One of the few remaining untouched corners of the world, Bhutan is a haven for naturalists, hikers and adventurers alike. Enveloped by the Himalayas, the spectacular scenery of the country lends itself to some of the best walking territory in the world. Asia expert, Amy, dons her hiking boots and discovers the secrets of this incredible destination.
I must admit that when I first mentioned I was due to travel to Bhutan, many of my friends and family hadn’t heard of what I now know as a magical kingdom. If they had, they knew that it is famed for its hiking, and with good reason. Located in the Himalayan foothills, hiking routes are in abundance and the scenery of stunning valleys and rolling hills stretches as far as the eye can see. To get the least diluted, most pure form of Bhutan, you must dig out your hiking boots and head up the rugged paths, soaking up not only the views but the variously places of worship which cling to the cliff sides and hill tops. Whilst there are tales, myths and elaborate stories of how each monastery was created, the sheer feat of mankind to create these temples in a bygone era is magic in itself.
Of the gravity defying temples I visited, my highlights include the famed Tiger’s Nest or Paro Taktsang, and the less well-known Bumdra Temple, Cheri Monastery and Kansum Yuelley. For those with better fitness levels and up for an adventure, the Bumdra hike is a must. Though the trek isn’t easy, it isn’t overly challenging either and is manageable for anyone who does regular exercise. Stops en route not only provide panoramic views of mountain peaks and verdant valleys during the summer, but also an opportunity to enjoy a tasty meal amongst the fluttering prayer flags. With all treks and walks, however arduous, something important to note is the altitude, which is not to be taken lightly. Though most people are fine, please keep your guide informed or any altitude sickness symptoms – for example nausea and headaches – and take it at your own pace. As the infamous Bhutanese road signs state, ‘life is journey for completing, take it slow’.
Bhutan is a ‘land of happy coincidences’ and so along your journey you will likely come across an array of flora and fauna, whether it’s a herd of yaks, mountain goats or even an elusive tiger or leopard (though don’t hold your breath for these) each sighting will enrich your adventure further. I would like to think I am a budding horticulturist, so Bhutan was amazing for spotting rare and endemic flowers. With each season comes different plants, shrubs and trees which your fantastic guide will identify along the way.
A fascinating fact about Bhutan is that it is one of the world’s only carbon minus countries. On average Bhutan produces 1.5 million tons of carbon annually, but sequester 6 million tons of carbon, a fact that is showcased throughout the countryside in its thriving wildlife population. For instance, the lichen on the trees only grows in very clean air and the black neck cranes which return to the Gangtey valley year on year thanks to its lack of wires and telegraph poles. These visible signs reiterate the beauty and sustainable commitments that the people of this country take up to preserve this wonderful corner of the world.