Bhutan is a captivating and mystical country not accessible to everyone. It’s minimum daily package fee and its remoteness make the Land of the Thunder Dragon a rather closed up country. Here is a journal with the best photos of Bhutan from my trip through the Himalayan Kingdom.

1. Punakha Dzong

Punakha Dzong

Punakha Dzong

One of the most beautiful Dzongs, or fortresses, in Bhutan is the one in Punakha, a fine example of Bhutanese architecture, known for constructing buildings and complex structures without any nails or iron, simply leveraging the rules of nature.

2. Rice fields

Rice fields Punakha

Rice fields Punakha

Unexpectedly, visitors to Bhutan may be surprised to know that the country’s elevation ranges from near sea level in the south to over 7,500 meters in the Himalayan north. Punakha, about a 4h drive from Paro, enjoys tropical weather and with that, tropical fruits and vegetables that are surprising to find in Bhutan such as mango, papaya, passion fruit or rice paddies, a staple in the country and an essential ingredient in the local diet. In Autumn, the rice is cut and stored in piles which are then threshed in the winter when families are ready to eat it. As opposed to other countries in Asia, rice fields in Bhutan turn to yellow when the leaves change colour.

3. Suspension bridges

Suspension bridge to Amankora Punakha

Suspension bridge to Amankora Punakha

Bhutan is criss-crossed by rivers and valleys and many of them can only be crossed via suspension bridges. Most of them are interlocked with dozens of prayer flags.

4. Chillies galore

Chillies in Punakha market

Chillies in Punakha market

Bhutan’s national dish is chilli and cheese which is literally made of these two ingredients chopped and mixed together. Bhutanese could live with just chilli and the fiery ingredient features in every dish. At the weekend market in Punakha, local farmers sell their produce to the valley’s population.

5. Temple paintings

Gangtey Monastery

Gangtey Monastery

A rare look into the paintings and decorations inside Gangtey’s Monastery illustrates the level of intricacy, the amount of gold and the devotion of Bhutanese to Buddhism. The walls of most temples, monasteries and Dzongs are covered with layers of colourful paint, particularly gold and yellow, including ceilings and floors, and decorated with prayer flags, donations, statues of deities, offerings and other ornaments in what is an explosion of colour.

6. Gangtey’s valley

Gangtey's valley

Gangtey’s valley

As the fog descends and gets dissolved by the warming sun, Bhutan’s Valleys turn from grey to green, chimneys start to cough smoke and the morning frost melts into sparkling water that reflects the sun rays in a kaleidoscope of colours.

7. Tiger’s Nest

Tiger's Nest from the start of the stairs

Tiger’s Nest from the start of the stairs

Bhutan’s most famous sight and holiest temple, Tiger’s Nest, is a good 2-3h 900m trek uphill that culminates with 700 stairs – but it’s worth every drop of sweat. The views along the way are beautiful but it is the mysticism of the mountain and the temple that brings peace and magic to the visitor.

8. Elderly women

Elderly Bhutanese women praying at the National Memorial Chorten

Elderly Bhutanese women praying at the National Memorial Chorten

The elderly Bhutanese men and women spend their last years praying for their next reincarnation and for their loved ones and all living beings. They spend hours every day walking around stupas clockwise, turning prayer wheels or small handheld ones while reciting mantras.

9. Bhutanese Himalayas

Bhutanese Himalayas

Bhutanese Himalayas

Bhutan has several peaks above the 7,000m mark, however, most of them have never been climbed. It is believed that mountains above 7,000m are holy and should not be attempted. But, a few were in the past, though mostly unsuccessful. The majority of this part of the world is unmapped so heights are only approximate.

10. Prayer wheels

Prayer wheel at National Memorial Chorten in Thimphu

Prayer wheel at National Memorial Chorten in Thimphu

Prayer wheels are a common sight across Bhutan. The country is filled with prayer wheels of all sizes. Their insides are filled with mantras rolled in the inner axis. The larger the wheel the higher the amount of mantras. Spinning one of the large ones is equivalent to reciting all the mantras that are rolled inside.

11. Monks in prayer

Paro Dzong

Paro Dzong

Bhutanese monks are not seen in the streets or public spaces. It is believed that a good monk should spend most of his or her time praying and reciting mantras and should therefore stay in the monasteries, away from civilisation and distractions. It is for this reason that most monasteries are found high up in the mountains and are of difficult access.

12. Bhutanese farmers

Farmers in rice fields in Punakha

Farmers in rice fields in Punakha

Bhutan is primarily an agrarian society where most of the population works in tourism or agriculture. As the country is mostly isolated from the rest of the world and values Gross National Happiness in detriment of senseless development, most of the farmers still work the land with the help of animals and using simple tools, like a hand sickle, to cut the rice stalks.

13. Valleys and civilisation

Punakha valley

Punakha valley

As a mountainous country with 72% forest coverage, agricultural land in Bhutan is scarce and population congregates in the major valleys. All of the country’s cities and most of its population inhabit these lower valleys where land is flatter and crops can be grown. It is in these valleys where streams and rivers from mountain ice melting flow.

14. Blessings, prayers and offerings

Lighting butter lamps in Bhutan

Lighting butter lamps in Bhutan

Bhutanese are eminently Buddhist and strong believers in the purest form of Buddhism, particularly Tantric Buddhism. Praying, spinning prayer wheels, making offerings to Gods, getting blessed by monks, lighting butter lamps and many other Bon (animist) and Buddhist practices are common for most Bhutanese. Lighting 108 butter lamps has a special meaning as the number is auspicious.

15. Books on walls

Paro Dzong

Paro Dzong

As reading and writing was reserved for monks and religious men, most laymen used to get their teachings from paintings on the walls of temples and monasteries as well as Thankas. The walls of most temples are covered with legends, teachings and the lives of famous Gods. Buddhism key building blocks are also represented including the astrologers’ wheel or the cycle of life and reincarnation. The paintings are beautifully painted in bright colours.

16. Intricate architecture

Gangtey village

Gangtey village

Almost all buildings, including private homes, in Bhutan are designed and built with intricate roofs and window frames painted and carved delicately. Houses are usually made of two storeys with an attic for the vegetables and food to be stored. The first storey is very high and can be accessed through very steep wooden staircases. Like temples and monasteries, houses are not built with the help of any nails of metal.

17. Phallus worshipping

Fertility temple Chimi Lhakhang is one of the Photos of Bhutan

Village next to Fertility temple Chimi Lhakhang

Bhutanese worship the phallus. It is believed to represent fertility and also fortune and good luck and it is painted on walls, hanged on amulets around children or cattle’s necks and erected above door frames and on top of houses.

  • Your photos are very inspiring for anyone thinking of going to Bhutan, I would love to see the Tigers Nest, how amazing to build such a structure on the side of a mountain

  • So jealous you got to go! I’ve been wanting to go for years, but that daily fee is a bit steep for me.

    • Hopefully you’ll get to venture out there this year!

  • I literally knew nothing about Bhutan before this but this makes it look really interesting! I would love to see the Himalayas like this! And the phallic worshipping is interesting, to say the least!

    • It really is a different perspective of the Himalayas, highly recommended.

  • So many wonderful images to show off this unique country!

    My favourite would have to be that suspension bridge covered in prayer flags 🙂

    • I also love those prayer flags, it’s so distinctive and colourful

  • Hra

    Wow i have never heard about Bhutan!! But through your photos i can see that its awesome!! I would ove to go there!! Happy New Year and thanks for sharing with us 🙂

    • You really must get there this year!

  • Dana

    Amazing! Everything looks gorgeous and I would love to visit Tiger’s Nest. Although those suspension bridges would freak me out. It’s so interesting they even have the phallus around the cattles necks.

    • Everything really was gorgeous in this unique place.

  • Jen Ryder

    Beautiful photos, Mar! We would love to travel to Bhutan one day. Loved your portrait of the older woman and that iconic shot of the Tiger’s Nest.

    • Thanks so much Jen, I loved interacting with those ladies in between prayers.

  • Megan Claire

    Bhutan is on my list! I really want to travel in 2017 so I can visit before too much Western influence and too much tourism filters in – it looks like such a surreal cultural experience at the moment, I hope that tradition is not ruined by increased tourism in the coming years

    • Hopefully it will remain untouched by outside influence for many years to come. Hopefully the guided tours will keep that at bay.

  • TravelingWellForLess

    The suspension bridge looks cool. I was about ready to comment, “Hey, where are the phallus’?” but they popped up at the end. (pun intended) 🙂

    • Haha. They really did “pop up” all around Chimi Lhakhang 😉

  • Bhutan is definitely on our list for this year. We have to visit the Tiger’s Nest. It’s a fairy tale come true.

    • Perfect description of this gorgeous place.

  • Abby Castro

    Bhutan is a travel destination that I haven’t read much of or considered. However, seeing the diverse attractions and the people, you got my interest going.

    Abigail of

    • Glad I could get your interest going, the people are so humble and peaceful.

  • I had to do a double take of that suspension bridge, as I was trying to figure out if that was laundry hanging and then I see they are prayer flags. I would love to see rice fields and I would find it fascinating to watch them harvest the rice. As an Iowa farm gal, anything related to agriculture always intrigues me in my travels. Bhutan looks beautiful… I’d love to visit someday!

    • Lol! It really does look like laundry at first glance. Glad you did a double take. You would definitely be impressed by the agriculture in this beautifully scenic country.

  • The pictures I needed to see to want to go ASAP this year. I remember very well your post about the Phallus .. “temple” so keen to see it!

    • Haha. Yes, that post is quite memorable. Hope you get there this year!

  • Chrysoula Manika

    I had no idea there was a minimum package fee to visit Bhutan, Nonetheless it looks like an amazing country and totally unspoilt. I would love to visit it!

    • It is both unspoilt and and totally amazing, you must go!

  • The rice fields are just so unique and stunning. Tiger’s Nest is very high on my bucket list. Thanks for sharing and happy travels 🙂

    • My pleasure Carmen 🙂 I hope you get to Tiger’s Nest soon.

  • Corinne Vail

    Great photos…so inspiring…and yes I want to go!

    • Thanks so much Corine. You should go!

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