From the awe-inspiring pristine beauty of Paro Valley to the bustling streets of Thimphu, Bhutan is a not-so-tiny Himalayan Kingdom, where the people pride themselves on their happiness quotient.
With great reverence for traditional Buddhist beliefs and respect for cultural heritage, the Bhutanese are warm and friendly and above all, humble. Our very first glimpse of the ParoValley, ensconced within the many mountains, transported us to another time period.
The flavors of the country are as vibrant and eclectic as the Ghos and the Kiras, Bhutan’s national dresses.
Red chillies are a quintessential ingredient in every Bhutanese dish. There is nothing better than to savour the local delicacies while life plods along in the quiet city of Thimphu.
Plum’s Cafe and The Druk, on the main Clock Tower road in Thimphu, serve some traditional Chinese and Bhutanese fare such as Chicken Chowmein, Jasha Maroo (traditional Bhutanese dish), delicious Chicken Momos, and the super-spicy Datshi (national dish of Bhutan), which is available in many different versions.
The “Datshi” is a heart-warming dish for a perfect evening in Thimphu. As the evening sun retreats into the cool darkness of the night, one should soak in the pleasures of this cushioned city while digging into a fiery mix of cheese and green peppers. This, my friends, is “Ema Datshi”, a national dish that wraps up a Bhutan experience perfectly.
Hidden away in a nondescript street of Thimphu is a Swiss Bakery that offers some delectable almond cakes, rum cakes, and croissants. Boutique hotels such as Hotel Kisa and Hotel Migmar are some of the best hotels here and are just ten minutes away from the main shopping area. Our stay at Hotel Migmar was truly memorable, mainly because of the graciousness of the hotel staff. The amenities of this hotel were classy, yet comfortable and the meals were divine. Above all, the hotel offers guests some picturesque views of the majestic mountains and easy access to shopping and entertainment.
Another striking feature of this country, are the beautiful paved roads that take you to the remotest corners.
It’s easy getting around, especially, in Thimphu where you can hire a taxi just by standing by the side of the road. The fares are on a per-head basis and the minimum fare you have to pay to get around is twenty-five Bhutanese ngultrum. Indian travelers can pay in Indian rupees; however, larger denominations like over one hundred rupees are not accepted, except in the top restaurants or hotels.
The Clock Tower road in Thimphu is the only street that has a variety of shops selling antiques, souvenirs, grocery items, shoes, and textiles. Bhutanese textiles are world famous and some of them are quite expensive. You can and you must bargain at these stores. Hong Kong Market, situated close to the main street in Thimphu, has shops selling imported Chinese goods, which are slightly expensive.
A special treat for shopaholics is the Weekend Market, which takes place Friday through Sunday, on both sides of the Wang Chhu (river Wang). Some of the local handicrafts and souvenirs such as traditional silk paintings or “Thangkas”, Bhutanese masks, necklaces and showpieces made from Yak’s bone, etc. can be purchased here.
Many of the products are imported from Nepal, Tibet, and China, but Bhutan’s locally made paper handicrafts and textiles still manage to showcase the ancient glory of the country.
A three-hour drive from Thimphu takes you to Punakha, that is a destination renowned for its river-rafting adventure, sport facilities and the grand Punakha Dzong, which means “Palace of Great Happiness or Bliss”.
A majestic structure, Punakha Dzong is the second largest and second oldest Dzong in Bhutan, and it lies at the union of the Pho Chhu and Mo Chhu in the Punakha –Wangdue Valley.
The Drukgyel Dzong, Rinpung Dzong, the National Museum of Bhutan, and Tiger’s Nest Monastery are a must-see. The ornate architecture of the Dzongs and the Buddha paintings within the confines of monastery are a visual treat. Unfortunately, photography is not permitted within the sacred monasteries.
The cool weather, since it was the monsoon season when we visited, complemented the pristine beauty of the landscape beautifully. You can easily sit down on the banks of the river and immerse your senses in the purity of Nature.
You can heighten your holiday pleasures by sinking into the tranquility and soothing panorama of Paro Valley.
Hotel Olathang in Paro offers tourists quaint cottages amid the paradisaical pine forests. Perched on a hill-top, the hotel lends you some splendorous views of the valley.
Bhutan’s cuisine and culture are hidden secrets of the Himalayan kingdom. A country of warm and happy people, it makes you want to visit again. A perfect vacation destination,Bhutan takes you far away from the hustle and bustle of commercial life.
Boarding a Druk Air flight from any of the major metropolitan cities in India will transport you to the Land of the Thunder Dragon.
Kritika Pramod Kulshrestha