The Haa Valley © Greenmnm69
Bhutan is a land of pristine natural environments, existing as a biodiversity hotspot. Free of pollution and crime, it's guided by an official policy known as Gross National Happiness. Known to its people as Druk Yul (meaning 'Land of the Thunder Dragon'), Bhutan sits in the remote Himalayan Mountains with India and China as its only neighbours.
The scenic majesty of its soaring mountains and green valleys, coupled with the vibrancy of its cultural life, makes Bhutan one of the last undiscovered destinations; an adventure to feed the soul and enrich the senses.
Bhutan's iconic sight is the Tiger's Nest, a monastery built into a cliff face 2,950 feet (900m) above the ground in the Paro Valley. Another key attraction is Trongsa Dzong fortress, the ancestral home of the royal family. Trekking and mountain biking are popular attractions too, as are the many Buddhist festivals that bring out the extroverted side of these famously friendly people.
It is at times a wonderfully strange place: all new structures must follow the ancient style and people are obliged by law to wear traditional dress in public. Monks have broadband access, while cigarette sales are illegal. And, uniquely, 70 percent of the land is owned by women as inheritance is matrilineal.
Bhutan remained closed to the outside world until the 1960s when its borders slowly began opening. Tourism is based on a high value, low volume principle in a bid to avoid the destructive effects of mass tourism suffered by Nepal and India. Visitors must spend a minimum of USD200 per day on a predetermined itinerary, a strong deterrence for budget travellers. Therefore, visiting Bhutan is much easier through a registered tour operator.
Under the guidance of the current monarch, Bhutan is slowly changing as its economy matures and its fledgling government engages more with the world. Improved communications and widespread internet access is affecting the younger generation and exposing them to the world beyond the borders of this, the last Shangri-La.