Country OverviewThe Buddhist Kingdom of Bhutan lies along the lofty ridges of the eastern Himalayas, location of Bhutanbordering the Tibetan Autonomous region of China in the North and North-West and the Indian states of Sikkim in the West and South-West, Assam in the south, Arunachal Pradesh in the East and South-East and West Bengal in South and South-West.
The country within these borders forms a giant staircase, from a narrow strip of land in the south to some of the highest un-climbed Himalayan peaks on earth.
With an area of 46,500 square kilometers, Bhutan is comparable to Switzerland both in its size and topography, being largely mountainous.
It was the mighty Himalayas which protected Bhutan from the rest of the world and left the Kingdom blissfully untouched. The Drukpa Kagyupa sect of Mahayana Buddhism provided the essence of a rich culture and fascinating history. The Bhutanese people protected this sacred heritage and unique identity for centuries by choosing to remain shrouded deeply in a jealously guarded isolation.
How To Enter Into BhutanBhutan is a unique destination and as such it has a few unique rules. All tourists must obtain a visa before arriving in Bhutan. Visas are issued on receipt of full payment of your holiday by the Tourism Council of Bhutan. The money remains with the Tourism Council until your travel in-country is complete before the local tour operate is paid. Bhutan does not restrict tourist numbers any longer and operates an open door policy.
Paro International Airport (PBH) is the only entry point to Bhutan by air. It is located in the south west of the country and served only by the country’s flag carrier Druk Air.
E-tickets have been in use since April 1st 2008. Drukair operates 2 planes (two airbuses) which flies to Bangkok,Delhi, Katmandu, Bodhgaya, Dhaka, Singapore, Bagdogra & Guwahati.
There are two domestic airports. Yongphulla Airport is located in Trashigang in the east and Bathpalathang Airport is located at Jakar in the Bumthang district. From the latter part of 2013 the domestic Gelephu Airport will go into operation. It is located in the southern central region, close to the Indian border.
There are three land border crossings located along southern border to India only. Phuntsholing in the west, Gelephu in the central region and Samdrup Jongkhar in the east. No border crossings are open along the Chinese northern border. Road permits are also required; however, these are processed by your local tour operator, along with your visa.
Wire TransferPrior to your trip to Bhutan you will be asked to wire the full payment for your holiday to the Tourism Council of Bhutan account. A tourist visa will not be issued until full payment is made prior to departure. This money will remain with the Tourism Council of Bhutan until your trip is complete. Only after you have completed your holiday will the money be transferred to the local tour operator with which you booked your travel through. If you are not satisfied with the service you received while on your holiday to Bhutan, you can contact the Tourism Council of Bhutan who will assist.
Recommended Reading/ViewingTravelers and Magicians: Bhutan’s first internationally acclaimed feature film was made in 2003 and showcases life in Bhutan. Beyond the Sky and the Earth - a novel by Jamie Zeppa telling the true story of a young Canadian’s (Jamie) experiences teaching at schools in Bhutan – very entertaining and informative.
The Raven Crown- A book by Michael Aris about the origins of the Buddhist monarchy in Bhutan.
The Circle of Karma – an excellent novel by acclaimed local author Kunzang Choden – insights into the life of Bhutanese women.
MediaKuensel: A partially government owned newspaper with a forty year history. Kuensel is published daily.
The Bhutanese: A private newspaper published twice weekly. Gaining popularity due to its bold statements and controversial articles and news coverage.
BBS:The official TV broadcasting station
The Bhutan Times: An independent source of news on Bhutan – commercial and somewhat tabloid in nature. BT is published once a week on Sunday.
The Bhutan Observer:An independent source of news on Bhutan – a social leaning paper with in-depth stories. BO is published once a week on Friday.
Radio Valley: Bhutan’s first Private FM Radio Station. A program called “With Love From Home” can be listened online.
Kuzoo FM:An English language radio channel – mixture of youth orientated music and discussion programs – FM 105. Centennial Radio An English and Dzongkha (National Language) program.
AccomodationBhutan being a very small country and a developing one has very few tourist accommodations which are luxurious but there are a lot of accommodations which offer basic necessities, especially as you travel further east.
If you are looking for a bit of luxury then we can arrange for you to stay at 5-star establishments i.e. namely Amankora (in Thimphu, Punakha, Paro, Gangtey and Bumthang), Uma Paro and Hotel Taj. These establishments have been developed as a result of Foreign Investment in Bhutan. They offer a variety of privileges which are quite unique from the other establishments, therefore be prepared to pay for these privileges. Also now we have some local hotels which have improved the services and facilities such as Zhiwaling. We can also arrange for cooks to accompany you on treks and camping tours that are skilled in coming up with delicious meals.
We have many other regional languages and the National Language we speak is called as “Dzongkha”, but English is very common among Bhutanese as well and is spoken fluently by most of us. Therefore it is the second official language and it is a medium through which communication takes place.
Food and RefreshmentWhile there are ample restaurants on highways between main towns and the hygiene standards at such places is acceptable, the quality of the food is very low and the choice of dishes limited. In addition, the dining halls offer an environment no better than a bus station waiting room. Therefore, it is generally better to prepare food and refreshment for the journey at the point of departure.
Bhutanese dishes consist mostly of vegetables, chili, cheese, chicken, beef, pork, yak, rice with “Ema Datse” is the national dish (chili & cheese stew) Momo (cheese or pork dumplings), Hogay (cucumber, tomato, onion, and cheese salad), curries with chicken or pork, Nosha Paa (beef and chili) – these are all popular Bhutanese dishes. Due to the hot flavoring and abundant use of chilies in the cuisine it is spicy. There is little to no seafood but on request you can get buffet style meals with choice of continental, Bhutanese and Indian Cuisine. Our cooks, who accompany the treks and camping tours, are well trained and equipped and can come up with delicious feasts every day. For beverages locals enjoy Yak Butter Tea (tea leaves, water, salt, & yak butter) and Ara (spirit distilled from rice).
Tour GuidesOur tour guides have good knowledge of the history and culture of Bhutan and are very hospitable in nature. They are certified by the Tourism Authority of Bhutan. The most common mode of communication is English but we can also provide guides who can speak French and Japanese.
ElectricityWe generate our own hydro electricity with the help of our rivers. All towns in the urban areas of Bhutan have power supply. The supply of electricity to villages some distance from the road is an ongoing project so many outlying towns are not connected yet. Trekking will take you far from electric supplies. The voltage supply is 220 volts, 50 cycles AC with a three prong plug (same as India).
Although geographically quite small, Bhutan’s weather varies from north to south and valley to valley, mainly depending upon the elevation. In the North of Bhutan on the borders with Tibet it is perennially covered with snow. In the western, central and eastern Bhutan (Ha, Paro, Thimphu, Wandue, Trongsa, Bumthang, Trashi Yangtse, Lhuntse) you will mostly experience European-like weather. Winter lasts here from November to March. Punakha is an exception as it is in a lower valley and summer is hot and winter is pleasant. Southern Bhutan bordering with India is hot and humid with a sub-tropical climate. While the monsoon affects northern Indian it does not command the same influence in Bhutan. Summer months tend to be wetter with isolated showers predominately in the evenings only. Winter is by far the driest period while spring and autumn tend to be pleasant.
There are four distinct seasons similar in their divisions to those of Western Europe. Temperatures in the far south range from 15°C in winter (December to February) to 30°C in summer (June to August). In Thimphu the range is from -2.5°C in January to 25°C in August and with a rainfall of 100mm. In the high mountain regions the average temperature is 0°C in winter and may reach 10°C in summer, with an average of 350mm of rain. Precipitation varies significantly with the elevation. The average rainfall varies from region to region.
MedicalThe Government of Bhutan does not check for vaccinations upon entry into Bhutan. Being up to date with usual Asian vaccinations is recommended. Hospitals and medical facilities are available in all the districts of the Country. Severe cases require medical evacuation air lift to Bangkok. As most parts of Bhutan are situated at high altitude, it’s a non-Malaria region except in southern parts of Bhutan. Strict hygiene standards are enforced in the food production areas by BAFRA (Bhutan Agriculture and Food Regulatory Authority).
You may suffer from altitude sickness. Altitude Sickness is the result of your body’s failure to adjust to higher altitudes because of the rate of ascent. It can occur as you travel from sea level to high elevation. For 99% of travelers the elevation of the country and passes between the valleys does not create problems. For travelers going on treks we need to know whether they have any former history of altitude sickness. We strongly recommend that you purchase comprehensive insurance and have a complete medical check up before you leave home. Please inform us of any pre-existing medical condition.
Headache, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, insomnia, shortness of breath, and tingling on hands or feet are Symptoms of altitude sickness and it can be cured by Aspirin, ginger tea, butter tea, and in severe cases for people who have previous difficulty 125mg of Diamox every 12 hours (not available in Bhutan) as well as Reduced altitude will be of great help.
CommunicationAll major towns have basic communication facilities such as internet cafes, telephone, fax, telegraph and post. There are satellite and national television broadcasts (Bhutan Broadcasting Service) in the major towns. If you have international roaming mobile coverage, you should check with their coverage provider if Bhutan is included. If not, identify this before arrival, SIM card and recharge card (Voucher) is easily available in town.
PhotographyBhutanese are usually happy to be photographed; all it takes is a simple gesture to get their agreement. However, there are some restrictions on taking photographs in the Dzongs, monasteries and temples.
The national currency of Bhutan is the Ngultrum (Nu) and it currently trades at approximately Nu 43 to US $1.00. The three currencies accepted within Bhutan are the Ngultrum, the Indian Rupee and the US Dollar. There are two Banks in Bhutan.
They are as given below:
Bhutan National Bank Limited (BNB)
Bank of Bhutan Limited (BOBL)
Currencies accepted as foreign exchange within the banks are:
ClothingDue to the varying temperature and climatic conditions it is advisable to dress warmly, layered clothing is better than one or two thick garments in order to keep warm. Clothing should preferably be made from natural materials in order for the body to be comfortable.
As Bhutan is in its developing stage people think differently therefore it would be advisable for you to avoid walking around in skimpy or tight fitting clothes. For visits to monasteries, dzongs and other religious institutions dress modestly and respectfully, and refrain from smoking while on the premises. Hats, caps, shoes etc. should be removed before entering the premises.
You need to pack clothes as per season, sunglasses/spare glasses, pair of casual shoes, knife, hat, umbrella, camera, films and accessories (including spare camera batteries), insect repellent, hand cream, small sewing kit & safety pins, torch or flash light with spare batteries, mirror, scissors, sun cream, lip salve, soluble aspirin, antiseptic cream, anti-histamine cream, anti-diarrhea pills, a preparation for the relief of sunburn, and any medication you take regularly, or might need to take for a periodically recurring condition, such as asthma.