When we first got married, we didn’t immediately go on our honeymoon. Instead, we deferred our plans to a little later in the year so we could spend it in the secluded Himalayan nation of Bhutan on the northeast border of India (at the time, it was one of the last true monarchies in the world, but since then has switched to democracy—incredibly, on the orders of the king himself). We had heard a lot about Bhutan’s beautiful landscape and imposing Buddhist architecture, and decided we wanted to see for ourselves. We did, and we loved it—and still dream of going back for another visit. Here are 10 reasons why you should consider honeymooning in Bhutan, too.
1. THE ADRENALINE RUSH OF THE FLIGHT INTO PARO
Bhutan’s lone, beautifully decorated airport is in the town of Paro, for the sole reason that it’s the only place that offers any sort of approach for an aircraft to land. That’s not saying much, though, because the plane still needs to do some serious weaving between mountains before suddenly straightening out and landing at the tiny airport. The last few minutes of the flight are quite intense, with the trees on the mountainsides looking close enough to touch every time the plane banks in either direction—definitely an experience that will bring you closer together.
2. THE SOLID BUT INTRICATELY DECORATED ARCHITECTURE
Bhutanese buildings are squat and blockish, like a lot of Himalayan Buddhist architecture. This is offset, though, by lots of decorative flourishes like wooden latticework and hand-painted patterns and religious motifs. Overall, the effect is a little incongruous sometimes, but still charming—especially when you spot a wall painted with the private parts of a dogma-defying saint! Legend has it that this saint was so fed up of the religious rigidity of the time that he tied a sacred thread around his private parts as a symbol of defiance and the people obviously love him for it.
3. THE HEAD-EXPLODING SPICINESS OF THEIR NATIONAL DISH
Before we visited, we had heard a lot about the amount of chilli the Bhutanese use in their food. We weren’t too concerned, though, because we thought it couldn’t get much spicier than the food we had eaten in India. We were extremely wrong. It turned out that their national dish, ema datse (literally ‘chilli and cheese’) uses green chillies as a vegetable—and not the big mild ones, either! One bite was enough to convince us we needed a lot more practice before we could finish a bowl, even between the two of us. But even if you don’t like hot food, trying a bit of ema datse would still make for a nice story to tell your grandchildren.
4. THE FIERY LOCAL ALCOHOL
The Bhutanese love their alcohol, and many brew and distill their own at home. Called ‘ara’, the local alcohol is usually made from rice or maize, and matured in hollow segments of bamboo. It has a flavour that takes some getting used to, but it definitely packs a punch! If you’re a couple that likes your evening drink, then this will definitely give the both of you a warm, fuzzy feeling.
5. THE IMPOSING BULK OF PUNAKHA DZONG
The dzongs of Bhutan are an interesting combination of military fortress, administrative center and Buddhist monastery, and use the traditional blockish Bhutanese building style—but on a massive scale! Each administrative district has one, and the dzong in the former capital town of Punakha is said to be the most imposing. We found that quite believable as we walked through the gates in the huge walls and along the various stone courtyards inside, with even the interior buildings towering intimidatingly overhead. Exploring Punakha dzong is a great way to experience how two separate ideas—in this case, spirituality and administration—can enhance each other.
6. THE LONG AND PICTURESQUE MOUNTAIN ROADS
Getting from one town to another in Bhutan involves a long drive up and down one mountain after another, often over bumpy roads. But we found that the incredible views of the mountains and valleys along the way made it all worthwhile, with our destination just an added bonus. The long hours spent on the road in the peaceful mountains may just be the perfect way of getting to know each other better.
7. THE MAGNIFICENT VIEWS FROM CHELELA PASS
The road from the town of Paro to the Haa valley leads up and over Chelela pass, at a height of almost 4,000 meters above sea level. The views from the pass are breathtaking, and the flapping prayer flags just add to the otherworldly atmosphere. And, chances are, you’ll be alone up there, sharing the views with just each other.
8. THE INCREDIBLE TAKTSANG MONASTERY
Of all the things in Bhutan, this is what we most highly recommend: the trek up to the amazing cliff-hugging Taktsang—or ‘Tiger’s Nest’—monastery. The well-defined path up the mountain would, under ordinary circumstances, not be considered very difficult. The thin air at that altitude, though, can make even the fittest take it slow! We huffed and puffed our way up over three hours, stopping every ten minutes for a breather while our impassive guide looked on with a faint air of amusement. But it was all worth it in the end, as we finally drew level with the monastery, built right into the hillside and almost falling off the edge of the cliff! This is definitely one challenge to overcome together.
9. THE PROFUSION OF FURRY DOGGIES EVERYWHERE YOU LOOK
I’ll admit, this may not be for everyone, but it was great for us dog lovers. Sadly, Bhutanese stray dogs are a lot like the people—quiet, dignified, and not very outgoing. None of them (the dogs, not the people) reacted to our friendly overtures beyond giving us a slightly disbelieving stare, so we learned to leave them alone and just admire them from afar. Of course, if you’re the persistent kind, you could always try and win one over together.
10. THE FADING POST-COLONIAL GLORY OF CALCUTTA
I’ll admit, this isn’t really in Bhutan. But since your flight to or from Paro will probably be through Calcutta (now Kolkata), it might just be worth it to take a break here and explore what used to be the British Empire’s capital in India. Almost everywhere you go in Kolkata, fading remnants of the Empire’s presence are visible, from architectural landmarks like the Victoria Memorial to more subtle cultural influences like an enduring love for high tea. But hold on to each other so you don’t get swept away by the bustling crowds.
Written by Irfan Quader from The Good Life With IQ.
The Good Life With IQ is a blog dedicated to travelling and being vegetarian in India.
It aims to give travellers and vegetarians (and travelling vegetarians) the information they need to have a good time in this vast and incredibly diverse country. You can follow me at https://thegoodlifewithiq.com, and on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.