Bhutan is a small country located in the Himalayas, between India and China. Due to its location, and its policy of isolation, it is one of the few countries in the world where you can actually feel a difference from the others, and where the globalization of cultures has not reached yet.
It opened to tourism only in 1974, when the first 287 tourists visited it. Since then, the number of tourists kept increasing, but it is a controlled flow.
The way of controlling it is a “daily fee” for staying in Bhutan of minimum 250 USD per day, which includes accommodation, guides, transport and meals. The money raised by the government are used to finance education and free public health for all Bhutanese people.
You can choose your preferred tour operator among the authorized ones, the price won’t change, and most of the time also the itineraries. Just look for the ones with more recommendations or good reviews.
The access to Bhutan is through a flight to Paro airport, where most of the tours starts. I flew from New Delhi, since it has cheap intercontinental flights from Europe.
The best time to visit Bhutan is March-April or September-October: the reason if the religious festivals that are held during spring and fall, which attracts most of the tourists of the year. The biggest festivals, or Tshechu, are held in Paro during spring and in Thimpu during fall, and that’s the one I attended. If you want to visit during a festival remember to book at least 6-7 months before, or you won’t find any flight available!
Once landed, I visited Thimpu, the most modern city, that held the Thimpu Festival. Among the major attractions of the city, my favorite one is the giant buddha statue of Buddha Dardenma, overlooking the city from an hill.
I managed to shot with my drone this beautiful landmark and here’s the result:
Most of the temples and palaces are lighted by night, which makes them wonderful for night shot. This one is the Memorial Chorten:
And this the magnificent Tashichho Dzong, the buddhism monastery and fortress where the Thimphu Tshechu is held..
The festival is a major attractions not only for tourists, but also for Bhutanese people. During the day, different religious dances are held in the main courtyard outside the temple, and thousands of people watch the dances for hours and hours.
The performers wear colorful costumes and picturesque masks, and it is pure joy for photographers. I’ve been quite unlucky, since during the festival a very late monsoon hit Thimpu, but the festival happened anyway, even under an heavy rain!
This fellow was part of the “clown” dancers, and would go around joking with the audience with these wooden Phallus
You will soon realize that in Bhutan the Phallus is drawn pretty much everywhere, and shops are full of wooden penises. Especially on the houses, the penises are a symbol of prosperity:
After Thimpu, we hit the road to Punakha, another major sightseeing spot of Bhutan, and on the way we spot on the beautiful Dochula Pass, a mountain pass with a view on the Himalayas, at an altitude of 3’100 meters.
Punakha has one the best preserved and located fortress in Bhutan, nicely located on the banks of the river. A very nice activity you could ask your tour operator to organize is a 3-hours rafting along the drive, which has as ending point the Dzong. Quite an expensive activity, like everything in Bhutan unfortunately.
The visit inside is interesting as well, and like all the other dzongs (castles) it is a great opportunity for photo shooting with monks.
Last but not least Paro, the more “old-style” town. It has a nice fortress overlooking the green and fertile valley. Here’s a night shot from my hotel, that was opposite the Dzong
Paro is also the starting point for your best experience in Bhutan, and honestly one of the most astonishing place you will ever visit: the Tiger Nest.
Tiger nest, or Paro Taktsang, is one of the most incredible places I’ve seen in my life. After a 4-hours trekking up in the mountain, the forest will open and you will see this monastery literally stitched to the rocks.
It is said the Guru Rinpoche, the “spiritual father” of Bhutan, flew here on the back of a Tiger, defeated a demon and sanctified this place and when you reach here you will truly believe to this story!
The view is truly breathtaking, and I can count few places that left me with the same emotion.