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Planet Travel offers trips to Bhutan, the 'last Shangri-la'

2014-01-19 10:57:22

(China Daily) By Hao Nan



The Punakha Dzong-or Palace of Great Happiness-was built in 1637-38. The town of the same name was the national capital until 1955.


Locals perform at the Tshechus festival that honors Guru Rinpoche, founder of Tibetan Buddhism.


Taktshang Monastery, built on a crag 3,120 meters above the Paro Valley, is among the many spectacular sights in Bhutan.

When people tell their friends that they are going to Bhutan for a holiday, many are baffled by the decision.

"Where is Bhutan and why go there?" are likely questions.

But the answers are equally clear.

Bhutan is a small, mysterious landlocked country in the Himalayans. Its nature is pristine and its forests untouched. It is said to be the last Shangrila on earth.

The reclusive kingdom first allowed the world a peek inside in 1974 when it opened to just a handful of tourists.

Planet Travel, a Beijing-based agency that mostly serves foreign tourists, recommends tour packages to Bhutan.

The agency notes why trips are rare-the government of Bhutan still strictly controls the number of foreign tourists to preserve the unique environment.

Inconvenient transportation is another barrier. Paro Airport, the only international airport in the country, is deep in a valley carved by the Paro Chhu River. Only planes flown by Royal Bhutan Airlines can land there.

One of the world's least financially driven countries, Bhutan follows an economic development doctrine known as "Gross National Happiness" that balances financial gain with the well-being of its 720,000-some citizens.

The country has been named "the happiest nation in the world" by Business Week magazine in the US. A survey in 2005 showed that 97 percent of the locals were "very happy".

In addition to the breathtaking scenery, foreign tourists are also impressed by the pure smiles on faces of all ages ranging from children to seniors.

Archery is the national sport and children start to learn the skill at the age of 10. Competitions are held regularly nationwide. Neighbors get together for archery as recreation on weekends.

Participants are usually divided into two teams and try to hit the target with arrows shot from 250 meters. Whoever hits the bull's eye gets a cheer and loud clapping. No one seems to care deeply about results.

Famous attraction

One of the most famous tourist attractions in Bhutan is Dochula Pass on the road from the capital city of Thimphu to Punakha town.

At 3,100 meters above sea level, the pass provides a stunning 360-degree panoramic view of the Himalayan mountain range.

The scenic spot also has 108 stupas built in 2005 to honor the Bhutanese soldiers killed during a war against Indian rebels in 2003. The stupas are surrounded with colorful prayer flags fluttering in the wind.

Planet Travel says one of the must-see events in the country is Tshechus, a religious festival held all over Bhutan for Buddhists to worship Guru Rinpoche, the founder of Tibetan Buddhism.

The dates of festivals vary from place to place, but are held around the 10th day of a month on the lunar calendar. The biggest Tshechus is usually celebrated in April in Paro and in October in Thimphu.

During the event, participants wear their best clothes and jewelry-often made of coral and turquoise-as they enjoy performances such as religious mask dances.

Bhutan is also a paradise for stamp collectors. It is famous for its unique designs including many world firsts such as a 3D stamp, silk stamps and scented stamps. It also released a "talking stamp" in 2006-a diminutive CD containing documentary videos about the nation.

Travel tips

Because the Bhutan government does not accept individual tourism applications, tourists are required to enter the country through licensed tour operators.

The minimum peak-season price for each tourist is $250 per day, making it among the most expensive holiday destinations in the world. But that includes almost all services such as accommodation, food, transport, guide fees and entrance tickets.

Planet Travel now also offers tailor-made services, making itineraries based on the customer's preferences.

The travel agency suggests that tourists book flight tickets at least three months early due to government restrictions and limited flights by Royal Bhutan Airlines.

Smoking is banned in Bhutan and sales of tobacco products are illegal. Anyone breaking the law will be sentenced to prison for smuggling. The government has also banned exports of timber to protect its forests.


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