Dragons & Dzongs

SEE With its heritage steeped in Buddhism, a Bhutan itinerary will always include visits to monasteries, some tucked away and others inside massive fort complexes ( dzong ). Highlights include the gigantic 17th-century Punakha Dzong at the confluence of two rivers, and the Tashichho Dzong in Thimphu, with its eccentric changing of the guard ceremony. The most famous structure by a long shot, though, is the Tiger’s Nest Monastery – Bhutan’s dominant cultural icon. This cliff- hugging building is reached via a steep climb through a forest. Like the Taj Mahal, it’s a place that doesn’t disappoint in person, no matter how many photos you’ve seen beforehand. The Bhutanese look after their environment – the constitution dictates that 60 percent of the land must remain forested. (Also, it’s forbidden to kill animals; meat for restaurants comes from over the border in India.) As a result, it’s a place of noteworthy beauty, with lush valleys and gleaming rivers traversed by traditional iron bridges covered in prayer flags. The snow-clad Himalayas are best viewed from the 3,100m Dochula Pass , and a hike in the serene Phobjika Valley gives you the chance to spot the endangered black-necked crane that spends its winters in Bhutan’s marshlands.

SHAMUS SILLAR highlights just a few of the reasons why Bhutan is among Asia’s most fascinating destinations.

Snapshot of the country Known locally as Druk Yul, or “Land of the Thunder Dragon”, Bhutan is a landlocked nation in South Asia, hidden away between India and China. It’s a democracy and a constitutional monarchy; in 2008, the first general elections were held after the fourth king gave up absolute power in favour of popular rule. The royal family remains highly revered ; exc i tement reached fever pitch in 2015 with news that the fifth king’s wife was expecting her first child; the Crown Prince was born in February 2016.



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