A Road Trip through Bhutan – Land of the Thunder Dragons
Bhutan sounds exotic, mystical and almost otherworldly. Well, it feels that way too.
Most travellers are typically attracted to a destination by three things and Bhutan ticks each of these boxes and how:
The promise of delicious food and innate beauty
The traditions and culture of the place
The possibility of adrenaline-pumping adventure
If you long to explore a less-considered destination that has still retained most of its traditional heritage and natural landscapes, then Bhutan is your destination of choice.
The most appealing thing about Bhutan is that wealth doesn’t define the strength of the country here. ‘Gross National Happiness’ is more important than ‘Gross Domestic Product’.
The prosperity and growth of the country are measured on a Gross National Happiness Index (GNHI). The GNH Index includes both traditional areas of socio-economic concern such as living standards, health and education and less traditional aspects of culture and psychological well being.
The ideal way to do justice to Bhutan is via a road trip!
Amongst the majestic Himalayas and beautiful lakes, Bhutan is known for its Dzongs. Dzong architecture is a distinctive type of fortress architecture found mainly in Bhutan and Tibet. These Dzongs are all reflective of the Buddhist and monastic culture of Bhutan. Some of the ones that especially stand out are:
The Samdrup Jongkhar Dzong in Trashigang is one of the newest built Dzongs in the country and it serves as the office for district administrators. The Dzong in Samdrup Jongkhar is built on a plane and on a rather open area unlike other Dzongs in the country which are strategically built on hilltops and mountains.
Another attraction near this Dzong is the Mithun Breeding farm. The Mithuns are considered the finest breed of bison in Bhutan and it is absolutely worthwhile to stop for a while and observe these magnificent animals. The Mithuns raised here are supplied to the farmers of the six eastern districts.
Trashigang Dzong: Trashigang Dzong or ‘The Fortress of the Auspicious Hill’ was built in 1659 to defend the country against Tibetan invasions. It is one of the most strategically placed dzongs in the country because it is accessible only from the north.
According to legend, it is said that upon seeing the Dzong, invading Tibetan armies remarked that the Dzong was “not on the ground”. It was considered to be a sky dzong by the Tibetans before retreating. This is also one of the most scenic Dzongs you will see in Bhutan.
Next, head to the Radhi Village in Trashigang. It’s such an intriguing insight into the lifestyle of the locals here. All of the natives here wear their traditional dresses, cook only the authentic and staple delicacies far away from global culinary scrutiny. This is a definite a No Pizza Hut/ McDonald’s zone.
Radhi Village, known as the Rice Bowl of the East, is famous for its rice fields and the skill of its women weavers who produce high-quality silk textiles.
Mongar Dzong: Next up, make your way to Mongar. The road approaching Mongar is one of the most spectacular journeys in the country. It passes over sheer cliffs and through beautiful fir forests and green pastures.
According to an oral legend, Zochhen Bala, an architect from Paro was invited to build a fortress here. While surveying the land, he came across a white bowl and named that spot as Zhongkar (white bowl). Zhongar Dzong was demolished by a fire and a subsequent earthquake that lasted seven days.
It was abandoned thereafter and its functions shifted to present-day Mongar Dzong.
Bumthang: A very religious region of the country is Bumthang, home to some of Bhutan’s oldest Buddhist temples and monasteries. This Dzongkhag of Bhutan is the perfect place to visit if you’re interested in knowing the historical and spiritual legacy of Bhutan.
The Jakar town in Bumthang especially is a bustling little street town. While most of Bhutan is reflective of ancient customs and lifestyle, this tiny one-street town is a sneak peek to the cute little globalized Bhutan. Restaurants with world cuisines, internet cafes and espresso bars were a fun change!
Jakar Dzong or the “Caste of the White Bird’ played an important role as the fortress of defence of the whole eastern Dzongkhags. It also became the seat of the first king of Bhutan.
Punakha Dzong: Punakha Dzong is arguably the most beautiful dzong in the country, the lilac-coloured jacaranda trees bring a lush sensuality to the dzong’s characteristically towering whitewashed walls.
This Dzong was the second to be built in Bhutan and it served as the capital and seat of government until the mid-1950s. All of Bhutan’s kings have been crowned here.
Once you’re all Dzonged out, make your way to Thimpu. The kingdom’s capital city is the main centre of commerce, religion and government in the country. Thimphu is the most modern city in Bhutan with an abundance of restaurants, internet cafes, nightclubs and shopping centres. However, it still retains its’ cultural identity and values amidst the signs of modernization.
An immersive highlight of the journey here is taking the opportunity to visit a local school. The students at different levels of expertise are completely immersed in learning painting, embroidery, wood carving, weaving et al. If that doesn’t show a nation’s commitment to arts and culture we don’t know what does.
The Handicrafts Emporium is again a nice feature place and displays a wide assortment of beautifully hand-woven and crafted products.
Paro: Coming towards the end of the road trip journey and heading to Paro ensures that it’s appropriate to say that you’ve saved the best for the last.
Take in a visit to the majestic Paro Dzong. It was constructed in 1644 by Guru Rinpoche. The steep flight of stairs to reach the Dzong tested my fitness a bit. Entering the impressive central courtyard, you will always remember the effect the awe-inspiring colourful murals depicting Guru Rinpoche will have on you.
While it does take considerable time and effort to trek up and down the steep hill, the Tiger’s Nest is the mainstay of Bhutan attractions. It is believed that Guru Rinpoche arrived at this spot on the back of a tigress and meditated in a cave for three years, hence its name. This place is also called the Taktsang Monastery.
If you wish to slow down from fast-paced city life and truly enjoy a moment or two in the lap of Himalayas, Bhutan is the place for you!
The charms of this isolated Himalayan Kingdom are knitted strong within its cultural realms. The government takes all measures to preserve its culture, history and rich tradition.