For the ultimate trip consider visiting Bhutan in Springtime. It’s like Bhutan other times of the year, but better (according to some sources. To us, Bhutan is great all seasons of the year. Did someone say diplomatic?) We’re gonna be upfront with you. It’s the peak tourist season, hotels will be busier, flights fully booked if you don’t make your reservations in advance, you might find other tourists in your selfies (don’t worry the natural light is fantastic #nofilter) and it’s going to be more expensive BUT here are 10 things that will tempt you/convince you/seal the deal.
1) Paro Tshechu (festival)
Tshechus are annual Buddhist festivals translating to “tenth day” and in general are big tourist draws as they show case Bhutan’s well-preserved religious culture. One of the highlights of the festival season is the Paro Tshechu, which is one of the largest tshechus in terms of audience size.
Held in Paro (in case you were unsure) watch as trained monks and laymen dress in colourful garb perform dances based on stories from the life of Guru Padmasambhava (Guru Rinpoche) from as far back as the 8th century. It is believed attending a tshechu and witnessing the masked dances enables one to wash away their sins and receive blessings.
Protip: wear your Gho or Kira and fit in with the locals. They love it! Ensure your camera/phone has 100% battery and don’t hold your breath but you *might* see the royal family.
Check out the 2017 festival calendar here
2) Jomolhari Trek
Mount Jomolhari, considered a sacred mountain to Tibetan Buddhists, straddles the border between Tibet and Thimphu. Widely considered the most popular trek in Bhutan, Jomolhari trek is considered a favourite among trekkers (up to 40% of trekkers who visit Bhutan end up on this route – Lonely Planet estimate)
Although it’s the most popular trek in Bhutan, don’t be misled. It’s actually considered a moderate-difficult trek, but we try to make it as comfortable as possible for you by providing the following: tents, sleeping bags, sleeping mats, blankets, camp assistance, a cook and horses to carry the load. Apart from a spectacular view, experience Bhutan’s wide range of landscapes, flora and fauna up close. The route passes through prime blue sheep and snow leopard habitats, so be on the lookout for rare wildlife.
Protip: If you’re into photography, bring along your long zoom lens – in case you spot a rare animal
Check out our 7 day or 11 day Jomolhari trek packages
3) Jacaranda blossoms at Punakha Dzong
Located at the confluence of the Mo Chhu and Po Chhu river, Pungtang Dechen Photrang Dzong (The Palace of Great Bliss) popularly known as Punakha Dzong, is one of the most majestic structures in the whole of Bhutan. The winter seat of the Je Khenpo (Chief Abbot), it’s listed on Bhutan’s tentative list for UNESCO inclusion.
Before Thimphu became the capital in 1955, this was the administrative centre and seat of the Government of Bhutan. *Fun fact* This is where the royal couple got married in 2011. Just imagine lilac Jacaranda trees in full blossom, set against the backdrop of the magnificent fortress – it’ll make for a stunning visual treat. You’re gonna want to take a mental picture.
Protip: stand under the Jacaranda trees and pretend they are cherry blossoms
4) Punakha Dromche
Punakha Dromche is the annual festival of the beautiful Punakha district. It’s a theatrical celebration of two events: the worship of 2 Bhutanese guardian deities, Yeshe Gompo (Mahakala) and Palden Lhamo, ending with a ‘serda’ - the re-enactment of the 17th century war against the Tibetans led by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, known as the unifier of Bhutan.
It is quickly gaining in popularity as more tourists discover it. Watch as spectacularly dressed dancers perform religious dances known as ‘cham’. The festival culminates in the unveiling of a ‘Thongdrel’ (religious scroll), the largest one ever made.
Protip: The re-enactment is led by the Je Khenpo (Chief Abbot) so keep your eye out for a glimpse of him.
5) Rhododendron festival
Are you a rhododendron lover? If you’re not, consider visiting Bhutan in winter. If you are, congratulations! You know what rhododendron is. Spring is one of the best times to see them blossom, along with most of the flora in Bhutan. Set in the Lamperi Botanical Gardens near the Dochula Pass, you’ll get to see more than 20 species of rhododendrons out of the 46 that grow in Bhutan.
Apart from embracing nature in the form of guided walks and activities, look forward to cultural programs, traditional games, arts & crafts and local cuisine. There will be a test at the end of the tour and if you get full marks, your guide will hand you a bottle of Himalayan water and cheers to your good health.
Protip: This festival only occurs for 3 days in Spring (14, 15, 16 April), so do book early to avoid disappointment.
6) Bhutan international marathon
Marathon enthusiasts, elevate your experience literally by running at 1310m (at least) above sea level amid Punakha valley’s picturesque rural countryside and villages. Held annually since 2014, choose from a half or full marathon on routes that are a mix of pavement and hard pack road, but big on scenery and fresh country air from the world’s only carbon-negative country.
Both events finish at the historic Punakha Dzong. Needless to say, the view will keep you going. 100% of the profits go towards supporting Bhutan’s Youth and Olympic Sports Programs. Check three things off your to-do list with one trip: visit Bhutan, run a marathon, help a worthy cause.
Protip: You’re gonna wanna keep the finisher’s t-shirt from that race.
Check out our 7 day Bhutan International Marathon here
If sitting in a car being driven from one place to another is too mainstream for you, why not give cycling a try? It’s a great way to experience the country and it’s varying landscapes more intimately. Bhutan’s rugged, mountainous terrain is good for on and off-road mountain biking, and many trails conveniently twine through villages and bypass temples, making this a wonderful opportunity to combine adventure and culture.
Depending on your skill level, there are a variety of routes ranging from paved roads (beware the potholes!) to more challenging off-road dirt trails. Feel at one with nature and your bike as you enjoy unspoiled mountain scenery with the wind in your hair. You can opt to bring your own bicycle, or we can arrange one for you.
Pro tip: Hardcore cycling fans might want to consider the Tour of the Dragon Bicycle Race that takes place in September. It’s considered one of the most challenging mountain bike races in the world.
8) River rafting & kayaking
Bhutan may be a landlocked country, but you can still indulge in (some) watersports. There are 6 major rivers with varying currents suitable for river rafting and kayaking. In fact, Bhutan’s crystal clear rivers (actually glacial melt from the Eastern Himalayas) are one of the least explored in the world.
Take a break from the beautiful monasteries and get your adrenaline pumping by coursing through the pristine waterways of Bhutan. There are a variety of options available for all skill levels from smooth, gentle waves to strong, raging currents that’s bound to thrill from the mildest to most extreme adventurers.
Protip: The season for river rafting & kayaking in Spring is between March to April.
9) Go bird watching
If bird watching is considered “a lifetime ticket to the theatre of nature” then Bhutan is one of the best cinemas from which to watch it. Bhutan’s pristine environment and unspoiled ecosystems are teeming with biodiversity. More than 670 species of birds have been recorded, with more yet to be discovered. This list includes species of vulnerable and globally endangered birds.
The road is often the best place to spot birds, due to the density of forest cover, while trekking provides you with a great opportunity to see higher altitude birds. Here are some species bird watching aficionados can look out for; Ibisbill, Brown Dipper, Spotted Laughing Thrust, Darjeeling Woodpecker, Yellow Billed Magpie, Magpie Robin, Eurasian Jay, Great Barbet, to name but a few.
Protip: the road from Dochu La to Wangdue Phodrang is a recommended stretch for bird watching
Check out our 12 day birdwatching travel plan here
10) Bumthang Owl Trek
For semi-adventurous travellers who want to experience trekking but are not up for something hardcore like the Jomolhari trek, consider the Bumthang Owl Trek in the central region of Bhutan. It’s a three-day trek in the beautiful Bumthang valley, widely considered as the religious core of the nation. Expect to see an abundance of flora and fauna amid unspoiled natural scenery.
The trek starts at an elevation of 2,900m above sea level and offers unparalleled views of Mt. Gangkar Puensum, the highest unclimbed peak in the world. Listen out for the hooting of owls at night – that’s where the trek got its name.
Protip: Try to schedule your trek during one of the local festivals for an unforgettable experience.
Boom! 10 reasons. If you have any enquiries, contact us at [email protected] or sign up to our newsletter at drukasia.com