Bhutan is the last of the great Himalayan kingdoms. Still largely untouched by outside influences, shrouded in mystery and magic, this Buddhist country, hidden for centuries on the roof of the world, is like nowhere else on the planet. Follow British Travel Writer of the Year Emma Thomson as she explores the culture and majesty of Druk Yul, Land of the Thunder Dragon, as it's known by its people. Shunning the usual group tour, Emma stays with local families miles from the tourist trail and discovers, because of that, a glimpse of the real Bhutan most travellers will never see. But this is more than just an adventure. Cut off from the rest of the world until 1974, and surrounded by virtually impenetrable Himalayan peaks on all sides, Bhutan has remained culturally intact for centuries. It is a real-life Shangri-La, a kind of fabled mythical kingdom hidden in the mountains, where spirituality and happiness are more important than money and economic development. Intrepid travellers whisper its name in hushed and reverent tones for a reason. Bhutan is, perhaps, the most enlightened country on Earth, and when we visit some of that wisdom and inspiration becomes a part of us too. Highlights include:
Staying with two local Bhutanese families in remote rural villages, far off the usual tourist trail
Experiencing real Bhutanese daily life: tending the fields, bathing in hot stone baths and helping to prepare the meals - fresh dumplings, curries, chillies and cheese
Exploring Punaka Dzong, the most beautiful of all of Bhutan's fortress temples
Trekking to the Tiger's Nest Monastery, which clings to the face of a sheer cliff and is the holiest site in the country
Hearing the myth of Shangri-La, or Shambala, a fabled hidden kingdom in the mountains where the wisdom of the world was guarded for centuries, and how that relates to the history and ideology of Bhutan today
Learning about Gross National Happiness. Bhutan is the only country in the world to measure its progress not by Gross National Product (the value of the goods it produces) but by Gross National Happiness (how happy and spiritually fulfilled its people are)
Visiting Bhutan's head of astrology, which is usually forbidden to tourists and discovering a surprise message there that might just shake your scepticism.
Be inspired by the peace and serenity of the most enlightened country on Earth, and learn how to take that wisdom and stillness into your own life too
Who's the Guest?
Emma Thomson is the current British Guild of Travel Writers Travel Writer of the Year. She has been hooked on all things 'travel' since the age of 14, when she would sneakily rip pages out of ageing copies of National Geographic in the school library to add to her travel scrapbook. Today, she's just as passionate about adventure and has been working as a full-time freelance travel journalist since 2011, after spending six years as Commissioning Editor at respected guidebook publisher Bradt Travel Guides. She specialises in remote destinations and responsible, adventure-based stories. Follow her on twitter: @emmasthomson, and instagram: @emmathomsontravels
All images (c) Emma Thomson
And here's that shot of Emma looking absolutely beautiful dressed in a traditional Kira
A few shots of other sites mentioned in the episode below, from left to right: Punakha Dzong, a Takin, Tiger's Nest Monastery, Religious Festival (or Tshechu)
Your Bhutan Adventure
If you want help planning your ultimate Bhutan itinerary, or to find out how to book the trip that Emma did, email me directly: firstname.lastname@example.org
Another option is Intrepid Travel. They are one of my favorite tour operators, and specialise in authentic off-the-beaten track adventures. Please note: if you click these links, it'll take you to their site and if you book I'll make a small commission. It won't cost you a penny extra and will help out the show. Thanks!