It’s easy for once uncharted corners of the world to suddenly become overrun by tourists searching out the next big thing. That’s not going to happen in this tiny Buddhist kingdom tucked into the Himalayan mountains. There’s a limited number of hotels and tours within the country, and while you can organise a trip independently, there’s a minimum spend of US$250 a day (the price includes accommodation, food, guides and transport). Most would say it is worth every cent.
The landscape is jaw-dropping: rugged mountains topped with snow have spectacular, gravity-defying monasteries clinging to them. Deep, lush valleys carved by rivers provide pastureland for cows and other livestock. And when you travel here, you do it slowly, following mountain passes through forests to towns like Paro, where there’s a impressive dzong (a fortress that serves as an administrative and social centre) and the National Museum, and Punakha, the former capital that sits where the Mo Chhu and Pho Chhu – or Mother and Father Rivers – meet. Along the way, there are friendly faces aplenty – Bhutan does, after all, value its Gross National Happiness – vibrant markets and festivals, and some fairly crazy species of wildlife to spot. The national animal is the takin, a kind of goat–antelope hybrid that lives in bamboo forests.