Don’t miss visiting:
Eastern Bhutan, particularly the district of Tashigang. Most tourists don’t bother visiting this part of the country, because it’s hard to reach and not as developed as the western regions. That’s a mistake: The people are warm and friendly, and their festivals—in particular, Gomphu Kora in the spring and the many tshechu festivals in the fall—are not inundated with foreign visitors as they are in the rest of the country. The area also boasts Sherubtse college, one of the oldest and largest in the kingdom.
Don’t bother visiting:
Though it’s a top tourist attraction, you might consider skipping Paro Dzong. There are so many other magnificent dzongs (fortresses that house monasteries and other key religious and administrative offices) to see throughout the country that you should save your appetite for the very best.
Some Hidden gems:
Dungtse Lhakhang temple, in Paro, dates from the early fifteenth century and was constructed by Thangtong Gyalpo, a noted iron bridge builder. Visitors climb narrow wooden stairs from the ground floor, which represents hell, to the second floor, symbolizing the realm of earth, and finally to the top level, which represents heaven or nirvana. The temple paintings are among the finest in the country.
Gomphu Kora is a small temple next to a cave where Guru Rimpoche (the founder of Tibetan Buddhism) is believed to have meditated and vanquished a demon in the form of a snake. It is said that circumambulating the temple gains a pilgrim more merit than reciting Guru Rimpoche’s mantra 100,000 times—and that’s a lot of merit! Bhutanese and tribal people from Arunachal Pradesh flock here for the spring festival, where, in addition to celebrating the triumph of good over evil, they come to find a husband or a wife.
A few Cheap thrills:
Mushroom fans will love Bhutan, where the markets are filled with an amazing variety. You can pick up a pound of dried chanterelles for about 50 cents, a small fraction of what they cost back home.
Bhutan is so beautiful that there are picnic spots all over for anyone with imagination. Two of my favorites, though, are the Serbithang Botanical Garden in Thimphu and the Lamperi Botanical Garden on the Thimphu-Punakha Highway. During the spring and summer, in particular, these gardens are a kaleidoscope of colors and the perfect setting for a picnic.
Bhutan is a very photogenic country. Sunrise and sunset shots from Dochu La, between Thimphu and Punakha, are always beautiful. Festivals are a photographer’s dream: The local people are dressed in their finery, and the monks and other participants are all in their costumes. Personally, I also love watching children, particularly the small children, early in the morning outside of their school doing their regular exercise.
Bhutan is famous for its unique handwoven textiles. The traditional dress for women, the kira, is a long piece of fabric that wraps around the body. It can cost anywhere from a couple of hundred dollars to more than $30,000. The best are made of handwoven silk, and the least expensive are usually machine-made of cotton. Men sport a gho, a kind of robe that varies in cost according to the material and the amount of decoration. Both kiras and ghos make excellent souvenirs. You can learn about the designs and quality at the textile museum in Thimphu, and then our guides can take you to the best shops to make a purchase. We can also introduce you to the weavers for the royal family, but we need plenty of advance notice to do that.