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Bhutan – Happiness is a Place!

Tourism in Bhutan is unique as it is referred as the “Switzerland of Asia.” From quant farming villages to magical forests to mountains where Yeti’s supposedly live, Bhutan is a place which has escaped the civilised touch of the rest of the world. It is The Land of “Gross National Happiness” whose philosophy is being practiced worldwide.

With its beautiful and largely unspoiled Himalayan setting, its rich flora and fauna, the mesmeric rolling hills and towering crags magnificent mountains, dense forests, pure air, delightful people and its vibrant Buddhist culture, Bhutan the "Land of the Thunder Dragon" or 'Druk Yul' has become an increasingly popular destination for international tourists. Bhutan is still regarded as one of the last ‘Shangri-La's’ on the Himalayan region because of its remoteness, its spectacular mountain terrain, varied flora and fauna and its unique ancient Buddhist monasteries besides timeless images of its history.

The tiny kingdom of Bhutan shares with Nepal the world's greatest concentration of mountains and living heritage of Buddhism. Flight to Paro can truly be described as a flight into fantasy. During the flight, a firsthand close up view of Mt. Everest, Mt. Kanchenjunga and other famous peaks of the Himalayan range become a reality.

Local Time

Bhutan is 6 hours ahead of GMT.

Visa Requirement & Procedure

In order to process Bhutan visa, a clear readable color copy of passport (page containing passport number and face picture in JPEG or PDF format) is required at least 30 days prior to date of entry into Bhutan. Remaining validity of passport should be at least 6 months from the date of entry into Bhutan (excluding the travelling month).

Tourism Council of Bhutan issues visa clearance letter closer to travelling date which will be emailed or faxed or provided to local travel agent. Travellers are required to produce aforesaid visa clearance copy at the time of check-in for Druk Air flight while those entering Bhutan by surface via Phuentsholing or Samdrup Jonkhar, they are required to produce this visa clearance letter at the Immigration counter. Actual visa is stamped on passport on arrival in Bhutan.

Visa fee of USD 40 (effective from Jan 2013) is required to be paid in advance along with tour package cost.

Guests are required to have multiple entry visa for India if they are travelling to Bhutan from India and again re-entering into India from Bhutan. 2 months re-entry restriction in Indian visa is required. If restriction has been stamped in Indian visa, get it endorsed by Indian embassy in Thimphu also, on working days, Mon – Fri during office time excluding Government holidays, to allow re-entering India. Always carry the proof of Bhutan Travel (Druk air ticket etc.) to provide when needed.

Currency

Ngultrum is the local currency of Bhutan. It is equal in value to the Indian Rupees which is frequently used in place of Ngultrum. All major currencies like US Dollars, Sterling Pounds, Euros, Indian Rupees etc. and travellers’ cheque can be exchanged at the Paro Airport, Banks and Hotels.

Also, Indian Rupee is acceptable all over Bhutan. Credit Cards have limited acceptability and payment through credit card is accepted mainly by deluxe hotels and few selected handicrafts establishments only.

There are ATMs in Bhutan but currently they only operate with their respective Bhutanese banks. Since the ATMs currently do not function with outside banks, ATM facility cannot be used by visitors. Traveller’s cheque / cash are the best option if you need additional money.

Health and Vaccinations

No vaccination is currently required for entry into Bhutan. If the guest is arriving from a country infected with yellow fever, then a vaccine for the same is required to be taken. In case of arrival from a Cholera infected area then officials may ask for evidence of Cholera vaccination. Anti – malarial medication is recommended for all travellers to Bhutan who are visiting rural areas in the districts that border India.

It is suggested to assemble a traveller’s medical kit appropriate to destination, length of trip and general health. On a tour in Bhutan, there are long drives, and roads are winding so medication for motion sickness is strongly suggested. One should also pack an adequate supply of any prescribed medications you may require while travelling.

Travellers who plan to visit Bhutan should consult a physician about high-altitude travel. After a brief period of acclimatisation, most people do not suffer from altitude sickness; but elderly travellers or those with high blood pressure or heart conditions need to exercise caution at high altitudes.

Health Precaution

Your health is of utmost importance to us. Please avoid tap water and stick to Mineral water, easily available everywhere. Roads between cities are winding so medication for motion sickness is strongly suggested. Kindly carry an adequate supply of any prescribed medications while travelling.

Travel Insurance

We recommend you to get your insurance cover from your respective country. Adequate travel insurance is important for your personal safety. Mountain and other adventure sports enthusiasts should have insurance that covers trekking, climbing and mountain biking.

Weather

Autumn (Late September to Late November) is the ideal time for trekking and for travelling throughout the country, when skies are generally clear and the high mountain peaks rise to a vivid visible against clear blue sky.

Spring, (Mid-March to May), is recognised as the second best time to visit Bhutan for touring and trekking. Although you may experience more clouds and rain than in the autumn, you can also get good view of the high Himalayan peaks. The magnificent rhododendrons, magnolias and other wildflowers are in bloom and birdlife is abundant.

The monsoon usually arrives in early June and lasts till mid-September. Light to heavy rain is expected mainly in the afternoons and evenings. Winter (December to early March), the sky is bright and sunny but cold, especially when the sun hides behind the mountains in the mornings and evenings. At night, the temperature falls below zero.

Facts and Figures

Land area :38,394 square kilometers
Forest area : 72.5 %
Altitude : between 240 metres and 7541 metres above sea level
Inhabitants : 700,000
Language : Official language “Dzongkha”, English widely spoken
Religion : Vajrayana stream of Mahayana Buddhism (Also known as Tantric Buddhism)
Currency : Ngultrum (equal to Indian Rupee)
Capital : Thimphu
National tree : Cypress
National bird : Raven
National flower : Blue Poppy
National sport : Archery
National animal : Takin
Local time : Six hours ahead of GMT and half an hour ahead of Indian Standard Time and one hour behind Thailand. Bhutan is eleven hours ahead of New York City.
Country code : The country code is +975

Custom and Immigration

Visitors are required to complete a passenger declaration form on arrival.

The following articles are exempted from duty:-

  • a). Personal affects and articles for day to day use by the visitor
  • b). 1 litre of alcohol (spirits or wine)
  • c). 200 cigarettes, on payment of import duty of 200%
  • d). Instruments, apparatus or appliances for professional use
  • e). Photography equipment, video cameras and other electronic goods for personal use.

The articles mentioned under d) & e) must be declared on declaration form. If any such items are disposed in Bhutan by sale of gift, they are liable for custom duty. On departure, visitors are required to surrender their forms to the Custom authorities.

Import / Export restrictions

Import and Export of following goods are strictly prohibited:

  • Arms, ammunitions and explosives
  • All narcotics and drugs except medically prescribed drugs
Communication

All major towns and cities have basic communication facilities, including phone, fax and email service. Local and international calls can be made from all hotels and public phone booths. Cell phones with a Bhutanese SIM card can also be used in most urban places and some rural places as well, and can be used with a commonly available pre-paid mobile voucher.

Standard mail service in Bhutan is handled by Bhutan Post, and is commonly found throughout the country. DHL and Federal Express now offer courier services from Thimphu.

Internet facilities are continuously increasing in number and can be found in major cities and towns. Although there are many Internet cafes that still rely on a dial-up connection which can be very slow, high speed wireless and broadband can be found in certain areas.

Electricity

Electricity current in Bhutan is 220/ 240 volts, with a circular two pin and three pin power outlets. For all electrical appliances that you bring with you, please carry the appropriate adapters. Thimphu is the only city where these may be available.

Attire

Bhutanese by and large are conservative in their thinking. Please avoid body hugging, sleeveless tops or short skirts while walking around public areas. Shorts and tank tops are strictly not allowed inside the Temples, Monasteries and Dzongs. One has to wear temple socks while entering the Monasteries and collared shirts at Paro Dzong (Ta Dzong). Hats need to be taken off while entering religious sites.

Avoid smoking while visiting the Dzongs, Temples and Monasteries. Always walk in a clockwise direction while visiting religious places or objects like Temples, Monasteries, Stupas (chortens), Prayer flags etc. Please do not point a finger at a sacred object or place. It is considered being disrespectful.

Cuisine

Bhutanese cuisine generally consists of steamed rice (red and white) with a varied choice of spicy curries, both vegetarian and non-vegetarian. Most hotels provide buffet-style meals. These are usually continental, Indian, Chinese and Bhutanese dishes. The food in hotels is often the best in town, but in main towns there are few restaurants increasingly becoming popular.

All tourist hotels have good selection of international and Bhutanese beverages and there are enough options for vegetarians too.

Allowance on Druk Air

Druk Air allows 20 kg (44lbs) and 30 kg (66 lbs) as checked in baggage for its economy and business class passengers respectively. Excess baggage sometimes may be offloaded or charged extra depending on load situation of aircraft.

Smoking regulation

Smokers are required to declare the cigarettes at the airport/border immigration and pay 200% tax upon which they will be given a special permit to smoke strictly at designated areas only. The person is subject to prosecution, if found smoking without permit.

Infrastructural Development

Being the capital of Bhutan, Thimpu town is expanding fast in terms of infrastructure. You will notice large construction work being carried out in terms of houses and buildings being constructed for private housing and government offices. Kindly bear with us if you face any inconvenience.

Accommodation

Tourism council of Bhutan (TCB) has now started categorising hotels into their respective stars. Though some of the hotels are categorised into 4 star or 3 star but the actual service standard doesn’t fully correspond to their star rating. Due to limited availability of skilled manpower in hospitality sector, there are some noticeable flaws in the service at most of the mid-range hotels.

Especially in major towns such as Thimphu, Paro, Punakha, Wangdue Phodrang, Bumthang & Phuentsholing hotels are of reasonably good standards however when one ventures into eastern part of the country like Mongar, Trashigang & Samdrup Jongkhar, the lodging gets more rudimentary. Here most of the accommodations are small family run guest houses.

Over the past few years a few international opulent hotel chains namely Aman, Taj and COMO have established few luxury and deluxe hotels and resorts in a few major towns and countryside in Bhutan. These hotels and resorts appropriately maintain international standards of comfort and luxury absolutely blended with local Bhutanese art, culture and tradition.

Transport

We use Hyundai Tucson/ Santa Fe for 1 – 2 guests. A Toyota Hiace minivan for 3 – 6 guests and a deluxe Toyota Coaster for 7 – 18 guests. All these vehicles are periodically checked and maintained.

Language

English is widely spoken by an average Bhutanese. However, the official language of Bhutan is Dzonkha, though many regions have retained their dialects due to their isolation. It is the medium of instruction in all schools and institutions.

Media

Newspapers: Kuensel, Bhutan Observer and The Bhutan Times are the local newspapers published in English. Kuensel is also published in local language Dzongkha and Nepali. The Newspaper is also available online: www.kuenselonline.com, www.bhutantimes.com, www.bhutanobserver.bt

Radio & Television

Bhutan Broadcasting Service has programs in Dzongkha, English and Nepali. Television started in year 2000 and various channels are now available such as BBC, CNN, Discovery, Star TV and ESPN.

Photography

Bhutan’s landscape, buildings and people are some of the most photogenic in the world. It is always better to take permission first. There are certain places such as Monasteries and Temples, where photography is prohibited however there is no restriction on Dzongs (fort or fortress) and Goembas (monastery) from outside. Avoid taking pictures of military installations.

Shopping and Souvenirs

Most common souvenirs include postage stamps, lovely hand-woven fabrics, carved masks, woven baskets, thangkhas, wooden bowls, handmade paper, finely-crafted metal objects and Thanka painting. In Bhutan, the buying or selling of antiques is strictly forbidden.

Tipping

Tipping is entirely at your discretion and not compulsory, however, on more than one occasions, the person providing you a service (driver, bell boy, waiter, porter, etc.) would expect a tip which would mean you liked his services.

Do contact us should you require any specific information!

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