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While hiking to Tiger’s Nest Monastery draws most travellers to Bhutan,

this Himalayan nation is also rich in culture and cuisine.

UNFORGETTABLE

BHUTAN

By Cathy Scott

ICONIC TEMPLES

The most unforgettable and spectacular spot in

Bhutan is Tiger’s Nest Monastery, also known as

Paro Taktsang. Built in 1692, this iconic Buddhist

temple clings to the side of a cliff 3,120 metres above

sea level. Accessible only on foot, the monastery is

the highlight of my group’s journey. The path is steep

and winding and dotted along the way with clusters

of prayer flags guiding us along the arduous trek.

The air is thinner up here which can be a challenge

for some.

Riding a horse on the first part of the trail is an option,

but only for the adventurous, as the horses walk on

the outside of the thin path precariously close to the

edge of the cliff. For those unable to make the full

trek, there is a tea house with views of the monastery

about half way up.

Along our trek, we are treated to glimpses through

the pine trees of the monastery which fuel our

anticipation. The main lookout offers breathtaking

views of the Tiger’s Nest Monastery. Next is 600

descending steps and 200 ascending steps before

finally reaching our destination. The journey is worth

it – from the monastery’s high perch is the most

spectacular view of the valley below, dotted by

tiny houses, trees and more beautiful prayer flags

billowing their mantras over the countryside.

CULTURE AND CUISINE

Bhutanese culture is rich and diverse, partly due to

a lack of outside colonization and partly because it is

a predominantly Buddhist country. Throughout our

journey, we are privileged to witness this deeply spiritual

culture through the many monk blessings, drum

ceremonies and traditional mask and sword dances

that are still part of the colourful everyday life in Bhutan.

The traditional Kira is still worn by most women and

the Gho by the men. Yak wool scarves and salted

yak butter tea are found in abundance. Although it’s

popular in Bhutan, the highly salty yak butter tea was

not our favourite!

Bhutanese cuisine has been influenced by its neighbours,

but like the country itself, the food has kept its own

unique character. The Bhutanese people love their

chillies and the food can be very spicy. A trip to Bhutan

would not be complete without sampling the national

dish, Ema Datshi, a delicious blend of chillies (ema) and

cheese (datshi) that can be found at every meal. Along

with traditional red rice, it quickly became one of my

favourite dishes in Bhutan.

Due to its remoteness, Bhutan is not the easiest place

to get to but a visit to this magical kingdom does not

disappoint. This culturally and spiritually preserved

country of profoundly beautiful natural surroundings

and peaceful people is one of the most memorable

places I have experienced.

There is something so peaceful about the sound of prayer flags flapping in the ever-present wind – especially

in a country where it is believed the wind carries your prayers. In Bhutan, where flags are seen everywhere, it

is believed that when touched by the wind, the prayers are activated and carried through the air to benefit all

sentient beings – or they can be a tribute to loved ones who have passed away.

With a population of just over 800,000 inhabitants, the tiny country of Bhutan lies in the Eastern Himalayan

Mountains, landlocked between China in the north and India in the south. Mostly known for its enviable

philosophy of “Gross National Happiness”, it is also the world’s only carbon neutral country. We have a lot

to learn from this tiny kingdom.

Tiger’s Nest Monastery