What makes Bhutan stand out from the rest of the world?

7 unique ways in which Bhutan stands out from the rest of the world:

Bhutan prioritizes Gross National Happiness over Gross National Product:

Bhutan-Happy
All Smiles 🙂

His Majesty Jingme Singye Wangchuck, the former king of Bhutan believed that rather than measuring the progress of the country based on the amount of money the country earns, it should be measured by the happiness of the people and factors contributing to the quality of life.

Bhutan is a country without traffic lights:

Bhutan-Traffic-Cop
Bhutan Traffic Police (Photo by Cathal McNaughton/Reuters)

Thimpu is the only capital city in the world to have no traffic lights. The intersections are manned by police officers gracefully guiding the traffic. The low population of the country makes the need for traffic lights void. Although, the government had installed traffic lights in Thimpu but recalled the installation the next day as it caused a lot of confusion.

Bhutan has a national dress:

Bhutan-Gho-Kira
Royal Couple wearing traditional attire

The Gho for men and Kira for women is the national dress. All citizens have to wear it to government offices, schools and formal gatherings. The Gho is a knee-length robe tied at the waist by a cloth belt known as the kera. The kira is an ankle-length dress consisting of a rectangular piece of woven fabric. It is wrapped and folded around the body and is pinned at both shoulders, and bound at the waist with a long belt.

Bhutan has one of the world’s most challenging airports:

Bhutan-Airport
Paro Airport

Paro airport is the only international airport present in Bhutan and was also the only airport in the entire country up until 2011. Surrounded by peaks as high as 5,500 meters and consisting of just one runway, this airport requires pilots to undergo special training before they can land here. There are only a handful of certified pilots that can land in Paro. It is in a deep valley and on the banks of river Paro Chhu which makes for some breathtaking views.

Bhutan prioritizes environmental conservation:

Bhutan-Forest
Forest in Bhutan

The forests and animals are protected, the government passed a rule stating that 60% of the country should be forest area. This shows how much the Bhutan cares about nature.

Bhutan has a unique national animal:

Takin-Bhutan
Takin Preserve Thimpu

The Takin is a rare mammal found in the north western and far north eastern parts of the country. Thimpu has a Takin preserve where you can find these animals in their natural habitat. They look like they have a goat’s head on a cow’s body. Since this animal has a lot of mention in Bhutanese folklore it was declared the national animal by the king.

Bhutan has traditional architecture:

Bhutan-Art
Art on Doors

As stated by law, all buildings in Bhutan must reflect traditional architecture. This is why every house looks so picturesque with their doors and windows having intricate woodwork.

Also read about my experience at Urbanpod Mumbai: India’s first Pod Hotel.

TAKTSANG MONASTERY – INTO THE TIGER’S LAIR

Legend has it that Padmasambhava flew to this site on a Tigress. He came to subdue a Tiger demon. If you look closely at the cliff on which the Taktsang Monastery rests, you will see the face of a tiger.  Taktsang is a Tibetian word that literally translates into “Tiger’s Lair”. This is the place where Padmasambhava meditated and later emerged in 8 different forms hence, this place is of great historical importance. The monastery is situated in the Paro valley at a height of 10,240 ft.

We set off from Thimpu in the morning at around 7:45 a.m (We planned to leave at 6:00 am but our driver literally said that he does not wake up early and so we had to start later). At 9:00 am we reached Paro, had our breakfast in a small café and reached the base of the trek at 9:30 am. The mighty monastery perched atop a steep cliff intimidates you. But, it is one of the most spectacular sights you will ever see. Although it seems formidable, there are a number of access routes. Our driver said that it would be a 4 hour trek and that his personal best was 1:30 hours to the top. You can take a ride on the back of a donkey that will take you almost up to the top or can just trek your way up.

There is a pretty well defined trail and at a steady pace it would take you about 2 hours to reach the top. My friend and I were quite disappointed that there was a defined trail as we expected a difficult adventurous trek. So, we wandered off the trail to define our own path to the top. At about midway there is a village temple and a cafeteria. You can sip your coffee in full view of the monastery. We also got lost but do not regret it at all because we found ourselves at the priest’s house. These quarters are situated opposite to the monastery and at a higher ground.

We then made our way back on to the path, the path is lined with prayer flags and paraphernalia for worship. There are pine trees in the surrounding and you can hear the pleasant sound of a waterfall. The large water fall, drops 200 ft into a sacred pool and is forded over by a bridge. The bridge is a flight of stairs that first descends down the ravine and then ascends towards the monastery entrance. Even though we got lost we eventually made it to the monastery in 1:30 hours.

The monastery has 4 temples and residential shelters. There are eight caves present. All the buildings are interconnected through steps and stairways made out of rocks. There are a few wooden bridges that have ridges to place your feet and help you cross over the rocks. The caves have a number of images of Buddha. Oil lamps are seen flickering in the foreground of the idols, while the soothing chants of the monks echo in the air. The entire setting makes you feel that time has slowed down.

Tips to get the best out of your Taktsang experience:

Get here early in the morning: The timings of the monastery are: 8am – 1pm and 2pm – 6pm. If you plan and start the trek at 8am you will be able to beat the crowd and have the amazing view all to yourself.

Take in the view: Photography is not allowed inside the monastery premises so make sure you take as many pictures as possible on your way here.

Do not keep this for the last day: It is always better to have an extra buffer day as the weather is unpredictable and could ruin your trek.

Follow the dress code: Wear full sleeves t-shirts preferably with a collar and also avoid shorts. The monastery guards are strict about the dress code and would not let you inside. I had to borrow a scarf to enter the monastery as I wasn’t wearing a collared t-shirt.

Carry food and water: Carry atleast 2 liters of water and some energy bars to keep yourself fueled.