Bhutan

Geography

The Kingdom of Bhutan lies in the eastern Himalayas, between Tibet to the north and the Indian territories of Assam and West Bengal to the south. The Kingdom has a total area of about 47,000 square kilometres. Located in the heart of the high Himalayan mountain range, Bhutan is a land-locked country surrounded by mountains.
The sparsely populated Greater Himalayas, bounded to the north by the Tibetan plateau, reach heights of over 7,300 metres, and extend southward losing height, to form the fertile valleys of the Lesser Himalayas divided by the Wang, Sunkosh, Trongsa and Manas Rivers. Monsoon influences promote dense forestation in this region and alpine growth at higher altitudes. The cultivated central uplands and Himalayan foothills support the majority of the population. In the south, the Daurs Plain drops sharply away from the Himalayas into large tracts of semi-tropical forest, savannah grassland and bamboo jungle.

When to go?

Bhutan has four distinct seasons.
Spring is the most beautiful time of the year in the kingdom. The fierce cold that characterizes the winter months tends to subside towards the beginning of March (around the Bhutanese New Year, Losar). Rhododendron begin to bloom. At the height of spring, the forests come to life with the spectacular red, scarlet and orange colours of the rhododendron blossom.

During the summer months, nomads returning to higher pastures to tend their yak herds inhabit the mountainous north, while the annual monsoon from the Bay of Bengal affects the south and the central regions. The monsoon often disrupt roads and flights during the rainy months of late June, July, August and September.

The end of the monsoon, also a popular time to visit, marks the beginning of autumn. The days are filled with brilliant cobalt skies and warm weather. October and November bring shorter days and cooler evenings. The days remain clear with crisp blue skies. Views over the higher Himalayas are usually only possible from October to March. Come the end of November, the weather takes on its winter coat. The days remain crisp and sunny, and the nights turn cold.

The southern plains close to the Indian border are warmer and more tropical than the higher central valleys. Being much lower, a more temperate climate and considerably warmer winters prevail.

Religion

Bhutan is the only country in the world to retain the Tantric form of Mahayana Buddhism as its official religion. 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 strands of secular life, bringing with it a reverence for the land and its well being. Annual festivals (tsechus and dromches) are spiritual occasions in each district. They bring together the population and are dedicated to Guru Rinpoche or other deities.
Throughout Bhutan, stupas and chortens line the roadside commemorating places where Guru Rinpoche or another high Lama may have stopped to meditate. Prayer flags dot the hills, fluttering in the wind. They allow Bhutanese people to maintain constant communication with the heavens.

Cuisine

Bhutanese Cuisine includes a variety of dishes, mainly red rice, meat (pork, beef, chicken, fish and yak meat), cheese and lots of chillies. Most traditional dishes are fiery. The ema datshi, a dish of chillies with cheese, could certainly be considered to be the national dish. Other traditional dishes include puta, buck-wheat noodles, hontay, buckwheat dumplings filled with cheese and spinach or turnip, momo, flour dumplings filled with meat or cheese and cabbage, suja, salted butter tea, and dheysee, saffroned sweet rice.
Visitors can also be served food more suitable to western tastes ranging from Continental to Chinese. Bhutanese dishes are usually tempered a little to suit the palates of the newcomer. The adventurous can always request a taste of the "real thing".

Sports

The national sport of Bhutan is archery. High-spirited competitions, usually accompanied by a banquet, are a part of all festive occasions. The archery targets are wooden slabs of about 30 centimetres in width and are aimed at from a range of 120 metres. Contests take place throughout the year.
Other traditional sports include degor, in which a round flat stone is thrown at a target, khuru, darts, keshey, wrestling, and pung-do, shotput. In soksums, a spear held at either end, is thrown at a target; in sherey parey, a contest of strength, one man grasps the wrist of his opponent, who must free himself in order to win.
Today, most international sports such as soccer, basketball, volleyball, tennis, table tennis, badminton and golf are also played with much enthusiasm.

Visa Formality

The Royal Government of Bhutan has adopted a very cautious approach to the developement of tourism in the kingdom in an effort to avoid the negative impacts of tourism on the culture and the environment. In 1997, the number of tourists who visited Bhutan reached 5,361.
Visitors to Bhutan must either be guests of the government or tourists, and all tourists must travel on a pre-planned, pre-paid, guided package tour. Independent travel is not permitted.

All foreign nationalities require a visa for Bhutan. Visa clearance from Thimphu must be obtained before departing for Bhutan. Please note that without the visa clearance you cannot board Druk Air flights. Passports need not be sent. Visa details, along with 2 photographs, should be sent to us at least 3 weeks prior to arrival. If time is limited, the details may be faxed and the photographs can be handed in on arrival. The actual visa will be issued in your passports at the entry points, either at Paro airport or Phuentsholing. The visa fee of USD 20 should be paid directly.
The initial visa is granted for 15 days, after which an extension must be obtained in Thimphu at a charge.

Restricted Area

Not all areas or religious establishments are open to tourist. This is to ensure that monastic life can continue unhindered. Most of dzongs and lhakhangs are still homes to thousands of monks. Other areas are closed due to environmental concern.

Access to Bhutan

Entry points into Bhutan are by road through Phuentsholing in the south or or by air at Paro. Druk Air, the national carrier, is the only airline servicing Bhutan. There are 4 flights each week from Bangkok, 3 flights each week from Calcutta, and 2 flights each week from New Delhi and Kathmandu. Tourists to Bhutan are obliged to use Druk Air either on entry into or exit from the country. Leaving Bhutan from the eastern boarder town of Samdrup Jongkhar is also possible.

Accommodation

There are no star categorized hotels in Bhutan but all the hotels are approved by Department of Tourism and maintains a good standard of cleanliness and services. Please do not expect the standard of hotels to be similar to the hotels in other developed countries. All the hotels have private bathroom attached with hot water and heating systems when required.

There are luxury hotels like Zhiwaling and Uma in Paro, Taj Tashi in Thimphu, Aman in Gangtey, Thimphu, Paro, Punakha and Bumthang.

If you wsik to stay in the above mentioned luxury hotels, a room supplement charges (as per category of rooms) above the normal tour cost would apply.

In Bhutan, there is no credit card, visa card nor foreign currency ATM card facilities. US Dollars can be exchanged at your hotel or from the banks for personal spending.

Driving time between various places in Bhutan
Mode of transport within Bhutan is by motor vehicles only. There are no domestic airlines or trains. However, motor roads are well-maintained and connect to all major sightseeing places. The main highways runs from west to each connecting all the major towns. The mountainous terrain and winding roads restrict the average speed of vehicles to less than about 40 km/hour.
During the moonsoon months, sometimes rains can disrupt travel and unexpected changes might occur in itineraries, but every effort will be made to stay as close to the original programme as possible.

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FromTo Distance (km) Driving time (approx.)
ThimphuParo65 2 hours
ThimphuPhuentsholing179 6 hours
ThimphuGangtey133 5 hours 30 mins
ThimphuWangdue Phodrang70 3 hours
ThimphuPunakha77 3 hours 15 mins
PunakhaGangtey83 3 hours
PunakhaWangdue Phodrang13 45 mins
PunakhaParo143 5 hours
Wangdue PhodrangTrongsa129 4 hours 30 mins
TrongsaBumthang68 2 hours 30 mins
BumthangMongar198 7 hours
MongarLhuentse76 3 hours
MongarTrashigang90 4 hours
TrashigangChorten Kora52 1 hour 30 mins
TrashigangSamdrup Jongkhar180 6 hours
Samdrup JongkharGuwahati (India)110 3 hours
Samdrup JongkharPhuentsholing380 9 hours 30 mins
PhuentsholingBagdogra (India)175 5 hours
PhuentsholingSiliguri (India)150 4 hours

 

Updated 06 Aug 2008