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Bhutan Traveller Tips


Bhutan - The Buddhist Kingdom lies east of Nepal and west of the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh, south of Tibet and north of the Indian state territories of West Bengal and Assam. Bhutan is a land-locked country surrounded by mountains to the north and west. The altitudes in the south range from 300 to 1,500 meters, from 1,300 meters in the east around Tashigang to a high of 5,600 meters over the highest pass. The altitude at Thimpu, the capital, is 2,560 meters.

All visitors to Bhutan require visas. All visa applications must reach Bhutan well in advance of the tourist's intended arrival date. Tourists are required to bring original photographs as required by the Immigration Authority. Individual tourist visas for a period of two weeks cost $20, extensions can be obtained at an additional cost of $20.

Entering Bhutan Undoubtedly the best way to visit Bhutan is arriving by air. Druk Air is the only airline allowed to fly into Bhutan so there is not much choice there, but it is a good one. The Druk Airline consists of two British Aerospace jets, BAe 146s, perfectly designed and crafted for high altitude landings and takeoffs. Druk Air has a spotless safety record because all pilots are specially trained and internationally licensed for mountain flying. The aircraft are impeccably maintained.

The flight to Bhutan has to be the most spectacular in the world offering spectacular views of the Himalayas, Mount Everest and Chomolhari. Flights into Paro International Airport, one of the highest in the world, arrive several times a week from Bangkok, Kathmandu, Delhi & Calcutta and sometimes Dacca. We will book your Druk Air reservation in and out of Bhutan as a compliment to our tour services. To do this we book in advance as soon as you confirm your trip so we can avoid the peak season rush of the Spring and Autumn festivals. Tickets can only be issued once your visa is approved by the Home Ministry of Bhutan. Do not worry about being approved our staff will hand carry your passport details and personally book your tickets. Make sure the visa information you send for your ticket is EXACTLY the same as it is on your passport or you will not fly. Druk Air is very sticky about that.

The alternative of coming in to Bhutan by road is now allowed to tourists wanting to combine their visit to Bhutan with other places in India such as Sikkim & Darjeeling. Entering and departing Bhutan by surface road through the border town of Phuentsholing is the only official point of entry other than flying. Now travelers are also allowed to fly into Bhutan and exit by road through Phuentsholing, or vice versa.

Air tickets will be issued only after your visa is approved by the Home Ministry of Bhutan. To expedite this procedure, it is essential that you send us all passport information required to apply for your Bhutan visa. The air-tickets cannot be issued until the visa is approved - and this process takes a week or more.

Bhutan has four distinct seasons. The southern plains close to the Indian border are warmer and more tropical than higher central valleys. The winter months are fiercely cold with temperatures rising around the end of February. Rhododendrons begin to bloom first in the warmer east and by the height of spring, the whole kingdom is lush with spectacular flaming white, pink and red of the rhododendron blossom. The annual monsoon affects the south and central regions.

Hotels vary in style and quality from town to town. All government-approved hotels are clean and well maintained. In Thimpu and Paro and in central districts all hotels are equipped with telephones, fax and international telephone connections. All hotels have their own restaurants and some also have a bar. Traditional Bhutanese food is very hot and spicy. In tourist areas, the food is adapted to western taste and includes western dishes. Evening meals are invariably buffet style. Food and Drink Traditional Bhutanese food is hot and spicy. For our visitors, however, Chinese, Indian, and Continental fares are served. The more adventurous can try the local delicacies like the tasty and fiery the national dish of Bhutan, Emma Datshi that is made with chilies and Local Bhutanese cheese. Meals are normally served buffet style in the hotels. On trekking tours, a trained cook will accompany your group to provide simple but nutritious dishes. All meals while you trek or visit in Bhutan are also included in the daily tour cost. Other services include trekking arrangements. Your only extra expenses will be, liquor, laundry, souvenirs and tips if you choose.

Ground Transport Again, all ground transportation is already included in your daily tariff. We use only clean, comfortable and well maintained cars, vans and coaches to transport our guests. Our experienced drivers are trained and licensed by the TAB and the department of motor vehicles in safety and mountain driving in Bhutan. You will be at ease riding in the mountains of Bhutan unlike the experiences you will have had in Nepal and India. Sanity on the road prevails, and drivers are courteous to each other.

Guides Guests of the kingdom are required to have guide accompaniment throughout their stay in Bhutan. You will have a very fluent English speaking guide and driver at your disposal at all times.

Our guides have all been trained and licensed by the TAB (Tourism Authority of Bhutan). Our trekking guides and cooks undergo additional mountain training, including safety and first aid.

Tourist Seasons A visit to Bhutan can be planned anytime of the year but the best period is from mid September to November and March to June. There are many festivals during these months, and visitors should take advantage of trekking and the Tsechu. Most hotels sell out during this time and it is important for us to plan in advance if you want to attend.

Daily Tour Costs The TAB (Tourism Authority of Bhutan) regulates all tourism activities and the daily tariff in Bhutan. All tour operators must be registered with the TAB. 35 percent of the daily tariff goes directly to the TAB. These funds are used by the government for the socioeconomic development of Bhutan. Hospitals, schools, and roads are built and maintained with that income. TAB releases a travel information booklet detailing their role and the regulations by which all tour operators are governed.

The normal rates for tours in Bhutan is as below:

-- Three or more persons travelling together: US$ 200 per person per day.

Additional surcharges are charged smaller groups:

-- Two persons travelling together + US$ 30 per night per person.

-- One person travelling alone + US$ 40 per night per person.

Contact us if you have any questions regarding the tour costs. The daily rate may sound high at first, but remember that this includes all your accommodations, meals, guided tours, and all ground transportation in Bhutan.

The National currency is Ngultrum (Nu) 100 Chetrum = 1 Nu. Exchange rate is approximately US$ 1 = Nu 35 .

The Bhutanese currency is the Ngultum. Dollars and travellers' checks are accepted in large hotels and tourist shops.

Cotton and light woollen in summer (June/September).

Heavy woollens and jackets the rest of the year. Take an umbrella and comfortable s hoes for the monsoons.

What to Bring ?

Druk air limits your luggage to 20 kg /44 lbs (or 30 kg / 66 lbs on business class). You should try to keep to this allowance. Even if you are willing to pay for excess baggage, your extra luggage will be listed as standby and may be off loaded for the next flight. The less you carry the better. One small suitcase and an even smaller carry-on are best. There is not much room for over-head storage in the air cabin.

Comfortable casual clothes are great, but you may want to bring some semi-formal clothes (jacket and tie for men, dresses for women) just incase you are invited to a Bhutanese home for a social function. Thimpu and other towns in Bhutan have a small-town atmosphere, and you might easily find yourself in the company of a high government official. Many of our guests have been invited to big social functions or get to meet with government officers. If you have scheduled your trip during a festival, you definitely should carry a set of dressy clothing. Bhutanese people dress quite formally at these occasions, and dirty jeans just do not fit-in.

Even in the summer, it can be cool in Bhutan, and it is very cold in winter. Days can be quite warm, especially in the lowlands of Punakha and Phuentsholing, and you could start off driving in the cold of dawn and become uncomfortable midmorning. Use the layering system, starting with thermal underwear and adding a shirt, pile jacket and wind-breaker (or parka) as necessary. If you are not trekking, you will need:

Long Underwear (for cold weather from November to March)
Cotton trousers Cotton skirt for women (at least one)
Pile jacket or sweater - even in summer
Down jacket - in winter; not needed in summer
T-shirts or short sleeved cotton shirts (not sleeveless)
Sturdy Sneakers or walking shoes
Sandals or flip-flops
Rain jacket (Gore-Tex if possible), otherwise a poncho or nylon jacket
Dress-up clothes for festivals
Sun hat and sunscreen
You probably will not need bug repellant, but if you do, a small bottle of liquid drops is best.

Shorts for hiking and walking around town are fine. Out of respect, please do not wear shorts in public buildings or monasteries. Have a pair of long pants or longer skirt for these locations.

All hotels provide sheets, blankets or quilt, and a pillow. Unless you are trekking, you will not need to carry a sleeping bag. Hotels provide heating in winter; either an electric heater or a wood stove which will keep you quite warm.

You will be outside a lot, much of the time at altitudes above 2,500 m (7,800 ft); so there is plenty of sun and wind. Bring a supply of sun cream and lip protection, such as Blistex; these items are not readily available in Bhutan.

For trekkers, be sure to bring the following:

Sturdy and "broken-in" trekking/hiking boots

Sunscreen (highest possible)
Medium to heavy sleeping bag (tents are provided)
Torch (Flashlight)
Insect repellent
Maximum recommended load for trekking is 25Kgs (55lbs.).
Essential Extras
A folding umbrella; especially if traveling during the monsoons of mid June to late September. Rain is possible any time, and is almost certain from June through August.
Be sure to carry ear plugs (and spares) for when you sleep.
There are many dogs in Bhutan as the Bhutanese consider them next humankind in the cycle of life. These dogs do not realize this and will sometimes bark at night. There are occasional electric outages throughout the country; so, you should always keep a torch (flashlight) beside your bed.
Make sure you bring a pair of good sunglasses for protection in the high altitude.
A Swiss style army knife is a good thing to bring, but with the recent concerns over air travel, you may want to bring a folding utility tool such as a Leatherman and make sure to put it in you check-in luggage.
Bring a small alarm clock if you need help waking up. Not all hotel rooms have telephones or wake-up service. Our guides will make sure you are not late for anything.

Packing If you are on a cultural tour, it is OK to bring a hard suitcase, though a soft bag is more versatile and easier to pack into the luggage space of a vehicle. For those trekking in Bhutan a strong duffel bag as luggage is best. You will also want a small rucksack (back pack) or waist pack to carry your camera, water bottle and other essentials in the vehicle and when you are walking around town or visiting monuments.

Bhutan's indigenous population is the Drukpa. The three main ethnic groups, the Sharchops, the Ngalops and the Lhotshampas (of Nepalese origin) make up today's Drukpa. The national language is Dzongkha.

The Buddhist faith has played and continues to play a fundamental role in the cultural, ethical and sociological development of Bhutan and its people. It permeates all levels of secular life, bringing with it a deep devotion for the country and its well being. Annual tsechus and dromchoes celebrate spiritual festivities in each district.

Throughout Bhutan, stupas and chortens line the roadside commemorating a holy place. Prayer flags are found fluttering on long poles maintaining a constant communications with the heavens. Bhutan retains the Tantric form of Mahayana Buddhism as its official religion.

Many visitors come to Bhutan to witness religious festivals held annually in Dzongs throughout the country. The most popular are those held in Thimphu, Paro and Bumthang. The Dzongs come to life with colour, music and dancing as valley dwellers and town people join to exorcise evil spirits and rejoice in a new harvest. Rare masked and sword dances and other rituals are performed in the Dzong's courtyards and temples. Most of these dances date back to the Middle Ages and are only performed once or twice each year. Visitors should find out whether regional Dromchoes or Tsechus are taking place, as they can be fascinating.

Bhutan's time is six hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time at 12 noon GMT it is 6 PM in Bhutan. Bhutan's time is half an hour ahead of India's. When it is 12 noon in New Delhi, it is 12.30 PM in Bhutan.

In 1995, the per capita income was estimated at US$ 500 with the annual growth at 5%. Although these figures places Bhutan among the least developed nations the country is unlike others within that category as no famine, little malnutrition, good housing, exists. Over 91 % of the population depend on agriculture and livestock rearing which together account for some 50% of GDP despite the fact that only 2% of the land is arable.

These massive fortress-monasteries decorate most hilltops and valleys. They serve as the administrative headquarters and are the focus of secular and religious authority in each district.

The Rural Bhutan:
The first thing that a visitor to Bhutan will notice is the great expanse of green, forested hillsides. A drive or trek through the country-side of Bhutan will take you from the subtropical forests over high alpine passes and down to broad valleys with colorfully painted houses scattered across the landscape.

For the trekking enthusiasts, there are numerous routes ranging from low (9840 ft) to medium (10,000 ft) to very high altitude (14,400 ft) treks. We can organise dozens of different programs including Eco-Trekking, Orchid Treks, Medicinal Plant Treks, Bird-Watching Treks and many more.

Flora and Fauna:
Bhutan is a botanical paradise. One of the ancient names given to Bhutan was 'Southern Valleys of Medicinal Herbs'. To name a few floras in Bhutan- rhododendrons, junipers and magnolias several meters high, carnivorous plants, rare orchids, blue poppy (national flower), edelweiss, gentian, medicinal plants, Daphne, giant rhubarb, high-altitude plants, tropical tress, pine and oak etc.

Among the rare and exotic faunas found in Bhutan are - Golden Languor, Red Pandas, and Black-necked Crane, Snow Leopard, Takin, Musk Deer, Himalayan Brown Bear, Himalayan Marten, Tiger, hornbills, pheasants, mountain goats and timid blue sheep.

Photography & Filming in Bhutan Photography is permitted nearly everywhere in Bhutan. However, it is not permitted in the Dzongs (Fortresses) and monasteries. Any commercial filming in Bhutan requires prior permission to be sought from the Royal Government and the payment of a royalty. We will assist you with all the formalities.

The name "Bhutan" is said to derive from the ancient Indian term "Bhotanta" which means fthe end of the land of the "Bhots" (the Sanskrit name for Tibetans) but it could also extend from the Sanskrit word "Bhu'uttan" or "high land". Ancient Tibetan writers called their fertile neighbour "Lho Mon" or "Lho Yul", "Paradise of the South or the Land of the Monpas". The Bhutanese refer to their country as "Druk Yul" or "Land of the Peaceful Dragon", Druk meaning dragon and extending from the predominant Drukpa School of Tibetan Buddhism.

Bhutan was not unified under a central authority until the 17th Century. However, religious belief acted as a spiritual cohesion for many years. Guru Padmasambhava made his legendary trip from Tibet across the mountains flying on a tigress' back arriving at Taktsang Lhakang, Tiger's Nest in the Paro Valley. Guru Padmasambhava is recognised as the father of the Nyingmapa religious school. Many of Bhutan's celebrated ancestors have their origin in Nyingmapa School. Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, a Tibetan Lama of the Drukpa School designed the present system of intertwined religious and secular government. He fought and won a battle against the Tibetans in 1639 and so unified the country and established himself as the country's supreme leader. Within five years of his death the whole country had come under the control of the central government. At the end of the 19th century, the Penlop (Governor) of Tongsa overcame the Penlop of Paro and was afterwards recognised as the overall leader of Bhutan. Ugyen Wangchuck was elected the first king of Bhutan in 1907 and ever since the monarchy has thrived and the present king is His Majesty King Jigme Singye Wangchuck.

PRE DEPARTURE INFORMATION Once your tour or trek in Bhutan is confirmed we will provide you with all Pre- Departure Information and any other details that will help you prepare for your tour/trek in Bhutan.