Amazing write up in The Week out today and online by our Travel expert Anthony Eddies-Davies on Bhutan’s rare beauty

The Himalayan kingdom is off most tourists’ radar, but with its fascinating history and spectacular scenery, it won’t be for long

Mention Bhutan and the first question most people will ask is: “Where is it?” – if they’ve heard of it at all. Many people give a blank look and then confuse it with Borneo. When I was first asked to go, I knew nothing about the country myself, to be honest, but it’s stunning. It’s a very conservative country and in many respects it’s like stepping 150 years back in time. There’s a big emphasis on national dress, certain styles of architecture and traditional culture. It’s still largely closed off and the royals – Bhutan only transitioned from an absolute monarchy to a constitutional monarchy in 2008 – have every intention of keeping it that way: they’ve started at the five-star level and might only work their way down the scale in time. It’s funny – you can be in Bhutan and see members of the royal family cycle past.

I recently acted as an advisor to Bhutan on the development of its tourism industry, but my first visit was under completely different circumstances: I went to explore the access to the country provided by its vast river ecosystem, so I was there with cartographers mapping waterways for the first time and zoologists tackling a poaching problem. We didn’t realise that would prove the advance guard for a new industry for the country and a means of ensuring Bhutan’s dense forestry, which could prove lucrative if commercialised, is protected, as it recently has been by the imposition of very strict export licensing.

Historically, tourism in Bhutan has been limited to visiting its many ancient temples. But there’s so much more to this little-known country. The landscape, for example, from its subtropical plains to mountain ranges, is very special. There’s a real opportunity for what you might call “extreme sports made accessible”. Yes, there are hardcore sports for those who want them – Bhutan offers one of the most difficult treks in the world – but you can also paddleboard for miles because the rivers are so slow-moving, or gently raft for days and step right into a temple because the river system allows you to get deep into the country, or get to the top of a pass that allows a two-hour downhill mountain-bike ride without having to peddle. There simply aren’t many places in the world where you can do that.

But Bhutan can also give people a unique experience in a unique country. You’re away from the crowds – in fact, you’ll rarely see other tourists. There’s no air pollution here. It’s a country that still has unclimbed mountains. Of course, the challenge will be to keep the balance between protection and opening up the country; between retaining exclusivity and getting people to visit. The royal family want to keep it as pristine as possible, so it’s one place in the world where you probably won’t ever see mass tourism, which is fitting for a place so many people haven’t heard of. They see low-level tourism as a way of opening Bhutan up to more international events – a marathon, for instance – rather than the beginnings of overrunning it.

Now is a good time to visit – you can see change happening. Yes, some would call that a shame, but it’s the kind of change that needs to happen. If a single-track road that gets washed away every monsoon is replaced by a proper two-lane road, you have to see that as a good thing for the people who live in Bhutan and for those who want to explore it.

ANTHONY EDDIES-DAVIES is an adventurer, educator, guide, Nepal expert and, latterly, advisor to Bhutan on the development of its fledgling tourism industry. He is also the founder of Live the Adventure, currently one of the only travel companies outside of Bhutan accredited by the country’s tourism council; livetheadventure.co/travel

Read the full article at The Week website here or check our range of Bhutanese Adventures here

 

 

 

 

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