Magical of Himalayan Kingdoms Bhutan

By: Douglas Scott

Seeking to preserve its unique culture it has guarded itself against unchecked tourism and modernization and even now remains a rare destination for most travellers. As well as its colourful religious and social traditions, Bhutan is the guardian of some of the worlds most beautiful mountain scenery.

Although as large as Switzerland, Bhutans population is well under a million people, and its sparsely inhabited hill and mountain tracts are a natural paradise. In the central valleys, life goes on much as it has for centuries. The focus of communities, and the traditional seat of authority both spiritual and temporal, are the fortress like monasteries often clinging to impossibly steep mountain slopes, or ravines overlooking deep, clear rivers.

A Buddhist land, Bhutans religious practices largely follow those of Tibet. Commemorative shortens dot the landscape while faded prayer flags are stretched around homes and monasteries. Red robed lamas can be encountered on hill paths, turning prayer wheels as they journey across this rugged country.

Stretching from foothills on the Indian border to snow clad peaks, Bhutan offers an unspoiled habitat for a huge variety of flora and fauna. As mountain streams tumble down steep, thickly forested mountain valleys they pass through thick belts of pine and rhododendron, oak and alder and, lower down, groves of bamboo and oranges. Small scale farmers cultivate rice in terraced paddies and millet and barley on the higher slopes.

You can fly into Paro from Kathmandu, a spectacular way to traverse half the length of the Himalayas, from one fertile hill valley to another. Paro, Bhutans second town, is also home to the National Museum in the Ta Dzong. The majestic Paro Dzong fort commands the valley from above the town.

The capital, Thimpu, is only two hours drive from Paro and is the best place to encounter Bhutanese culture. You can visit the Tashico Dzong, seat of the Bhutanese government, which was constructed without using a single metal nail or support. Wandering in the bazaar area you will have a chance to buy traditional handicrafts including of Bhutans famous hand woven cloth.

Bhutan is the most alluring to Westerners, at least to those with a romantic vision of the past. Bhutan is also the ideal place for trekking in a beautiful landscape of sacred mountains, lush valleys, remote temples and fortress-monasteries. Tucked between China and India at the eastern end of the Himalayan chain, it is the most remote, the least touched by modernity, and apart from Assamese insurgents taking refuge from the Indian army inside the southern border the least affected by violent political conflict.

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