Special Attraction in Bhutan
visitors come to Bhutan to witness religious festivals held annually in Dzong
throughout the country. The most popular for tourist are those held in Thimphu,
paro and Bumthang. They mark the busiest time of the year for tourism and reservations(particularly
for hotels) are frequently difficult to come by.
The Dzong come to life with colour, music and dancing as valley dwellers and
towns folk dress in their best clothes and join together to exorcise evil spirits
and rejoice in a new harvest. Rare masked and sword dance and other rituals
are performed in the Dzongs courtyards and temples. Photography should
always be discreet. It is generally allowed to take photography at tsechus but
not at dromchoes.
Most of the dance date back to beyond the middle ages and are only performed
once or twice each year. Each dance has its pwn spiritual importance and can
be performed by monks or lay village leaders dressed in bright costume. Certain
festivals end with the unveiling and worship of huge religious appliqués
or thongdrels. The moment of the unveiling is shrouded in secrecy and creates
great excitement amongst all the participants.
Thimphu and paro festivals are the most popular for tourists as they are the
most accessible. Visitors who come to Bhuatn at other times of the year should
find out if other regional dromchoes or teschus are taking place as they can
equally fascinating. The tsechu at Bumthang is well known for taking place almost
entirely during the evening and containing exciting fire dance which are intended
to help the childless women at the festival conceive during the forthcoming
in Bhutan is unlike anywhere else in the Himalayas. The walks are long and arduous
but they are complemented by crystal air and views that defy description. Only
a handful of tourist trek each year and paths and communication may not be as
developed as they are in other Himalayan destinations. However what Bhutan may
lack in infrastructural development it makes up for in superb support facilities
for trekkers. All parties are accompanied by a trained guide, a cook, a cooking
assistant and at least one horseman. All provision and most belongings are carried
by horses and yaks; trekkers rarely have to carry more than a day pack with
camera and extra film.
The tour operators have tried to think of as many trekking and other needs as
possible to make the adventure as comfortable as possible. The support crew
walk ahead of the trekking party each day and pitch camp before the trekkers
arrive. A warm cup of tea waiting in the dining tent is the most welcome treat
after ten hours hiking up and down mountains, sometimes as high as 18,000 feet.
All meals are carefully planned. Breakfast is always cooked and dinner includes
a choice of at least four dishes. In many of the country, villages are scarce
and few people will cross the path and as a result the tour operators take every
precaution to ensure the safety and comfort of the trekkers in their party.
Altitude sickness is an acute problem for trekkers in Bhutan. Almost all of
the designated treks go above 3,000 meters (9,000 feet). Walkers who have not
properly acclimatised or those who suffer from altitude sickness should not
trek. If you are not used to high altitudes its a good idea to start slowly
and allow yourself to acclimatize.
Trekking permits are required for all parties.
Treks vary from short three-day walks across relatively low altitudes to the
three-week snowman Trek that covers 356 kilometers and climbs three of the kingdoms
highest passes. Inexperienced trekkers are recommended to do the trek from Thimphu
to paro or vice-versa. Called the Druk path, it leads across the chain of mountains
separating the two valley passing crystal lakes and offering perfect views of
the high Himalayas outside of the monsoon season. More difficult treks take
in northern villages and pass yak herdsmen who spend most of the year tending
to their herds high above the villages. The northern paths climb as high as
5,500 meters and should only be attempted by strong experienced walkers.
Visitors requiring the full list of treks should contact the Tourism Authority
Apart from the Jigme Dorje Wanggchuck Sanctuary in the far north of the kingdom,
all of the national parks are in the lower southern plains where fauna, in particular,
is more abundant. The national parks are controlled under a development scheme
operated by the world wide Fund for Nature.
Many animals are protected under this scheme which developed later than in neighbouring
countries and enabled Bhutan to learn from others mistakes.
Tourists are allowed to visit some of the national parks. They should advice
their tour operator of this requirement at the time booking so the necessary
permits can be obtained.
In the far east of Bhutan, it is not uncommon to come across teams of women
seated on valley slopes with a heavy leather belt strapped fast to their waists.
The women will be heaving a wooden slat across recently dyed fabric; pursuing
an age-old custom that creates the vivid patterns and colours that have become
synonymous with Bhutanese design.
Fabric are dyed and dried for a week before being woven into khos for men and
kiras for women. These are the long flowing garments which have become the obligatory
national dress for all Bhutanese.
Woven products are sold all over the far east of Bhutan. Lenghths of material
hang from almost every home and women sit on balconies in almost every village
Despite its isolation the cost of material and labour have translated into high
price (in Western terms) for material. The weavers will bargain, a little, but
do not be surprised if they do not budge from an average of US$25 for a length.
So unique are the Bhutanese weaving techniques that the United States
Peabody Museum at Salem, Massachussts, organized a world-wide exhibition solely
on this subject.
Inter village rivalry is common throughout the kingdom and this rivalry is no
more fiercely expressed than during annual archery tournaments. They are generally
held at Losar (Bhutanese New Year) but smaller competitions are held throughout
The revelry beings the night before the contest. Teams employ astrologers to
assist in the selection process and to help cast spells on the opposition. Each
team spends the night together in an age-old tradition of sleeping in the forest
prior to the match. Apart from improving team spirit it is thought that a man
should not spend the night before a tournament with his wife as his concentration
may then waiver the following day.
The tournament itself beings with initiation ceremonies and a traditional breakfast.
Alcohol flows from early in the day and spirits are always high . As the day
passes and the alcohol takes effect, the party becomes more and more raucous.
Opponents whisper obscenities into their adversaries ears and dance in
front of the target. Women from each village participate in the fun by singing
and jeering at the opposing team. Bhutan sent its first archery team to the
Barcelona Olympics in 1992.
Thimphu is the unlikely location of one of the highest golf courses in the world.
Situated behind Tashichho Dzong and surrounded by mountains, the course is typically
very hard and barren but after the monsoon it softens up and turns green. The
course may not be particularly challenging to western golfers but it presents
a lovely morning of afternoons respite after long days of driving.
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