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Why visit Bhutan in 2023


July 20, 2022

Karma Dorji, Travel Programs Coordinator, Bhutan Himalaya Expeditions

The magnificent Jakar Dzong in central Bhutan lit by the rays of the sun
The magnificent Jakar Dzong in central Bhutan lit by the rays of an afternoon sun

With thoughtful itineraries honed since 1999, we unveil the depths of Bhutan's happiness philosophy, the daily physical adventures through the beautiful Himalayan landscape complemented by the intimate and in-depth cultural experiences sensitively curated for you every day. 

Through the eyes of a select few informed leaders we saw the dilemmas of a culture: A hitherto sheltered nation discovering the arguments for and against remaining a cloistered society in this 21st Century. I loved the adventure, and I loved the discovery. Unlike anything else I have ever experienced!

Lola W., California 



Table with a variety of the traditional culinary hits laid out at the Folk Heritage restaurant, a favored watering hole for officials entertaining visiting guests and diplomats © Bhutan Himalaya archives

The country practices as "low numbers, high value" tourism policy, and your travel pays for national investments in youth and social services, health and education, as well as infrastructure. Further, since the country avoids environment-polluting industries, the government's entry fees underwrite environmental protection as well. With all that in mind, here are our 10 reasons why Bhutan is still a good investment of your precious time time and money.

1. The Food

All agricultural produce in the country is grown organically by decree. The use of pesticides and non-organic soil amendments has been banned in the kingdom for nearly a decade now. Today, a growing interest in the diverse food traditions of the kingdom and the availability of local organic produce is fueling a local food revival. 

Built on the primary ‘nine grains’ of Bhutan—red rice, millet, sweet buckwheat, bitter buckwheat, barley, amaranth, mustard, wheat and maize—Bhutanese food includes many unique flavors and ingredients such as wild foraged bitter cane (in season), the wild matsutake mushroom (in August and early September), country-style buckwheat noodles in the central Bumthang region, and the nutritious (and delicious) buckwheat dumplings of the western Haa region. 

Among the more exotic items you can try in Bhutan is Cordyceps Sinensis, the allegedly miraculous health-bestowing high-altitude fungus that’s harvested only after it fuses with the remnants of a ‘caterpillar’. Several of the well-known co-ops in the capital such as the OGOP or the CSI carry dried or powdered versions, as well as tea infused with the essence of this fabled fungus, which is now even appearing in high-end health food stores in the US and Europe. In some parts of Bhutan, the Cordyceps ‘worm’ is consumed whole or imbibed after being steeped in Bhutan’s clear alcoholic brew, Ara, which is similar to Japanese Sake (please ask your guide in advance if you'd like to try it as it takes some time to find).

Bhutan Himalaya guest photographer Robert surrounded by young monks curious about his work © Bhutan Himalaya archives

2. The people are genuinely good and open

Bhutanese people are honest and kind to a fault. You may not realize how exhausting it is to live in societies where everything is a transaction until you arrive in Bhutan. Once you drop your guard and relax into your journey, the natural good humor of the people, their decency, and their honesty begins to shine through. Here, you can appreciate just how truly amazing it is to have people approach you without motives other than to share an experience of genuine human contact. With one of the lowest crime rates in the world, honesty is, in fact, a national attribute. Lost ATM cards in the kingdom are routinely found taped to walls next to ATM machines with helpful handwritten notes to their owners, and taxi drivers commonly track down passengers who forget their purses, wallets and valuables in their cars.

The only large signs beside the highway in Bhutan are of the young king and queen and the adorable crown prince or 'Gyalsey' © Bhutan Himalaya archives

3. No advertisement billboards, Starbucks or McDonald's

There are no giant billboards pushing the consumer lifestyle here. The only large signs you will see are the ones announcing important public health messages and those celebrating the cutest first family in the world: the handsome young king; the winsome queen; and their adorable, dimple-cheeked sons, the older of whom, Gyalsay (Crown Prince), has already won hearts and minds across the kingdom and beyond. Not here the ubiquitous Starbucks, the omnipresent Golden Arches or the scarlet Pizza Huts you see in neighboring countries in the region, and it will probably remain so, by royal decree.

The expansive rooms at our family-owned mountain resort feature tall wood beams and local river rock, built in the traditional style with a modern flair © Bhutan Himalaya archives
The Thimphu City Hotel
Style meets tradition at the intimately-curated modern lodges and hotels during our time in Bhutan's capital, Thimphu © Bhutan Himalaya archives

4. Local inns and lodges with traditional character

Every local lodge, inn or hotel, while not necessarily up-to-date with the latest modern standards, offers its own unique blend of traditional culture and convenience. Worried about central heating? Check out the kingdom’s spin on an iron wood stove, or bukhari, which lends rustic charm to any hotel interior while giving you the benefits of warming your feet. Using a local lodge or hotel means you're supporting the local economy, the likelihood of striking up a friendship with the local owners or inkeepers and there’s none of the  flattening sameness of the international chains you see in many other travel destinations.

5. Here you can truly get away from it all!

In Bhutan, you probably have the best chance anywhere of truly getting away from it all! Remote valleys with a pristine environment (and great weather in the spring and the fall) means that you can go deep into the country if you choose. Once you leave the hustle and bustle of the capital and the few major towns, the true heart of Bhutan opens up. You can still find many places where there are no landlines, no television sets or radios, or even newspapers. But if you truly seek escape from the world, you’ll have to take the ultimate plunge and unplug your cellphones. That's because the local sattellite-beamed network coverage is excellent, and you’ll likely pick up a connection in most places, even the more remote valleys.

The bucolic Tang valley which can often seem far, far from the madding crowd © Bhutan Himalaya archives
The Bhutanese countryside and the reflective pace of life invites you to explore deeper, physically and spiritually © Bhutan Himalaya archives

6. Bhutan invites you to explore the deeper meaning of our lives

From taking a longer, more cosmic view of things to a deeper inquiry toward peace and equilibrium, an encounter with the Bhutanese culture encourages us to ask the bigger questions in life—questions we may not have time for in our busier societies with more materially-defined ideas of success, happiness and meaning.

7. Bhutan offers an opportunity for personal transformation

This is not a tall claim. For those who find it at the right time in their lives, Bhutan can be a catalyst for personal transformation. The 17th century Japanese Haiku poet Basho believed that travel can be a process of spiritual rebirth. He wrote that "when you visit sacred sites and explore sacred landscapes, you enter a liminal space of the heart and the mind, where your old habitual self dies, and you enter an in-between state in which a new awareness arises." He believed that, in this elevated form of travel, "we undertake such journeys seeking to be reborn in a higher state of consciousness by encountering all the sublime influences in the places that we experience." The sheer number of sacred sites in Bhutan, the numerous ancient temples and monasteries in every village and town that have remained virtually unchanged since they were built, as well as the open spirits of the people mean this country just may be where you awaken to your higher state. 

The Buddha and the "Wheel of Dharma" still inform life and values in Bhutan to this day, providing a perfect learning opportunity © Bhutan Himalaya archives

8. Here you can take an inner and an outer journey

Like the best places in the world, you can take both an inner and an outer journey in Bhutan. There's the physical journey through the history, the temples, the monasteries, the ancient landscape, the valleys and gorges, the rushing waterfalls, the aquamarine rivers roaring down from the snow-capped peaks. Then there's the inner journey in which the visitor can travel in their own hearts and their minds over some of the paths that the Bhutanese people follow in their own learning and study, their beliefs, their spiritual practices and their way of life. In this way you can travel simultaneously on two planes and connect with the hearts and minds of the people to get an understanding of where their culture comes from, their version of reality, and their perspectives on the nature of existence. Along the way you're invited to immerse yourself in a way of seeing the world differently, which is the greatest gift of travel.

The depth of cultural learning that Himalayan cosmology offers, and the lived generosity of spirit in the daily lives of the people can be an inspiration for many travelers to Bhutan © Bhutan Himalaya archives

9. You can bring home the practical lessons for your own life

The stated national goal of Bhutan is perfecting a formula for happiness. A large part of the country's population are monks and nuns whose job it is to daily contemplate the ways of finding peace and teaching it to the people. Meet a government official and they will tell you about protecting the four pillars of Gross National Happiness: cultural preservation, environmental well-being, equitable socioeconomic development and good governance. Bhutanese people are wonderful at sharing their stories and their perspectives, which means that, if you're willing to listen, you will likely find more than a few practical gems and reminders you can bring home to enrich your own life.

Our journeys sometimes offer remarkable meetings with the living masters of Buddhism who often share their hard-won insights with our travelers © Bhutan Himalaya archives

10. We are all connected

The ultimate lesson of Bhutanese culture is that we are all warmed by the same spiritual fire. That we are all, each of us, "Buddhas in the rough." To break down the delusions that separate us, and to seek a higher understanding of the interconnected nature of all things are the true goals of Bhutanese Buddhism. When an entire country believes that all of us in the world have been each other’s mothers in our previous lives, it makes the people that much more open to visitors. Bhutanese people also respect all other religious traditions. By sharing perspectives grounded in the Dharma (the teachings of the Buddha), Bhutanese people are not expressing a belief that their view is somehow superior. Instead, they are sharing the belief that a close examination and training of our own minds, no matter who we are, can vastly improve the depth and meaning of our lives no matter what or where we come from. And that, ultimately, is what makes Bhutan a truly worthy destination whether in 2023 or beyond.

Karma Singye Dorji has been leading and coordinating close and intimate journeys to Bhutan since 1999. He is the author of Dreaming of Prayer Flags: Stories and Images from Bhutan. A print version of this post appeared in the year-end issue of Tashi Delek, the inflight magazine of Drukair, Royal Bhutan Airlines, the national carrier of Bhutan.

The ultimate lesson of the Bhutanese way of life is that we are all warmed by the same spiritual fire of our common humanity, without exception © Bhutan Himalaya archives

WHEN LONELY PLANET named Bhutan their top travel choice for 2020, no one could have known that the kingdom would instead close its borders to protect its citizens from the pandemic. Now, with travel resuming under the 'new normal,' the country has reopened its doors. 

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