Bhutan Travel Guide

Bhutan is a small, remote country nestled in the foothills of the Himalayas. It is bordered by China on the north and India on the other sides. The country is divided into four administrative zones (dzongdey) and further divided into 20 districts (dzongkhag). The landscape is diverse with striking changes in elevation from the southern lowlands to the high Himalayas in the north. Climate and vegetation also changes drastically with changes in elevation. Thimphu is the capital and the largest city.

Our Bhutan travel guide is full of handy information to plan for, and use throughout, your Bhutan trip. For some details on the exciting tourist attraction and different valleys of bhutan check out our country guide and our local tour ideas. Let us guide your tours in bhutan with our local suggestions.

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Helpful information in Bhutan Travel Guide includes:

Communication Top

The international telephone dialing code for Bhutan is 975. The telephone service is quite good in urban areas, however in rural areas teledensity is low.

International telephone via landline relay through India and at times you may have to wait to get a line.

Mobile telephone coverage in Bhutan is reasonable and the network is expanding all the time. Arrangements for roaming facilities have been done with international service providers.

Internet services in Bhutan were introduced in 1999 and now there are internet cafes and browsing centers in all urban areas and tourist spots. Most Bhutanese hotels have internet connectivity and facilities.

Bhutan postal services tend to be slow. Bhutanese stamps are in such high demand that stamps are sometimes stolen from envelopes sent from the country. Post offices working hours are 9 am to 5 pm Monday through Friday. On Saturdays it is 9 am to 12 pm.

Climate/weather in Bhutan Top

Click on this weather link to view the current Bhutan weather conditions.

Currency/Money in Bhutan Top

Bhutan’s currency is Ngultrum (Nu) which is divided into 100 chetrums (Ch).

Commonly used notes are in denominations 500, 100, 50, 20, 10 and 5. The Indian Rupee is accepted at most places and the US Dollar is also widely used.

Major currencies can be exchanged at commercial banks and also at some of the better hotels in major cities like Thimphu, Paro, and Phuentsholing.

Credit cards acceptability in Bhutan is limited. They are only accepted at major hotels and upmarket shopping centers. ATMs here accept only Bhutanese bank cards.Henceforth bearers of International credit/ debit cards of MasterCard will be accepted to
withdraw money from any of the Bank of Bhutan (BoB)’s ATM.
Maximum of Nu. 18,000.00 can be withdrawn per usage and there
is no limitation on, transaction per day (except the limitation given
by the MasterCard issuance agency). There will be a charge of USD 2.50 – USD 3.00
per usage.

Travelers’ cheques can be cashed at any bank and at most hotels in Bhutan. A 1% bank charge is usually levied. Travelers’ cheques in US Dollars are preferred at most places.

Banks are open Monday through Friday 9 am to 3 pm, and 9 am to 12 pm on Saturday.

To view the current exchange rate in Bhutan, click on this link to OANDA.com - The Currency Site.

Electricity in Bhutan Top

For the most part, electrical sockets (outlets) in the Kingdom of Bhutan (Druk Yul) are one of three types: the "Type C" European CEE 7/16 Europlug, the "Type G" British BS-1363 or the "Type D" Indian 5 amp BS-546. It's just anybody's guess as to which of the three types will be installed at any given specific location. If your appliance's plug doesn't match the shape of these sockets, you will need a travel plug adapter in order to plug in. Travel plug adapters simply change the shape of your appliance's plug to match whatever type of socket you need to plug into. If it's crucial to be able to plug in no matter what, bring an adapter for all three types.

But the shape of the socket is only half the story!
Electrical sockets (outlets) in the Kingdom of Bhutan (Druk Yul) usually supply electricity at between 220 and 240 volts AC. If you're plugging in an appliance that was built for 220-240 volt electrical input, or an appliance that is compatible with multiple voltages, then an adapter is all you need.

But travel plug adapters do not change the voltage, so the electricity coming through the adapter will still be the same 220-240 volts the socket is supplying. North American sockets supply electricity at between 110 and 120 volts, far lower than in most of the rest of the world. Consequently, North American appliances are generally built for 110-120 volts.

But that doesn't mean that your specific appliance isn't already compatible with the higher voltage -- it may very well be.

Bhutan Embassy Locations Top

To view a list of Bhutanese embassies around the world, as well as foreign embassies within Bhutan, click on this link to http://www.embassy-worldwide.com/.

General Information Top

Location: South Asia, landlocked, strategically between India on south and China on North.
Area: 38,394 square kilometers
Forested Area: 72 percent of the total area
Population: 700,000
Local Language: Dzongkha ( English is widely spoken throughout the kingdom)
Religion: Vajrayana form of Mahayana Buddhism
Present King: His Majesty Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck
Ruling party: People Democratic Party
Present Prime Minister: Lyonchhen Tshering Tobgay
Capital: Thimphu
National Carrier: Druk Air, International Flight Code KB
Nearest Airport: Paro International Airport
Average Altitude: 240 meters – 7541 meters above sea level
Currency: Ngultrum (Pegged to Indian Rupee and of same value)
Telephone country code: +975
Mobile network provider: B Mobile & Tashi Cell
Internet service provider: Druknet
Time Zone - Standard time zone: UTC+6 (11 hours ahead of Washington, DC during Standard Time)

To view the current time in Bhutan, click on this link to TimeAndDate.com.

Language Top

Dzongkha is the official language of Bhutan. Most people in western Bhutan speak Dzongkha, however, in eastern Bhutan Sharchopkha is the widely used language and in the Bumthang region the language commonly used is Bumthangkha. English is the medium of instruction in schools and Hindi is widely understood, especially in urban areas. Nepali is widely spoken in the southern parts of the country where a lot of ethnic Nepalese live. A number of dialects, mostly belonging to the Tibetan language family, are spoken in remote areas and villages.

Public Holidays in Bhutan Top

Follow the link to view a current list of public holidays in Bhutan.

Religion Top

Mahayana Buddhism is the state religion and a vast majority of the Bhutanese are practitioners of this faith. Hinduism is the other major religion practiced in the country, particularly in the south. The ethnic Nepali community is mostly Hindus. Karma and reincarnation are the basic beliefs of both religions.

According to these beliefs how you live and behave in this life influences your next life.

Bhutan also has small communities of Christians and Muslims and Bhutanese laws protect freedom of religion, however, non-Buddhist missionaries are usually barred from entering the country.

Visa/Passports Top

All visitors to Bhutan, except Indian and Bangladeshi nationals, need visa approval before arrival. Unlike in other countries, Bhutan visas are issued upon arrival in the country. However, you have to apply in advance through a licensed local tour operator and get visa clearance before coming to the country.

Visa is stamped in your passport at your point of entry, either at Bhutan airport at Paro or at Pheuntshlong if entering by road. Visa applications are processed by tour operators on behalf of tourists after tours are booked and paid for. Air tickets will only be issued if you have visa clearance.

Tourist visas are issued for the period of your tour, if by any chance you need an extension, it can be arranged by the tour operator.

Indian nationals are issued a 14-day permit (which can be extended) upon arrival in Bhutan. Visa or passport is not required though some sort of identification (such as passport, voter's identification) is necessary.

Geography Top

Bhutan is located in the Himalayas between India and China and is known for it high mountain valleys and rugged terrain. For its small size, the country has amazing geographic diversity. Altitude rises dramatically from 180 m in the southern lowlands to more than 7000 m as one moves north towards the high Himalayas. Vegetation varies from thick jungles in the tropical south to deciduous forests in the temperate inner Himalayan regions in the central part of the country, while in the high peaks in the north, snow is a permanent fixture and the landscape turns rocky.

Mountain ranges crisscross the country making travel from one part of the country to the other extremely cumbersome and time-consuming. Distances get a whole new meaning in this part of the world.

History Top

Except for folklores and mythology, which tell of flying tigers, demons, and supernatural powers, not many records are there of Bhutan's early history. It is pretty much accepted that Buddhism arrived in the country in the 7th century along with Guru Rinpoche who set up monasteries all over Bhutan. Many impressive fortresses and castles (dzongs) dotted the country in the early days (some of them still exist) when feuds and fierce battles between warlords were common.

The monarchy was established in 1907. The king soon reached an agreement with the British under which Britain conducted Bhutan's foreign affairs without interfering in any internal matters. Since 1947 Bhutan has pegged itself to India and is now guided by India on external relations.

Until well into the 20th century, Bhutan remained isolated from the rest of the world. It was the third king who started a slow movement towards opening up the country to the outside world. Bhutan's fourth king Jigme Singye Wangchuck made the first steps towards democratizing the nation before he passed on the throne to his son and present King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck. In March 2008, after the first democratic elections, Jigme Thinley became Bhutan's first elected prime minister.

Health Top

All district capitals have government hospitals and clinics. Facilities may not be the most modern but treatment is free, even for tourists. The Jigme Dorji Wangchuck National Referral Hospital in Thimphu is the best in the country and has all modern facilities. Good medical care is difficult to find in remote areas and there are no private hospitals in Bhutan.

Indigenous medical treatment using natural herbs and medicines are available at most places.

Waterborne diseases (dysentery, giardia, diarrhea, etc.,) are known to occur during the monsoon season, so remember to drink only boiled or bottled water.

Altitude sickness is quite common and needs to be taken seriously. Symptoms include shortness of breath, palpitations, and severe headaches. Rabies exists and if bitten by a street dog, seek medical advice.

Taking a medical kit along is advisable and medical insurance is highly recommended.

People/Culture Top

One of Bhutan's biggest attractions is its unique culture. Long years of isolation, partly because of geography and partly by choice, meant that Bhutanese culture and traditions remained immune from outside influences. Bhutan was never colonized and it was only recently that the country started to open up to outsiders. Even television came to the country only in 1999 and the internet in 2000!

Buddhism exerts a strong influence on life in Bhutan and the people believe in simple living. All life is treated with respect. Agriculture is the main occupation.

Extended families are the norm and society follows a matrilineal system whereby women inherit the property and control family affairs. Traditional dress gho (knee length wrap around dress) for men and kira (an ankle length sari-like dress) for women is still preferred by most Bhutanese and is compulsory for official functions and in government offices.

Religious festivals in Bhutan, many featuring symbolic masked dances, and dance dramas are a regular part of Bhutanese life. Tshechu is perhaps the cultural hallmark of Bhutan, celebrated as religious festivals, commemorating deeds of Guru Rinpoche; it lasts up to four days in which a series of highly skilled masked dance and rituals are performed. People are dressed in their finest clothes and jewelry and are a natural platform for socializing and merry making. Two of the most famous Tshechu are held at Paro in the spring and Thimphu in the autumn. It is good to plan your holiday around festivals in Bhutan.

The country has some strange customs like painting giant phalluses on walls to ward off evil and to ensure good crops. Some of the peaks, thought to be resting places of gods, are off limits for climbers. Throwing stones in rivers is frowned upon as it is thought to disturb the gods.

Bhutanese people are very friendly and visitors are invariably welcomed with a warm smile.  Everyone knows everyone in Bhutan somehow. The culture of Bhutan stems from a closed community-based set-up, owing to which Bhutanese generally are intensely religious, positively proud of culture and tradition, and indeed very hospitable. The daily way of life is largely guided by Buddhist teachings; each and every house has a prayer room. The spiritual beliefs and strong community ties allow Bhutanese to stay in perfect harmony with nature and society despite remoteness and be able to enjoy the simple pleasures of life. The king of Bhutan and chief abbot are highly revered; the former being the constitutional head and the latter the religious head. An odd 60 percent of the population still lives in rural areas with agriculture and farming as the way of life; Polygamy does exist in certain areas.

Chili, Cheese, and Areca nut are an important aspect of eating culture, Doma (Areca Nut) is chewed everywhere, by all sections of society. OftenDoma is the first thing offered to a guest. Keeping aside its importance, it has largely contributed, to giving at least one of ten Bhutanese, the distinctive red colored teeth. Though Bhutanese society has evolved over the years and is fairly in its infancy, one of its greatest attributes is that men and women mix and converse freely and are treated equally in all aspects.

Deeply rooted tradition is possibly the most amazing aspect of Bhutanese culture, which is reflected in sheer love for traditional dress. All Bhutanese continue to wear the traditional dress: Gho for men and Kira for women.

Archery is the national sport of Bhutan and a tradition. Bizarre; it may be, its songs, dances, jeers and near-primitive howls, but is a fulfilled socialization platform and is known to draw large crowds.Archery is popular and competitions are held in most villages accompanied by general merriment with food, drink, dancing and singing.

As far as official etiquette is concerned Bhutanese follow a refined system of etiquette, which is called "driglam namzha. It governs many types of behavior, including how to send and receive gifts, how to speak to those in authority, how to serve and eat food at public occasions, and how to dress. One may come across peculiar sight where a person may be speaking, slightly stooped, with hands over the mouth; a typical example of established cultural protocol of speaking to people holding official ranks amongst others