Unlike many of the other countries featured here, Bhutan’s heritage cannot be traced back to Neolithic times, and the mountain kingdom seems to have been inhabited at a relatively late stage. Although people were certainly living among its beautiful valleys and mountains prior to the arrival of Buddhism across the border from Tibet in the 7th century, nothing whatever remains in the present archaeological record.

Bhutan’s oldest surviving structures are the characteristic Dzongs, reminiscent in style to the famous Potala of Lhasa, and remain to this day the most prominent architectural structures in Bhutan, remnants of which can be dated as far back as 1153.

Simtokha Dzong, overlooking the Thimpu valley and built in 1629, is the earliest fully intact example.  Built primarily as defensive structures to defend their Buddhist heritage, the fortresses have many interesting features, with magnificent architecture outside and fine murals inside, and are the bedrock of traditional Bhutanese culture.

These impressive structures abound throughout the country and are impossible for the visitor to miss. Punhaka Dzong is widely regarded as the most beautiful with Paro Rimpung Dzong and Trashicho Dzong in Thimpu vying for second.

Other fine specimens include Trongsa, Jakar, Trashigang and Wangdue Dzongs. Many are now used for other purposes, such as monasteries, or, as with Ta Dzong in Paro, housing the National Museum, home to the finest collections of Bhutanese art, sculpture and cultural treasures.

Of Buddhist monasteries, the breath-taking cliff-hanging splendour of Taktsang Monastery, also known as the ‘tiger’s nest’, is inescapably one of the most iconic anywhere and probably Bhutan’s most distinct cultural feature. The beautiful hike to the monastery set in the stunning Paro Valley is a must for any visitor. Though occupying less spectacular vistas, other fine examples include Tango and Cheri Monasteries.

By far the most numerous expressions of cultural iconography you will encounter are the Chortens, which are scattered everywhere form the high passes to the deepest valleys, originally built to house Buddhist relics, but more universally built to make offerings and obtain merit.

From the graceful presence of the National Memorial Chorten in Thimphu, to others all over the country, notable examples of which are Khamsum Yuley Chorten in Punakha and Chendebji Chorten in Trongsa, these structures play an important role in Bhutanese daily life.

Of the high altitude Chortens, the collection of 108 memorials at Dochula Pass is the most iconic, for its magnificent view over the Bhutanese Himalaya.