A spiritual kingdom Aside from its mountain landscapes, the most striking thing about Bhutan, a country that was once closed off to anyone but guests of the royal family, has to be its deeply ingrained Buddhist faith. It’s uncommon to find a town without a monastery (known as a dzong or a goemba, depending on the architectural style). Like in neighbouring Tibet and the mountain communities in Nepal, prayer flags adorn buildings, chortens and prayer wheels, span rivers and streams and hang between trees but not in quite the same number.
Colourful celebrations Throughout the year, on the tenth day of the lunar month, festivals known as Tschechus are held at temples and dzongs across the country. The whole town or city turns out to take part in or watch the incredible masked dances, receive blessings, meet their friends and family and celebrate the birthday of Guru Rinpoche, considered to be the ‘second Buddha’.
Arts and crafts Culture lovers may be surprised to find that Bhutan is something of an artistic hot spot, and as you might expect, the focus is primarily on keeping the past alive. There’s a real emphasis on the thirteen traditional arts and crafts that range from masonry and ironwork to paper making, painting and weaving. At the National Institute for Zorig Chusum, you can see the painting, carving and embroidery skills which have been passed between generations.
**Travelling in Bhutan ** Bhutan’s unique and carefully controlled approach to tourism is a case of high value, low volume. Thanks to the daily fee of at least $200 to $250, which is payable by every visitor to this once-isolated country, travel to Bhutan can seem expensive. But this extra cost includes all meals, standard sightseeing with an English-speaking guide and all transportation, as well as government fees, permits and taxes. It’s a truly exclusive experience which will be the source of many enviable dinner party tales.
GMT +6 hours
The Ngultrum. Indian rupees and US dollars are also widely accepted.
Dzongkha. Nepali is also widely spoken.
• Visa required.
• Make sure your passport is valid for more than six months and has enough pages for stamps, especially if travelling via India or Nepal.
• Also bring another form of ID and a photocopy of your passport in case you lose it.
Tipping is officially discouraged in Bhutan but is becoming more common. Tour guides generally expect to be tipped and many tour leaders circulate a collection to present to the guide at the end. When trekking it generally depends on whether they're already being paid for the use of their animals and how useful they've been around the camp.