Bhutan is the only country in the Himalayas where the Vajrayana Buddhist culture survives intact. However, the fall of other kingdoms that represent this vibrant culture, such as Tibet, Sikkim and Ladakh, and the encroachment of globalization make the survival of this tiny Buddhist nation increasingly fragile and poignant.

In Bhutan, trekkers will find an alternative to the overcrowded trails of Nepal. Serious photographers will be impressed with the country's traditional architecture and abundant wildlife. (Herds of yaks graze in its high-country valleys, and rare snow leopards, blue sheep and black-necked cranes can sometimes be spotted in its farthest reaches.) Others can find pleasure in the elaborate tsechus (religious festivals) that are held throughout the year at various dzongs (fortress monasteries). Nearly everyone who visits Bhutan will be awed by the unsurpassed majesty of the Himalayas.

But it's neither easy nor cheap to visit Bhutan, which is tucked in between India and China (Tibet). No independent travel is allowed in the country—all visitors must book their trip through a state-licensed travel office or a foreign travel agent who deals directly with the government. The government charges all travelers 9,000 Nu a day, to which the Bhutanese company may or may not add its own operating costs.

On the brighter side, your trip is usually free of the hassles associated with travel in other countries in this region, as the fee covers lodging, food, tours and comfortable transportation in well-maintained buses, SUVs or cars. The fee also includes a guide with whom you can plan your itinerary.

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