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Closed to the outside world until the seventies, Bhutan may have opened the door to tourism, but it remains something of an enigma to modern travelers. Nestling high up in the Himalayas, Bhutan’s mysterious reputation is thanks largely to the government, which requires all visitors to join pre-planned guided tours in a bid to limit the impact of tourism on the country's culture and environment. On one level, this is restrictive; footloose, freewheeling, make-it-up-as-you-go trips are not an option here. The trade-off, however, is that these restrictions have preserved one of the most fascinating cultures on earth, in a pristine mountain environment that has changed little over the centuries. To visit Bhutan every visitor, whether alone or in a group, must make all their travel arrangements through a Bhutanese tour operator, or associated organization, and pay a fixed daily fee of US$200-250. However, before you baulk, this fee includes all meals, accommodation, transport and guides. Having made this investment, travellers are then free to explore this mesmerizing mountain kingdom, known to its people as Druk Yul, or “Land of the Thunder Dragon.” Some tour the ancient dzongs (fortress monasteries) in the valleys surrounding the capital, Thimphu. Others seek out snow leopards and yetis – known here as migyur – in remote national parks. Those with the stamina and budget take on the legendary Snowman Trek, a 24-day odyssey over high Himalayan passes. Wherever they go, visitors will encounter exquisite scenery and the famously friendly Bhutanese people, who, though fascinated by foreigners, remain in touch with the value, and values, of their traditional way of life. By subscribing to a “high value, low impact” brand of tourism, Bhutan has made concessions to the modern world, but on its own terms. And that seems to be working for this magical kingdom, which regularly polls as the happiest place in Asia.
Weather, as anywhere else in the world is unpredictable in Bhutan. Bhutan has the same latitude as Miami & Egypt. During the summer the weather is quite warm and pleasant with occasional rain fall. In general, the higher the altitude, the cooler the weather, and with a cool breeze blowing down off the mountains, even a low-lying valley can become quite chilly. Monsoon seasons are rainy. Winter season is incredibly beautiful with occasional snow, clear warm days, chilly evenings which makes it perfect for hiking and sightseeing with the whole of the mountains and valleys in clear view.
Southern areas are tropical with plains and hills. Central areas vary depending on the altitude from sub tropical to moderate temperate valleys and mid size mountains (5,000 meters). Northern areas/high altitude alpine climate Punakha is “California like” with temperatures varying from 5° Celsius to 17° Celsius in winter and in summer from 18° Celsius to 32 ° Celsius with a yearly rainfall of 600mm. Paro & Thimphu has moderate climate with temperatures of -3/12 in winter to 13/25 degrees in the summer with a yearly rainfall of 800mm. Summer shower season (July to September) evening rain with long dry periods during the day. Winter season (November to February) provides clear days and nights with a very comfortable climate.
Bhutan 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.
Our 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.
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.
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).
Though the water that we have here is pure, it is always safer to go for bottled water or distilled water. A variety of cold drinks such as Coke, Sprite, Miranda etc are available in the markets out here. We have a locally made beverage known as “Ara” (Spirit Distilled from Rice/Corn and Wheat).
We 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).
The 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.
All 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.
Unique items to purchase while in Bhutan:
1. Himalayan antiques from Tibet, Nepal, and northern India
2. Bhutanese crafts:
Bhutanese consumables include tsheringma tea, honey, apple products, etc. Best selection of shopping is done in Thimphu. Shops on the street will accept Ngultrum, the Indian Rupee (at par 1 to 1 with the Nu), and the US Dollar. The only credit card accepted at shops (limited shops) is Visa. Banks will not perform cash advances on credit cards. There are no ATM machines available for international transactions. Traveler checks can be cashed at banks within the previously listed currencies. It is illegal to export or remove Bhutanese antiques from Bhutan. If uncertain, certificates are available from the Department of Antiquities to determine if the item is a true antique and where its origin is from . An antique is defined as a religious item 70 years old or more. All other items 100 years old or more.
Bhutanese 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:
Currencies accepted as foreign exchange within the banks are:
Due 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.