04 Mar 2009

Discover uncomplicated happiness in the world’s last Shangri-La…

With India to the south, and China to the north, this tiny nation of just 700,000 – hemmed in by the towering peaks of the Himalayas – boasts pine-filled valleys, terraced hills, white-tipped mountain ranges and a pure and simple culture untainted by the modern world.

Recently voted the ‘Number One Place To Be Happy In In 2009’ – thanks to the Bhutanese King’s emphasis on developing “Gross National Happiness” – the clean air, smiling people and pristine environment of Bhutan offers a glimpse at a Lost Horizon-style way of life.

With western television banned until 2002, Bhutan has a simplistic innocence usually only found in story books, complete with yellow-roofed shrines, wooden slate-roofed houses and carved temples set against an awe-inspiring backdrop of snowy peaks.

But access to untouched civilisations don’t come cheap – with visitors having to pay a minimum of $200 (Dhs735) a day to visit.

The best way to explore the rugged landscape is with a wilderness trek, taking in river valleys and high altitude peaks where you can witness first hand the profound spirituality of the last remaining mountain culture, in quiet rustic villages.

If you’re brave, the views from the dizzy heights of Mt Jhomalhari – the Kingdom’s highest peak – are breathtaking, but there’s plenty to see in the surrounding region, including the inimitable Tiger’s Nest Monastery, the National Museum, and the stunning ancient temple of Kyichu Lhakhang.

A visit to the bustling capital of Thimpu – dotted with national monuments, museums, markets and two magnificent dzongs (fortress-like monasteries) – is also a must during your happiest holiday ever!

While You're There...

Try luxe camping
After a rustic trek through the Himalayan foothills, bed down in style at Uma Paro. From this 29-room five star resort – in the wilds of the mountains – you can enjoy the views from the comfort of the in-house spa.

Nature watch
Jigme Dorji National Park – the largest protected area in the country – ranges from subtropical forests to alpine heights and is inhabited by several endangered species, including the takin, snow leopard and red panda. Take a trek through one of the three major routes and you might also catch a glimpse of tigers, blue sheep and barking deer.

Bag some fab fabrics
Weaving is an ancient art in Bhutan, with cotton, silk, wool and yak hair all used to create intricate fabrics on handlooms. Visit the rural North Eastern Phobjika Valley, where you can pick up a bargainous pash, throw or rug in a village market.