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Bhutan, known as the Land of the Thunder Dragon is a quaint, peaceful, hilly country set amidst the Greater Himalayas. It is the smallest nation in the world and also happens to be the happiest country where the GDP is measured on an index of happiness within the population. The nation covers only 38,394 km2 and houses only about eight hundred thousand people. The country is situated between China and India on its northern and its southern and eastern sides respectively. On the western side lies another small mountain nation, Nepal! The most popular routes that enter Bhutan either pass through Nepal or India.
Bhutan is a monarchy presided by His Majesty, the King. The major religion in Bhutan is Mahayana Buddhism and thus you will get to see some of the most fascinating monasteries while visiting the nation. One of the best things about Bhutan is the welcoming population and the fact that crime is negligible.
Thimphu is the capital of Bhutan and what a truly remarkable city it is! It is the largest city in Bhutan and one of the most majestic places that you can ever visit. The best way to get into Thimphu would be through a combination of rail and roadways. You have to take a train to Hasimara starting from Kolkata in West Bengal, India. Taxis from the railway station will take you to Phuentsholing in about half an hour from where you can take a cab or bus to Thimphu. The road is one of the most amazing features of the journey since you will pass through steep high-altitude Himalayan roads which hold a charm of their own!
Thimphu gained status as a capital city in 1961 when the royal family was crowned. Before '61, Punakha was the ancient site of central activity among the religious leaders of the nation. It is a wide, spread-out city with the Wang Chhu River flowing beside it and some picturesque views every now and then. There are some extraordinary places in Thimphu to visit which are surely going to enchant you. Tashichho Dzong around the edge of the city is an ancient and magnificent fortress-monastery that used to be the seat of governance. You could also visit the philatelic Bureau in Bhutan. You might wonder why a post office is suggested in the list of attractions. Well, if you have a digitized photograph of yourself, you could get a book of stamps with your photo on it for about 200 Nu at this post office. It is one of the best souvenirs that you could collect from Bhutan!
Lhuentse is one of the most charming places that you can visit in Bhutan. Whether you start from Thimphu or Paro, Lhuentse is quite far off from either location. Since train or flight services are not available in Bhutan, you have to hit the road. It will take you about 14 hours from Thimphu and 13 hours from Paro to reach Lhuentse.
Lhuentse is the place to be if you really want to go off the grid to a place that is not even frequented by many tourists. Lhuentse used to be the home to the royal family of Bhutan. It has beautiful mountain ranges that you can stare at throughout the day without ever getting bored. There are also many sacred places to go to while you are in Lhuentse such as the Jangchubling Monastery, Lhuentse Dzong, Singye Dzong, and so on. The weaving skills and textile traditions of Lhuentse are worth the mention and you have to see it to believe it! You can also set up camp in Lhuentse through a camping agency in Bhutan if there is an adventurer in you. The starry nights and exceptional sunrise are features to behold!
Paro is the second-largest city in Bhutan and the only one with an international airport. If you are planning on getting to Bhutan by air, you would have to take a flight to Paro and then do the remaining journey through a network of excellent roadways. Being an important city, it is very well-connected to the rest of Bhutan through the roads.
The city is situated along the banks of the Paro River and has been the site of some kind of monastery since the onset of the 10th century. The city was also the northern stronghold of the nation to prevent attacks from Tibet. You will see the exuberance and intricacy of Bhutanese architecture among the homes and shops on the main street of Paro. There are also tons of cafes and restaurants perched here and there for you to enjoy all kinds of delicacies particular to the Bhutanese people. If you are looking for some unique article with great antiquity, Paro is the place for you to be. (Remember though, you are not allowed to collect and take any antiquity item outside the nation!) There are many corner shops where you will find some beautiful Buddhist souvenirs to take home with you.
Though Taktsang Monastery is situated in Paro, it deserves a special mention. Taktsang Monastery is the kind of place which is made of legends of yore! The location itself is quite unique and exciting given that the monastery is situated about 800 meters above Paro valley. It is constructed along a ledge on the steep cliff-face of the mountain about halfway to the top! Taktsang is more commonly known as the Tiger's Nest Monastery and has gained quite the popularity throughout the world in recent years. It has always been a special place within the Buddhist community. It is believed that Guru Rinpoche (Padmasambhava), the first monk to have introduced Buddhism in Bhutan, landed on the ledge by flying on a giant tigress who is believed to be Yeshe Tsogyal, a consort. He meditated in the 13 caves for 3 years, 3 months, 3 weeks, 3 days, and 3 hours. When he emerged, it is believed that he did so in 8 manifestations making this a very holy place amongst Buddhists from all over the world. The monastery was constructed around 1692 surrounding the ancient caves and is now regarded as a cultural icon of the Bhutanese people.
If you are looking for a place that is far away from the population and offers some of the most majestic views of the Himalayas, you have to go to Haa. It is the smallest town in Bhutan but also happens to be one of the brightest jewels on its crown. You will get panoramic views that you have only dreamt of especially with Mt. Chamolhari and Jichu Drakey so near to you. It is very easy to reach Haa especially if you are in Paro Valley. Haa district is adjacent to Paro district and the small town is about 65 km away from Paro Valley. You can take a bus or a cab from Paro to get into Haa.
It is one of the best places for photographers and travelers alike. The place is small and thus can be easily traversed through on foot. You will get picturesque locations in Haa which you will remember for a long time to come. The beautiful sceneries and many temples throughout the villages of Bhutan is very common. This represents a rich heritage and you will have to learn, taste and understand the Bhutanese lifestyle.
Punakha is a must-visit attraction in Punakha and you’d surely be missing out on a lot if you do not visit this small town. The town is situated between Pho and Mo Chhu rivers and used to be the ancient capital of Bhutan while it was ruled by religious leaders. It is very easy to reach Punakha as it is well connected by roadways and lies about 120 km away from Paro Valley. One of the most attractive features of Punakha has to be Punakha Dzong, a fortified monastery from age-old times. The dzong was built in the 17th century under the leadership of Zhabdrung Rinpoche and is the second oldest one in the nation. It is also known as Pungtang Dewa Chhenbi Phodrang which roughly translates to the “Palace of Happiness and Bliss”! Since it is one of the oldest structures in Bhutan you will also find some of the oldest relics of Bhutan here which includes artifacts from the Drukpa Lineage of the Kagyu School of Buddhism. Sacred items belonging to the first Zhabdrung Rinpoche could also be found in the dzong.
Phobjikha Valley at an elevation of about 3,000 meters from the sea level, is a U-shaped valley located in central Bhutan. Its altitude makes it a very remote location which means that it might be difficult for you to reach the place. It is situated about 140 km from Thimphu and 80 km from Punakha but no public vehicles are operating between these cities and the valley. You may be able to hire a shared cab from Punakha Valley or you can hire a private cab either from Thimphu or Punakha to reach the destination.
It is one of the most awe-inspiring locations to be in while you are exploring Bhutan. It is also known as Gangten Valley owing to the eponymous monastery situated here. The Gangten Monastery is one of the most popular attractions in the Phobjikha Valley. The extreme altitude also means that there are chances of getting snow in the valley if you visit it at the right time- though there is the possibility of landslides or other such calamities which might make the valley inaccessible. The valley is a stunning marshland that allows diverse species of flora and fauna to thrive in the area. One of the most impressive features of Phobjikha Valley has to be the rare black-necked cranes. These migratory birds fly into the valley from Tibet during the winter months and circle the monastery thrice before taking shelter in the wetlands. The birds once again follow this mysterious routine as they ascend to leave the valley with the onset of spring in March. This curious behavior of the birds has not yet been explained though it is seen as a good omen within the Buddhist community. There are about 10 other protected species of animals and birds to be found in this valley.
Jigme Dorji National Park
The Jigme Dorji National Park covers about 4,300 km2 and is home to 37 different endangered species of animals in Bhutan. It was established in 1974 and has since been one of the major attractions in Bhutan. The best way to reach the national park has to be from Thimphu. It takes about 4.5 hours to reach Jigme Dorji National Park from Thimphu and it is situated about 122 km from the capital.
The national park passes through different geographic realms since it covers an altitude from 1,400 m to more than 7,000 m. Some of the rare animals that you might see through the expanse of this national park include snow leopards, Royal Bengal tigers, clouded leopards, Indian leopards, Himalayan black bears, and the stunning Bhutanese Takin. You will also find various species of sambars, deer, and gorals throughout the park. The park also holds a terrific diversity in flora owing to the rapidly changing altitude as well as avian species including migratory as well as indigenous birds.
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