Not far from Nepal, we are now in a small country called Bhutan, known as the kingdom of happiness. There is a limited number of tourists permitted into the country at any one time so you must pre-organise your travels. Travelling independently is also very challenging due to the lack of transport available so it’s best to hire a guide and driver.
Interesting Facts about Bhutan the Kingdom of Happiness
Before we share our adventures, to set the scene here are a few interesting facts about Bhutan.
Bhutan the Country
- Officially known as ‘Kingdom of Bhutan’ – Bhutan means ‘Land of Thunder Dragon’ and is known as the Kingdom of happiness
- Located in the eastern region of the Himalayan Mountains sandwiched between Tibet and India
- It is a land locked country near Nepal
- 60% of the country is forests and 25% of that is National Parks
- Bhutan is measured on GDH (Gross Domestic Happiness) not GDP (Gross Domestic Profit)
- You will find no ports, only rivers
- There is no railway
- Bhutan has a limited bus service – usually only locals, residents and Indian tourists travel on these
- Tourists usually hire a guide and driver
- Local people often walk for a week to a month to get anywhere
- Monday to Friday the local Bhutanese people dress in traditional clothing
- On weekends the Bhutanese may wear western clothes
- 99% of the Bhutanese people are Buddhists
- The official spoken language is Dzongkha
- The population is around 770,000
Adventures in Bhutan
Although Bhutan is mainly known for its monasteries, fortresses (or dzongs) and dramatic landscapes making it a popular destination for trekking, we managed to find some more offbeat (and unplanned) adventures with the local Bhutanese people.
A Crazy House Party in Bhutan
In Bhutan when a new house is almost complete, they go to an astrologer and ask them when the best day is to bless their new home.
So, we were staying in this tiny village and got invited as the guests of honor to a housewarming party. As the guests of honour and the only 2 non-Bhutanese people we got to sit on a colourful rug in the centre of the room. Everyone else sat on the bare floorboards around us, in a circle curiously checking us out.
Continually shared with us were offerings of strange food and drink which we had to eat because apparently it was bad luck not to partake. Also, with prying eyes and smiling faces on us it would be rude and offensive to reject these offerings. We also got high on chewing beetle nut and drinking rice wine which the locals were going crazy for.
There was a masked fire dance to clear the evil spirits away, people running around howling like mad dogs to also help clear these bad spirits away. All this backed by an orchestra with some strange odd-looking instruments with everyone really drunk on rice wine and high on beetle nut.
Being the only westerners present was a real and crazy experience we were never ever quite sure what was going on!
The National Game of Bhutan
In 1971 Archery was declared the national sport of Bhutan. Since then, the popularity of Bhutanese archery has increased both inside and outside Bhutan. So much, Bhutan now has an Olympic archery team.
So, we were feeling slightly disappointed when our guide said that he couldn’t guarantee us that we’ll see a local archery match. Then, bang(!) we suddenly and literally stumble into an archery match!
Excited we started to stroll across the field to set up and watch the match as the opposing teams were firing arrows at their respective targets. Unbeknownst to us, we had entered the line of fire, and our only saviour was some shouts from the spectators, screaming as the arrows were firing over our heads.
We soon got over the shock of arrows firing at us and settled in to watch the game.
Dodging and Shooting an Arrow
The joy of watching the Bhutanese shoot an arrow as it left their bow and hit their target, some 100 metres away, is unparalleled. Especially when the opponent is standing at the other end waiting for the arrow and quickly dodges when the arrow misses the target, all as he downs a local ‘Druk’ beer. Not for the faint hearted should something go wrong, thankfully we didn’t see any of this!
[wpdevart_youtube playlist=”https://youtu.be/fwwHnrdqWMA” width=”1000″ height=”550″ autoplay=”0″ caption=”” align=”center” theme=”light” loop_video=”0″ enable_fullscreen=”1″ show_related=”0″ show_popup=”0″ thumb_popup_width=”213″ thumb_popup_height=”128″ show_youtube_icon=”1″ show_annotations=”0″ show_progress_bar_color=”white” autohide_parameters=”1″ set_initial_volume=”true” initial_volume=”100″ disable_keyboard=”0″]fwwHnrdqWMA[/wpdevart_youtube]
Thankfully we lived to tell this story and emerged unscathed.
A Hike or Mule Ride to Tigers Nest
Built in the 17th century Taktshang Goemba or as it’s more commonly known ‘Tiger’s Nest Monastery’ is one of the Himalaya’s most incredible sights. A sacred site miraculously perched on the side of a sheer cliff 900m above the floor of the Paro Valley below.
To get to Tiger’s Nest you can either opt to hike the whole route or take a mule which will take you halfway up to the monastery (not down). Most of the route is a dirt path, fairly wide but sometimes rocky, so you’ll need to watch your step.
At the very last part of the hike you will find steps. Roughly, 700 steps down and then 250 steps back up to the monastery entrance. Returning, of course, there are the 250 steps down and then 700 steps back up! The steps are a very small part of the overall hike, just a little challenging and… you wouldn’t want to trip.
We opted for the mule / hike experience. You will be able to hike if you’re reasonably fit and can manage the altitude.
Some Tiger’s Nest hike facts:
- Paro Town to Tiger’s Nest: 10 kilometres or 6.2 miles
- Trek Distance:5 kilometres or 4 miles round trip
- Elevation Gain:1,700 feet or 518 metres
- Highest Elevation:10,232 feet or 3,119 metres
- Time:Allow 5 to 7 hours for the entire hike and monastery visit
The legend of Tiger’s Nest Monastery
It is said that an 8th-century Indian Buddhist master Guru Rinpoche was carried up the mountain on the back of a disciple who had transformed herself into a tigress. Guru Rinpoche then spent 3 years, 3 months, 3 days and 3 hours meditating in the cave to subdue evil demons residing within it. The cave has been considered a sacred site ever since and many famous saints have travelled to meditate in it.
Hot Food Delicacies of Bhutan
The most famous local dish is ema datshi – rice and spicy chilies topped off with a delicious cheese sauce and some other of our favourite dishes include:
- You can also taste Kewa datshi made up of sliced potatoes and cheese and eaten with chillies
- Try shakam paa, dried beef cooked with chilies and radish
- Fried fern stalks
- Tasty yak curry
If you love dumplings, momos are everywhere in Bhutan. Momos are fried or steamed snacks filled with meat, cheese or vegetables and they are best enjoyed with, you guessed it, a chilli sauce. You’ll find momos at almost all restaurants and street food stalls.
To drink… try ara a hot, highly alcoholic treat made from yak butter, eggs and local whisky or if that’s too much just drink a local ‘Druk’ beer.
How do I Get into and Travel Bhutan the Kingdom of Happiness?
Bhutan, the kingdom of happiness is remote and does not want to spoil its natural beauty so limits the number of tourists each year allowing you only to travel with a guide.
- Firstly, you MUST arrange your travels through a registered Bhutanese travel agent
- You MUST have a pre-agreed itinerary with a guide and driver
- To enter and exit dates MUST be fixed for all overnight stops
- You will need a visa which your specialist travel agent will organise on approval of your trip
- A government fixed rate of US$250 per day per person in high and shoulder seasons is payable
- The government fixed rate in the low season is US$200 per day per person
- Daily costs include good three-star accommodation, food, private transport (not flights), guides, entry fees, permits, a fully organised trek etc
The Happiest Country in the World
How would we describe Bhutan, the kingdom of happiness? Abundant natural beauty, breathtaking landscapes, magnificent monasteries, ancient Buddhist temples, fluttering prayer flags, the happiest of people and much, much more!
Bhutan, a place like no other. Be sure to put this on your bucket list!
Check out our other stories from across the world.