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Bhutan: Journey to the Happiest Place on Earth

submitted on 1 June 2023 by

An Introduction to Bhutan

Picture a tiny, isolated country nestled high in the Eastern Himalayas, between the behemoth nations of China and India. A country so remote that the concept of time seems to have stood still and where the term "rush hour" is reserved for the occasional yak crossing. This is Bhutan, the land of the Thunder Dragon, where happiness is quite literally a measure of success. In fact, Bhutan is the only country to use Gross National Happiness (GNH) as a metric for progress, making it a sort of nirvana for people seeking a break from the stress of modern life.

Getting There

Embarking on a trip to Bhutan is an adventure in itself. With flights only permitted to land in daylight hours and under immaculate visibility conditions, Bhutan's sole international airport in Paro is considered one of the most challenging to navigate. However, nothing compares to the thrill of soaring over the mighty Himalayas and being treated to unparalleled views of Mount Everest and neighboring peaks. As Bhutan has been cautious about opening its doors to the outside world, all travelers must join a guided tour with a local agency. Tour packages usually include a visa, accommodation, meals, transportation, and a knowledgeable guide to ensure one leaves Bhutan with their happiness quotient suitably enhanced.

Thimphu: The Sleepy Capital

Upon arrival, the first stop for most visitors is Thimphu, the sleepy capital city with no traffic lights, and the only place in the world where policemen direct traffic through an elaborately choreographed dance. With a population of around 100,000, Thimphu is a charming blend of old and new, where ancient monasteries coexist with cyber cafés, and traditional archery competitions take place beside basketball courts.

Must-Visit Attractions

  • Taktshang Goemba (Tiger's Nest Monastery): Perched precariously on a cliff's edge, 3,000 feet above the Paro Valley floor, the Tiger's Nest Monastery is Bhutan's most iconic landmark. Legend has it that Guru Rinpoche, who brought Buddhism to Bhutan, flew to the site on the back of a tigress and meditated in a cave for three months. Reaching the monastery involves a strenuous hike, but the breathtaking views and spiritual atmosphere make it well worth the effort.
  • Punakha Dzong: Arguably the country's most beautiful fortress, Punakha Dzong lies at the confluence of two rivers, surrounded by vibrant jacaranda trees. This architectural masterpiece has withstood numerous natural disasters and invasions, and today serves as the winter residence for Bhutan's spiritual leader, the Je Khenpo.
  • Phobjikha Valley: A visit to the Phobjikha Valley is a must for nature lovers. This vast, U-shaped glacial valley is home to the endangered black-necked cranes that migrate from Tibet during the winter months. The valley also boasts several picturesque villages and monasteries, offering a glimpse into rural Bhutanese life.

Festivals: A Feast for the Senses

One of the best ways to immerse oneself in Bhutanese culture is to attend a traditional festival, or tsechu. These annual events, held in various towns and villages across the country, are a riot of color, music, and dance. Locals don their finest traditional garments and gather to witness masked dancers perform elaborate choreographies that recount the country's history and mythology. Tsechus are also a time for socializing and feasting, and no doubt contribute significantly to the nation's happiness index.

Archery: Bhutan's National Obsession

To truly understand the Bhutanese psyche, one must witness an archery match. The country's national sport, archery is passionately practiced by men of all ages, who display remarkable skill and precision using traditional bamboo bows. Matches are lively affairs, accompanied by much jeering, singing, and the consumption of copious amounts of the local firewater, ara. It's a wonder that anyone is able to hit the tiny targets placed 450 feet away, but somehow they do, much to the delight of the animated crowd.

In Conclusion

Bhutan may be a tiny blip on the world map, but its vibrant culture, breathtaking landscapes, and warm-hearted people leave an indelible mark on the hearts of those who journey to this happiest place on Earth. As you bid farewell to the Land of the Thunder Dragon, you can't help but feel a little happier and at peace with the world.

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