Gracefully hidden in the Himalayas is Bhutan sharing its borders to China and India. Preserving its unique tradition, culture and pristine environment for decades, Bhutan as it derives its name from Sanskrit word ‘Bhu-utthan’ meaning Highlands, can rightfully be called the last Shangri-la in the Himalayan Kingdom. Being the host to great Buddhist religious masters like Guru Padma Sambhava and Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, the enlightenment teachings thrive and flourish in the Kingdom as rightfully carved in the national anthem ‘Druk Tsendhen’- The Land of Sandalwoods.
Bhutan was absolute monarchy since 1907, the year when Bhutan saw its first Monarch, until it gave way to Constitutional Monarchy in 2008 under the Royal Command of Fourth King.
Bhutan with a forest cover of more than 60% is an agrarian society with about 80% of the population depending on agriculture.
The driving philosophy of Gross National Happiness coined by the Fourth King of Bhutan Jigme Singye Wangchuck, measures Happiness against Gross Domestic Product. Bhutan with a population of just about 0.6 million, has been rated the happiest country in South Asia.
As Druk Air, the national carrier, lands gliding between the mountains appearing to almost touch the mountainside, you have reached Paro, the rice bowl of Bhutan and also the most beautiful valley in the Kingdom.
Paro Dzong stands on the rocky outcrop of the hillside overlooking both sides of the valley. This Dzong (fortresses that house both the monastic and the government administrative wing) was historically one of Bhutan’s strongest and most strategic fortresses.
The Drugyel Dzong, now in ruins, recalls the days when Bhutan was frequently attacked by armies from the north. “Victorious Druk” as the name of the Dzong means was built by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal in 1649 to commemorate military victory over the allied Tibetan-Mongolian forces.
The gravity defying Taktshang monastery, considered one of the most sacred places in Bhutan, clings to a sheer, 3000 foot rock face. Taktshang means literally “The Tiger’s nest”, an allusion to the popular legend that Guru Padma Sambhava flew here from Tibet on the back of a Tiger.
Even higher than Taktshang, poised on a projecting rock spur, the Zangtho Pelri monastery overlooks the whole Paro valley. Built in harmony with the natural features of its site, this 300 year old retreat is, as well as by virtue of its lofty elevation, “the temple of heaven.”
The valley is further enriched spiritually by one of the two oldest monasteries of Bhutan built in the seventh century. Kyichu Lhakhang, one of the 108, built by the Tibetan King Songtsen Gempo, was suppose to pin down the left foot of a demon who had eagle-spread over the areas of Tibet and Bhutan.