KNOW Bhutan measures its “health” as a nation by Gross National Happiness (GNH) rather than by GDP. This isn’t a gimmick; it’s an official policy based on the pillars of sustainable development, cultural values, the environment and good governance. Does it mean everyone walks around with a smile? Not really. (And it’s a system that has its critics.) Still, more countries seem to be adopting some kind of happiness-related index on the back of Bhutan’s model. STAY Tourism is still in its infancy in Bhutan. As recently as 2005, there were only 10,000 tourist arrivals in the year; Singapore’s annual figure is around 15 million. So, hotels are few and far between, and most accommodation is in three-star local lodges. The Bhutanese government imposes a daily tourist tariff of US$250 per person (US$200 in colder months), which includes basic accommodation in these lodges, along with meals. You’ll also find a small handful of luxury hotels in various locations, all with world-class facilities and food. These include Uma by COMO Punakha , Uma by COMO Paro and Amankora . Note that you’ll have to pay a hefty surcharge on top of the aforementioned tariff to stay in these. Worth the splurge, though!

EAT Good news if you’re a sucker for spicy food: it rains chillies in this place – at least, that’s the impression you get from the farmhouses, whose roofs are covered in piles of little red peppers drying in the sun. The national dish is called ema datshi ; it’s a bowl of large green chillies, often more floral than fiery, cooked in a cheesy sauce; almost every restaurant offers it. Those with more sensitive taste buds can enjoy steaming bowls of buckwheat noodles , plump momos (dumplings) filled with pork or veggies, mild curries of chicken or beef, and various delicious potato dishes (British explorers planted spuds here in the 18th century). The staple is a nutty red rice that is great to eat even on its own. For a local tipple, try the beer – some of it is very good. One popular variety is “Druk 11,000”, whose very high alcohol content should perhaps see it rebranded as “Drunk 11,000”.

Window View Druk Air flights f rom S i ngapore to Bhutan include a shor t stop i n Kolkata, India. For this second leg, from Kolkata to Paro, try to nab a seat on the left side of the plane – the views of the Himalayas are astonishing.


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