Bhutan

Bhutan, the enigmatic Himalayan kingdom at the terminus of the ancient Silk Road, is one of the most mysterious and untouched of the world's travel destinations. The "Land of the Thunder Dragon" only began to admit overseas visitors in 1974; and today, Bhutan still strictly controls the number of travelers allowed into the country, so determined are its people to preserve their traditions undiluted by mass culture. This proud Buddhist monarchy is unlike anywhere else you've ever been. No smoking, no plastic bags, no McDonald's: instead, a country of snowy mountains and chrysoberyl hills, of crag-sheltered valleys studded with fortress-monasteries and uninhabited jungle where Bengal tigers roam. Bhutan is a country that does its own thing: the government famously measures Gross National Happiness instead of GNP, and Bhutanese people still regularly wear their national dress, the colorful gho for men and flowing Kira for women. Even the rice (red) and sheep (blue) seem to be proudly proclaiming the individuality of their nation!

Trek through forests of rhododendrons and cedars, and over freezing mountain passes haunted by snow leopards. Visit pagoda-roofed monasteries with golden spires, housing ancient statues of the Buddha and Guru Rinpoche, the founder of Buddhism in Bhutan. Clamber up to the world's most precipitous gompa, the Tiger's Nest, whose white towers grip onto a cliff-edge overhanging the verdant Paro Valley. Or drink in the whirling colors and music of a traditional Tsechu festival, where sacred dancers present some of the most ancient stories of their religion. Wild yet peaceful, untrammeled and untravelled, maintaining with pride traditions that date back centuries, Bhutan treasures the secret of a different way to live – and one that will change the life of the traveler who learns it.

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