1. A spiritual retreat into Buddhism
It is often said that Buddhism flows in Bhutanese blood. Vajrayana Buddhism is not just the state religion but is ingrained in the very existence of this small Himalayan kingdom. Buddhists constitute nearly three quarters of the population and a basic understanding of their ways and beliefs can go a long way in helping one decode the enigma that Bhutan is to the outside world. Buddhist monasteries, prayer walls, Chortens (stupas), monuments and prayer flags abound in every corner of Bhutan. Tiger’s Nest Monastery, or Paro Taktsang, is perhaps most visited religious site in Bhutan while the Memorial Chorten in Thimphu comes a close second. Travellers looking for an intensely spiritual experience could even go for one of Bhutan’s meditation retreats.
2.’High value, low volume’ tourism
The Bhutanese policy on international tourism is rather strict, in a bid to preserve and protest its natural environment as well as its distinct culture and traditions. The country is as modern in its facilities as it is primeval in its outlook. There are only a limited number of flights that ply in and out of only four airports. This is all the more reason for one to travel to Bhutan in 2015 – it is something very few people get to do!
3. Dzongs – the majestic ancient forts of Bhutan
Ancient Bhutanese forts with typically broad whitewashed foundations and tapering roofs, the Dzongs are believed to have been built without the use of a single nail. The walls are built sloping inwards, so as to appear larger than their actual size. These ancient forts are now used as administrative and religious centres. They also serve as repositories of Bhutanese history and as museums showcasing the distinct traditions, culture and art of this ancient landlocked country.
4. Happiness is the gist of it all
Bhutan is the first country in the entire world to have assigned weight to its people’s happiness in the measurement of its growth. The country’s progress today is evaluated in terms of the Gross National Happiness, a practice that underscores its very Buddhist way of life, as the achievement of inner happiness is considered the ultimate aim of life in Buddhism. Bhutan’s holistic approach to development and its emphasis on the spiritual and psychological wellbeing of its people can be witnessed in the perpetual smiles and peaceful demeanour of the Bhutanese.
5. ‘Tsechus’ – the annual cultural festivals
Bhutanese people have a vibrant social life which is especially witnesses during the Tsechu, which is an annual religious and cultural festival held on the tenth day of a month according to the Tibetan lunar calendar. The festival is held in a different month in each district of Bhutan, so there is bound to be one or the other festival going on whenever you decide to travel to Bhutan in 2015. Spread out over four days, the festivals are large social gatherings where people from the remotest villages turn up to bond with fellow Buddhists. The colourful masked Cham dances are the most significant part of the festivities, which also include unfurling of the sacred Thongdrel (large tapestry) and setting up of bazaars. It is believed that watching a masked dance during a Tsechu washes away all your sins. The Thimphu and Paro tsechus are the biggest of all, though it is advisable to visit the relatively smaller festivals to find less crowds and a far more satisfying experience.
6. Pristine natural beauty
Far, far away from the adverse impacts of relentless tourism and development, Bhutan has so far managed to retain the pristine quality of its natural landscape. Mountain climbing and trekking are popular activities where travellers get to explore the picturesque Himalayan valleys, wade through clear river waters and marvel at the colossal peaks from up close. The Bhutanese believe that the Gods and protective spirits reside in the tallest mountains. Mountaineering is thus prohibited in mountains higher than 6000 m. Bhutan’s Gangkhar Peunsum, standing at 7570 m, is believed to be the highest unclimbed peak in the world.
7. Spicy cuisine and unique food etiquette
Bhutanese is the only major cuisine in the world to make use of chillies, not just as seasoning, but as vegetables in themselves. The most ubiquitous dish across the country is Ema datshi, consisting of green chillies in a cheesy sauce, served with rice. There is extensive use of red rice, pork, lamb and yak meat, beef, various spices and vegetables in the food. Make sure not to miss the butter tea, a Himalayan staple, when you travel to Bhutan in 2015. Another interesting part of the Bhutanese food tradition is their food etiquette. On being offered food, one is actually supposed to cover their mouth with their hands and politely refuse the food, saying ‘meshu meshu‘. It is only on being offered for a second or third time that you must accept the food!
Set apart from the rest of the world, cradling in the lap of nature, Bhutan is home to a wonderfully rich culture and a spiritual fervour like nowhere else. Whether you’re walking through the streets decorated with colourful tapestries and flags, or watching a group of monks lost deep in meditation, Bhutan can be an absolute treat to the senses and a brilliant way to escape from the pressures and responsibilities of life back home. Just don’t wait for the bell to toll for you. Travel to Bhutan in 2015 to discover unending possibilities and a profound peace of mind.
To find out the very best of Bhutan has to offer, here are our programs from which you can choose to travel to Bhutan in 2015: http://www.shantitravel.com/en/bhutan-travel/
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