Bhutan Travel Information
Bhutan is best known to world today as ‘The last Shangrila’. Few visitors who make rare journey into this extraordinary kingdom will discover that there is no other destination like this land of pure and exotic mysticism. In this kingdom known as Druk Yul or ‘Land of the Peaceful Dragon’, fortunate visitor will find a rare combination of harmony and accord, amidst a landscape of incredible natural beauty.
The Royal Government of Bhutan recognizes that tourism is a world-wide phenomenon and an important means of achieving socio-economic development particularly for developing countries like Bhutan. It also recognizes that tourism, in affording the opportunity to travel, can help in promoting understanding among people and building closer ties of friendship based on appreciation and respect for different cultures and lifestyles.
Towards achieving this objective, the Royal Government, since inception of tourism in the year 1974, has adopted a very cautious approach to growth and development of tourism. Bhutanese tourism industry is based on principle of sustainability that is ‘tourism must be environmentally and ecologically friendly, socially and culturally acceptable and economically viable’.
As per Royal Government of Bhutan tourism policy, all tours to the kingdom are in form of pre-planned, prepaid guided package tours for which tariff is set by the Government. Independent travel is not possible and tours need to be booked in advance through local Bhutanese tour operator like us and we take care of all travel arrangements like hotel, transport, guide and visa. However, there is no restriction on number of persons travelling and even single person is welcomed.
Visa is given on arrival free of cost to Indians, Bangladeshis and Maldives nationals but for rest on nationalities in order to process Bhutan visa we require clear readable color copy of passport (page containing passport number and face picture in JPEG or PDF format) at least 30 days prior to date of entry into Bhutan. Remaining validity of passport should be at least 6 months from the date of entry into Bhutan (excluding the travelling month).
Tourism Council of Bhutan issues visa clearance letter closer to travelling date which we email you in advance. Travelers are required to produce aforesaid visa clearance copy at the time of check-in for Bhutan flight while those entering Bhutan by surface via Phuentsholing or Samdrup Jonkhar, they are required to produce this Visa Clearance letter at the Immigration counter. Actual visa is stamped on passport on arrival in Bhutan.
Visa fee of USD 40 is included in the tour package cost.
*Guests are required to have multiple entry visa for India if they are travelling to Bhutan from India and again re-entering into India from Bhutan. Please also check if your Indian visa has ‘2 months re-entry restriction’. If restriction has been stamped in your Indian visa, you have to get it endorsed by Indian embassy in Thimphu but you need to be in Thimphu on working days, Mon – Fri during office time excluding govt holidays to allow you to re-enter India. You will be asked to provide proof of your travel to Bhutan (Druk air booking etc).
Bhutan’s National Air Carrier, Druk Air, operates regular flight to / from Delhi, Kolkatta , Mumbai, Bagdogra, Guwahati, Gaya (India), Kathmandu (Nepal), Bangkok (Thailand), Dhaka (Bangladesh) and Singapore. For detailed information about airline, schedule and tariff, please refer to its website : www.drukair.com.bt. From 10th Oct, 2013, other local Bhutanese carrier, i.e. Bhutan Airlines began its commercial flight operation on Paro – Bangkok sector and now this airline operates flight on Kolkatta, Bangkok, Kathmandu sector with concrete plan to add Delhi also in near future.
Entry / Exit to Bhutan is also possible through Phuentsholing, southern Bhutan frontier town. Bagdogra airport, in the state of West Bengal (India) is the nearest airport about 4.1/2 hours drive from Phuentsholing. Also Bagdogra (and its main town Siliguri) is convenient point for visiting West Bengal region of Darjeeling, Kalimpong, state of Sikkim.
Tourist can also enter / exit via Samdrup Jongkhar, the Southern Bhutan town which is approximate 110 km from Guwahati (Assam), about 3 hours drive.
Badrapur (about 6 hours drive from Phuentsholing via Siliguri town) and Birat Nagar (about 7 hours drive from Phuenstholing via Siliguri town) are two other airports in Nepal, connected with regular flights from Kathmandu.
Bhutan’s important road distance:
|From||To||Distance (kms)||Driving Time|
|Paro||Thimphu||65 kms||1 hour|
|Paro||Haa||65 kms||1.5-2 hours|
|Thimphu||Haa||115 kms||3-4 hours|
|Thimphu||Wangduephodrang||70 kms||3 hours|
|Thimphu||Punakha||77 kms||3 hours|
|Thimphu||Gangtey (Phobjikha)||135 kms||5.5-6 hours|
|Punakha||Wangduephodrang||13 kms||45 min|
|Punakha||Gangtey (Phobjikha)||78 kms||3 hours|
|Punakha||Bumthang||212 kms||8 hours|
|Bumthang||Gangtey (Phobjikha)||188 kms||5-6 hours|
|Gangtey (Phobjikha)||Trongsa||120 kms||4.1/2-5 hours|
|Gangtey||Wangduephodrang||65 kms||2.5-3 hours|
|Trongsa||Wangduephodrang||129 kms||5 hours|
|Trongsa||Punakha||142 kms||6 hours|
|Trongsa||Bumthang||68 kms||2 hours|
|Bumthang||Mongar||198 kms||7-8 hours|
|Mongar||Lhuentse||76 kms||3 hours|
|Mongar||Trashigang||91 kms||3-4 hours|
|Trashigang||Chorten Kora||52 kms||2 hours|
|Trashigang||Samdrup Jongkhar||180 kms||3 hours|
|Trashigang||Trashigangtshe||55 kms||2 hours|
|Samdrup Jongkhar||Guwahati (Assam, India)||110 kms||7 hours|
|Samdrup Jongkhar||Phuentsholing||400 kms||10 hours|
|Phuentsholing||Bagdogra (West Bengal, India)||165 kms||4.1/2 hours|
|Phuentsholing||Siliguri (West Bengal, India)||155 kms||4 hours|
|Phuentsholing||Darjeeling (West Bengal, India)||200 kms||6 hours|
|Phuentsholing||Kalimpong (West Bangal, India)||185 kms||5 hours|
|Phuentsholing||Gangtok (Sikkim, India)||220 kms||7 hours|
|Phuentsholing||Dooars (Chalsa) (West Bengal, India)||110 kms||2.1/2 hours|
In Bhutan, the star categorization of hotels is only recently introduced however at all tourist destinations there are accommodation establishments approved by Tourism Council of Bhutan, Royal Government of Bhutan. More popular tourists destinations such as Thimphu, Paro, Punakha, Wangduephodrang, Bumthang, Phuentsholing has good standard of hotels however modest and inadequate accommodation is available in smaller towns such as Mongar, Trashigang, Gangtey, Samdrup Jongkhar. Interestingly all hotels / lodges / guest houses are built in traditional architecture providing reasonably decent, clean, accommodation and good cuisine. Away from main towns there are purpose built huts on some of principal trekking routes. Otherwise there is nothing like camping out under the clearest skies that you have ever seen. Wherever you spend the night, warm Bhutanese hospitality will make you feel welcome.
Apart from Government approved standard category hotels, there are luxury and deluxe hotels establishments in form of Amankora (in Paro, Thimphu, Punakha, Gangtey, Bumthang) Uma in Paro & Punakha, Hotel Zhiwa Ling (Paro), Hotel Taj Tashi (Thimphu), Le Meridien (Thimphu), Termalinca Resort & Spa (Thimphu), Gangtey Goenpa Lodge (Phobjikha), Haven Resort (Paro), Nak-Sel Hotel & Spa (Paro), Druk Hotel (Thimphu) etc.
Comfortable surface transport is available in Bhutan, making journey in this mountainous terrain really pleasant. Latest model Toyota and Hyundai vehicles are offered to our tourists depending upon the group size. Our experienced, courteous drivers are well trained and licensed by Tourism Council of Bhutan and the Department of Motor Vehicles in safety and driving on mountainous terrain. Tourists are at ease riding in Bhutan mountains. The transport and guide accompanies the tourists right from arrival until departure.
All our tours are escorted by well trained, knowledgeable guides who are certified by Tourism Council of Bhutan. All our trekking guides and cooks undergo an additional mountain training, including safety and first aid. We generally provide English speaking guides however the services of Japanese, French, German speaking guides can be provided with sufficient prior information and on an additional cost.
Food & Drink
Bhutanese food is generally good. Set meals for travelers tend to be on the bland side, because local food is heavily seasoned with red chilies and can be quite hot. However, more adventurous can try the local delicacies like the tasty and fiery the national dish of Bhutan, Emma Datshi which is made with chilies and Local Bhutanese cheese. Most hotels provide meals buffet-style. There are usually continental, Indian, Chinese and Bhutanese dishes. The food in hotels is often the best in town, but in main towns now there are few restaurants increasingly becoming popular. All tourist hotels have good selection of international and Bhutanese beverages.
Food provided during tour is quite elaborate and generally consists of followings :
On Cultural Tour
BREAKFAST: Canned juice with choice of orange, mango, pineapple, apple etc, Porridge/cornflakes/cereals, Fresh fruits, Sausages/bacon, Toast, butter and Jam, Eggs, Tea/coffee
LUNCH: Salad, Rice, 2 Non-vegetable items, 2 Vegetable items, Roti/Nan, Desert, Tea/Coffee
DINNER: Soup, Salad, Rice, Noodles, 2 Non-vegetable items, 2 Vegetable items, Desert, Tea/Coffee
EVENING TEA: Tea/Coffee, Cookies/sandwich, Biscuits/pastries
BREAKFAST: Canned juice with choice of orange, mango, pineapple, apple etc. Porridges/cornflakes/cereals, Fresh Fruits, Sausages/bacon, Eggs, Tea/Coffee
LUNCH: Vegetable cutlet/sandwich/boiled potato, Chicken roast/roast beef, Boiled eggs, Roti/Naan, Fresh fruits, Canned juice, Boiled drinking water
DINNER: Soup, Salad, Rice, Noodles, 2 Non-vegetable items, 2 Vegetable items, Desert, Tea/Coffee
EVENING TEA: Tea/Coffee, Cookies/sandwich, Biscuits
Trip to Bhutan can be planned throughout the year but climatically better months are Mar, April, May, September, October, November. Also there are several festivals taking place during these months, offering an added attraction. Winter in Bhutan is from mid November to mid March and at this time of the year, climate is dry and sunny for the most parts with perfect blue sky, temperatures peaking at around 15c in the daytime and falling below zero at night. The monsoon usually arrives in mid-June, with rain falling mainly in the afternoons and evenings.
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 travelers to Bhutan who are visiting rural areas in the districts that border India.
It is suggested that you assemble a traveler’s medical kit appropriate to destination, length of trip and general health. On a tour in Bhutan, there are long drives, and roads are winding so medication for motion sickness is strongly suggested. You should also pack an adequate supply of any prescribed medications you may require while traveling.
Travelers who plan to visit Bhutan should consult a physician about high-altitude travel. After a brief period of acclimatization, most people do not suffer from altitude sickness ; but elderly travelers or those with high blood pressure or heart conditions need to exercise caution at high altitudes.
Custom & Immigration
Visitors are required to fill up the Custom Form and hand over to concerned authorities on arrival. Following articles are exempted from duty :
- Personal affects and articles for day to day use by the visitor
- 2 litres of alcohol, 150 gms of pipe tobacco
- Instruments, apparatus or appliances for professional use
- Photogrphic equipment, video cameras and other electronic goods for personal use.
The articles mentioned under c) & d). must be declared in Custom Form. If such items disposed off in Bhutan by sale of gift, they are liable for custom duty.Bhutan is non-smoking country and smoking at public places is prohibited however tourists can smoke inside their hotel room.
Import and Export of following goods are strictly prohibited :-
- Arms, ammunitions, explosives and military stores
- All narcotics and drugs except medically prescribed drugs
- Wildlife products, especially those of endangered species
Also visitors are advised to be cautious in purchasing old and used items. Custom authorities will not allow any old / used items to be taken out of the country if they have not been certified as non-antiques. Imports of plants, soils etc. are subject to quarantine regulations. These items must be cleared on arrival.
Clothing and Accessories
Comfortable clothing and sturdy, soft-soled shoes are essential for travel in Bhutan. Warm clothing is recommended and except for summer months, jackets and woolen sweaters are suggested. In summer, heavy cottons and lightweight woolens will be acceptable. Altitudinal differences account for a wide range of temperatures from day to night year round. It is therefore suggested that clothing be layered so that you can adapt to the changing conditions.
While visiting temples and other religious institutions, dress modestly and respectfully. Slacks are more appropriate for men and longer – length skirts are more appropriate for women. Shoulders must also be covered when inside religious buildings. Please keep in mind that shoes must be removed when entering temples. It is therefore suggested that you carry a pair of socks to wear inside religious buildings.
Following is fairly exhaustive list of what you should pack for the trip; clothes as per season, sunglasses / spare glasses, pair of casual shoes, knife, hat, umbrella, insect repellent, hand cream, small sewing kit & safety pins, torch or flash light with spare batteries, mirror, scissor, sun cream, lip salve, soluble aspirin, antiseptic cream, anti-histamine cream, anti-diarrhea pills, a preparation for relief of sunburn and any medication you take regularly.
Camping Equipment Whilst on a trek
Whilst trekking you are provided with foam mats but we recommend you bring a self-inflating mat pack called Thermarest. This packs up small but when inflated gives very good insulation and is more comfortable than a single closed-cell foam mat. We do not recommend that you bring an airbed. You should also bring your Sleeping bags which should be 4-seasons bags as the temperature will decrease especially at 4,000m camp sites.
Other useful items
It would be prudent to bring all essential items from home; razor blades (or battery operated shaver), toothpaste, shampoo, make-up etc., insect repellent, soap, alarm clock, binoculars, torch, sunscreen, sufficient reading material and plenty of batteries for all electrical appliances.
Bhutan has an efficient telecommunication system. All accommodation units have facilities of international dialing, fax, internet and also majority of them provide Wi-Fi services. The satellite earth station in Thimphu was installed in 1990 along with a sophisticated international telephone services and now direct dial calls go through quickly and clearly. Travelers can send mail from hotels and post offices and this mail service is quite reliable. DHL provides efficient courier service to and from Bhutan.
Bhutan’s landscape, buildings and people are some of the most photogenic in the world. While photographic local people, it is always better to take permission first. There are certain places such as monasteries and temples, where photography is prohibited however there is no restriction on photographing Dzongs and Goembas from outside. If you are uncertain about whether or not photography is permitted, please check with your local guide. You should refrain from taking pictures of military installations.
‘Kuensel’ is country’s most popular newspaper published in three languages English, Dzongkha and Nepali. Also newspaper is online through its website : www.kuenseloneline.com. Bhutan Times, Bhutan Observer, Bhutan today are other prominent local newspapers. Indian newspapers and magazines are available in few main towns.
Radio & TV
Bhutan Broadcasting Service has programmes in Dzongkha, English and Nepali. Television started in year 2000 and various channels are now available for the viewers such as BBC, CNN, Discovery, Star TV, ESPN etc.
Dzongkha – the National Language
Dzongkha’, one of the Tibetan family of languages is Bhutan’s national language. English is commonly spoken in main towns and also it is the medium of education in schools throughout the kingdom.
In Bhutan, electricity runs 220 / 240 volts. If you do bring electrical appliances, take along an international converter kit complete with a set of adapter plugs.
Items that are most frequently purchased by travelers to Bhutan include postage stamps, lovely hand-woven fabrics, carved masks, woven baskets, thangkhas, wooden bowls, handmade paper and finely-crafted metal objects. In Bhutan, buying and selling of antiques is strictly forbidden.
Laundry service is available in most of the hotels at main destinations. However, it is advisable to check the hotel’s individual laundry return policy before choosing to have laundry done at a hotel.
Tipping is not compulsory for tour, nor there is any fixed amount for this. Nevertheless the bottom line in determining whether and how much to tip is to ask yourself how much the individual contributed to make your travels more enjoyable.
Bhutanese currency is Ngultrum (Nu.). The Ngultrum is officially pegged to the Indian Rupee. Also Indian Rupee is acceptable all over Bhutan. As of date, only American Express card and Visa Cards are acceptable in the country and that too by very limited service establishments.
Bhutan time is six hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time. There is only one time zone throughout the country.
Holidays & Special Events
17th December, the date of establishment of the monarchy in 1907, is celebrated as National Day. Other important holidays are the King’s birthday on 11th November and Coronation Day on 02nd June. ‘Losar’, New Year of the country normally falls between mid January to mid March. Festivals are scheduled according to Bhutanese calendar.
Opening & Closing of Places of Tourist Places
There are certain places which are closed on weekends and other days. These places are listed below :
- Ta Dzong – Paro (national museum) : closed on Sun & Mon
- National Library – Thimphu : closed on Sat, Sun & Government Holidays
- Folk Heritage Museum – Thimphu : closed on Government Holidays and on Sat open from 10.30 a.m to 1.00 p.m and on Sun open from 11.30 a.m to 3.00 p.m
- Textile Musuem – Thimphu : Closed on Government Holidays and on Sun and on Sat open from 9.00 a.m to 4 p.m
- Institute of Zorig Chusum (Arts & Crafts School) – Thimphu : Closed on Sun & Government Holidays and on Sat open from 10 a.m to 12 o’clock
- Institute of Traditional Medicine – Thimphu : Closed on Sat, Sun & Government Holidays
- Ta Dzong – Trongsa (museum) : closed on Sat & Sun