Things to Do
Bhutan is known to be a peaceful country. The people are very friendly and civilized. The country has an amazing traffic sense. When you are in Thimpu, it is hard to find a car honking its way through. Any car will stop and allow you to cross the road first instead of honking.
In Bhutan, it is a challenge to order Indian food and get what you ordered. There are high chances that the chef or waiter would goof up. Make sure you enunciate well while ordering Indian dishes. However, you will not always receive unexpected dishes on table, but prevention is better than cure. Once, we ordered Aloo-paratha and sat at the table expecting the famous North Indian dish to arrive. But, to our dismay, we received ‘Aloo ki sabzi’ with ‘Butter Paratha’.
Things to do in Bhutan!
- Visit the Buddha Statue (Thimpu)
- Get a bird’s eye view of Thimpu
- Meet the national animal of Bhutan (Thimpu)
- Explore the Handicrafts market (Thimpu)
- Make a Bhutanese friend
- Treat yourself with Bhutanese cuisine
- Cross the cold river (Bumthang)
- Spend an early morning at a monastery (Bumthang)
- Ascend your way up to Tiger’s Nest (Taktsang Monastery, Paro)
- Attend the traditional festivals (Paro)
Visit the Buddha Statue (Thimpu)
Buddha is given quite prominence in Bhutan. This is very evident by the tall Buddha Statue which is located in the vicinity of Thimpu city. The statue is so tall that it can be viewed from multiple points while you drive along the highways. Spotting the distant Buddha while roaming around in Thimpu city was our favourite time-pass activity.
Get a bird’s eye view of Thimpu
While you ascend towards the Huge Buddha Statue, just peek sideways and you will discover a city nestled in the centre of mountains. This is the Thimpu city and you will be stunned by the panoramic view the highway allows you to admire.
Meet the national animal of Bhutan (Thimpu)
On meeting this national animal of Bhutan, you will realise how different it is from the Indian National animal. The Indian National animal is a predator while Takin, Bhutanese National animal, feeds on grass. May be this is the secret behind Bhutan’s absolute peace.
Takin is a combination of a cow and a goat. Yes, the head is of a goat and body, of a cow. There is a small story behind Takin. It shows how the national animal is related to Bhutanese religion and history. The story is as mentioned below.
“Once upon a time, there was a saint. His name was Lama Drukpa Kuenlay. But, he was popularly known as ‘Divine Madman’. The name was assigned to him because of his outrageous acts. He was known for his magical powers. One fine day, his devotees asked him to perform a miracle for them. The ‘Divine Madman’ agreed but asked for a whole cow and a goat to eat. Having devoured both, only bones of the animals remained. He stuck the goat’s head on cow’s bones and uttered some magical words. To the devotees’ surprise, the animal rushed to the meadows and started grazing grass”
Believe it or not, the taxonomists have not been able to relate Takin to any other animal and provided a whole new category to the animal.
Explore the Handicrafts market (Thimpu)
If shopping is one point on your check list, you better check it here at the authentic handicrafts market. You will find a wide range of products that you can shop and take home. The price is affordable and you can also bargain here. In fact, the handicrafts market will provide you maximum options and best price for shopping local stuff. The rest of shops in the streets will charge you a higher fortune. You will find a wide range of products here having impression of the King of Bhutan. Yes, Bhutanese people do love their king.
Make a Bhutanese friend
Now, who can give you the best idea about local culture, traditions and places to see? The locals obviously! All that you need to do in to pass a smile and start chatting with a Bhutanese guy/girl who can speak adequate English. The people of Bhutan love to talk to tourists, especially if they are Indians. They are quite fascinated with Bollywood and other wonders of India. I met this chap at the Handicrafts market and spent significant time learning about the secrets behind those smiling faces.
Treat yourself with Bhutanese cuisine
Datshi is considered to be the national veg food in Bhutan. For non-veg folk, you can find a wide variety of pork and beef dishes. Datshi can be made in various forms. The most famous variety is Ema Datshi. Ema basically means chilli and Ema Datshi is made of chilli, pepper and cheese. You can suit yourself by adding/subtracting ingredients from the national dish. We kept on ordering Potato Datshi which replaced Chilli with Potato. Had this blog been categorized as a culinary blog, I would have written more about Datshi along with the recipe.
Cross the cold river (Bumthang)
In Bhutan. every town seems to have a river flowing through it. In Bumthang, the river was located in vicinity of our hotel. Hence, we decided to take a stroll along the riverside in the evening. The river is not that deep. The water is so clear that you can see the rocks under the water. These rocks are quite uneven. Due to this, a 4 meter wide stream is formed in the river. There are rocks above the water level on both sides of the stream. We decided to cross the river by constructing a wooden bridge. The idea was not appreciated by the flowing water and it carried the wooden bridge along with it.
Finally, we decided to roll up our jeans and cross the cold water of the river by stepping into it. We crossed the river, subjecting our feet to numbness. Moreover, the bare feet had to suffer more due to some of the pointed rocks. We finally had some relief, only when we placed our feet in front of the heater in our room.
Spend an early morning at a monastery (Bumthang)
Lhohdrak Kharchhu Monastery is situated on a hill overviewing the Bumthang town. After a small trek, you will reach peaceful premises of the monastery. The trek is not too long and should not take more than half an hour. Visiting this monastery is highly recommended.
When we reached the monastery, the ambiance was very peaceful. The monks were preparing for their regular morning ceremony. When the ceremony started, some 150 monks participated in it. The chants were so powerful that we seemed to be captivated by that. Some monks were playing this beautiful musical instrument, displayed in the image below. When I was taking this pic, I had actually felt the vibrations emanating from the instrument. The whole experience was so divine, a friend of mine was already inquiring how to become a monk.
Ascend your way up to Tiger’s Nest (Taktsang Monastery, Paro)
A trip to Bhutan without visiting Tiger Monastery is Null and void. The trek upwards would take 3 hrs and downwards, 1.5 hrs. When you start ascending the trek, you will go through woods and rocks. Try to make it interesting by discovering shortcuts. Some of the shortcuts can, however, increase the difficulty level of the trek.
Ideally, you should start trekking upwards at 9 AM so that you reach the monastery before 1 PM. The timing of the monastery includes a lunch break from 1 pm – 2 pm. Hence, if you reach between 1 PM and 2 PM, you will have to wait for the doors to open again.
While trekking up, you will discover a cafeteria where you can rest. The cafeteria is rather costly, offering an average coffee at Rs. 84 and Lunch buffet at Rs. 420.
The view from the monastery is spectacular. You can see the spot from where you had started trekking. For a while, we just sat near the valley and admired the silence. But, when we noticed that clouds were approaching us, we started trekking back. Suddenly, it started raining and we had to find for a shelter. It also snowed a little, making the atmosphere quite cold. Finally, raining subsided and we trekked down safely.
Attend the traditional festivals (Paro)
We attended a traditional festival at Paro. However, every district has its own festival. This festival is known as tshechu. The tshechu is named after the district it is organized in.
Tshechu is basically a traditional festival which is organized annually across various dzongs. During Tshechu, the entire community gathers to witness a show of colourful events. The most popular event is the mask dance. Every mask dance has an interesting story behind it.
‘Paro Tshechu’ and ‘Thimpu Tshechu’ are considered to be the best Tshechus organized across Bhutan. You can witness a pompous display of traditional culture at these festivals.
These were the 10 things that we enjoyed in Bhutan. In addition to the above experiences, driving through the Bhutan roads is also fun. However, the route from Thimpu to Bumthang was under construction when we visited. Due to this, it was very uneven and bumpy.
While planning your itinerary, you can consider Bumthang only if you have spare time. It is not that different from Paro. When we included Bumthang in our itinerary, we were told that Bumthang is known as mini Switzerland. Due to that, we had high expectations about the town. However, I was disappointed on reaching Bumthang as there were no snow clad mountains, contrary to my expectations.