The tiny Himalayan nation of Bhutan has maintained a tight control over the influx of tourists into the country, which has often raised questions. The government has justified the stringent measures as a way of ensuring that its pure and unpolluted lands remain this way; and their concerns do have roots in fact.
Bhutan’s natural beauty remains unparalleled, and a few other places in the world today can boast of the kind of wildness, cleanliness and serenity that the lands of Bhutan provide. Active efforts by both citizens and the government, combined with a culture and heritage that strongly emphasizes the connection of man with nature has led to some very progressive movements in Bhutan, such as the ban on plastic, and the requirement of forestation in sixty percent of the country’s land. Thus, though getting into Bhutan as a tourist may not be easy, it is surely worth the effort.
Any conversation about the natural beauty of Bhutan cannot begin without mention of the very famous rhododendrons. Come spring, valleys, trails and parks of Bhutan are carpeted with blooms of over sixty-five species of this colorful plant, transforming the Himalayan landscape into something come alive from fantasies. A three-day Rhododendron festival held in the Royal Botanical Park during the month of May celebrates the coming of spring and gives both locals and tourists a chance to explore this plant and the spell it casts on the lands of the country.
Yet another annual, seasonal visitor to Bhutan is not a plant, but rather an animal – the black necked cranes, to visit Bhutan from their homes of Tibet during their migratory flights in November and December. Listed as vulnerable under the International Union for Conservation of Nature, these birds are legally protected by the state of Bhutan. Revered in Buddhism, a festival is celebrated in the Phobjika valley on the arrival of the birds, thus giving tourists both a chance to observe these majestic creatures and also enjoy the cultural festivities surrounding them.
There are also numerous treks and trails that you can walk down, all of which are guaranteed to make you stop and stare every few minutes as you revel in the sights before you. Since tourism in Bhutan takes place via pre-made packages, the country has marked out several trails that can help tourists enjoy the best of the country. For those looking for low-altitude and low impact adventure, the Owl trek and the Druk path trek takes one through numerous little villages and forest pathways, providing a distant view of the snow-covered peaks.
The more challenging treks of the Dagala Thousand Lakes and Jumholi take you closer to the Himlayan mountain passes, and give you a greater number of days to explore the wilderness. For the truly adventurous, the Snowman Trek takes you up to an elevation of 16,000 feet, and the twenty seven day trek requires some serious acclimatization and camping out in the snow. For lovers of mountaineering however, there can be few experiences that match the trek’s scenic beauty.
Not all the beauty of Bhutan requires such dedication, however. The Tiger’s Nest monastery, famous in its own right, also has a beautiful trail covered with prayer flags, and the peak boasts of a stunning view of the valley below. The Haa Valley requires a permit for visitation, but the tourists to obtain the same can witness stunning lowlands ringed by hills, with the Haa river running along. The Bumdelling Wildlife sanctuary is another place to view the Black Cranes, and to also come into contact with the Bhutanese takins, an endangered member of the ungulate family.
Such is the stunning beauty of Bhutan that it may become virtually impossible for a tourist to visit a place and to not be spellbound by the nature that surrounds it. Around monasteries, it may be seeped serenity and a hint of spirituality. In cultural districts and villages, it may be a marker of the life and history of the villagers and their home, and in far flung places, it may be a reminder of what nature can and is without mankind. But in Bhutan, nature always surrounds you, and there can be hardly anything better than that for a traveller.