CAPITAL : Thimphu
DISTRICTS : 20
AREA : 38, 394 Sq. KM
POPULATION : 742, 737
TIME ZONE : 6 Hours ahead of GMT
COUNTRY DAILING CODE : +975
NATIONAL LANGUAGE : Dzongkha
NATIONAL SPORT : Archery
NATIONAL BIRD: Raven
NATIONAL ANIMAL : Takin (Burdorcastaxicolor)
NATIONAL FLOWER: Blue Poppy (Meconopsis Grandis)
NATIONAL TREE: Cypress (Cupressustorolusa)
NATIONAL CURRENCY : Ngultrum (Nu.)
BHUTAN - Land of Peaceful Dragon (Gross National Happiness)
The Buddhist Kingdom of Bhutan lies along the lofty ridges of the eastern Himalayas, bordered by China (Tibet) to the north and northwest, and by the Indian states of Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, West Bengal and Sikkim on the east, south, and west respectively. This little known Buddhist country is bountiful in amazing beauties and secret treasures, those that a visitor can never finish discovering. From mighty peaks to mysterious villages, from spectacular festivals to extraordinary architecture, from charming people to caracteristic culture, Bhutan has it all. Bhutan is the dream land for every traveller who has heard of it and who dreams of making the holiday of a lifetime. Bhutan is best known to the world today as the “Last Shangrila”. The mighty Himalayas protected Bhutan from the rest of the world and left it blissfully untouched through the centuries. Bhutan is perhaps the world’s most exclusive tourist destination. Each moment is special as one discovers a country, which its people have chosen to preserve in all its magical purity.
The climate in Bhutan is extremely varied. The southern part of Bhutan is tropical, and in general, the eastern region of the country is warmer than the central valleys. However, higher the altitude, the cooler the weather, and that with a brisk wind blowing down off the mountains, even a low-lying valley can become quite chilly. Winter in Bhutan (mid November till mid-March) is dry and sunny for the most part with daytime temperatures of 16-18C (60-65F). The spring season (mid-March to mid-June) offers warmer temperatures gradually warming to 27-29C (80-84F). The monsoon usually arrives in mid June, with light rain falling mainly in the afternoons and evenings. At the end of September, after the last of the big rains, autumn suddenly arrives and is a magnificent season for trekking until November.
Due to Bhutan’s location and unique geographical and climatic variations, it is one of the world’s last remaining biodiversity hotspots. Bhutan pristine environment, with high rugged mountains and deep valleys, offers ecosystems that are both rich and diverse. Recognizing the importance of the environment, conservation of its rich biodiversity is one of the government’s developments paradigms. The government has enacted a law that shall maintain at least 60% of its forest cover for all time. Today, approximately 72% of the total land area of Bhutan is under forest cover and approximately 60% of the land area falls under protected areas comprising of 10 national parks and sanctuaries. Bhutan’s biodiversity wealth includes 5,603 species of vascular plants including 579 wild orchids, 46 rhododendrons, over 300 medicinal plants and at least 30 bamboo species. The country also has close to 200 species of mammals and 678 recorded species of birds.
The array of flora and fauna available in Bhutan is unparalleled due to conservation and its wide altitudinal and climatic range. Some common sights for the visitors are the magnolias, junipers, orchids of varied hues, gentian, medicinal plants, Daphne, giant rhubarb, the blue and trees such as fir, pine, and oaks. A wide range of rare and endangered animals can also be found frequenting the dense jungles and high mountains of Bhutan. Some high altitude species are the snow leopards, Bengal tigers that are found at an altitude ranging 3000 to 4000 meters, the red panda, the gorals and the langurs, the Himalayan black bear, sambars, wild pigs, barking deer, blue sheep, and musk deer. In the tropical forests of Southern Bhutan, one can come across clouded leopards, the one-horned rhinoceros, elephants, water buffaloes and swamp deer. Bhutan is also home to about 16 bird species
that are endangered worldwide. These include the White-bellied Heron, Pallas Fish Eagle, and Blyth’s Kingfisher to name a few. Many parts of the country have been declared wildlife reserves, and are the natural habitats of rare species of both flora and fauna.
Much of the success in maintaining its independence despite the limited nature of its defensive forces owes to the fact that Bhutan has a vibrant culture of its own which is distinctive from any other. Based on wisdom passed down through centuries of its existence as an independent country, the proud and stoic Bhutanese people developed own unique language, customs, etiquette, dress and culinary flavours. Simple, and yet vibrant at the same time, these elements ensure that the Bhutanese are a class apart from any of the competing parties at all times. The point of most interest today is the way in
which the Bhutanese have been able to preserve and promote this age-old way of life in this time of unitary modernization where the need for material advancement is fast dissolving the vast variety of cultures into tasteless homogeneity. Bhutan today has a living culture that pervades all aspects of life including governance.
Nowhere in the Himalayas is the natural heritage more rich and varied than in Bhutan. In historical records, the Kingdom was called the ‘Valley of Medicinal Herbs’, a name that still applies to this day. A mountainous country, Bhutan consciously preserves its pristine natural and cultural heritage, thereby, harmonizing and sustaining the environment and acting synergistically to protect, preserve and conserve both culture and nature.
Bhutan today enjoys one of the highest per capital in the region. On the back of its strong hydro power and tourism sector, Bhutan’s economy continues to see a strong growth. Agriculture and livestock raising are still the main pillars of the economy, with 85% of the population dependent on these two sectors. Industry and mining are still in the first stage of development but are expanding rapidly. Rapid modernization has brought about vast improvements in the living standard of the Bhutanese people. All villages now have access to basic amenities such as education, running water, basic healthcare and are connected by roads and electricity. Even the most remote villages have a connection to the telecommunication network including mobile phone service.
The Bhutanese Tourism Industry was first opened in 1974. Since then it has grown to become, a major contributing factor to the Bhutanese economy creating countless employment opportunities and generating additional revenue for the government. The government is committed to building a sustainable tourism industry that is not only financially viable but also limits the negative cultural and environmental impacts commonly associated with the culture of mass tourism. By establishing a policy of “High Value, Low Impact” tourism, the Kingdom of Bhutan seeks to ensure that it attracts the most discerning visitors with a deep respect for cultural values, traditions, and the natural environment. To this end, efforts have been made to ensure that even remote areas are publicized and able to reap the benefits of tourism while still respecting their traditions, culture and natural environment.
Visitors are required to complete a Passenger Declaration Form for checking by concerned officers on arrival. The following articles are exempted from duty:
- Personal effects and articles for day to day use;
- 2 litres of alcohol (Spirits or Wine);
- 400 cigarettes, 150 grams of pipe tobacco, on payment of import duty of 200%;
- Instruments, apparatus or appliances for professional use; and,
- Photographic equipment, video cameras and other electronic goods for personal use.
Import/export restrictions of the following goods are strictly prohibited:
- Arms, ammunitions and explosives and military stores;
- All narcotics and drugs except medically prescribed drugs,
- Wildlife products, especially those of endangered species; and,
Imports of plants and soils etc. are subject to quarantine regulations. These items must be cleared on arrival. Furthermore, visitors are advised to be cautious in purchasing old and used items, especially of religious or cultural significance, as such items may not be exported without a clearance certificate or have not been certified as non-antiques. Please seek our advice before committing to such purchases.
As with its architecture, art and crafts are important aspects of Bhutanese culture and they bear testimony to the spiritual depth of Bhutanese life. Generations of Bhutanese artisans have passed down incredible artistic skills and knowledge. There are thirteen forms of traditional arts & crafts that have been practiced from time immemorial. The thirteen art forms include woodwork, stonework, sculpture, carving, painting, black smithy, silver & goldsmith, fabric weaving, embroidery/appliqué, bamboo & cane craft, paper making, masonry, and leather work.
The Bhutanese national dress is a knee length robe for men and ankle length cloth draped around the body for women. Fitted with boots, belt, and a range of other traditional accessories and fineries, the costumes help show the natural grace of the human body. The dresses and their accompanying accessories come in a myriad of traditional designs, shades, and colours. They can also be made from various textile materials ranging from raw and fine silk to coloured terry cotton. To meet the endless demand for traditional textiles, the country has many cottage industries specializing in their production. Women, the traditional artisans specializing in these craft weave on their own at homes. Bhutan’s National Academy for Textile and its sister Museums have also been opened. As traditional dresses have to be worn on all formal occasions and as these dresses are in any case the preferred wear for the strongly loyal Bhutanese populace, visitors will be pleasantly surprised by how traditional dresses have become convenient and trendy business wears in Bhutan today.
One of the most striking physical features of Bhutan is its architecture. Bhutanese architectural forms comprise of stupas, stone walls, temples/monasteries, fortresses, mansions, and houses. The characteristic style and colour of every building and house in the kingdom is a distinct source of aesthetic pleasure. What makes the Bhutanese architectural landscape unique is the consistency of traditional designs found in both old and new structures. Patterns of rich colours adorn walls, beams, pillars, and doors in
traditional splendour create a consistency in the architectural landscape.
Bhutan is linguistically rich with over nineteen dialects spoken in the country. The richness of the linguistic diversity can be attributed to the geographical location of the country with its high mountain passes and deep valleys. These geographical features forced the inhabitants of the country to live in isolation but also contributed to their survival. The national language is Dzongkha, the native language of the Ngalops of western Bhutan. Two other major languages are the Tshanglakha and the Lhotshamkha. Tshanglakha is the native language of the Tshanglas of eastern Bhutan while Lhotshamkha is spoken by the southern Bhutanese of Nepali origin. Other dialects spoken are Khengkha and
Bumthapkha by the Khengpas and Bumthap, people of Central Bhutan. Mangdepkah, which is spoken by the inhabitants of Trongsa and the Cho Cha Nga Chang Kha which is spoken by the Kurtoeps. The Sherpas, Lepchas and the Tamangs in southern Bhutan also have their own dialects. Unfortunately, two dialects that are on the verge of becoming extinct are the Monkha and the Gongduepkha.
English is also a medium of communication and most Bhutanese speak English. Communicating in English especially with the people in the urban areas and the towns will enhance your knowledge on Bhutan.
Bhutan is the only extant Mahayana Buddhist kingdom in the world that has adopted the Tantric form as its official religion. A majority of the Bhutanese people are Buddhist. The teachings of this school of Buddhism are a living faith among its people. The air of spirituality is pervasive even in urban centres, where the spinning of prayer wheels, the murmur of mantras and the glow of butter lamps are still commonplace features of everyday life. Bhutan’s religious sites and institutions are not museums, but the daily refuge of the people.
One of the main attractions of the Kingdom is its annual religious festivals celebrated to honour Guru Padmasambhava (more commonly referred to as “Guru Rinpoche”). Festivals are celebrated for several days and are the occasion for dances that are clearly defined in religious content. The religious dances can be grouped into three broad categories:
dramas with a moral, dances for purification and protection from harmful spirits and dances that proclaim the victory of Buddhism and the glory of Guru Rinpoche. The dancers, either monks or laymen, wear spectacular costumes of bright silk or brocade, ornate hats, and extraordinary masks. For the Bhutanese, attendance at religious festivals offers an opportunity to become immersed in the meaning of their religion and to gain much merit. The festivals are also occasions for seeing people, and for being seen, for social exchanges, and for flaunting success. Festivals are held all the year round at temples, dzongs, and monasteries throughout Bhutan.
Bhutan draws its cultural inspiration from Tibet from where Mahayana Buddhism filtered into the lives of the Bhutanese. The Bhutanese culture reflects and resembles the Tibetans in many ways starting from governance to people’s daily rituals. However, if there is one striking breakaway from the overarching Tibetan influence, then it is in the domain of Bhutanese food habit. The abundance of food ingredients makes it possible for people to
create a variety of exotic culinary recipes that were uniquely Bhutanese and spicy.
Bhutanese food is generally good. The most distinctive characteristic of Bhutanese cuisine is its spiciness. Chillies are an essential part of nearly every dish. Rice forms the main body of most Bhutanese meals. Pork, beef, and chicken are the meats that are eaten most often. Vegetables commonly eaten include Spinach, pumpkins, turnips, radishes, tomatoes, river weed, onions and green beans. Set meals for travellers tend to be on the bland side because local food is heavily seasoned with red chilies and can be quite hot. Most hotels
provide buffet-style meals. There are usually continental, Indian, Chinese and Bhutanese dishes. All tourist hotels have a good selection of international and Bhutanese beverages.
Lovely hand-woven textiles/fabrics, carved masks, woven baskets, wooden bowls,
handmade paper products, finely crafted metal objects, Thangkha paintings and Bhutan’sexquisite postage stamps are the items mostly purchased by travellers in Bhutan.
In Bhutan, the buying and / or selling of antiques is strictly forbidden.
Bhutanese currency is Ngultrum (Nu.) and is officially pegged to the Indian Rupee. There are ATMs in Bhutan that operates with their respective Bhutanese Banks. Visa and American Express Credit Cards are also widely accepted. Traveller’s Cheques / Cash (preferably American Express and US Dollar instead) are the best options if you need additional money. Cash and Travelers Cheques exchange facility is available for most of the main currencies including the US Dollar, Euro, Indian Rupee, Japanese Yen, Thai Baht, Pound Sterling, Swiss Franc, Hong Kong dollar, Canadian dollar, Australian dollar, Singapore dollar, Danish kroner, Norwegian kroner, and Swedish kroner. Exchange rates vary. It is also possible to have funds wired with the services of Western Union but funds cannot be accessed in all locations, and are limited in amounts and days of availability.
Financial institutions in Bhutan have been greatly enhanced and today we have a number of banks that cater to the needs of the people. Some of the banks that you can avail of services and facilities while in Bhutan are the Bank of Bhutan Limited, Bhutan National Bank Limited, Druk Punjab National Bank Limited, Bhutan Development Bank Limited, and the T Bank Limited. Many of these banks provide with SMS and Internet banking facilities.
A wide variety of accommodation is availably ranging from luxurious 5-star hotels to cozy little hotels and homestays in traditional Bhutanese homes and settings. All tourist accommodation establishments are approved by Tourism Council of Bhutan. Interestingly all hotels / lodges / guest houses are built in traditional architecture offering good cuisine and reasonably decent and clean. Similarly, the ambiance and hospitality offered by the hotels are incredible. Away from main towns, there are purpose built huts on some of the principal trekking routes. Regardless of where you spend the night, the warm Bhutanese
hospitality will make you feel welcome.
The country has so far only one international airport that caters to the needs of visitors coming in through flight. However, within Bhutan, there are domestic flights. Majorly,mode of transport within Bhutan is by road and there are no trains.
Bhutan’s National Air Carrier, Druk Air and Tashi Airlines (a Private Carrier) operate flights to connect Bhutan. Entry / Exit to Bhutan is also possible by roads.
Despite the major hurdle posed by the inaccessible terrain, the high mountain passes, all major towns and important places of visit are connected by a good road network.
However, an important feature of the road system is the innumerable curves and bends that one will have to negotiate. Besides the bends, another characteristic of the road network is the steep ascents and descents that slow down the car travels. An average speed for road travel rarely exceeds 40 kilometers an hour, with tourist buses making even slower progress. The roads are well sealed but the rides can still be bumpy as the lanes are single and narrow at most points.
Bhutan’s landscape, buildings, and people are some of the most photogenic in the world. The photographic opportunities on all trips are immense. Outdoor photography is usually permitted, but photography is generally not permitted when visiting shrine rooms of dzongs, monasteries and religious institutions. You should refrain from taking pictures of military installations. If you wish to record the local people, their houses, and shops etc., always ask by a gesture if it is alright to do so. Don’t take your destination as a living museum!
The Kingdom has made great efforts to improve health facilities and provides a free health care to all its citizens. No vaccination is currently required for entry into Bhutan. However, if you are arriving from an area infected with yellow fever, you are required to have a yellow fever vaccination. If you are arriving from 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 that you assemble a traveller’s medical kit appropriate to the destination, length of trip and general health. It is advisable that travellers who plan to visit Bhutan should consult a physician about high-altitude travel.
Recognizing that everybody’s ultimate aspiration is happiness, and understanding that happiness could not be achieved through a misguided way of life, the Fourth Dragon King of Bhutan propounded a philosophy of living called Gross National Happiness. The concept of GNH was articulated to indicate that development has many more dimensions than those associated with Gross National Product. The GNH philosophy places the individual at the centre of all development efforts and thus recognizes that people not only have material needs but also spiritual and emotional needs as well. It asserts that spiritual and emotional needs cannot and should not be defined exclusively in material terms. GNH is an economic and development philosophy that serves Bhutan’s unique culture based on Buddhist spiritual values.
While conventional development models stressed on economic growth as the ultimate objective, the concept of Gross National Happiness is based on the premise that true development of human society takes place when material and spiritual development occur side by side to complement and reinforce each other.
Decades down the line, the country realized that while the rest of the world is waking up to the limitations of a purely economic model of development, what we pursued as anation has held us in much a better stead.
Until the beginning of 20th century, Bhutan was ruled by a dual system of administration which was initiated in 1651. The Kingdom then was under Monarchical System from 1907 till 2007. Since 2008 when the first party-based parliamentary elections were held, Bhutan has been a Constitutional Democratic Kingdom. Bhutan has two elected houses of parliament, the Upper House which is called the National Council has 25 members and the Lower House called the National Assembly has 47 members. The members of the cabinet including the Prime Minister are appointed from the governing party’s members in the National Assembly. The Kingdom’s Constitution mandates that the sole aim of governance in Bhutan should be to promote those conditions which are conducive for the realization of Gross National Happiness.
The organs of the Bhutanese government comprise of the Legislature, Judiciary, and the Executive.
The Royal Insurance Corporation of Bhutan has initiated a travel and medical plan solely for the visitors. Kindly visit www.ricb.com.bt for detailed information.
Tipping is a purely personal matter. The bottom line in determining whether or how much to tip is to ask yourself how much Advent Bhutan Tours & Travel team members did to make your Bhutan travel experience more enjoyable.