Bhutan is a religious heartland with lovely temples, monasteries and forested hills. Every nook and corner is an object of beauty.
As one travels through Bhutan, colours become very prominent. The festivals display colourful textiles. Art and architecture are done in a variety of colours. The fauna and flora are visual feasts. The landscape itself is a paradise of colours. On a larger side, the significance of colours in Bhutan are categorised under three important divisions of the Bhutanese society- Cosmology, Astrology and Buddhist teachings.
The charming mountain kingdom of Bhutan is the only country in the world to measure—and strive to improve-its citizens’ Gross National Happiness.
Mongar is a small town situated atop a hill rather than within a valley. This town is considered the main trade and travel hub of eastern Bhutan.
The landscape is spectacular with stark cliffs and deep gorges, set amidst dense conifer forests. The region is known for its weavers and textiles, the fabrics produced here are considered some of the best in the country.
Mongar, with its population of 3000 people is perfect place to explore on foot. Its main street, clean and wide, is lined with traditionally painted stone buildings with wooden facades and verandas and is very pleasant for an leisurely evening stroll .
Trashigang in Eastern Bhutan is the country’s largest district.
Trashigang, once the centre of a busy trade route with Tibet, is today the junction of east-west highway with road connecting to Samdrup Jongkhar and then to the Indian States of Assam.
This town is now a market place for the semi nomadic people from Merak and Sakteng whose costumes are unique in Bhutan.
The traditional architecture and narrow streets give the town a quaint and cosy feel. The entire town can be explored on foot.
Trashigang is a 2 night destination from where a day excursion to Trashiyangste is proposed, another delightful quaint town of Bhutan.
Trashiyangtse is an ethnically and culturally diverse district.
Trashiyangtse was established as a distinct district in 1992 and spans 1,437 sq km of sub-tropical and alpine forests. With its wealth of natural, historical and cultural resources Trashiyangtse is beautiful destination.
Enroute to Trashiyangtse from Trashigang, a stop at the Gom Kora Temple is proposed. It is associated with Guru Padmasambhav who spread Buddhism in the Himalayas. With just about every religious place in Bhutan having to do something with Guru Padmasambhav, it can be given a miss to spend more time at the Zorig Chusum – the school of the 13 crafts; a tradition which started in the 16th century though the skills existed much earlier, often passed down from generation to generation. Zorig Chusum is a Bhutan government enterprise.
Bumthang has an individuality that charms its visitors and separates it from other regions. Comprising of four smaller valleys, Tang, Ura, Choekhor and Chumey, the deeply spiritual region of Bumthang is surrounded in religious legends. Bumthang is also the traditional home to the great Buddhist teacher Pema Linga to whose descendants the present dynasty traces its origin.
These fertile valleys are covered in fields of buckwheat, rice and potatoes. Apple orchards and dairy farms are also common sights here. This serene region is one of the most peaceful places in the kingdom.
The valley of Gangtey is one of the most beautiful spots in Bhutan. This wide and flat valley without any trees is a surprise to find after a difficult climb through dense forests and a rare experience in Bhutan, where most of the valleys are tightly enclosed.
At an elevation of 3,000 metres on the western slopes of the Black Mountains, it is one of Bhutan’s few glacial valleys. A designated conservation area, it is the winter home of the endangered black-necked crane.
The Gangteng Monastery located in the area is a great sight. It is perched on top of a small hill that rises from the valley floor. The Monastery is taken care by the families of the village. Gangtey, which is now controlled by the government, is the only Nyingmapa monastery on the western side of the Black Mountain’s and is also the biggest Nyingmapa monastery in Bhutan.
The Kingdom’s capital city is home to approximately 100,000 inhabitants including the Royal family. This bustling little city is the main center of commerce, religion and government in the country. Thimphu is the most modern city in Bhutan with an abundance of restaurants, internet cafes, nightclubs and shopping centers, however, it still retains its cultural identity and values amidst the signs of modernisation.
Thimphu is one of the few towns in Bhutan that have been equipped with ATM banking facilities and is a good place to stock up on some currency. Thimphu is the only capital city in the world that does not use traffic lights. Instead a few major intersections have policemen standing in elaborately decorated booths, directing traffic with exaggerated hand motions. The juxtaposition of ancient tradition and modernity make Thimphu the ideal location for visitors to break away from their tour itinerary and just immerse themselves in the lifestyle of contemporary Bhutanese.
Paro is a historic town with many sacred sites and historical buildings scattered through the area. The Paro Valley is wide and verdant and is recognised as one of the most beautiful in all of Bhutan. One can enjoy nature at its best along with a peaceful environment. However, apart from the main street, which is constructed of traditional wooden structures, the bazaar area comprises of concrete buildings all over the place.
Some of the cultural landmarks of Paro include the Paro Dzong, the national museum, the Takstang Monastery and the Cheri Lang monastery. The Takstang’s Monastery also known Tiger’s Nest hangs on a cliff at 3,120 metres – built on a the location where Guru Rinpoche is believed to have landed on the back of a tiger! To get there, one has to climb up to 3000 meters to the vantage points, then take cliff-hanging steps down to a narrow bridge across the gorge and then ascend a few hundred odd steps to the monastery.
Punakha district is in the east of Bhutan’s capital city, Thimphu. The name has been acquired from the word Pungthan-kha which means ‘the gathering ground’. The Dzong (fortress like building) stands at the confluence of the two rivers that flow through the valley. The structure does look like piles of debris gathered by the rivers. Hence the name’gathering ground’. Officially, the Dzong here is named Punthang Dewachengi Phodrang. The crude translation would mean ‘the blissful castle at the gathering ground’. The Dzong was consecrated in 1637 as the seat of spiritual lpower of Bhutan and it served as the capital until the 1950s. The Monastic Body of Bhutan still considers Punakha as their winter capital and every year they migrate from Thimphu to their winter residence on the 1st day of the 10thBhutanese month. On the way, thousands of devotees wait at different places to receive their blessings. They spend six months in Punakha before moving back to Thimphu on the first day of the fourth Bhutanese month.
It takes two hours to drive to Punakha from Thimphu. Some tourists make day excursions from the capital but most like to spend at least two nights there. Punakha Valley is almost subtropical. The birdlife is very rich with highlight being the white-bellied heron. This heron is Asia’s largest and endangered. Only few hundreds are left in the world. Many migratory aquatic birds do visit the valley in winter months. Blessed with sub-tropical vegetation, many varieties of insects thrive here. The valley does have reptiles too that includes the King cobra. Of bigger animals there are sightings of the Takin, the National Animal of Bhutan at the northern end of the region. Takins closely resemble the Musk Ox and migrate to lower pastures in winter.
Punakha is also the cultural heartland of western Bhutan. The first King of Bhutan was crowned at the Punakha Dzong in 1907. Henceforth, all crowning ceremonies are held at this Dzong. One of the most fascinating temples in Punakha is the Khamsum Yuelling and it has some exquisite wall frescoes. There are numerous temples, farmhouses and view points where one can go for day hikes.
Passport & Visa
Airport & Custom
Indian, Bangladeshis and Maldivian nationals can obtain a visa at the port of entry on producing a valid passport with a minimum of 6 month validity (Indian nationals may also use their Voters Identity Card (VIC)).
All other tourists must obtain a visa clearance prior to travel to Bhutan. Visas are processed through an online system by your licensed Bhutanese tour operator, directly or through a foreign travel agent.
For more details visit http://www.mfa.gov.bt/visa
Some of the banks that you can avail of while in Bhutan are the Bank of Bhutan Limited, the Bhutan National Bank, the Druk PNB and the Tashi Bank. Traveller’s cheque can be easily withdrawn and exchanged for local currency. Many of these banks provide internet banking facilities.
Banks are closed on Saturday afternoon and Sunday.
Local Time: GMT + 6
A trip to Bhutan can be planned throughout the year but the best months are March, April, May, September, October and November. There are several festivals taking place during these months as well. Winter in Bhutan is from mid-November to mid-March when the climate is dry and sunny with temperatures at 15c in the daytime and falling below zero at night.
The monsoon usually arrives in mid-June with light rain falling mainly in the afternoons and evenings.
All arriving passengers and visitors are required to fill in the required details and submit the customs declaration from upon arrival at the Paro Airport.
Visitors are advised to be cautions while purchasing old and used items, especially of religious or cultural significance as customs authorities will not allow any old/used items to be taken out of the country unless certified as non-antique.
The normal free allowance while flying is 20 kg in Economy and 30 kg in First Class.
Airport Departure Tax
Airport departure tax is usually included in your international tickets and does not have to be paid at the airport.
Bhutan’s currency is the Ngultrum.
Ngultrum Symbol: Nu.
It is divided into 100 smaller units called chhertum.
It is at par with the Indian rupee which is accepted as legal tender in the country.
INR (Indian Rupees) denominations of 500 and 1000 are not accepted in Bhutan.
ATMs are located within all main towns throughout Bhutan, where money can be withdrawn using a Visa or MasterCard.
As a minimum a traveller should have a tetanus, typhoid and hepatitis A inoculations.
A yellow fever vaccination certificate is only required for travellers coming from – or in transit through – a country with risk of yellow fever transmission.
ll major towns are well connected with electricity that runs on 220/240 volts with round hole two-pin and three-pin power outlets.
Bhutanese speak a variety of languages, Dzongkha being the national language and one most widely spoken. English is also spoken by the majority of Bhutanese, making communication very easy.
Bhutan is famous for hand-woven textiles of raw silk or silk, carved masks of various animals, woven baskets of cane and bamboo, wooden bowls known as Dapas, handmade paper products or finely crafted goods of silver. Other items that can be bought are exquisite Buddhist thangkha paintings or Bhutan’s wide array of colourful and creative postage stamps. You can come across these items in the many handicraft shops in and around Thimphu and in other major towns. Buying and selling of antiques is strictly forbidden in Bhutan.
The most distinctive characteristic of Bhutanese cuisine is its spiciness. Chillis are an essential part of nearly every dish in Bhutan.
Rice forms the main body of most Bhutanese meals. It is accompanied by one or two side dishes consisting of meat or vegetables. 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. Grains such as rice, buckwheat and barley are also cultivated in various regions of the country depending on the local climate.
Some of the most popular Bhutanese dishes are:
- Ema Datshi: This is the National Dish of Bhutan. A spicy mix of chillis and local cheese known as Datshi. This dish is a staple of nearly every meal and can be found throughout the country.
- Momos: These Tibetan-style dumplings are stuffed with pork, beef or cabbages and cheese and are cooked during special occasions.
- Phaksha Paa: Pork cooked with spicy red chillis.
- Jasha Maru: Spicy minced chicken, tomatoes and other ingredients that is usually served with rice.
- Red Rice: The rice is similar to brown rice and is extremely nutritious and filling. When cooked it is pale pink, soft and slightly sticky.