Bhutan – Land of the Thunder Dragon

What a wonderful name for a country that evokes a sense of mystery and with it the question so often asked: ‘Where is it?’ Let me explain a little about this stunning country that has ‘got under my skin’ in all the right ways.

Bhutan is a landlocked, independent sovereign nation at the eastern end of the Himalayan mountain range, with China to the north and India to the south. It acts as a natural buffer between these two nations that don’t particularly see eye to eye. But that isn’t an issue as the country exudes peace, prosperity and happiness and is the most tranquil and stunning place to visit.

I’ve travelled independently to Bhutan and and it’s just about my favourite destination. It’s easy to see why. The country is small and very mountainous with rich fertile farmlands in the valleys. Scenery is picture-postcard perfect. Rushing rivers with prayer flag bedecked footbridges are flanked by terraced rice paddy fields.

You won’t see high rises, massive motorways or any other blots on the landscape. Not even a set of traffic lights! One set was installed at a busy intersection in the capital, Thimpu, but wasn’t a hit with the locals, so the lights were removed and the traffic policeman was restored to his podium in all his glory. As an aside – I’ve had the bestever chocolate éclairs from a tiny little store close by this particular intersection. The locally made beer is pretty good as well and the Swiss style artisan made cheeses are as good as you’ll find anywhere.

What makes Bhutan so special apart from the majestic scenery are the people. Bhutan is a land of smiles, courtesy and a rich national heritage with a democratically elected government and an ancient monarchy playing a role in the daily affairs of Bhutan.

A feature of the country is the astonishing number of religious fortresses called Dzongs, commanding strategic positions – the most famous is Punakha Dzong at the confluence of two rivers in the Punakha Valley. This is where all royal investitures are held, as it is the most important Dzong of all. A monastery that has become scenically famous is that of the Tiger’s Nest that clings precipitously to a sheer mountainside in the Paro Valley. It’s quite some hike to the top but worth the climb.

Bhutan has a philosophy of Gross National Happiness instead of Gross National Product. Don’t for one moment think that this is a marketing gimmick – it’s real and it works. The end goal is to ensure a quality of life for everyone.

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