It’s their “low volume, high impact” approach to tourism.
The tiny Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan is one of the most exclusive destinations for travelers from around the world. In accordance with their “low volume, high impact” approach to tourism, the Royal Government of Bhutan charges a $250 per day tourist tariff for every visitor excluding nationals of India, Bangladesh, and the Maldives. For this cost, travelers are given a licensed guide, driver, vehicle, three meals a day, and three-star hotels for their trip. Despite these included accommodations, a trip to Bhutan is likely to be one of the most expensive vacations you are liable to take. So, what makes Bhutan worth the exorbitant cost?
Bhutan is one of the most secluded countries on Earth which has allowed it to preserve its culture remarkably well as a result. The culture of Bhutan is intertwined with Buddhism, the national religion, and it is visible in all aspects of life within the country. From the traditional garb worn on a daily basis to the relaxed relationship towards time, those who are fortunate enough to visit will find the unique culture of the Bhutan Himalaya alive and well. Traditional Bhutanese festivals are one of the finest displays of their culture. These festivals are bustling with locals dressed in their finest traditional dress while the dances and music that the festivals are centered around depict the great historical and religious legends of the kingdom.
Bhutan is home to some the most stunning traditional architecture in the world. Buildings in the country are as much works of art as they are shelters. Traditional homes and temples are constructed with stone and wood which is painstakingly painted and carved with sacred symbols and protective deities. Walking around a Bhutanese village is akin to being immersed in a living art museum. Dzongs, the ancient temple fortresses which are scattered around the country, exemplify the finest craftsmanship and artisanship Bhutan has to offer.
3. Flora and Fauna
Being a remote, mountainous country, Bhutan is home to a diverse variety of animal and plant life which isn’t found anywhere else in the world. A serious outdoorsman could find the biodiversity justification enough to pay the tourist tariff. Forests in the southern regions are home to clouded leopards, one horned rhinoceros, elephants, and swamp deer. Moving north in the country, one will find Himalayan black bears, takin (the national animal of Bhutan, pictured below), and snow leopards among many others. In addition, Bhutan is home to over 680 species of birds, many of which are exclusive to the country and numerous others which are endangered. If botany is more your cup of tea, Bhutan has 82 unique species of orchid and many other flowering plants mixed in the bamboo, pine, cypress, and the rhododendron forests that cover the country’s mountains.
4. Paro Taktsang
No trip to Bhutan is complete without a visit to Paro Taktsang: the “Tiger’s Nest”. A two-hour hike through the Paro valley in western Bhutan will give you access to the most iconic point in Bhutan and one of the most famous temples on Earth. Perched on cliffs at over 10,000 feet above sea level, Paro Taktsang seems to defy gravity and exemplifies the mystical aura of the Himalayan kingdom. A visit to this Buddhist temple is truly one of the most memorable moments life has to offer.
5. The People
Traveling to new countries where you don’t know anyone can be challenging at times, but the Bhutanese people make it easy. Most Bhutanese, especially in the younger generations, speak English quite well and are always willing to strike up a conversation. Due to the seclusion and relatively recent introduction of television and internet in the country, there is a keen interest about life outside among the Bhutanese and a joy to share their unique experiences of what life is like within Bhutan. Talking to locals and learning about life in such a unique country is one of the things that makes visiting Bhutan well worth the hefty price.
There are few places in the world which radiate happiness quite like Bhutan. At the government level, Gross National Happiness (GNH) is emphasized over GDP. On the streets, it is evident that happiness is seen as the reason for living. People exhibit a generosity among friends and to strangers to a degree which I have not experienced anywhere else in the world. Their relationship to time is extremely relaxed and it always seems to be plentiful as a result. The natural beauty of the country creates an environment where happiness is not in short supply. They say you can’t put a price on happiness, but if you can stomach $250 a day, the experience of being immersed in the Bhutanese culture and surrounded by unparalleled natural beauty is one of the most surefire ways I have experienced to find happiness.
Photos: Bryan Gensits