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  • Overview

    Bhutan is a land of pristine natural environments,existing as a biodiversity hotspot. Free of pollution and crime,it's guided by an official policy known as Gross NationalHappiness. Known to its people as Druk Yul (meaning 'Land of theThunder Dragon'), Bhutan sits in the remote Himalayan Mountainswith India and China as its only neighbours.

    The scenic majesty of its soaring mountains and greenvalleys, coupled with the vibrancy of its cultural life, makesBhutan one of the last undiscovered destinations; an adventure tofeed the soul and enrich the senses.

    Bhutan's iconic sight is the Tiger's Nest, amonastery built into a cliff face 2,950 feet (900m) above theground in the Paro Valley. Another key attraction is Trongsa Dzongfortress, the ancestral home of the royal family. Trekking andmountain biking are popular attractions too, as are the manyBuddhist festivals that bring out the extroverted side of thesefamously friendly people.

    It is at times a wonderfully strange place: all newstructures must follow the ancient style and people are obliged bylaw to wear traditional dress in public. Monks have broadbandaccess, while cigarette sales are illegal. And, uniquely, 70percent of the land is owned by women as inheritance ismatrilineal.

    Bhutan remained closed to the outside world until the1960s when its borders slowly began opening. Tourism is based on ahigh value, low volume principle in a bid to avoid the destructiveeffects of mass tourism suffered by Nepal and India. Visitors mustspend a minimum of USD200 per day on a predetermined itinerary, astrong deterrence for budget travellers. Therefore, visiting Bhutanis much easier through a registered tour operator.

    Under the guidance of the current monarch, Bhutan isslowly changing as its economy matures and its fledgling governmentengages more with the world. Improved communications and widespreadinternet access is affecting the younger generation and exposingthem to the world beyond the borders of this, the lastShangri-La.

    Taktsang Monastery

    Known as the Tiger's Nest and the Taktsang Palphug Monastery,Paro Taktsang is considered one of the holiest places in Bhutan.Located in the Paro Valley, the monastery is perched on a cliff2,950 feet (900m) above the valley floor. The monastery has been animportant site for pilgrimage and meditation in Mahayana Buddhismsince it was built in 1692 around a cave believed to be thebirthplace of Buddhism in Bhutan. Tourists can reach TaktsangMonastery via a 20-minute drive from Paro to the base of themountain, followed by a two-hour hike (or pony ride) to themonastery.

    Taktshang Monastery Taktshang Monastery Douglas J. McLaughlin
    Punakha

    Serving as the winter capital of Bhutan, Punakha is only 45miles (72km) from Thimphu. However, it has a much warmer climatethan the latter, allowing for the patchwork of red and white ricefields to cover the surrounding valleys. The serene atmosphere ofthe city is personified in the Punakha Dzong, also known as thePalace of Great Happiness. The palace is the winter residence ofBhutan's Central Monastic Body and home to several sacred relics.Punakha makes a good base for exploring nearby attractions like theGuru Rinpoche Cave and Koma Tsachu hot springs.

    Punakha Dzong Punakha Dzong Technopilgrim
    Trongsa

    The geographic centre of Bhutan, Trongsa is a historical villagebuilt around a monastery that was established in 1543. Small enoughto easily explore on foot, Trongsa's main attractions include theTrongsa Dzong and the Thruepang Palace, as well as the markets inthe centre of town that sell handmade textiles and traditionalcarpets for prices lower than those in Thimphu. Trongsa is apopular rest stop on the journey between Thimphu and Bumthang.

    Trongsa Trongsa Thomas Wanhoff
    Bumthang

    Bumthang is one of the most scenic valleys in Bhutan, with townof Jakar at its centre. More a cluster of villages than a realtown, Jakar has a few points of interest that include the JakarDzong (Fortress of the White Bird), Wangdicholing Palace, and halfa dozen monasteries. Jakar also hosts a number of colourfulfestivals between July and December. Visitors to Bumthang Valley(also known as Choekhor Valley), will want to try the beer RedPanda Wheat, which is brewed locally and is the only beer made inBhutan.

    Bumthang River Bumthang River Chuck Moravec

    Phrase Book

    English Pronounciation

    Bhutan's climate is as varied as its landscape. In the southernplains, the climate is tropical while the central valleys are cool.The Himalayas have severe winters and mild summers. The monsoonseason is from June to August. In general, the best time to visitis spring (March to May) and autumn (late September to lateNovember) when there are many Buddhist festivals.

    Paro Airport
    Location: The airport is located 4 miles (6km) away from Paro, and40 miles (65km) from the capital, Thimpu. The landing strip isconsidered challenging; only eight pilots worldwide are licensed toland here.
    Time: Local time is UTC/GMT +6 hours
    Getting to the city: A taxi service is available although all visitors will be met bytheir tour operator on arrival and transported from the airport totheir onward destination.
    Fascilities: Airport facilities include restaurants, duty free shops, giftshops, and taxi services.
    Parking Short-term parking is available.
    Money:

    The local currency is the ngultrumbut, subdivided into 100chhertum. The currency is pegged to the Indian rupee on scale of1:1. The ngultrumbut was only introduced in 1974 before which thecountry had no currency, relying on a system of bartering toacquire goods. US Dollars and Travellers Cheques can be exchangedat banks and large hotels. Visa and Mastercard are not widelyaccepted.

    Language:

    Dzongkha is the official language, and various Tibetandialects are spoken. English has recently become the language ofinstruction in schools but is only spoken fluently by guides andtourist industry professionals.

    Electricity:

    Electrical current is 230 volts (50Hz). European roundpin attachment plugs and three-pin rectangular plugs are inuse.

    Entry Requirements:

    United States citizens must have a passport valid for six monthsbeyond arrival. A visa is required and must be applied for inadvance through a tour operator.

    British nationals must have a passport valid six months beyondarrival date. A visa is required and must be applied for in advancethrough a tour operator.

    Canadians must hold a passport valid six months beyond arrivaldate. A visa is required and must be applied for in advance througha tour operator.

    Australians must have a passport valid six months beyond arrivaldate. A visa is required and must be applied for in advance througha tour operator.

    South Africans must have a passport valid six months beyondarrival date. A visa is required and must be applied for in advancethrough a tour operator.

    Irish nationals must have a passport valid six months beyondarrival date. A visa is required and must be applied for in advancethrough a tour operator.

    United States citizens must have a passport valid for six monthsbeyond arrival. A visa is required and must be applied for inadvance through a tour operator.

    New Zealand nationals must have a passport valid six monthsbeyond arrival date. A visa is required and must be applied for inadvance through a tour operator.

    Passport/Visa Note:Visa:

    Bhutan has an unusual but fairly simple process for admittingvisitors: Bhutanese embassies abroad cannot issue visas, insteadyou must apply for your visa in advance through a registered touroperator. The visa should be applied for at least 12 weeks beforeintended travel at which time your tour operator will confirm withyou directly with a faxed or emailed copy of the successfulapplication. The actual visa is then stamped into your passport onarrival. This must be accompanied by at least two passportphotographs. A visa allows for a stay for a maximum of 15 days.

    Note that the Government of Bhutan refuses entry to peoplewishing to visit the country for mountaineering, publicity, andother research activities. All visitors are required to book with aregistered tour operator in Bhutan, which can be done directlythrough a travel agent abroad. All visitors must hold confirmedreturn or onward tickets, all documents required for nextdestination, and USD 200 per day of stay.

    Travel Health:

    Ensure you have adequate travel insurance that includes thefacility for emergency repatriation. The most significant healthrisks for travellers are water-borne parasites from uncleandrinking water and altitude sickness resulting from exposure tohigh altitudes. Health care standards are relatively high. Forlocals all health services are free, and both western andtraditional medicine is practiced side by side. In 2004, Bhutanbecame the first country in the world to entirely ban the sale ofcigarettes. Hospitals and clinics are located throughout thecountry, with excellent facilities available in the capital,Thimpu.

    Tipping:

    Tipping is not expected in restaurants as your meal would havebeen prepaid by your tour agency. On treks, it is usual to tip thecook, his assistant, and any porters. Ask your guide for advice. Ifyou hire a driver tip him at the end of your trip. Bhutanesetradition is that one typically refuses a tip the first time it isoffered but accepts it the second time.

    Safety Information:

    Bhutan is one of the safest destinations on the planet. There isvirtually no crime or violence.

    Local Customs:

    Bhutan is a traditional Buddhist society. Dress conservativelywhen visiting religious sites, avoid public displays of affection,and never climb or sit on a statue. Do not take photographs withintemples unless permission has been granted to do so.

    Avoid pointing at people or religious icons with your finger;this is considered very rude. Smoking is banned in all publicplaces, including restaurants and bars. Betel nut is chewedthroughout the day by young and old alike and has become anintegral part of Bhutanese society.

    The royal family is revered and deeply respected so avoid anydisparaging remarks or gestures about them. Mountains areconsidered to be the abode of the gods and hence any recreationalactivities therein are disallowed.

    Communications:

    The international dialling code for Bhutan is +975. The outgoingcode is 00 followed by the relevant country code (e.g. 0044 for theUnited Kingdom). There is extensive mobile phone coverage, which ismore reliable and widespread than the landline network. Internetaccess is available in all main towns and hotels.

    Duty Free:

    Travellers to Bhutan may bring with them up to 200 cigarettes,one litre of liquor, and goods for personal use. It's illegal tosell tobacco in Bhutan, but import of tobacco is subject to 100%tax. Guns and ammunition, narcotics, antiques, and wildlifeproducts are prohibited.

    Useful Contacts:

    Tourism Council of Bhutan, PO Box 126, Thimphu,Tel: (2) 323 251or info@tourism.gov.bt

    Bhutan Embassies:

    Bhutan Embassy, New York City, United States: +1 (202) 6822268/2312.

    Bhutanese Honorary Consulate, London: (+44) 1483 538 189

    Bhutan Honoray Consulate, Toronto: (416) 960 3552

    Foreign Embassies in Bhutan :

    US Embassy, New Delhi, India (also responsible for Bhutan): 9111 2419 8000

    British High Commission, New Delhi, India (also responsible forBhutan): +91 11 2419 2100

    High Commission of Canada, New Delhi, India (also responsiblefor Bhutan): +91 11 4178 2000

    South African High Commission, New Delhi, India (alsoresponsible for Bhutan): +91 112 614 9411

    Australian High Commission, New Delhi, India (also responsiblefor Bhutan): +91 111 4139 9900

    Embassy of Ireland, New Delhi, India (also responsible forBhutan): +91 114940 3200

    New Zealand High Commission, New Delhi, India (also responsiblefor Bhutan): +91 11 468 83170

    Bhutan Emergency Numbers : Fire: 110, Police: 113, Ambulance: 112
    Bhutan