A Bhutan holiday is quite an extraordinary experience. Bhutan truly is one of the Earth’s blessed Acres. It’s a small country with a very low population density – itself a unique gift in over-populated south Asia.
The landscape – straddling the Eastern Himalayas from the foothills to the spine – is some of the most beautiful on Earth and further embellished by particularly harmonious architecture, essentially Tibetan in origin but feeling just right for these densely forested mountains as well. And the forests are extensive. By law Bhutan must have a minimum of 65% of land area under forest. At present, more than 75% of the country is under a range of different types of forests – from sub-tropical moist deciduous to montane evergreen, birch and alpine meadow. And the forests are absolutely bursting with life. The Eastern Himalayas are a world bio-diversity hotspot and with the highest percentage of land under forest, Bhutan is the very epicentre of this coffer of biological riches. Walk a trail through a forest of giant hemlocks and one gapes in amazement at just how much life a single tree can support – Spanish, moss, ferns, fungi, rainbow flocks of birds in the branches. I reckon you could spend a fair few days just identifying and counting up what a single tree supports!
But here’s the thing – you could be doing this while threading your way along a tree shadowed path to a remote little monastery made sacred with the hum of Buddhist prayer; draped in bright strings of flags in the colours representing the five elements recognised by Buddhists and Hindus as the basis of the cosmos.
In the modern age we increasingly make the distinction between natural and man-made worlds. And by extension we label our holidays as nature safaris or cultural tours. But with a Bhutan holiday these distinctions are blurred to the point of non-existence – nature and humans live in harmony and so any Bhutan holiday is automatically an experience of nature and human culture. Something that the Bhutanese themselves are deeply proud of.
Do you have to live in yak hair tents in the pastures of high altitude nomads to experience Bhutan? Not exactly – although that option is very much available! In recent years Bhutan has seen the arrival of some wonderful small hotels in Paro, Punakha and Bumthang along with some excellent Bhutanese five star options in Paro. Ideally, you can mix and match – using normal Bhutanese accommodations for most of the trip with a few days in the lap of luxury.