Bhutan – which translates as “the Land of the Thunder Dragon”- is a small landlocked country, hidden in the eastern side of Himalayas between the sprawling enfold of China and India. The country’s single international airport is located in the hilly side of Paro valley. Most of the connections to Bhutan are via Bangkok and Delhi with limited access from northern side from India.
Thimphu, the capital city, although in its growth stages, is growing rapidly. Even with a new domestic airport in the south, we mostly journeyed alongside single-lane roads which warped round valleys or plummeted down mountainsides.
Our team toured the Taktsang monastery – also called Tiger’s Nest- Bhutan’s main tourist attraction. The temple -dates back to the 15th century- is an out of this world accomplishment of engineering, white-walls and red-roof on top of an obdurate visage of stone, thrusting 1,000m into the sky. The temple has an easier access rebuilt and has greatly helped potential pilgrims.
In addition to efforts of maintaining sustainable development and preserving Bhutan’s natural environment, cultural principles are upheld. Tourist numbers to Bhutan are dwindling due to the difficult access, and a “high-end” tourism policy supported by the Bhutanese Tourism Council. A seasonal daily tariff of between $200-250 is to be paid by each tourist.
Overlooking the paddy Paro-basin fields is the Uma Paro- an International Hotel and Resort, where we were staying. Using conventional Bhutanese plan and a set round courtyard, the central building houses the rooms. A lustrous spa area and a serene indoor pool are to be found in the basement.
Dining in the Bukhari restaurant was the best part for me. The restaurant design extends from the belly of the central building and the plan encompasses a focus-point stone fireplace, amid a view from each table. Nonetheless, if you opt for some privacy, eight spacious one-bed roomed villas are available. The villas expand up the hill following the central building; room-service is offered and each has a spa room of its own.
“Tour of the Dragon” race , which was held here from 2010 to 2011 was aimed at promoting mountain biking. The race-course mapped out the mountainous path between Bumthang to the east and Thimphu, covering a distance of over 267km. I later came to learn that December is the most ideal time for this sport since there are no monsoon rains and the air is cooler.
Paro is the single-most heavily visited Bhutan city, and it is bordered by tactfully hidden luxury resorts, and yet it’s hardly bigger than a village in the Alps. We ventured the magnificent river-bank Rinpung Dzong castle, voyaging on its pretty suspension bridge, taking regular stops to savor the spectacular view down below of the cascading, jade-colored river.
We finally arrived at the grand courtyards of Punakha Dzong, the temple at the confluence of two great rivers where the king had fêted his marriage. From here we could observe the Upper Valley, families doing their daily errands and above, the majestic Khamsum Yulley Namgyal Chorten was glowing, as it towered above the Bhutan country.
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