There’s a magic in Bhutan’s crystal clear air. Guarded by the world’s highest mountains, grazed upon by lumbering yaks and bizarre takin goat-antelopes; populated by semi-nomadic tribes and beaming farmers in traditional robes, Bhutan boasts awe-inspiring landscapes and untainted Buddhist culture.
There is much to admire about Bhutan, and much to learn. Nestled between Tibet and northeast India, centuries of isolation have gifted this Himalayan kingdom with pristine natural riches and a colourful heritage rooted in myth and religion. Joy is constitutionally prioritised above economic prosperity – for top-ups, visit Punakha’s majestic Palace of Great Happiness – and birthdays are celebrated at the turn of the year to ensure nobody is forgotten. Humbling kindness and warm hospitality accompany you through glacial valleys, on mountain trails or in hillside dzongs, great white fortresses with sweeping terracotta roofs. You’ll not have to venture far to trace this infectious atmosphere to its source: visitors are encouraged to relax with maroon-clad monks in medieval monasteries, where elongated brass horns and tinkling bells accompany deeply hypnotic chanting. You’ll find dedicated painters of thangka masterpieces, rainbow prayer flags tangled around bright white stupas, and young monks spinning prayers into the high Himalayas.
While Buddhism manifests in dragon myths, demon-masked dancing, animal sacrifice and energetic festivals, an ancient respect for nature has nourished an ethereal Shangri-La of Himalayan beauty. Pine-forested foothills bright with wild flowers and rhododendron blooms are sanctuary to some of Asia’s most elusive wildlife: leopards and tigers, red pandas and black bears, elephants and one-horned rhinos all call this peaceful Kingdom home. Ascend to 4,000m to behold cyan-blue lakes graced by black-necked cranes and otherworldly terrain, surrounded by snow-capped peaks and creaking glaciers. Holidays in Bhutan create indelible memories.
Prominently perched high above the Paro Valley, this sacred Buddhist monastery clings to a dramatic cliff-face surrounded by fluttering prayer flags and dark pine forests. White-walled, with intricate wooden facades and a golden three-tiered roof, this architectural gem is the cultural icon of Bhutan.
These distinctively imposing fortresses are scattered in scenically strategic locations throughout Bhutan, their sheer walls and watchtowers protecting the cultural riches held within. Each uniquely decorated with mythic paintings, golden statues and ornate woodwork, they invite you to sit in on meditative chanting, spin prayer wheels or join festivals that display the district’s proud heritage in traditional dress and joyful dance.
Despite tentative acceptance of modern technology, Bhutan remains a nation proud of its mystical customs and enthused by its vibrant tscechu (festivals). Traditional knee-length gho robes and elegant kira dresses are ubiquitous; archery, the national sport, sees tournaments rage over many days; and prevalent Buddhist belief provides myriad architectural wonders in the Paro Valley’s 7th-century temples, and Bumthang’s ancient monuments.
Nowhere is the ‘Roof of the World’ more pristinely preserved than Bhutan. Incredible landscapes, their features warped and alien, scarred by glacial shift, are overshadowed by monstrous snow-capped peaks – including the highest unclimbed mountain on the planet, Gangkhar Puensum (7,500m). Trekking these high plateaus places you in the heart of a stunning natural world where stacked rocks are the only mark of those who have been and seen before you.
With elephants roaming on southern plains, red pandas scurrying in forest canopies and yaks braving harsh Himalayan terrain, Bhutan is a treasure trove for wildlife tours. Nature reserves and sanctuaries offer the chance to spot rare leopards and tigers, while horseback rides whisk you into dense pine forests carpeted with wild flowers, or higher where the mythical migoi (yeti) prowls.
In 1971, the fantastically named King Druk Gyalpo Jigme Dorji Wangchuck of Bhutan declared to the UN that ‘gross national happiness’ is his country’s chief concern. With such charismatic and benevolent leadership, the Kingdom of Bhutan has prioritised preservation and conservation over industry, leaving a charming (and unwaveringly happy) society living in a Himalayan enclave that seems like utopia compared with its polluted Asian neighbours.
For years, a trip to Bhutan has been the dream of serious travellers keen on unearthing the secrets of this notoriously private nation. Now, that dream can become a reality, and Bhutan holidays do not disappoint. Climb high up imposing trails to see the world from mountaintop temple, or seek peace in a Dzong monastery. Ancient palaces Buddhist practice and natural landmarks combine with a thoroughly modern interest in outsiders to make a visit here so much more than a holiday. Travel to Bhutan for the chance to get to know a very different world, one where local culture is strong, and happiness sacred.
Highlights of Bhutan
8 days from £5,440 pp incl. flights
As an introduction to the best of the Dragon Kingdom, stays at its finest accommodation and private touring throughout showcase Bhutan’s regal might, natural splendour and unique culture.
The Kingdom of Dragons
13 days from £8,190 pp incl. flights
Uncover Bhutan's enigma as you receive guided walks, visit communes covered in clouds, stay in luxurious accommodation with sweeping valley views and immerse yourself in traditional Bhutanese culture along the way