Bhutan, Land of Thunder Dragon

Posted on June 20, 2024, featured in Experiences

I was fortunate enough to spend over a week in this mysterious and incredible country. Bhutan is famous for its vibrant and colourful celebrations, especially the Tshechu festivals. These preserved in time, historic events showcase Bhutan’s deep-rooted Buddhist beliefs and culture. They pay tribute to The Guru Rimpoche, who introduced Buddhism to Bhutan in the eighth century. 

After landing in Paro Airport, where only 8 pilots in the world are trained to land (shortest runway!) we overnighted in Paro. The next day we travelled to Rinpung Dzong where we received a blessing from a high Lama.

From here we went over Chelela Pass (3999m up) and hung prayer flags and stopped at a local farm house for a delicious home stay meal with wonderful Bhutanese hosts.

Onward to The Haa Valley. This beautiful and mysterious valley is a 3 hour drive which is the last location before Tibet and far in the west of the country. Here MyBhutan, our partners, set up an incredible 5 star glamping experience. Bhutan literally translated means ‘The End of Tibet’ and this is where we found ourselves looking over into what is a 2 day walk to Tibet.

At this wonderfully set up camping spot, we delved into Bhutan’s national sport, archery, went catch and release trout fishing, spoke with women that weave intricate and beautiful carpets and rugs (each one takes nearly a year to hand weave!).

We were privileged to observe local dancers who performed ancient and sacred dances and folkloric songs of love, celebration of happiness of being Bhutanese. We took riverside hot stone baths and plunged into the Haa Chuu River. The food and entertainment was nothing short of wonderful and from here we could do up to 20 different hikes into the mountains and of course some wonderful walks… all without seeing another soul save the odd farmer. Only 2% of tourists ever visit this incredible valley. Luckily, for Sikeleli and our valued guests, we can visit; and soon we will be able to offer you a helicopter flight in to avoid the drive.

Continuing our journey from Haa to Thimphu, we were fortunate to explore The Aman Kora Thimphu and experience the magnificent Six Senses, boasting some of the most breathtaking views I have ever witnessed. The sight of a lush green mountain slope, picturesque rolling tree lines, and vibrant rice paddy terraces left me in awe. I had a relaxing late massage here and woke up early the next day around 5 am. The air was incredibly fresh, offering clear views of the snow-capped peaks of the majestic Himalayas that dominated the surrounding landscape, even in the summer season.

After the Six Senses Thimpu we returned to Punakha, where we took an adventurous and uninterrupted cycle through the town. Seeing all the local people going about their business and not another tourist in sight.

In Punakha we checked into the Six Senses Punakha and again the views were breathtaking looking onto one of the world’s largest sitting Buddhas.

A well kitted out gym got us all set for our excursion to visit this statue of reverence and to our surprise, we were treated to a private meditation with a high lama inside the Buddha and a private performance of an almost lost piece of music and dance, by one of Bhutan’s most famous folk singer, the revered Aum Tshewang Lham and her troupe of amazing performers.

After this, onto a sumptuous meal served in a room where we were hosted by his Eminence, Lopon Sangay Dorji. Who is the most senior master among the five top officials (lopon) of Bhutan’s central ecclesiastic body. As you can imagine this was such an honour, to be graced with not only the presence of this great mind, this enlightened human but to be able to converse with him and learn more about the good work he does. Setting up meditation Dharmas around the world, spreading the word of kindness and mindfulness. He doesn’t give many audiences a year, we were very fortunate and this experience or similar is something we can also share with our guests at Sikeleli!

After this we prepared for our last two nights back in Paro where one can choose to stay at Aman Six Senses or Bhutan Spirit Sanctuary and we stayed at the latter. Here we embarked on the pinnacle excursion: Going to visit the Tiger’s Nest Monastery. 

Tiger’s Nest is 3,000 feet above the valley and 10,000 feet above sea level, making the path up to the monastery quite taxing and a slow but worth while climb. Legend states that Guru Rinpoche arrived in Bhutan by flying on the back of a tigress. He visited several caves and cliff sides to meditate and he spent a large amount of his time on the mountainside above the Paro Valley, sanctifying the place that would later become one of Bhutan’s holiest monasteries, Paro Taktsang otherwise known as Tiger’s Nest. 

It took us about an hour and a half to summit, we spent time and were blessed but the high lama of the nest and then trundled down after the most beautiful tour of the caves and some of the temples therein. What an experience and what a privilege to be up there in this holy place.

We completed the trip with a beautiful group dinner to celebrate our wonderful experience and sufficed to say, we look forward to planning YOUR trip to this holy and untouched land, the one we call The last Shangri – La.

Fun Facts on Bhutan

Bhutan is known for its unique philosophy of Gross National Happiness (GNH) and is pioneering model that measures the country’s prosperity by measuring its citizens’ happiness levels over economic growth. Introduced in the 1970’s by the fourth King of Bhutan, Jigme Singye Wangchuck, this is a way to measure the country’s progress and development.

New to Tourism – Tourism in Bhutan began in 1974 when the Government of Bhutan, in an effort to raise revenue and to promote Bhutanese culture and traditions to the outside world, opened its isolated country to visitors. In 1974 only 270 odd people visited Bhutan! Bhutan has 23 languages – an extremely diverse amount of spoken word! It is one of only 3 of the world’s carbon NEGATIVE countries -This means that Bhutan absorbs more carbon dioxide than it produces. The tree cover is about 72% of the country. Paro is known as a very tricky airport to land on… And guess what? ONLY 8 trained pilots are allowed to do this.

Homosexuality Was Decriminalised in 2019 Women head the families and run all businesses from shops to farms. They also inherit properties, and a man moves into the house of his wife after marriage. Go ladies!

No Mountaineering! But you can hike – Bhutan has a law wherein mountaineers are prohibited from climbing a mountain higher than 6,000m as they are considered a home for gods and spirits.

 Gangkhar Puensum is the highest mountain in Bhutan and has never been summited. It has an elevation of 7570 metres.

Bhutanese love their animals… they are not allowed to kill any animals or birds. This law comes from the traditional values of Buddhist teachings, which prohibits the killing of any living organism. All the meat is imported from other countries.

Phalluses are a common sight in Bhutan, where they are considered a symbol of good luck and protection against evil spirits. In Bhutanese culture, phalluses are seen as a representation of fertility, power and good fortune and they are often depicted in various forms of art, including paintings, carvings and sculptures. .

Bhutan has never been Conquored or colonised..

We hope to bring you to this magical land in our very good care.

Chat to danni@sikelelitravel.com about her trip and how we can curate the same one for you or something similar!

Ready for us to plan your next journey?​