5 Ways to Experience Bhutan’s Culture

Looking for a unique experience in Bhutan? Visiting Bhutan could be once in a lifetime.

For the majority of us who visit Bhutan on a tour package, we want to see as much as possible in 7 days or 2 weeks. In a short period, we have to maximize our experiences in the country. We understand Bhutan through our guide’s eyes and knowledge.

1. Homestay

Hotels are found in several tourists popular destinations – namely Thimphu, Paro, and Punakha, etc. In more remote areas, only homestays available. However, with a request, your agency would be able to arrange a homestay.

I would not say all but the ones I stayed at, we shared food together. I requested the mother to cook my favorite Bhutanese dish with the availability of ingredients. You can also help in the kitchen to learn the national dish, cheese, and chili. It’s a must dish in every meal. It’s the best interaction beyond your tour guide’s interpretation of the country. If you are lucky, you can converse in English with the children or head of the family.

To add to this experience, my homestays in Naspe and Phobjikha owned and managed family temples. These temples have a long history traced back a few centuries back. The family histories make your experience a great learning journey :).

2. Drinks and Food

My favorite Bhutanese dish is anything with dried beef or yak meat. Shakam Ema Datshi is dried beef with chili and cheese and Shakam Paa which is dried beef with dried red chili, green onion, and sometimes with radish. I only had Yak Ema Datshi in Bumthang. I am not sure about Paro. I also love buckwheat Puta (noodles) and Hoentay (momos/dumplings). They are Haa Valley’s cuisine. Dry vegetables are so common in Bhutan because harsh winters left them with no fresh vegetables. If Ura Valley is in your itinerary, check out the wildly grown Matsutake mushroom from your homestay or Araya Zamlha Guesthouse.

In the highlands, dry chili is the only way to survive the winter. They buy from the lowlands and dry as much as they could. Chogoo is a string of hard yak cheese found everywhere across Bhutan. It takes hours to munch to melt in your mouth :). Take it for a long hike!

In supermarkets, you will find Bhutanese beer, wine, and whiskey. The peach wine is worthwhile to try and the price is decent. Alcohol plays an important role in Bhutanese culture that interprets through daily life consumptions and religious rituals. For each occasion, a different type of alcohol is served. The Locals are still favorite the traditional home-brewing wine, ara. For instance, Serkem chang is a drink offering to local deities and Tor chang is a drink furnished while making ritual cakes.

Suja is my favorite tea in the region. The salty-butter tea is a daily beverage in Tibet, Nepal, Bhutan, and Himalaya India. It might be weird to your taste buds, but it’s not easy to make a buttery and fragrancy cup of suja. Only one homestay mother made the best suja through my stay in Bhutan. I did not find a suja in my standard even in Thimphu. Let me know if you find a place that makes the best Suja :).

Suja is a complicated process by beating the butter and tea in the wooden churner. Nowadays restaurants or home use blender. The taste is totally different. It’s served with rice puffs or tsampa (roasted flour dough). If you like to buy a wooden butter churner home, check with your tour guide. I did not spot in the Thimphu market.

Suja & Rice Puff

3. Walk Around the Village or Meadow Alone

Experience a piece of the country as a solo traveler. I explored the Ura Valley without my guide. I walked from the main road to the main village. You have a quiet moment to yourself.

Ura Valley

4. Festival

Festivals in Bhutan are elaborate, colorful, and intense, and mostly host in temples, depends on the festival. The mask dance is what most travelers look forward to experiencing. Beyond this, the festival attracts many locals and food vendors. You will have a chance to try the easy food offers in the local festival.

I bought raw honey and parmesan cheese from the festival in Bumthang. Bumthang cheese farmers make gouda and parmesan cheese. These are the items you can carry home, depends on the custom.

5. Meeting Bhutanese in the ‘Land of Happiness’

The philosophy of Buddhism is underlying in the National Gross Happiness. It was initiated by the fourth king, Jigme Singye Wangchuck, who ascended to the throne in 1972. Bhutan’s main selling point is the ‘land of happiness.’ As a traveler, I’d like to understand how locals interpret the NGH, and don’t the young people feel the pressure to maintain that?

Meet the Bhutanese and explore their “land of happiness.”

Leave a Reply