Top things visitors can do in Bhutan to experience the authentic Bhutanese culture
Spend a Night at a Home Stay
Home stay properties in Bhutan are regulated by Tourism Council of Bhutan and therefore maintains a certain standard in terms of services offered and hygiene. Visitors staying at a home stay will get a chance to enjoy true local hospitality, share a meal with the host family and experience the authentic Bhutanese way of life. Other activities that add to the excitement are trying out traditional hot stone bath, cooking a local dish guided by the host, interaction with the host family, play a game of archery with the locals and explore the village. Most villages particularly in Paro and Punakha are surrounded by paddy fields and the transformation of the landscape during the plantation and harvesting season is spectacular.
Attend the Mask Dance Festival
Mask Dance festival are one of the biggest events in the country. It attracts thousands of tourists every year to witness the unique event. The mask dance festival is a religious event celebrated across the country during different times of the year in the honor of Guru Rinpoche, a Buddhist master who is believed to have introduced Buddhism in Bhutan. During the festival, monks perform a series of religion inspired dances and chant prayers to invoke deities. Locals from within the region attend the festival to receive blessing and also to celebrate family reunion. The event is glorified with the monks wearing colorful silk robes and exquisitely crafted mask depicting gods and deities. Locals also attend the festival wearing their finest clothes and jewelries. The sacred events are celebrated within and around the medieval fortresses.
Hike to the Tiger’s Nest Monastery
The Tiger’s Nest Monastery is over 3 century old and it is located in Paro valley. The hike is included in every visitor’s itinerary and has thus become the most popular and most visited attraction in Bhutan. Its popularity is due to its legendary history and the location of the monastery and its architectural marvel. The monastery is precariously built on a sheer cliff 900 meters above the Paro valley and the only way for visitors to arrive at the monastery is to hike for up to two hours from the base of the mountain.
Before the monastery ever existed, the location where the current monastery sits has a cave which was used by Guru Rinpoche to meditate for many years in the 7th century and thus blessing the land. Subsequently a monastery was built in the 16th century enclosing the cave which remains the inner sanctum of the monastery. According to the legend, Guru Rinpoche arrived at the sight riding atop a flying tigress, thus the name of the monastery.
Visit Phobjikha Valley
Despite being a popular destination, Phobjikha valley depending on the time of one’s visit, it does not feel touristy at all. The secluded village is enclosed by mountains covered in trees and scattered settlement with acres of agricultural land carpets the valley floor. The wetland in the center of the valley is off limits to human activity, it is the roosting area for the endangered species the Black Necked Cranes. These migratory birds fly south to the village from Tibet every winter before flying back in early spring. The valley is known for its extremely serene environment and has become a popular meditation center. The scattered settlements are connected by trails which are ideal for hikes and mountain biking.
Explore the Medieval Fortresses
The medieval fortresses locally known as Dzong are an integral part of Bhutan and its culture and tradition. Few Dzongs in Bhutan predate medieval period while the rest of it were mostly built during the 16th and 17th century. The origins of the Dzongs are primarily credited to Zhabdrung, the founder of Bhutan and he basically ascribed the significant roles that Dzongs continue to play even in the modern times. The unification different states under single rule were commemorated with the construction of Dzongs. Its presence in a region symbolized the recognition of a centralized authority. The Dzongs were then assigned as the seat of the district administration and it also housed the monastic community in the region. During the times of war, the Dzongs were also used as a military barrack. The defense fort in Paro known as the Drugyel Dzong and the Punakha Dzong has many accounts of successfully defending foreign invasions. Dzongs are a great source of information for traveler interested in learning more about the history of Bhutan.