Friday, October 02, 2009

Bhutan - Land of the Thunder Dragon

Photographs and trip report from my Bhutan trip from Sep 19th to 30th, 2009. I'll be posting more photographs from Bhutan over the coming weeks.

In 12 days, we visited Paro, Thimphu, Punakha, Trongsa and Bumthang. The main attractions are found around Paro/Thimphu or en route from Thimphu to Bumthang which is a quiet valley nestled amongst the clouds at around 8000ft.

For a shorter itinerary, most of the popular attractions can be visited in around 7 days with a few days reserved for the picturesque Bumthang valley. Very good accommodation can be had in Paro, Thimphu and Bumthang, the quality of "fooding" as the Bhutanese lodges call it varies widely. At least one helping of red rice and Ema Dakshi is recommend to get the flavor of Bhutan.

Indian currency is accepted in Bhutan (including INR Rs 500 at most places - officially this seems to be discouraged), change is provided in Bhutanese Ngultrum (Nu). Restaurants and lodging are not very expensive and liquor is available in pretty much all restaurants with the local brews being very inexpensive. Although Tuesday was marked as a dry day, this does not seem to be very strictly enforced. Smoking is discouraged, we saw only a few stray occurrences of people smoking in public.

We met a few interesting Bhutanese gentlemen at the resort in Bumthang who prevailed on us to try both the local beer (Red Panda - the unfiltered Weissbier brewed by a Swiss settled in Bhutan) as well as the Bhutanese Ara wine brewed from rice, wheat or barley. Of special mention was a flaming shot made by setting a concoction of Ara and eggnog on fire. I did not like the taste of the other local drink, "Suja" or butter tea that much.

Verdant forests, lush green fields, picturesque valleys and misty mountains - Bhutan is a paradise for nature lovers, trekkers or for someone who just wants to get away from the daily grind and enjoy the laid-back culture of this protected country.

On arrival at Paro International Airport. Druk Air, the official Bhutanese Airline is the only one permitted to fly to Bhutan.

Postcards for sale at a souvenir shop in Paro

This little kid was chasing pigeons around the grounds where the Thimphu Tschechu festival was being held on 29th of September, 2009 (day 2 of the festival).

A performer at the Thimphu Tschechu festival

A masked dancer at the Thimphu Tschechu festival

A lady selling trinkets near the monastery

Monks practicing for the fire dance ceremony in the monastry

School kids in traditional dress at Ura valley. Bhutanese take their national dress very seriously and most citizens can be found sporting the colorful national dress. The men wear a single piece Gho whereas the women wear the two piece Kira.

Archery is the national sport and one can find people practicing their skills in very village. The aluminum bows and arrows are tough, durable and light, one needs to be really strong to even pull the bow string to attempt a target at 150m!

The Takin is the national animal of Bhutan. According to legend, the Takin was brought to life by the Lama Drukpa Kunley (called the "Divine Madman") by combing the bones from a goat's head on a cow's body.

Masked monks light their torches in preparation for the fire dance ceremony

A fire-dancer getting ready to throw flame into the crowd. During the ceremony, around 3 - 4 masked monks holding lit torches stumble amongst the crowd in the dark field, throwing fire balls into the crowd arbitrary using some powder or other combustible material in their hands.

While not throwing fire balls at the crowd, the monk twirls his torch around

At the end of the fire dance, the green arch is set on fire and people run through the burning arch in a mad rush. The initial rush through the flaming arch led to a pile up of men, women and children with quite a few getting hurt in the process.

Bumthang valley. The valley itself is extremely beautiful, although we were disappointed by the trip to Ura valley and Mebar Tsho (Burning Lake) from Bumthang. The burning lake is actually a constricted flow of the river which is considered a holy site as Terton Pema Lingpa (a famous treasure discoverer) jumped into it with a burning lamp and came out with Guru Rimpoche's treasures with the lamp still lit in the 15th century.

The Tower of Trongsa Museum is located in the Taa Dzong which was originally constructed as a watch tower for the Trongsa Dzong.

Our main transport across Bhutan being readied for the next day. Road is the only option, there are no trains or airports (other than Paro) in Bhutan.

Thangka painting - all monasteries are richly illustrated with these with many of them highlighting the life of Buddha or the Wheel of Life.

Paro Rinpung Dzong is located at the confluence of two rivers and is the administrative seat for Paro.

A closer view of the Paro Dzong

Chillies are one of the main ingredients of Bhutanese cuisine, Ema Dakshi, a combination of chillies in cheese based gravy is a very popular accompaniment for traditional red rice which forms the staple diet.

Along with archery, the game of darts is also very popular

Watching the flight of the dart. In both archery and darts, any time the wooden target is hit, both teams join at the center and perform a nice little dance of celebration while singing a victory song.

Dochula Pass en route from Thimphu to Punakha

A car navigating the misty road up Dochula pass

The National Memorial Chorten built in 1974 to honor the late king Jigme Dorji Wangchuk, hailed as the "Father of Modern Bhutan".

Taktsang (Tiger's Nest) Monastery is located on a 3000ft cliff face at an altitude of 3000m above sea level. It is supposed to be in a cave in this monastery that Guru Rimpoche meditated after flying over the Himalayas from Tibet on a tigress and introduced Buddhism to Bhutan.

The initial stretch of the trek to Taktsang Monastery, the monastery can be seen as the white block on the middle cliff. Horses/mules can be hired if one is not inclined to do the 2 - 3 hour up hill trek to the monastery.

View of the valley below en route to Taktsang Monastery

Drukgyel Dzong located around 18 km from Paro was destroyed by fire in 1954

View from the top of Drukgyel Dzong

Paro valley under the rainbow

Pradyot arranged the Bhutan trip via Migae Adventure Travel run by Mindu Dorji. Foreigners have to spend a minimum of $250 per day on accommodation/food/travel in Bhutan, whereas for Indian Nationals there is no such minimum limit. Foreigners also have to have a visa granted based on a pre-arranged itinerary, Indians have no such restriction.

The 12D trip cost us roughly 22K INR per head (inclusive of lodging, 3 meals a day, transport and entry/permit fees) for 4 members with rooms on a twin sharing basis.


  1. Ravi Maganti7:45 PM

    Thanks for sharing - Loved the colors and the compositions. Look forward to more.

  2. Hi... beautiful pics you have here... along with the info you have provided it enhances to experience. Thanks

  3. Santhosh6:21 PM

    good pics

  4. Claudius1:09 PM

    Beautiful snaps

  5. Nice post - Bhutanese ngultrum Currency ..Keep Posting

    Bhutanese ngultrum Currency
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