If you love mist-covered mountains and lush forests, Bhutan probably features high on your bucket list. A kingdom known for its GNH (Gross National Happiness), this slice of paradise is just as famous for its pristine beauty and culture. While you can explore all the popular places in Bhutan during your trip, you can also choose to visit offbeat trails, stores and restaurants for a more eclectic holiday. Here’s a list of lesser-known places in Bhutan that will make your itinerary even more exciting.
1. National Handloom Development Project, Trashigang
Located a few kilometres beyond Khaling, the National Handloom Development Project is the place to go to for traditional woven fabrics. Operated by the National Women’s Association of Bhutan (NWAB), it outsources weaving projects to more than 400 villagers, who create beautiful handwoven fabric with traditional patterns that are sold here, as well as in emporiums in Paro, Thimpu and Bumthang. You can choose from 300 samples, and also learn about different plants that are used to make natural dyes.
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2. Lama Tshering Dorji General Shop, Paro
This obscure supply shop is choc-a-bloc with a variety of interesting things. From amulets and divination dice to prayer flags, butter lamps and incense, this little store stocks everything spiritual. You’ll also find other knick-knacks like bamboo arrows and khuru darts to take home as souvenirs.
3. Paro Taktsang – The Tiger’s Nest Monastery
Perched atop a cliff, this is the monastery where the Second Buddha is believed to have meditated, and where Padmasambava, his Tibetan concubine, arrived on a flying tiger. Since you won’t have the luxury of travelling on a tiger, you’ll have to climb up right from the valley floor to the Tiger’s Nest, which is 3000 feet above. After two hours of slow climbing, you’ll reach the monastery, only to be greeted with some breathtaking views of the valley and mountains, making the trek worth your while.
4. Philatelic Bureau, Thimpu
At first glance, a post office may seem like an unlikely place to offer something interesting, but this one delivers something unique – a personalized and bespoke set of stamps. If you take along your best digital photograph or get a picture taken on the spot, the staff will print them out on a set of stamps, all for Nu 200 within a few minutes! Apart from this, you can buy a bunch of postcards for friends back home. If you’re a stamp-collector, this is just the place to load up on first-edition stamp sets.
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5. Kila Nunnery, Paro
Pressed tightly against a cliff, the Kila Nunnery was established in the 9th century as a meditation site, and is known to be the oldest nunnery in Bhutan. With 50 nuns pursuing higher studies in Buddhism, this place is a must-visit for its serenity and architecture. Combine a visit to the nunnery with an hour-long hike beginning at Cheli La and passing through forests, prayer flags and chortens.
Situated south-west of Paro, Haa is the smallest of the dzongkhas aka districts in Bhutan. While it is isolated, it’s also one of the most picturesque places in Bhutan with lots of ancient temples, lovely scenery and a rich heritage. Grab your backpack and explore Haa on foot. This is one the best places in Bhutan for a photo-op!
7. Champaca Café, Paro
If you’re looking for a cosy little café to enjoy a delicious cup of coffee while munching on yummy snacks, head to Champaca Café for your fill of food and beverages. With a reputation for good grub at pocket-friendly prices, it’s just the place to unwind in after a long day of sightseeing. Tuck into delectable eatables, log onto free WiFi, play a board game or two, or simply soak in the ambience.
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If you’re looking to spin your holiday around naturescapes, Lheunste must definitely feature on your list. Known for its rugged mountains, spectacular views, verdant forests and magnificent cliffs, this was once home to Bhutan’s royal family. A place that still doesn’t feature on the tourist trail, Lheunste is also known for its textile traditions and the many sacred sites.
9. Phobjikha Valley
Bird-watchers and wildlife enthusiasts must trek to the Phobjikha, a bow-shaped glacial valley situated on the slopes of the Black Mountains, right on the border of the Jigme Singye Wangchuck National Park. Flocks of black-necked cranes spend the winters here, making the place an important wildlife sanctuary in Bhutan. While here, you can also spot wild animals like the sambar deer, barking deer, Himalayan black bear, red foxes and leopards.
10. Dumtse Lhakhang, Paro
This unusual temple looks quite like a chorten. Built in 1433 by Thangtong Gyalpo, an iron-bridge builder, the route to the temple is lined with some of the best murals in Bhutan. As the legend goes, the temple was established to subdue a demoness, and is one of the most interesting pieces of architecture to explore in Bhutan.
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With this list of offbeat things to do in Bhutan, you’re all set for your next vacation. Have any more insider tips on Bhutan to share? Do write in to us!