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Guest Post: A Summer Sojourn to Bhutan

Pine clad mountains, cliff-top temples and a dashing young king and queen… 

It’s not hard to see why the exotic Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan is on everyone’s radar this year. With a government that switched the GDP for the GNP (Gross National Happiness), you know that on a trip to this country you are going to have a good time.

It’s only been 40 years since Bhutan has opened its doors to tourists, and they are still strict about how many visitors they let enjoy the Land of the Thunder Dragon. Determined to hold onto its traditions, the former king decreed that all buildings should be built in traditional style and that during working hours, traditional dress must be worn. This means that any visitor to this picturesque country will be treated to a visual feast of architecture, traditional fashions and cultural past times.

Start your tour of this glamorous country with a visit to the kingdom’s capital of Thimpu. Here the Himalayan Kate and Wills, King Jigme and his wife Queen Jetsun hold court. Here you’ll find the fortress of Trashi Chhoe, a bustling market and the Folk Heritage Museum. Hipsters will fall head over heels for the artisan artefacts.

Then escape the hustle and bustle and head out of the city and up to Punakha. Remember to keep that smartphone ready as you zigzag your way up to the 3,140 metre high mountain pass of Dochu La with its forests, fluttering prayer flags and 108 stupas.

Stay at the Como hilltop retreat Uma Punakha. This boutique hideaway offers sweeping views of the valley and the Mo Chu River below. The last word in luxury, this five-star hotel is ready to spoil guests with dishes such as Beef Cheek and Red Panda pudding pie in the Bukhari restaurant and treat visitors to herbal baths with amazing views from the Como Shambala spa.

If you can tear yourself away from your room, pull on your walking boots and take a gentle walk through the paddy fields, along the banks of the river and between the pine trees to the four-storey temple of Khamsum Yuelly Namgayel. As you descend back into the valley you will hear the resident monks of Punakha Dzong reciting their daily prayers.

Or you can take a quick drive to Talo village and join one of the organised Village Walks to see a snapshot of local life and meet the farmers.

Leave the Punakha behind and head to the east. A three-hour drive to Gangtey will take you through villages, deep ravines with dizzying drops and into the home of the endangered black-necked cranes.

Stay at the newly opened Gangtey Goenpa Lodge, which is nestled in the valley near a 17th-century monastery. From here you can go hiking, mountain biking or even take a trip by hot-air balloon ride over the valley. You can sample Bhutanese dishes at their restaurant before relaxing with a glass of wine in front of a roaring fire.

Enjoy a leisurely drive back to the capital, while stopping for lunch and taking in the clean mountain air. If you didn’t have a chance to tour the city before, you should cross the Paro Chhu using the traditional covered bridge, Nyamai Zam, and then past the archery ground and Ugyen Pelri. Then catch some zzzs at Amankora Paro lodge that’s surrounded by a forest of blue pines, before following in Will and Kate’s footsteps and hiking to the famed Tiger’s Nest. This cliffside monastery that has amazed onlookers with its precarious position, was built on top of the cave where Guru Rimpoche, the father of Mahayana Buddhism, meditated for three months after arriving in the Paro Valley on the back of a legendary tigress.

The trail that will take you through fields, forests and by large prayer wheels, finishes with breathtaking views of the valley. If you’ve hit the bottom of your water bottle by the time you reach the top, don’t panic, for just beyond the temple is the Taktsang tea house, at 9,200 feet that serves up steaming cups of tea to weary travellers. It’s also the best place to get an unobstructed shot of Taktsang Monastery and gives you the chance to show your friends at home just one of the reasons why everyone in this country can’t help but wear a smile on their face.

 This post was written by Lightfoot Travel for LUXE City Guides. For more great travel experiences visit Travel by Lightfoot.

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