Bhutan in Photos: from Lofty Mountains to Magnificent Fortresses

Posted on December 9, 2013 by

Entrenched within mighty mountain chains and surrounded by Buddhist myths and legends, Bhutan still remains shrouded in mystery. Having only opened its doors to international tourists in 1974, the country has come a long way in terms of development and modernization. In spite of it, Bhutan has chosen to proudly cherish local traditions and conserve its natural environment — only in this part of the world is Gross National Happiness (GNH) more important than the country’s Gross Domestic Product (more on this later).

In the past week that I’d spent in Bhutan, the country has floored me with its extraordinary landscapes and rich, vibrant culture. From the many impressive dzongs (fortresses) that dot the country, to the solemn monasteries and lofty, snow-peaked mountains, Bhutan blew me away with beauty of epic proportions.Everywhere I went in Bhutan, colorful prayer flags flew high in the air, sounds of monks chanting echoed through the walls of temples, and praying wheels spun freely in temples and on the streets.

Valleys intertwined, rivers weaved through landscapes like giant serpents, and mountains poked the skies in this mountainous Himalayan nation. Whether young or old, Bhutanese men roamed the streets in the traditional gho (a knee-length robe that resemble the kimono) while fair-skinned ladies sashayed in colorful kira (a long dress tied at the waist, accompanied by a silk jacket).

I was awed to silence by the sheer location of the cliffside Taktshang Goeba or Tiger’s Nest Monastery, the impressive architecture of the beautiful fortress Punakha Dzong, the raw and rugged terrain of the glacial bowl-shaped Phobjikha Valley, and so much more… Ultimately, it wasn’t just the architecture or landscapes that captured me — it was the intriguing Bhutanese culture, unique policies and emphasis on traditions that truly made Bhutan an extremely special place for me.

I’ll be writing more about my experiences there, but in the meantime, here’s a photographic overview of my time there. I hope they bring you there with me.

Landscapes of Bhutan

The tallest mountain in Bhutan

Drinking in a view of Bhutan’s second tallest peak, Mount Jomolhari, from Docho La Pass. The mountain rises 2,700 metres (8,900 ft) above the barren plains of northwestern Bhutan. Almost all of Bhutan is mountainous.

View from Taktshang Goemba

72% of Bhutan is covered by green forests. Almost everywhere we went, we saw forests, valleys, fields, and grass plains. This photo shows the Paro Valley sprawling beneath our feet at Taktshang Goemba (Tiger’s Nest Monastery).

Phobjikha Valley

One of my favorite spots in Bhutan: the remote and rugged marshlands of Phobjikha Valley in western Bhutan. Cattles graze the plains along with the rare and much-revered black-necked cranes. This is the best place to see the birds, especially in winter, when they migrate here from the Tibetan Plateau. The birds are featured in many Bhutanese songs and a festival is held each November to welcome the birds.

Hiking through the rice terraces of Punakha

Hiking along the rice paddies of Punakha was another great experience as I got to walk through the plains, meet villagers along the way, and see Bhutan from a different angle. This short 45-minute trail led us through several villages before arriving at Chhimi Lhakhang temple.

Rice terraces and villages in Wangdue Phodrang

 Dozens if not hundreds of villages dot the landscapes of Wangdue Phodrang. Most Bhutanese live in the rural areas, sustaining their lives through farming.

A close-up of rice terraces

 Rice is the main staple of the Bhutanese diet. They are grown each June and harvested in November. The season was already over during my visit, but the rice terraces were still an awesome sight at this time of the year.

Thimphu from above

Bhutan’s capital, Thimphu, as seen from above. Before the 1960s, Thimphu was nothing more than rice paddies and a few clusters of villages. When the third king of Bhutan decided to develop the country, he moved the capital from Punakha to Thimphu and built the capital into what it is now. Today, over 100,000 people live in the capital city and it is developing and expanding faster than ever.

Bhutanese Architecture and Buddhist Structures

Punakha Dzong by the river

Dzongs (fortresses) are the most important landmarks in Bhutan, with over 20 dzongs found all over the country (one in each province). Lauded as the most beautiful dzong (fortress) in Bhutan, the Punakha Dzong not only has an impressive architecture but its location along the Pho Chu (Male River) and Mo Chu (Female River) makes it all the more stunning. This dzong also served as the capital seat of Bhutan for more than three hundred years.

the world famous Tiger's Nest

Bhutan’s most famous site: the Taktshang Goemba or Tiger’s Nest Monastery. Perched precariously on the side of a 900m-high cliff, the monastery is a stunner that deserves superlative descriptions. Few things blow my mind away these days, and Taktshang is definitely one of them. The two-hour steep hike up there at high altitude may not be a stroll in the park, but once you’re up there, the views make it well worth it.

Tashichho Dzong in Thimphu by night

Every night, Thimphu’s Tashichho Dzong is lit up in beautiful gold, white and red colors. This photo was shot from Sangaygang, a lookout point on one of the hilltops overlooking Thimphu. I was shivering in the cold, bristling air but this view distracted me.

Inside Paro Dzong

Dzongs are used for two purposes these days–half of it for government administration offices and the other half for monastic bodies. Inside the Paro Dzong, windows and doors are adorned with intricately carved woodwork and beautifully paintings of lotus flowers, clouds, snow lions, tigers, and gods.

Intricate carvings and paintings on the windows of Punakha Dzong

A work of art — windows in the dzongs are framed with man-made carvings of Sanskrit prayers, flowers and wheels.

108 Stupas at the Druk wangyel chorten

The Docho La Pass is another excellent spot for both the panoramic views and architecture. 108 stupas make up the Druk Wangyel Chorten, erected by the former queen of Bhutan to commemorate the battle that took place in southern Bhutan in 2008.

A prayer wheel on the slopes of Taktshang

Prayer wheels are found everywhere in Bhutan, from the streets to rural areas and deep within the mountains. This one is found at the foothills of the Taktshang Goembe, Tiger’s Nest Monastery.

Hundreds of prayer flags at Taktshang

Multi-hued prayer flags are intertwined to form a stupa of sorts, at the Lawa La mountain pass in Wangdue Phodrang. Prayer flags are hung such that when the wind blows, it sends the prayers to heaven. Each of the colors used in the Bhutanese/Tibetan Buddhist flags represent a different element: blue for space, white for air, red for fire, green for water and yellow for earth.

Prayer wheels in Paro town

As mentioned, prayer wheels are everywhere in Bhutan. These ones are found on the streets of Paro town. They are always turned clockwise to send prayers to the heavens. Traditionally, the Buddhist mantra Om Mani Padme Hum is written in Sanskrit on the outside of the wheel.

Colorful handwoven fabrics

These traditional hand-woven cloths are either worn as kiras for ladies or used for ornamental purposes at home.

People and Wildlife

Takin, the national animal of Bhutan

The takin, a goat-antelope native to the Himalayas, is the national animal of Bhutan. According to the Bhutanese beliefs, this animal was created by the popular saint, Drukpa Kuenlay, also known as the Divine Madman.

A yak found at Lawa La Pass

Yaks are only found in high-altitude regions of Bhutan. Wild yaks are unfortunately extinct in the area, and these yaks are owned by yak herders in the Lawa La Pass area, close to Phobjikha Valley. Yak milk and cheese are often consumed by Bhutanese, although now they are rarer than before.

Befriending a monk in Thimphu

While wandering around Thimphu, I found this monk near the weekend market, and politely approached him for a photo. He kindly agreed and even started a conversation with me. I told him I was really enjoying Bhutan, and he gave me a wide smile and said, “Welcome to Bhutan! We are happy to have you!”

My guide Sangay and driver Nidrup from Bridge to Bhutan

 I was honored to be accompanied by these two gentlemen throughout my whole trip in Bhutan with Bridge to Bhutan. My guide Sangay, on the left, is a young 29-year-old Bhutanese who was always eager to share his culture and traditions with me. On the right is the very polite Nidup who drove me around all week and played a game of carrom or two with me. Special thanks to Lotay and Fin, the brothers who run Bridge to Bhutan, for their warm hospitality and informative guidance!


Disclosure: My trip was made possible by Bridge to Bhutan, but all opinions expressed above are my own.

 

 

 

About Nellie Huang

Nellie Huang is a professional travel writer and blogger with a special interest in off-grid destinations and adventure travel. Her mission is to visit every country in the world. In her quest, she's climbed an active volcano in Iceland, swam with sealions in the Galapagos, built a school in Tanzania, waddled with penguins in Antarctica, crossed into North Korea and drank beer in Palestine.

16 Responses to “Bhutan in Photos: from Lofty Mountains to Magnificent Fortresses”

  1. Raj Kumar December 10, 2013 1:35 am #

    Wow! Bhutan is a beautiful place, which can be seen in the photos… the land with steps type formation can be seen in the sand desert also. I've visited Saudi and i've seen there due to wind sand is formed in this type.

    • Nellie Huang November 5, 2015 7:32 am #

      Yes it’s one of the most beautiful places I’ve been. So many mountains, gorgeous monasteries and lovely people.

  2. Cam December 10, 2013 12:02 pm #

    Wow! What an adventure. You've captured some great images

    • Nellie Huang November 5, 2015 7:32 am #

      Thanks Cam! It’s not difficult to take good pictures in such a beautiful country.

  3. eliseoberliesen December 11, 2013 10:48 am #

    Nellie–Love that photo of Taktshang Goemba . Makes me want to visit the Tiger’s Nest._-Elise

    • Nellie Huang November 5, 2015 7:33 am #

      Yes it’s even more beautiful in real life, just precariously perched on the side of the cliff.

  4. Eric December 14, 2013 6:31 am #

    Nice pictures… Could you tell more about the particularity of traveling to Bhutan : no independent traveler allowed (the other known country for that is North Korea…) and a regulation of spending a minimum of $250 per day? How did you deal with this points?
    If still active and mandatory, it seems for me a way to keep the gap between the elite and the masses… Or maybe Bhutan is the single country in the world where the officials don't get corrupted with so much money?

    • Nellie December 16, 2013 7:25 am #

      hi Eric, thanks for the questions! You are right that travelers must go through a tour operator to travel to Bhutan and there is a minimum tariff of US$250 a day. However, we need to know a few things to understand why the Bhutanese government came up with these restrictions. Firstly, these requirements are put in place to make sure that tourism has a minimal impact on local culture and environment. The Bhutanese have very strong opinions on conserving their traditions and even though they embrace modernization and technology, they do not want tourism to negatively affect their local customs. I personally think it\’s a good move. Their idea is not to keep the gap between the elite and the masses, but to attract more responsible and mature travelers. Secondly, Bhutan is a small country with limited resources, so to ensure that the country is able to provide high quality services and experiences to travelers, it needs to keep its tourism industry small. Thirdly, this minimum tariff includes everything from hotel accommodation to food, guide and museum fees. Also, $65 per day out of this fee goes to providing free education and healthcare for the people of Bhutan. I plan to write more about Bhutan\’s travel policies, so please stay tuned for more info!

  5. kristy December 15, 2013 8:34 pm #

    A lovely country with lovely people. I hope I can visit the place soon. Maybe next year! I am crossing my fingers for that to happen.

  6. Kieu December 17, 2013 2:13 am #

    Incredible. I'd love to visit here one day.

  7. chinamtt December 17, 2013 9:01 pm #

    I have to get to Bhutan. I'm tempted to apply for a job there, even though I know it pays a fraction of what I make now. Still think it'd be worth it.

    • Nellie December 23, 2013 10:32 am #

      Honestly I am also tempted to find a way to live in Bhutan! It is just somewhere really different and unique in its own way.

  8. Sarah February 17, 2014 5:24 am #

    BEAUTIFUL images Nellie :) Never knew Bhutan was a Buddhist country. Taktshang Goemba looks truly epic! We went to a similar place in India called Ki monastery!

  9. Kayleigh March 18, 2014 3:54 am #

    Hey there! Do you use Twitter? I’d like to follow you if that would be okay.
    I’m undoubtedly enjoying your blog and look forward to new posts.

    • Nellie March 18, 2014 10:12 am #

      hey Kayleigh, thanks for the note! Yes we love Twitter, find us @wildjunket.com. Tweet us anytime! ;)

  10. countessyana March 22, 2014 11:08 pm #

    I love the colors so much! oh and the mountains….super!

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