A nationwide smoking ban and the only capital in the world without traffic lights are amongst the quirky attractions of little-visited Bhutan, which confidently strides to a different rhythm to the rest of the world. This hidden corner of Asia has one major obstacle for potential visitors: price. With visas famously starting at $200/day (and the old back door through day trip from India slammed firmly shut), only the most well off of travelers can afford to stick around. Those that do are treated to dazzling personal tours through scantily populated mountain regions, on itineraries entirely of their own choosing.
Capital Thimphu is your most likely starting point, where red-robed monks drift between pot holes and spin prayer wheels on their way to the many whitewashed temples. Itâ€™s slow paced, friendly and relaxing, and by far Bhutanâ€™s best chance to escape your tour guide and see the warm-natured markets, bars and outlying reserves unaccompanied.
As intriguing as Thimphu is, however, itâ€™s the wild, Himalayan side of Bhutan that truly blows the mind. The revered Jhomolhari trek takes you through ancient tribal villages to Bhutanâ€™s most sacred, snow-capped peak, while the Snowman trek is a full on 25 days of high altitude snow, through the craggy skylines and remote villages that you simply can't access any other way; certainly not a walk for the unfit or the nervous, or the poor, seeing as that absolute minimum cost is the $5,000 you'll have to pay for nearly a months worth of visa.
The strenuous walk to the cliff side splendor of Taktshang Goemba â€“ â€˜the Tigerâ€™s Nestâ€™ â€“ is a sacred pilgrimage to a holy site that seems to hover in the air over a fierce drop off, and represents a well-known symbol of Bhutan, and perhaps the local must see. The delicate architecture of the Buddhist town of Bumthang dazzles amongst the plains, thousands of years of peaceful culture still prevalent in the monasteries and regular festivities. For all its plentiful scenic sights and indifference to the outside world, though, Bhutan's still managed to sneak in bird spotting and an uncanny ability with a bow and arrow as additional tourist draws.
The â€˜Land of the Thunder Dragonâ€™ is far from run-off-the-mill. Pricey, but well preserved and scenically spectacular, many travelers rank the magic and mystique of Bhutan and its gentle, amiable culture amongst their most special travel experiences.