Paro Valley, Bhutan

You’ve reached a major milestone. Whether it’s a big birthday, a change in career path, or the decision to–gulp–finally have children, your life is about to change. Drastically. What better place to mark the occasion than the country that measures its worth in happiness.

Photo: Naksel Boutique Hotel & Spa
Photo: Naksel Boutique Hotel & Spa

Bhutan is not an accidental destination. To enter the landlocked Himalayan country, visitors must pay a tax–a minimum of $250 per day–though this includes everything from food and accommodations to transportation and a local guide. The price may seem high, but it will quickly be forgotten when you land in Paro and catch your first glimpse of the snow-capped mountains, the green valleys, and the sapphire sky. It’s almost magical.

You’ll need a few days to adjust to the altitude. Explore Paro, with its historic wooden buildings. Check out the masks and the weapons at the National Museum. Visit Drukgyal Dzong, the ruins of a fortress built as a sign of victory over invading Tibetans. Breathe in the crisp, clean air. And wait for the clouds to disperse for views of Mount Jumolhari and the Taktsang Palphug Monastery.

Photo: Naksel Boutique Hotel & Spa
Photo: Naksel Boutique Hotel & Spa

The Tiger’s Nest, as the monastery is called, received its name after, legend has it, Guru Rinpoche flew to the spot on a tiger and meditated for more than three years, thereby introducing Buddhism to Bhutan. Fifteen sacred temples, built into the rocky slopes, now mark the spot. Hiking the steep, narrow dirt path takes two to three hours. You’ll be surrounded by blue pines and rhododendrons. Just when you start to get hot, a chilly breeze cools you off. Stop for a cup of tea and photos at the cafeteria, the halfway point. Some people end their journey here, but keep going. Prayer flags wave you along. The view from the Tiger’s Nest is worth it. Take your shoes off when you arrive. It’s eerily silent, though you’re pretty sure you can hear chanting monks in the distance. Wishing trees, statues, artwork, and fountains are tucked into the mountainside. Pay your respects. And be thankful for all you’ve accomplished.

After hiking back down the mountain, your knees will ache. You deserve a hot stone bath and a yak burger. Head back to your hotel, the Naksel, in quiet Ngoba Village. The tight dirt road to the hotel is surrounded by apple orchards. The hotel has traditional Bhutanese mudbrick architecture and handcrafted furniture, plus modern amenities like rainfall showers. After sitting in the bath for a very long time, head to the Chabchu Bar, for a glass of Ara, Bhutanese rice wine. Huge picture windows look out over the mountains, the valley of Tsendona, and the Taktsang Monastery. Hard to believe you hiked there earlier. You feel calm, peaceful, and, well, happy.


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