A Gap Year in Bhutan

Why go backpacking in Bhutan?

Undiscovered by many tourists, Bhutan is a country of history, tradition and nomadic life.

This landlocked country, situated between China and India, only emerged out of isolation in 1962, offering a rich and preserved culture alongside a peaceful way of life. Its biggest draw for visitors is its incredible Buddhist temples, many built in seemingly impossibly high mountain positions.

If you fancy a break from the backpacker stereotype of parties and adrenaline-seeking, then Bhutan is the place to head to. Discover this preserved country at a slow pace and soak in its fascinating religion and architecture.

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What to see in Bhutan

If there is something that Bhutan isn’t short on, its monasteries and mountains. Bhutan is located at the eastern end of the Himalayas, that have been successfully intertwined with Bhutan’s national Buddhist religion, building some of the most incredible Buddhist temples high on the mountains edge. The most famous of these, situated close to Paro, is the Taktshang Goemba, also known as the ‘Tigers nest’, which lies almost 3000ft above ground. This sacred monastery was originally built in the 1600’s, but re-built in the 1951 and 1998 due to fires. This building really is all about determination and discipline. Not only by the fact that it’s been rebuilt three times, but also because of the steep hike each visitor has to accomplish before reaching this fascinating structure.

The Dochu La, near the capital Thimphu, is an easier option to experience a mountain-top temple as it is accessible by car. On a clear day, travellers can get a 360 degree view of the Himalayas and wonder through the 108 mini unique stupas. Trongsa Dzong is the third mountain monastery, near the town of Trongsa. This place has two attractions in one as you can mix with the locals and try the national meal of red rice, corn and buckwheat as well as chillies and cheese as well as touring the Tronsa Dzong fortress.

For the more immature backpacker, a stop-over at the Chimi Lakhang temple is worth a visit just to take a few photos we shouldn’t be shown to your Grandma. Now, unlike other modest temples in Bhutan, this one is a bit more extreme and happens to have a certain interest in penises. Yep. It’s a phallic-obsessed temple. You can see the male genitalia carved out of wood, for sale at local markets, and painted on the side of the temple in some great, great detail. My, my, what would Freud say…?

Things to do

Bhutan has amazing grounds for hiking, and its deep valleys and high mountains deserve to be explored. One of the most popular hiking spots is in the Phobjikha Valley, where trekkers can stay in guest houses in the local town before heading out on a 4km walk. Lucky hikers might even spot the rare black-necked crane that migrates here in late October to mid-February.

The main towns of Bhutan are Paro, the capital Thimphu, and the uniquely named, Bumthang. Thimphu is where the only international airport is, where as Paro is a quiet village town where travellers can witness the national sport of Archery within the Archery grounds. Bumthang, an even more desolate town, offers gateways to incredible scenery and Buddhist life. Visitors can also tour through the wilderness to spot the diverse wildlife, which range from the rhino, golden langur monkey, leopard, sloth bear, red panda, black bear and the national animal of Bhutan, the Takin.

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