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This landlocked nation tucked away in the lap of the Himalayas is best known for its gorgeous mountain landscapes and cultural heritage, the memories of which stay for long after. The Buddhist nation that measures its development on the Gross National Happiness is both an ecologically, environmentally and culturally remarkable Himalayan nation.
With a host of national parks, the distinct Dzong style of architecture and picturesque towns and cities Bhutan has also been an important center on the Silk Road. However, the Buddhist culture subtly encompasses most of the country yet Bhutan is not about the spiritual alone. The tsechus festival, the deep understanding of the need to protect the environment and the stunning variety of flora and fauna make Bhutan one of the last vestiges of pristine Himalayan beauty sustained through a robust yet mature society.
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Thimpu – The capital city of Bhutan does not seem like the crowded rushed capital cities of the world. In fact it is probably the only capital city where there is not a single traffic signal. Located at 2248m this beautifully laid back city is the administrative and political center of the country. Located on the western bank of the Wang Chhu or Thimpu Chhu River, some major attractions of the city include the Trashi Chhoe Dzong home to the king’s offices, secretariat and throne room as well as one of the places for the famous Tsechus festival. The Simtokha Dzong is the oldest dzong in the city and the National Memorial Chorten built in the memory of the late King Druk Gyalpo Jigme Dorje Wangchuck is a crowd puller with locals walking round the shrine all day long. The Changangka Temple with its famous eleven headed and thousand armed Bodhisattva, the Folk Heritage Museum and the Royal Textile Academy are some of the other tourist attractions of the city.
Paro – The Paro valley is dotted with sacred sites as well as surrounded by stunning scenic views. The only city with an international airport, Paro boasts of the magnificent Drukgyel Dzong. The Ringpun Dzong is an iconic city landmark known for its splendid murals and masks, costumes and ancient artifacts. The Ta Dzong acts as a watchtower and is home to the National Museum. Other attractions include the Kyichu Lhakhang Temple, the Ugyen Pelri Palace and the Chele La Pass in southwest Paro offers some of the best views and landscape sceneries of the country. The road from the pass leads to picturesque Haa Valley covered in thick dense forests.
Punakha - Punakha is the erstwhile capital of Bhutan and is famous for the red rice that is grown on its rich fertile soil. The famous tourist spots here are the Punakha Dzong, the ChhimiLhakhang temple commemorating the popular Buddhist saint Drukpa Kinley or Divine Madman. The Khamsum Yulley Namgyal Chorten is also a great vantage point to view the splendid surrounding landscapes.
Phuntsholing – The entry point for travellers from East India, the city is known for the Amo Chuu, a crocodile breeding center, the Karbandi monastery and the Zangtho Pelri Lhahang.
Bhutan is home to many remarkable national parks and reserves. The Jigme Dorji National Park is the largest and provides shelter to varied Himalayan wildlife, as well as, is known for its medicinal herbs and geothermal activities. Other natural reserves and parks include the Royal Manas National Park, the Bomdeling Wildlife Sanctuary and Khaling Wildlife Sanctuary amongst others.
The monastery is an important part of the Bhutan lifestyle and till date the Bhutanese value their distinct clothing, language and music. Bhutanese food too differs in many ways from the usual cuisines, where their rice is red and chillies are not just an ingredient but the main course meal. The ema datshi, the most common dish in Bhutan is made of chillies and cheese. The red rice dishes, momos, phaksha paa (pork and red chillies) as well as jasha maroo are some of the traditional Bhutanese foods along with the favorite black or green tea.
Good things come in a small package. Bhutan though small in size and population, is one of those calming nations, that can whisk one away from the hustle of the cities and relax in the serene lap of pure natural beauty, simplicity and a warmth that is hard to find elsewhere.