FAQ – Blog
I came across few people who thought Bhutan is a part of India but Bhutan is very much an international destination where Indians, Bangladeshis and Maldivians are the only privileged ones who can get a free tourist visa on arrival for a maximum of 14 days where as any other National have to mandatorily spend USD 250 per person per day and have to pre-book the whole tour through a local agent Destination Bhutan before entering Bhutan. An Adult Indian can enter Bhutan only if they have a Passport valid for at-least 6 months from the date of travel or a valid Voter ID card. These are the only 2 documents valid for travel to Bhutan. A child below the age of 12 years can travel on a birth certificate and a valid school ID card with a picture. To travel beyond Paro and Thimphu Indians need to get a special permit to enter Central Bhutan which can be obtained through the immigration office in Thimphu or local agent Destination Bhutan who will organize your transportation.
Temperature from March-July is mildly hot so it is advisable to carry summer clothes but a jacket or a shawl would be required early in the mornings and late in the evenings. Winters are chilly so it is advisable to carry proper winter clothes. Bhutan is generally considered to be windy because of height of the mountains resulting in chilly valleys. Few things you should pack before you leave home are:-
– A compact umbrella or a good raincoat for any region, any time of the year.
– Hat, sunscreen, lip balm and sunglasses.
– Swimming costume if you wish to experience the traditional hot stone bath or hot
– A flashlight for unexpected power cuts and for the interior of the dark temples and –
– Motion sickness medication for the long and winding roads, and also other medicines
which you would require as there are very few chemists and hospitals.
– Slip on shoes for visiting Chapels and Monasteries.
Do I have to book a package when travelling to Bhutan, Can I travel on my own and book hotels along the way?
You can easily visit Bhutan with a group of friends/family, on your honeymoon or even as a solo traveler but you have to book your tour with a travel company like us. For Indians there is a great deal of freedom as to where you can go but it is mandatory to book a car along with a driver and a guide who will reveal the country’s amazing landscape and Buddhist heritage and make you experience everyday charms of the Bhutanese. You can book hotels while you are here along the way your tour flows but it is advisable to book hotels beforehand as getting accommodation during peak season is next to impossible without prior reservation. If you are planning to enter by air then you should book flights minimum one month before your visit as there are limited flights and are generally full. If you don’t want to travel on an organized tour then you should visit during off season time and break your itinerary with the occasional hike, bike ride or visit to a remote monastery to give that independent travel vibe.
Bhutan is not only famous for its colorful festivals and the concept of Gross National Happiness but is also famous for red rice and chilies which aren’t just considered a seasoning but the main ingredient. Though most meals would include a beef or a pork dish but there is more variety for Vegetarians. Bhutan’s national dish is Ema Datse which is actually green chilies sautéed with cheese and is not very spicy to eat. A lot of dishes here are made with cheese as it is produced locally here (sometimes Yak cheese as well) like Mushrooms with Cheese sauce (shamu datse), Spinach with Cheese sauce (huentseu dates), Potatoes with Cheese sauce (kewa datse). Mostly all hotels serve our general dal and rice, chapattis are difficult to find. Surprisingly dessert here is not a regular ice cream or chocolate truffle but fresh cut fruits like watermelon, grapes, apple and sweet bananas followed by a coffee/tea. It’s always a good idea to order an hour or more in advance, or expect to wait forever and don’t be surprised if many of the offerings in the menu are not available.
Indian currency is accepted everywhere in Bhutan. Exchange rate of Indian currency and Bhutanese Ngultrum is exactly the same. It is not advisable to carry Rs.2000 notes as they might not be accepted in small towns/shops but they are accepted easily in Paro and Thipmhu. Cash from ATM’s can only be withdrawn using Mastercard, Visa card is a strict no-no. If you wish to pay by credit card at the hotels, they will charge a 4% service charge in Paro and Thimphu, other places won’t accept card at all. This is because generally a tourist has to pre-book the whole tour through a travel company like us and has to pay for everything before entering this hidden Himalayan Land of Thunder Dragon.
Only Airtel on international roaming works in Bhutan but call charges are similar to those of any European country. It is better to get a local BMobile or Tashi cell connection which works everywhere in Bhutan. Sim card can be bought anywhere in Thimphu town for Rs.100 after producing Passport or a Voter ID copy. A Call/SMS to India will cost Rs.5 per minute and Rs.2 for a local call. You can also get 2G or 3G services activated, just have to visit the Tele communications office which is a street down from Thimphu town. Hotels generally have Wifi but it’s not free and the speed is not too good. There are few internet cafes in Thimphu town right opposite to the clock tower (in MKTS building), who charge Rs.50 for half an hour and the speed is not that bad. You can also use your own device by paying the same price.
How is the traffic situation in Bhutan especially during season time and what are the transport options?
Bhutan’s 70% of area is forest land and its population is a mere 750000. Local people prefer to walk or ride bicycles for a daily life. Mostly you will see tourist cars, local taxis and hardly there’s a traffic jam. You will be surprised to see traffic moving smoothly without any traffic signals (yes you heard it right no red light and no green light) everywhere in Bhutan. It can get busy in the main towns as the roads are narrow if you are in a car during season time and also during weekends. It is better to wander around in the bi-lanes of these small streets or you can hire a mountain cycle which will cost US$ 30 to US$ 50 per day. There are public buses running within the city, inter cities but are crowded and Bhutan’s winding roads make them doubly uncomfortable. Cars mostly used for tourists are SUV’s, Hiace or Japanese Toyota coasters which are much comfortable to travel in.
Though Bhutan is considered to be the last remaining great Himalayan Kingdom but there is no altitude sickness in Bhutan. It is not like Ladakh at all instead it is more like Himachal Pradesh in India. It’s unlikely you will have any problems with altitude unless you are trekking. Most of the places tourists visit lie below 3000m and the maximum elevation you can reach by road is 3800m which is approx. 1 ½ hour drive from Paro town and is the highest point on Dantak road is called Che le la Pass. Altitude sickness is mostly in places where there are less trees but Bhutan is still under 70% forest with amazing landscaping especially the rice fields and different rivers flowing in every town.
Gradually Bhutan is becoming all year round destination but best time to visit Bhutan is from March to June and September to November. It can get crowded during these months as there are a lot of American and Japanese tourists visiting especially to experience the famous Tsechus (Festivals). My personal choice after travelling to Bhutan more than 10 times in the last 2 years are July and August. Though this is considered to be rainy season but is perfect for people interested in Photography tours. While you sit back in your SUV driving from one place to another you will cross many points where the clouds are below you and you can also experience driving through the clouds. Blue color of the sky is just so different between those clouds that it seems like a painting. Generally Bhutan is not a crowded place but getting an accommodation b/w mid March and mid May, September and October can be very difficult if you plan your trip at the last moment. If you’ve heard about rare and endangered black-necked cranes and would like to catch a glimpse of them, then visit Phobjikha/Gangtey b/w mid November and mid December. More than 3000 cranes migrate from Tibet for a month in sprawling Phobjikha feeding grounds.
Bhutan is accessible from India either by air or by road. Druk air national airline of Bhutan and Bhutan airlines are the only 2 airlines flying to Bhutan with direct flights from New Delhi, Kolkata, Guwahati, Gaya and Bagdogra. Flight from Bagdogra is a mere 20 minute flight in which even before you try to open the bottle of fresh Bhutanese apple juice pilot says “please get ready for landing”. Paro has the only international airport and only Bhutanese pilots are trained to land in Paro because of its strategic location in one of the valleys of Paro. Flying to Bhutan is an experience in itself as you can see the Mt.Everest and Mt.Kunchenjunga from your seat if you ask for a window seat on the right side of the plane while flying in and on the left side while flying out. One can enter Bhutan by road through 2 checkpoints: – Phuntsholing in West Bengal which is most widely used is a 4 hour drive to Paro/Thimphu. Bagdogra is the closest Indian airport and New Jalpaiguri is the closest train station from Pheuntsholing. Make sure to reach Pheuntsholing before during day time to get visa on arrival. Second is the Samdrup Jhonkar in West Bengal which is about 3 hour drive from Guwahati in Assam.