There are numerous books on Bhutan that would be helpful for people who travel Bhutan. But on a strict sense, almost all books on Bhutan focus on people, custom, history and geography of the country. Therefore, it appears quite hard to get books on Bhutan that are best for tourists.
However, now documentaries, travel videos and short movies seem to be proving more effective in introducing Bhutan for people who are planning to travel Bhutan. Still some prefer books over those visual and audio materials. We have prepared a list of 15 books on Bhutan that you can read before you travel Bhutan.
#01 Dawa: Story of a Stray Dog in Bhutan by Kunzang Choden
It’s an allegorical novel which takes readers through social, economic, leadership, political and geographical landscapes of Bhutan through eyes of Dawa; a stray dog in Bhutan. Readers get to know various Bhutan’s cultural aspects that ultimately change how Dawa reacts.
People say that Dawa’s characteristics of small-brained with compassionate heart to pursue his dreams and hopes without intervening normality of others’ lives are generally noticeable characters of Bhutanese. Travel Bhutan to see if it’s true.
#02 The Blessings of Bhutan by Russ and Blyth Carpenter
This book is an account of two authors during their travel within Bhutan and then expatriate volunteers. It mostly circles within Bhutan’s geographical landscape, people, history and customs.
It covers various topics like Gross National Happiness, reincarnation principles of Buddhism, monk-hood and sexual symbols of Lam Drukpa Kuenley that are prevalent in Bhutan. Therefore, this book can be a good preparation for your travel in Bhutan.
#03 Beyond the Sky and the Earth by Jamie Zeppa
It’s a memoir of a Canadian woman who worked in Bhutan first as a primary school teacher and then a lecturer at Sherubtse College. All experiential narratives about remote villages, Bhutanese people, Buddhism, social customs, foods, night hunting and hygiene in all orchestrates to giving landscapes of Bhutan.
This book is for tourists planning to visit Eastern Bhutan where almost all plots of the book are in Trashigang and Pema Gatshel. As you travel, you can compare how Jamie saw those places two decades ago with how you actually see them now.
#04 The Circle of Karma by Kunzang Choden
Tshoma, a young girl in the story takes readers from a remote village of Bumthang to Trongsa to Thimphu and then to India. It reveals rural lifestyles of Bhutanese in general so much cultural restrictions on girls which often hinder in pursuance of their dreams.
It also talks on Bhutan’s perception of gender specific roles and also various indigenous ritualistic ceremonies which many don’t come across now. The author is also from Bumthang. So readers get to know many aspects of Bumthang which they can compare at the time of their travels.
#05 Married to Bhutan by Linda Leaming
This book is an account of author’s life after she has moved to Bhutan and then have fallen in love with Bhutan’s landscape, people, culture and lifestyles. She shares history, language and religions of Bhutan with her personal insights and views which often make you laugh.
She finds a teaching job in Bhutan and then a Bhutanese man. In overall, this book is about experiences of person living in a least developed and isolated country when s/he was actually brought up in a well-developed and consumerism-driven western country.
#06 Bhutan History by Dr. Karma Phuntsho
This is perhaps one of the most comprehensive history books on Bhutan written by a local author. It is about Bhutan’s journey from theocracy form of government to modern democracy.
It touches in a great detail of historical background of religious sites like Bumthang Mebartsho and Paro Taktsang Monastery. Therefore, it’ll be a good handout for a tourists traveling to Bhutan. The only problem with this book is being quite thick and big. So it’s kind of hard to carry and complete reading in a single sitting.
#07 A Portrait of Bhutan by Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuk
This book can be a 50-50 biography of Queen Mother Ashi Dorji Wangmo and her travelogues. In her biographical part, she takes readers through her childhood of growing in a small remote village and in travelogue part, she explains her numerous childhood and adulthood travels.
Though she also touches on her parents’ genetic background and how she felt when she was picked as a queen by K4 of Bhutan, they aren’t in detail. It’s a candid book though. It doesn’t say Bhutan is a last Shagri-La because it has its own share of problems.
#08 Bhutan: Himalayan Mountain Kingdom by Francoise
This book covers many aspects of Bhutan’s culture, tradition and its history. But it cannot be considered as a Bhutan Travel Guide on a strict sense. It doesn’t cover all the aspects travellers these days want to know; where to travel, where to eat, what to see, and how to travel in Bhutan.
However, it’ll help you in testing professionalism and knowledge of your tour guides in Bhutan. This book contains history and cultural aspects of Bhutan that will be areas of interest for almost all tourists travelling to Bhutan.
#09 The Raven Crown by Michael Aris
I read this book in 2013 when I was preparing for civil service common examination. It’s one of the first history books on Bhutan. This means it can’t be packed in your backpack as Bhutan travel guide. It only contains historical events of Bhutan.
However, it’ll spark your curiosity to know more about Bhutan and in the process land up knowing many travel-Bhutan related aspects. You can read Dr. Karma’s Bhutan History after it.
#10 Bhutan Travel Guide by Lonely Planet
When it comes to travel guide to Bhutan, Lonely Planet’s travel guide to Bhutan would be the best. Since Lonely Planet itself is the largest travel advisory and guide books publishing company, this book has almost all areas tourists these days want to know about Bhutan.
It’s recommended to reading this guide book at least once before you travel Bhutan. You can have clear idea as to what to see, where to see, where to dine etc in Bhutan during travel. You can also help your tour operator design a Bhutan Travel Itinerary that shall meet your travel objectives.
#11 Butter Tea at Sunrise by Britta Das
If you have read Beyond the Sky and the Earth, you’ll find this book quite similar to it. Jamie Zeppa and Britta Das are both Canadian women who came to Bhutan as expatriate volunteers and wrote a book each about their personal experiences of being in Bhutan.
In bitter-sweet stories of being in remote parts of Bhutan as Physiotherapist struggling to find love and acceptance, Britta Da shares many cultural, traditional and Buddhism aspects of Bhutan. If you are planning to visit this country, this book will introduce you Bhutan.
#12 Beneath Blossom Rain by Kevin Grange
In west, Bhutan is a ‘walkers’ Paradise’. Bhutan’s Himalayan terrain with good vegetation has led in starting many internal trekking trails. Out of many, the one that is popular of being the toughest trek of the world is Snowman Trek.
Beneath Blossom Rain is a narration of Kevin’s personal experiences of undertaking this trek in Bhutan. Since author has combined travelogue and his contemplation on various societal and cultural aspects of Bhutan, Beneath Blossom Rain is one of the books on Bhutan with multiple themes.
#13 Bomena by Dorji Penjore
Bomena is a custom of going for ‘Night Hunting’ where a boy sneaks into a girl’s bed, start courting and then settle down with life. The author, who is from Zhemgang Wamling and presumably having experiences in this custom, peels off both sides of this custom in this book.
He also introduces various traditional culture programs like Kharpo and Baphu which are basically Bon festivals popular only in very few parts of Bhutan. However, this custom is now becoming infamous with women empowerment, human rights campaigns and development.
#14 So Close to Heaven by Barbara Crossette
It’s about a dream of Bhutan in remaining Buddhist country in eddies of growing global religions. It also has author’s introspection of tradition, history and contemporary way of life in Bhutan. When author explains fate of Buddhism, once small countries like Tibet, Sikkim, and Ladakh also come into the scene.
This book also introduces Bhutan to its readers. Since it was written in 1995, you can see how much Bhutan has changed in this period when you’re actually in Bhutan. If possible, see if there is a change in Buddhist principles.
#15 The Heart of the Buddha by Elsie Sze
It’s a travelogue written on an imaginary incident in Bhutan. But the author’s description of countrysides, culture, Buddhist philosophies and characteristics of Bhutanese in general are beautiful. The author must have really lived in Bhutan for those details.
Marian, a Canadian volunteer in Thimphu public Library goes missing after expiry of the contract. And her twin sister Ruthie comes Bhutan in search of her. Ruthie’s journey to get whereabouts of her sister in all are but the things first time tourists want to know about Bhutan.
These books are recommended as I feel would help travelers to know about Bhutan before they actually start their travels. However, it’s not a comprehensive list. I could even come up with a Bhutan Travel Guide: 20 Books to Read before Traveling Bhutan.
There are many books which in their own ways would help travelers. You can also read Mountain Fortress of the Gods, Kingdoms Beyond the Clouds, and Dreams of Peaceful Dragon. Some tourists also claim that Radio Shangri-La, The Bhutan Bucket List and A Splendid Isolation are also good books on Bhutan.