To entrench the right to happiness in a constitution is something few countries in the world can claim. Then again, Bhutan has always been an odd place to visit. This landlocked country is half the size of Indiana and is wedged between two superpowers, China and India. Interestingly, much is made of the right to happiness being entrenched in the constitution but few know that the sale of tobacco is illegal, the country only has one national road, 35% of the population is under 14 years old, the previous King is married to 4 sisters (polygamy is legal in Bhutan) and the government lifted the ban on televisions and internet only 11 years ago.
Bhutan remains one of the few “unchanged” in Asia, one of the most isolated and least developed countries in the world. Of course there are more cars, better hotels and the infrastructure is improving, the main national road is finally getting some serious upgrades and there is a raft of new hotels and lodges being built … but still, the King and Prime Minister have adopted a “slowly slowly” approach to development.
We have guided and operated many trips in Bhutan since the opening of the country and we like to do things differently. Where most tour companies focus on the usual triangle of Paro, Thimpu and Punakha in 6-7 days, a Longitude 80 journey to Bhutan has a recommended time that is longer (10-12 days) and pushes further east than most. Not only do we suggest the usual “must sees” like the Punakha dzong (fortress) and climb to the Tiger’s Nest near Paro, but we add white water rafting, religious festivals (when possible), wildlife viewing, private hands-on archery demonstration with locals and a two-night private luxury trek in a remote part of Bhutan complete with hot shower, a chef, comfortable tents with portable beds and hardwood floors. We also fly one way instead of driving all the way (which can be a test of endurance for some) and provide the opportunity to meet some of the King’s family in a private dinner. Our itinerary is active, we walk, we hike and we have a few picnics, you meet locals for informal dinners in restaurants and your suites offer amazing views at each stay.
For those who seek happiness, melted cheese with chilies and an amazing landscape, Bhutan is waiting.
If you want to witness incredible pageant of Bhutan’s religious festivals, February to April and September to November are your best bets.
WHERE DOES IT START?
There are few flights to Bhutan daily and the easiest connecting hubs are Bangkok or India.
It takes a while to get there and we highly recommend 12-days on our journey. We have however done a simple 3 nights in Paro by private jet and we also helped to arrange a private expedition on the incredible Snowman Trek, considered the most demanding trek in the Himalayas (25-30 days) with a support crew. Our national guide has done the Snowman four times!
DID YOU KNOW?
There are no traffic lights in Bhutan.