechu, held during the month of March each year. This festival is held at the Rinpung Dzong, again, mentioned above. There are tsechus held every month of the year, so if you have the time, make sure you research about which district would be celebrating the tsechu on the month of your visit.
    • Where - Thimphu, Paro and All Districts of Bhutan
    Paro Tsechu (Image from Stephen Shephard)

    11. Explore the vast terrains and wildlife of the country - There are also various wildlife sanctuaries in Bhutan, that are not only home to birds, but also a wide variety of larger animals. Bordering with Assam's Manas National Park is Bhutan's Royal Manas National Park, the country's oldest wildlife reserve. The national park is home to large mammal species such as royal Bengal tigers, Himalayan black bears, clouded leopards and Asian elephants. It is famed though for being the home of the rare golden langur, an endangered specie of monkey found only in Assam and Bhutan. There's also the Jigme Dorji National Park, located in both regions of Paro and Thimphu. The national animal of the country, the takin, can be found in some areas of the national park, as their reserve is located close to it. Other wild animals residing here are Indian leopards, snow leopards, clouded leopards, Himalayan black bears and red pandas. And finally, a visit to the Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary is a must, where the yet to be seen migoi, local yeti, is believed to reside. In fact, the sanctuary was created to protect this yet to be seen ape specie. Don't worry though, as other animals like the red pandas, wild dogs, common leopards and gorals can be spotted more easily as compared to the local migoi.
    • Where - Sarpang, Thimphu/Paro or Trashigang
    12. Dipping into the tshachus - Simply put, tshachus are hot springs, which can provide for some relief for tourists with aching muscles. There are various hot springs around Bhutan, which can not only soothe your tensed muscles, but can also provide for some warmth during cold winter season. In Punakha, there's the Chubu Tshachu, located close to the Pho Chhu. Since the hot spring isn't accessible by road, you need to either trek or ride a horse to reach it. On the other hand, the Gasa Tshachu is located in Gasa, also approachable only by trekking. This is a more remote hot spring, hence suitable for those who want to get away from the crowds. There are many more tshachus in Bhutan, located in Bumthang and Lhuntse.
    • Where - Punakha, Gasa, Bumthang and Lhuntse
    13. A visit to an eccentric monastery of Drukpa Kunley - Located in the Punakha district of Bhutan, near the valley of Lobesa is the Chimi Lhakhang. Though the temple was built by Ngawang Choegyel during the 15th century, it was Drukpa Kunley that envisioned the future creation of a monastery here. Incidentally, this is also the place where the renowned Divine Madman, Drukpa Kunley, trapped a demon who came from Dochu La, with the use of his phallus. As such, it is not rare to see various phallic symbols in the walls of the monastery, reiterating the philosophy of the guru that you won't need to give up physical desires to attain enlightenment. For the conservative individuals, the monastery might be a bit of a shock to visit. But truly, it is unlike any other place in the country or in the world, that a visit to Bhutan won't be complete without it. Further, the monastery is regarded sacred by women seeking the blessing of the guru for having a child. Approachable by a trek from the main town, the journey to get there is very scenic as well.
    • Where - Lobesa
    Chimi Lhakhang (Image from David Broad)

    14. Shop for local handicrafts - Thimphu is usually the hub for shopping in Bhutan. Highly rated by tourists is the Norzim Lam Street, where you can find local textiles and other knick-knacks. Just opposite the street is the Authentic Bhutanese Crafts, where you can buy traditional Bhutanese clothes, bags, masks and other handicrafts. You can also find branches of the National Handicrafts Emporium in different districts like Thimphu, Paro and Bumthang. If your entry or exit point is in Phuentsholing, the Bhimraj Store here is a good stopover before venturing further into Bhutan or home, as it has a nice assortment of traditional clothing items. However, shopping in Bhutan might work out to be quite expensive as many items are imported from various regions like China and Thailand. Even locally made items are quite expensive, but they would be good souvenirs, memories of your trip to this one-of-a-kind country.
    • Where - Thimphu, Paro, Bumthang and Phuentsholing
    15. Combine spirituality with adventure by trekking the Tiger's Nest - The Tiger's Nest is Bhutan's most iconic religious site, perched on a cliffside located in the Paro Valley. It is also known as the Taktsang Palphug Monastery, dedicated to Guru Padmasambhava, who is also referred to as Guru Rinpoche. In Bhutan, Guru Padmasambhava is regarded as a holy guru, because he introduced Buddhism to the region. According to local legends, the holy guru reached the caves of Paro Valley from Tibet, by riding on the back of a tigress, hence the name Tiger's Nest. He meditated here, for three years, three months, three weeks, three days and three hours before venturing out to convert the Bhutanese region into Buddhism. The monastery was built in the early 17th century by Tenzin Rabgye, who is believed to be an incarnation of the holy guru, Guru Padmasambhava. However, over the past few years, the monastery has seen various renovations owing to several disasters, the most recent one is a fire during the early 20th century. Owing to its unique location, trekking to the Taktsang Palphug Monastery requires a bit of acclimatisation, hence it is usually the last activity offered by tour guides to tourists. You can opt to trek by foot all the way or ride a horse for half the way, while trekking by foot for the rest of the way. It is an uphill climb of about five kilometres or two to three hours, one way, the first half is an ascending path while the second half is mostly of stairs. Once you reach the top, you can visit the caves where Guru Padmasambhava meditated and stayed, as well as the other prayer rooms of the monastery. The chanting of the monks can render you with a much-needed spiritual vibe. Once done, you need to climb down which can take around one to two hours, depending on your physical fitness.
    • Where - Upper Paro Valley

    The happiest place on Earth, Bhutan, has a plethora of activities to offer for tourists as well. Aside from sightseeing, do not be afraid to be adventurous and try out any of these activities. Whether you're into thrilling activities, like trekking, rafting or kayaking, or maybe more laid-back activities like bird watching, shopping or wildlife safaris, Bhutan has all of these in store for you. Good luck and enjoy your trip to Bhutan!