The Serene Pleasures of Bhutan

Andrea Whittle

Wedged between China and India, the tiny Kingdom of Bhutan is a bastion of independence in an increasingly interconnected, globalized world.

Instead of measuring success by the standard economic metrics, the Bhutanese government uses an index they call Gross National Happiness—and you can feel it from the moment you arrive. “As soon as we landed at Paro airport, we were handed a piece of paper that said ‘happiness is a place,’” recalled Seema creative director Khirma Eliazov, who just returned from a five-day trip that started in Thimpu, the capital city, and ended with an unforgettable visit to the valley town of Paro, with its many sacred sites.

The Bhutanese dedication to preserving and celebrating their natural beauty, resources, and culture is reflected in their approach to tourism, which is strictly regulated. Traveling with a guide is mandatory, and foreigners have to pay a daily fee.

From Thimpu, Eliazov drove over the 10,000-foot Dochula Mountain Pass to Punakha, where she spent two days exploring Buddhist landmarks like the fifteenth-century monastery and fertility temple of Chimi Lhakhang, trekking through remote villages to the Chorten Nigpo temple, and taking in sweeping views of landscapes dotted with chortens, the small white shrines that cover many Himalayan slopes.

Bhutan's Tigers Nest

Then she continued on to Paro, where the highlight was the Tiger’s Nest monastery, which looks out over the city from the top of a dramatic cliff 10,000 feet above sea level. The hour-and-a-half hike, through misty pine forests draped with prayer flags, is absolutely worth it.

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Hotel images: Six Senses Thimpu