The last Shangri-La, Bhutan is a country like no other. Along with striking mountain ranges, breathtaking natural wonders, and a deeply rooted culture, Bhutan is a remarkable depiction of nature and culture. Gorgeous mountain ranges, unchartered forests, traditional lifestyle, breathtaking cultural monuments, unique and thrilling traditions, and exotic flora and fauna make up the last great Himalayan Kingdom one of the most fulfilling travel destinations.
The unique traditions and culture bring life to the streets of Bhutan. People walking on the streets and going about in their daily lives wearing their traditional clothing is still a sight to see for foreigners all over the world. Their textile, handicrafts, and art that decorate the small traditional houses tell travellers stories they have never heard before, giving them a peek into their mystical country and its culture.
Sceptical of modern cultures, the secular nation has adapted resources that help in not only their cultural protection but also environmental protection, a habit that has gifted them with 70% of their lands filled with forested protected for their future generations.
Location: A small country in South Asia, Bhutan takes its place in the eastern Himalayas, between India and China.
Geography: The diverse geography of Bhutan includes the rugged plains on its southern border along with lower mountains surrounding its centre. High mountains range to the heights of more than 6000m on its northern border.
Capital: The bustling city of Thimpu with its traditional markets is the capital of Bhutan.
Area: The small country covers an area of 38,394 square kilometres.
Population: It is one of the least populated countries in Asia with a total population of 750,125.
Political System: The country has adopted a constitutional monarchy and the current King is Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuk.
Major Religion: More than half of the population traditionally follows Vajrayana Buddhism, one of the oldest forms of Buddhism, with a small percentage following Hinduism.
Time Zone: The official time zone of Bhutan is UTC+6.
Official Language: Bhutan uses Dzongkha as its official language.
Working Hours: Office hours generally start at 9 AM and last till 5 PM from Monday to Friday, during summer. In winter the closing time is usually 4 PM. This is true for both government and private organizations.
Electricity: Bhutan uses the standard voltage of 230 V with most of the electricity generated from hydroelectric projects.
Visa clearance needs to be obtained by all travellers before entering Bhutan. The only exceptions to this procedure are the nationals from India, Bangladesh, and the Maldives, who only need to have a valid passport with at least 6 months of validity.
You will need to first hire a foreign travel agent or licensed tour operator in Bhutan to obtain a Bhutanese visa. The Visa process includes you sending a scanned copy of your passport to the tour operator who will apply for the Visa on your behalf. The Visa will only be accepted by the Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB) after you have transferred the full payment of your holiday, along with the USD 40 visa fee. The travel fee ranges from USD 250 per day to USD 500 per day including the accommodation, food and travel expenses.
How to reach Bhutan
There are three land borders to enter Bhutan via land i.e. Phuntsholing, Gelephu, and Samdrup Jongkhar. The border in Phuntsholing joins Bhutan and India in the south, linking with West Bengal. Gelephu lies in the southwestern part of Bhutan and is a direct link to Thimpu which is only about 250m away. From the southeast border of Bhutan with India, you will pass through Assam and cross the border to enter Samdrup Jongkhar. It is the longest stretch which will take you about 3 days to reach the capital.
To travel to Bhutan via air, your only option is the Paro airport which is the sole international airport in Bhutan. There are two carriers i.e. Druk Air and Bhutan Airlines that are currently operating and the destinations include Bangkok, Delhi, Kolkata, Bagdogra, Bodh Gaya, Dhaka, Kathmandu, Guwahati, Singapore, and Mumbai.
Popular Destinations to Visit
The rich cultural monuments, artefacts, and handicrafts decorate the shrines, Gumbas, monasteries, and Dzongs of Bhutan. These are the major attractions for tourists travelling to Bhutan. Most travellers make it their item on their bucket list to experience for themselves the exciting cultures and the holy places that are scattered all over the nation.
Among the many, the Tiger’s Nest located near Paro is one of the most spectacular cultural monuments in Bhutan. The extraordinary monastery perched on the side of a cliff provides breathtaking scenery of the gliding forests and hills from a far distance.
The capital city of Thimpu with its traditional markets and cultural lifestyle is also a travel destination. Surrounded by monasteries and traditional houses painted with Buddhist art, Thimpu is also a tourist capital of the country. The Trongsa Dzong, dedicated to the history of the ancient Dzongs and the Royal Wangchuk family, decorated by ancient artefacts and statues is also a famous destination for travellers trying to understand the ancient Buddhist history of Bhutan. Likewise, Punakha and Gangtey Valley are also popular destinations to visit in Bhutan.
For trekkers, the large area of protected forests and other natural wonders serve as the perfect spot for gathering new memories. The cool forests and hundreds of species of wild animals that it hides behind its tall trees provide a serene environment perfect for letting out some steam and enjoying nature away from the hustle of the city.
Internet and Communication in the Country
The Internet connection and communication facilities in major cities are well facilitated. You will find most of the hotels and restaurants in major towns and cities providing internet services to use within their hotel premises. Telephone and fax services are also well equipped. It becomes harder to find these facilities once you reach further into the rural areas. In such cases, you can use Bhutanese cell phone services to make cellular calls and access the Internet. However, these services can also be unavailable or unreliable in extremely remote and rural areas of the country.
Local Currency and Foreign Exchange
The local currency used in Bhutan is the ngultrum (Nu). Since all of your expenses for the trip including the food, travel guides and accommodations are paid before the trip you don’t need to carry much local currency except for small expenses like tips, laundry, drinks, and souvenirs.
Exchange facilities are provided on the exchange counters in the airport along with large hotels and banks in major cities like Thimpu and Phuntsholing. It might be harder to exchange currency in other cities. When exchanging the currency be sure to remain updated regarding the exchange rates which are available at the official website of the Bank of Bhutan at https://www.bob.bt/forex-all/.
Don’t be surprised if you see Indian currency used interchangeably with the Bhutanese currency. Most of the vendors will easily accept Indian Rupees so, you can also carry with you some Indian Currency to use for other purposes.
Weather and Climate
The weather in Bhutan is courtesy of the changing seasons that the country faces. There are mainly four seasons that affect Bhutan, i.e. spring, autumn, summer (monsoon), and winter. While spring and autumn are the ideal seasons for treks, the country can be visited throughout the year for any other travel activities.
The summer generally starts from mid-April and lasts till late June when the heavy monsoon rain comes into effect. The heavy rainfall and cloudy skies last up till late September. The warm and dry spring spreads its wings in early March and lasts up to mid-April.
Clear skies and bright sunlight can be seen during autumn which is experienced from late September to late November. Wither from late November is known to bring strong winds in the northeast parts, leading to Bhutan getting its name as the “Land of the Thunder Dragon”.
The climate in the southernmost of Bhutan is hot and humid, given the fact that it is closer to the plains of India. The central region is warmer in summer and cold in winter, most of its parts covered in thick temperate and deciduous forests. The northern border; on the other hand, are colder with most of its parts covered in snow during winter.
People Culture and Festivals
The people in Bhutan still are very religious and devoted to their cultures and traditions. The deeply rooted cultural devotion can be seen in their lifestyle, even in common families, there is a ritual of keeping a morsel on the floor as an offering to the deities before eating. As such, the majority of the population follows Vajrayana Buddhism along with a small population of Hindu followers.
When talking about the festivals celebrated in Bhutan, the unique dance festival Tshechu comes in the first position. This dance festival is celebrated in different variations across the country like the Thimpu Tshechu, Paro Tshechu, and Wangduephodrang Tshechu. Punakha Drupchen, Haa Summer Festival, and Black-necked Crane festival are some other popular festivals celebrated in Bhutan.