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By: Mathew Ralph

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Bhutan Tours

Bhutan Tours - 'The Kingdom of the Thunder Dragon' is a destination for those who truly want to travel off the beaten track. Closed to outside visitors until 1974, trekking holidays and tours in Bhutan are becoming increasingly popular, but it is still relatively unknown compared to Nepal, Tibet and the other Himalayan nations. Yet with its traditional Buddhist culture and stunning mountain landscapes, it is an unforgettable holiday destination for those who choose to venture there - here are five of the essential highlights to see whilst on a trek or a tour in Bhutan.

Gankar Punsum

Mountains are sacred in Bhutanese culture, and climbing peaks that are over 6000m in height is strictly forbidden. The country is home to the highest unclimbed mountain in the world - Gangkar Punsum (7,570m). Located on the northern border with Tibet, Gangkar Punsum can be seen in its full glory on a high mountain trekking holiday to Bhutan. Distant views can also be had from many other vantage points that are easy to reach whilst on a Bhutan tour. You may not be able to climb Gankar Punsum but, in a world where almost every mountain has seen dozens if not hundreds of visitors to the top, this just serves to make it that much more special and an essential sight to see on a holiday to Bhutan.

Lunana

This remote northern corner of Bhutan is one of the most unspoilt and seldom explored mountain regions in the world. Getting to Lunana is a challenge in itself - the region is only accessible through a few 5000m passes that are snowed in during the winter months - and trekking in Lunana involves long days of tough hiking. In fact, it is so remote that even the King of Bhutan has not been there. But adventurous trekkers are rewarded with breathtaking scenery and a rare opportunity to walk in the shadow of unspoilt mountains with only yaks and the legendary yeti for company!

Paro Tsechu

Bhutan is becoming famous for its spectacular Buddhist festivals (Tsechu). Most Tours to Bhutan will take in a festival if the timing is right, but the best one to visit is the Paro Tsechu, the most important Buddhist festival in the country. This five day religious celebration (held in Spring each year) is a true feast for the senses, as monks dress as saints and demons to re-enact the great battles of Buddhist mythology, ritual dances are performed, music is played, and copious amounts of barley wine and butter tea are drunk. The festival culminates in the unfurling of a giant thanka (Buddhist image) which confers merit on all who observe it. The rituals have gone unchanged for over a thousand years, and a visit to Paro Tsechu is often the central highlight of a tour in Bhutan.

The Tiger's Nest Monastery

Bhutan is a deeply religious country, and is home to some of the most impressive Buddhist temples in the world. There are numerous dzongs (temple fortresses) that should be seen on a tour of Bhutan, but Taksang (Tiger's Nest) Monastery is undoubtedly the most famous. The name is inspired after the story of Padmasambhava, the monk who brought Buddhism to Bhutan, who apparently flew to Taksang on the back of a tigeress to defeat five demons.

Visitors trek up to the dzong on foot or by mule, and are rewarded with the sight of the red and white temple clinging precariously to the side of the mountain, bedecked by prayer flags and shrouded with mist. A truly unforgettable sight.

Thimphu

Anyone on a tour of Bhutan will inevitably spend time in Thimphu. The capital of Bhutan, it is nowhere near as well known as the backpackers' Mecca of Kathmandu, but still has plenty to offer its visitors. The Memorial Chorten of the late king, archery contests at Changlimithang Stadium, the silversmiths' workshops, the weekend market and the hospital (specialising in herbal medicine) are just a few of the many cultural highlights to see in Thimphu.



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