In the great Himalayas, a small but interesting state of Bhutan was hidden. The peoples of the world nicknamed him the Kingdom of Happiness, the land of dragons and an Asian fairy tale. Traveling to Bhutan is an interesting, impressive adventure. It will give you a lot of memories and useful knowledge. They are going to Bhutan to see with their own eyes its excellent monasteries and reserves, learn the secrets of Buddhism and learn a new craft. Such a trip is useful for the whole family.
Tourism in Bhutan is one of the most important and profitable areas, and today more and more travelers are seeking to get to this country. The capital of Bhutan is Thimphu , it is also the largest city of the kingdom. Apart from it, the main cities are Paro and Jakar , in which the most amazing sights of the country are located.
The state of Bhutan is located between India and China. Its borders intersect with many Indian states, and the border with China is 470 km. In the northwestern part of Bhutan are the large Eastern Himalayas, and in the southern - the Inner Himalayas. More than 50% of the country's territory is occupied by mountain slopes, on which tourist centers are located.
The small kingdom of Bhutan occupies 135th place by area in the world, because its territory is 38,394 km². Of these, the water surface is only one percent. The very name of the country has several translations: "the edge of Tibet" and "mountainous country." Of course, there is every reason to call him that. Bhutan is, in principle, a “young” country, because it gained its independence only in 1907, and became available for tourism only 30 years ago. The history of the Kingdom was not easy to form, therefore, many memorials about past events have been preserved on its territory.
The administrative division of Bhutan is not as simple as it seems. It consists of the so-called four dzongdea, which are divided into 20 dzongkhags. And each dzongkhag is divided into gevogs or dunghagi. Any territorial unit (region, city, etc.) is under the control of a certain minister and the National Assembly.
|Official Name||Kingdom of Bhutan|
|Form of Government||Constitutional Monarchy|
|Population||0.79 million (~ 19,3 inhabitants per km²)|
|Religion||75.0% Tibetan Buddhism|
<1.0% Other religions
|Time zone||UTC + 6|
|National flag||Bhutan flag|
Table of Content
Cities and Regions
The main cities, provinces, regions and attractions in Bhutan:
The capital in the west of the country lies at an altitude of around 2300 m. With just under 80,000 inhabitants, Thimphu is not only the largest city in Bhutan , but also the country's political decision-making center. In addition, about seven kilometers north of the center is the Denchencholing Palace , the main palace of the King of Bhutan.
In the immediate vicinity of the city you will also find numerous monasteries and temples . Also in the north of the city, right on the Wang Chu River, travelers can admire the Tashichho Dzong. The Buddhist monastery has been the seat of the Bhutanese government since 1952 and impresses with its architecture and picturesque scenery. Also noteworthy are the Simtokha Dzong, a fortress about 3 kilometers south of the city, as well as the Dechen Phodrang Monastery, the Tango Monastery and the Chagri Dorjeden Monastery.
In close proximity to the city is also the Motithang Takin Reserve . A wildlife park created to protect the habitat of the Takins (an Asian-living mammal and the national animal of Bhutan) accessible to travelers.
In addition to these classic sights, Thimphu is one of the few cities in the country where an active nightlife exists. Of course, the scene can not compare with other Asian capitals, but at least there are some clubs and discos, as well as several pool halls and various bars, where especially young people spend their evenings.
Particularly important for the city from a tourist point of view is the Tsechu Festival , which takes place annually in September or October, and which attracts numerous foreign tourists to the city.
Paro is located about 40 kilometers west of Thimphu. In the immediate vicinity of the city is the Paro Airport, the only international airport in the whole of Bhutan .
With about 15,000 inhabitants Paro is one of the smaller towns in the country, but still has some attractions and attractions to offer. The Rinpung Dzong is an enormous Buddhist monastery and defensive fortification that today houses several government offices. Inside the monastery there are also 14 shrines and chapels. Above the monastery is a seven-story watchtower, which now serves as the National Museum of Bhutan. In the spring (March or April) a traditional festival takes place there annually, which enjoys a general popularity. About 18 kilometers south of the city you will find the Buddhist monastery fortress Drukyel Dzong, After a fire in 1951, the structure was not restored. The still impressive ruins can be visited, however.
The real gem of the city, and at the same time one of the most imposing buildings in South Asia, is the Taktshang, which is also called the Tigernest monastery. It is not only the architecture that inspires holidaymakers from all over the world, but above all the location of the building, which leaves one breathless at first sight. At an altitude of 3120 m above sea level, the monastery is located on a rock about 700 m above the Paro valley. First parts of the monastery were built in 1692 around a sacred cave in which the guru Padamasambhava, the second Buddha in the eighth century, meditated for three years, three weeks, three days and three hours. Today, the monastery encloses nine sacred caves. The impressive structure is located about 10 kilometers north of Paro and is only accessible by foot. On the way, travelers can admire some other sights.
The city with its approximately 30,000 inhabitants is located in the south of the country next to the Indian city of Jaigaon and is known primarily as a border crossing between the two states. From Phuentsholing leads a road in the about 170 kilometers north located capital Thimphu.
The most famous attraction of the city is the Karbandi Monastery , which is located a little above Phuentsholing and allows a remarkable view of the region. Also noteworthy is the Zangtho Pelri Lhakhang Temple in the city center.
In addition to some shopping, Phuentsholing also has various bars and nightclubs to offer. However, it quickly becomes apparent that some of these establishments are rather dubious in nature. In the meantime, the government is making increasing efforts to combat the emerging prostitution and drug trafficking in the border town.
In addition, Phuentsholing is from tourist point of view rather uninteresting, but can score through the natural beauty of their landscape environment.
With only 10,000 inhabitants, the border town in the south of the country is the third largest city in the Kingdom of Bhutan. Interesting is Gelephu especially as a trading center . There is a large park that will facilitate urban life and provide space for relaxation and sports.
In the future, however, the city could gain in importance for the state of Bhutan, as there are currently efforts to expand the airfield . However, plans to set up another international airport in Gelephu have been put on hold for the time being.
At an altitude of around 1400 m, the town of Punakha, with its approx. 7,000 inhabitants , is famous for the monastery fortress Punakha Dzong . Unlike the other defenses in the country, the Punakha Dzong is not on a hill, but at the confluence of the Mochu and Pochu. Once built as a bulwark against the invading Tibetans, the building complex is today considered a prime example of Bhutanese monastic architecture. After the Punkha Dzong was partly destroyed in 1987 and 1994 by a fire / flood, the government sought a rapid reconstruction and the restoration of the structure. In 2011, the monastery fortress served as a backdrop for the king's wedding.
Anyone traveling from the capital Thimphu to Punakha usually passes the Dochula pass . The route is popular with both locals and tourists alike due to the phenomenal 360 ° view of the surrounding Himalayas. In addition, on the highest point of the pass, you will find the Druk Wangyal Lhakhang Temple , which was built in honor of the fourth king of the country. On weekends and during holidays, the Dochula Pass is a popular destination for families from all over the region.
In the heart of Bhutan lies the largest temple fortress in the country . This massive structure in the city of Trongsa was once built to oversee the Mangde River Gorge. A first temple was built here in 1543 and then, almost 100 years later in 1647, expanded into a fortress. In addition to numerous courtyards and countless corridors, the fortress now houses 25 different temples.
The architecture of the fortress is as impressive as the landscape that surrounds it. From a distance, the monumental structure is clearly visible and in the first moment you could actually consider the Trongsa Dzong as a backdrop from a fantasy film.
Today, the monastery fortress is used inter alia as the seat of government for the Trongsa district . In addition, around 200 monks live in the huge complex during the summer months. The structure enjoys a special popularity among visitors, especially in December or January, when in the northern courtyard the arrival of Guru Padmasambhava (sometimes Rinpoche) is celebrated.
The monastery fortress is located above the small town of Jakar. It was built in 1549 by the Tibetan Lam Nagi Wangchuck and served in the past as the seat of the first King of Bhutan. The castle of the white bird, as the fortress is also called, played an important role in the defense of the entire region. Particularly noteworthy is the approximately 50 m high watchtower of the structure, from which the valley could be monitored.
Another special feature of the monastery fortress is the internal water supply, which should ensure the survival of the population in the event of a siege and which is still intact today.
Samdrup Jongkhar is one of the oldest cities in eastern Bhutan and a major trading center in the south of the country. The border town of India has several hotels as well as various restaurants, which are based on both the Bhutanese and Indian cuisine. The most important building in the city is Samdrup Jongkhar Dzong . In the immediate vicinity of Dzong there is a monastery.
In the center of the city is also a three-story temple, which forms the spiritual center of the region. Not far from Samdrup Jongkhar is the only Mithun breeding station (comparable to a bison) in eastern Bhutan.
Only accessible on foot, the small town is known nationwide for making Kishuthara . The intricately patterned silk fabric is made by local women in special huts on huge looms and later sold throughout the country. The production of the substance has become the economic backbone of the region. The finished fabrics can be purchased in Khoma at much lower prices than in the capital.
In addition, the place is also a true figurehead for the beauty and unspoilt nature of the Bhutanese countryside and its culture.
Kurjey Lhakhang is a popular temple in the Bumthang district , not far from the city of Jakar. The church was built around a cave where the second Bhudda, the Guru Rinpoche (Padmasambhava), was said to have meditated on his first visit to Bhutan. Behind the building stands a large tree, which is said to be a Terma, a relic of Tibetan Buddhism.
In addition, the monastery serves as a final resting place for the first three kings of the country and therefore has a certain importance among the inhabitants of the kingdom.
The small town in the east of the country is home to just 2400 inhabitants and is still a popular destination for tours around Bhutan. Reasons for popularity Trashigang are next to the small idyllic streets of the city and their location above the Drangme Chu, which winds through the entire eastern Bhutan and finally runs in India in the river Brahamaputra.
However, the main attraction of the city is the Trashigang Dzong . Built in 1659, the monastery fortress was on the verge of collapse for a long time until the government decided in 2007 to renovate the building. Due to the sinking foundations, however, the work is extremely problematic, so today They have not made a final decision on the future of the structure. Despite uncertainty about the future of Trashigang Dzong, the imposing monastery fortress is considered one of the region's major attractions.
The roots of Bhutan date back to about 2000 BC. Chr .. Traces of the earlier history of the country have so far, however, difficult to interpret. Historians, however, benefit from the fact that with the introduction of Buddhism in the 9th century by monks escaped from Tibet and the national historiography was secured.
12th to 19th century
Over the following centuries, Indian and Hindu influences returned to the country, making Buddhism a state religion in the 12th century . The hitherto independent principalities, however, were only united several centuries later, when at the beginning of the 17th century Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal brought the largely autonomous regions of the country under his rule and has since been revered as the founder of Bhutan. The death of Ngawang Namgyal has been kept secret from the public for over 50 years due to fears that the state may break up again. During this time, various dignitaries were appointed in his name, which should take over the leadership of the country.
At the beginning of the 18th century between 1710 and 1730, the country was repeatedly subjected to attacks by Tibetan-Monglian troops , which could be downed again and again. Despite the official separation of religious and secular state power, power was de facto in the hands of the lamas (Buddhist priests / teachers), who appointed the governors, who in turn taxed and acted as a judiciary. During this phase, power struggles between various feudal groups continued.
The 18th century was marked by the colonial efforts of Great Britain . After the British crown had subjugated the Indian state of Assam in 1826, they also tried to bring the areas in the north under their own control. In the following years, some areas of Bhutan were occupied by the British East India Company and the governor Ugyen Wangchuck took over (with British support) the power in the country. In the years of his reign, he initiated moderate reforms and was elected king in 1907, 12 years after his seizure of power. Only three years later, Britain formally recognized the independence of the small Himalayan state.
In 1964, the king of the country took over the entire state power , but in 1968 gave authority in the field of legislation to the already 1953 created parliament from. In the coming years, the rights of the lamas were reduced and the remaining feudal barriers were dismantled. In 1971 Bhutan was admitted to the United Nations. In the late 1990s, King Jigme Singye Wangchuck at that time limited his own power and assumed the authority of parliament.
In 2006, the king's son was declared his official successor. A year later, Jigme Khesar inherited Mangyel Wangchuck 's father's throne. In the same year, a constitution was introduced which allowed the founding of political parties and elevated the country to the status of a democratic-constitutional monarchy. On March 24, 2008, for the first time elections were held to the lower house in which 253,012 people (79.4% of eligible voters) cast their vote.
Travel planning and individual tourism
Anyone who has decided to travel to Bhutan will quickly realize that everything is going differently in the country of gross national happiness than in the other states of South Asia. A little remind the entry requirements of Bhutan to the requirements of North Korea . Both states can only be traveled if you book in advance a tour through a licensed travel agency. In both states, individual tourism is undesirable and in both states vacationers or the tour group are accompanied by tour guides.
However, the basic itinerary in Bhutan is much less stringent than in the totalitarian north of the Korean Peninsula and the reasons for the strict regulations are also fundamentally different in both countries. While the entire trip in North Korea is one big, politically motivated production, Bhutan controls tourism in the interests of environmental and nature conservation.
In general, environmental protection plays a crucial role in the country, which means that Bhutan has more natural wealth than anywhere else in Asia. Depending on the chosen tour operator, holiday makers have an influence on the route and also on the accommodation in which they are accommodated. Shops and restaurants are freely accessible and the contact with the local population is supported.
The trip planning usually takes place as follows:
- You choose a travel agency (ideally one that is also registered with the Toursim Council of Bhutan).
- They communicate with their tour operator about the itinerary and the desired accommodations. Based on these arrangements, the travel agency will calculate the cost of their travel.
- But be aware, the cost of traveling to Bhutan is at least $ 250 per day. However, this already covers the costs for the accommodation, the food, the guide and the driver. Of course, individual costs can continue to rise.
- Subsequently, the calculated amount and an additional 40 USD (for the visa) must be paid by the tour operator. According to the Toursim Council of Bhutan, unlicensed travel providers have experienced repeated issues here in the past.
- After you have sent a copy of your passport to the travel agency, it will take care of the pending visa and notify you once the process is complete.
- The journey can begin.
Bhutan Travel Agencies
There are a number of tour operators who specialize in traveling to Bhutan. As a potential customer, you should make sure that the selected travel agency is also one of the government-licensed "Tour Operators" . Although a journey through the other providers usually runs without any obstacles, the Bhutanese tourist office warns that there are occasional discrepancies that can cause problems. An overview of the licensed suppliers can be found on the website of the Tourism Council of Bhutan. If the provider is not listed, vacationers also have the opportunity to contact the tourist office directly to inform themselves about the status of the selected tour operator.
Once you have located the provider of his trust, the rest of the organization of the trip usually proceeds without further problems. Detailed information on the subject can also be found on the Tourism Council of Bhutan website
Getting a visa to Bhutan for citizens except citizens of Bangladesh, India and the Maldives, consists of two stages. This is getting visa permission and visa registration directly at the airport located in the city of Paro . The organization of the first stage is almost entirely engaged in specialized travel agencies. By the way, a visa permit can only be obtained if you are going to travel according to the prescribed scenario, which was developed by travel agencies approved by the government of Bhutan. That is why an independent trip to this country is not possible.
So, to get a visa permit, you need to provide the tour operator with a copy of the pages of the passport, which in turn sends them to the receiving party, which is the role of the Bhutan travel agency. That, in turn, sends a request to the Bhutan Tourism Corporation for issuing a permit and duplicates the sending of documents. The payment must also include the consular fee, which is 40 dollars. Within 72 hours after crediting the money, the Bhutanese Tourism Corporation issues a visa permit, with which you can already buy a plane ticket.
Border crossing documents
After you have received a visa permit and issued a ticket, you can safely collect things and fly around to explore local sights . The next stage of obtaining a visa to Bhutan comes on arrival at Paro International Airport. When crossing border control, the following documents must be submitted:
- passport, the validity of which should not expire while in Bhutan;
- the same visa permit you received earlier;
- two photos 3x4 cm;
- plane tickets with a closed date or to another state;
- Confirmation that you are able to financially support yourself during your stay in Bhutan (during the season this figure is $ 250 per person per person, at another time - $ 200).
Having presented documents, you need to pay a fee in the amount of $ 20, after which a stamp about opening a visa is put in your passport. It is valid for 15 days, with the possibility of extension in the Bhutan Tourism Corporation. Children under the age of 18 fit into the parents' visa.
Weather and Climate
The climate and weather in Bhutan depend on the area and region. Many cities are located in the mountain ranges, but at the same time there are no fewer settlements at the foot of the Himalayas. Therefore, in some areas the mountain-tropical climate prevails, and in others - monsoonal.
In the southern part of Bhutan, the climate is humid and subtropical, in the west - monsoonal, and in the north - mountainous. If we talk about temperature indicators, we can conclude that they are radically different in different regions. Thus, in the southern part of Bhutan, almost all year round, the air temperature does not fall below +15, in the central winter it can drop to -16, and in the mountainous region it is always 0 ... -2. Most of the precipitation falls in the west, but in the south it rains - this is a rarity. It is because of such weather conditions that it is rather difficult to say when the tourist season begins in Bhutan.
Best time to go to Bhutan
The best time to travel to Bhutan depends, among other things, on the region visited. The main tourist season is usually between January and March. More holidaymakers are also opting for a trip between March and the beginning of May or between the end of September and the beginning of November.
Those who stay exclusively in the south of the country can actually visit the region from late November to early May due to the warmer climate. It is more likely, however, that travelers also travel to the central regions of the country, as here, among other things, the capital Thimphu is located. The ideal travel time for this section of the country is between the end of February and the beginning of May.
In the higher northern regions you only actually penetrate in the context of a trekking tour. Less favorable here is a visit during the summer months, as it can then come through the snow melt to flooding and landslides.
Currency and Money
The national currency is the Ngultrum , which replaced the Bhutanese rupee in 1974. The monetary unit of the country is Ngultrum (BTN), in 1 ngultrum 100 chetrum. Actual rate: 1 USD = 70.44 BTN, 1 EUR = 81.19 BTN.
The Ngultrum is fixed in a 1: 1 ratio to the Indian Rupee (INR) coupled , which is also recognized in the country as a means of payment.
Cash can be exchanged at most banks and many larger hotels and at the airport. Banks are open from Monday to Friday from 10:00 to 13:00, small offices in tourist places can also be open on weekends according to the same schedule.
It is considered optimal to take US dollars , as the American currency can be easily exchanged , as well as accepted by most businesses and hotels as an adequate means of payment. Travelers who want to exchange money previously exchanged before leaving Bhutan, need the appropriate documents, since without them, the return exchange is not possible.
Also widely used is the use of traveler's checks. Like cash, travel checks can be exchanged after entry directly at the airport, in the larger hotels or at various banks. Especially travel checks from American Express, Visa, Thomas Cook and Citibank are generally accepted without any problems. However, holidaymakers must take into account that the exchange of checks will incur a 1% charge.
Credit cards of large international systems (Visa, MasterCard, Diners, etc.) are accepted in metropolitan hotels and large stores. In the provinces, you should not count on credit card payments. In addition to the additional costs of the domestic credit institution still considerable fees incurred by the Bhutan National Bank.
In Thimphu and some other cities there are now ATMs accepting international credit cards. However, the cash machines do not always work properly, so you should not rely on picking them up with a credit card.
The best option is to carry USD and traveler's checks.
Much of the travel cost is already covered by the daily $ 250 fee. The hotel, the main meals and the fees for the guide and the driver are already paid. Additional expenses for souvenirs, alcoholic drinks or similar but have to be worn by yourself.
In addition, tipping has now become established in some areas of the country . While it's still unusual in the hospitality industry to distribute an extra token, guides and drivers expect a tip at the end of their stay (although this is contrary to the Department of Transportation's rule). Incidentally, the same applies to the ladder and porters on trekking tours. Under these circumstances, it makes sense to carry a certain amount of cash.
The choice of accommodation is at the discretion of the chosen tour operator. Depending on the provider, however, customers have a certain say in terms of their accommodation options. Basically, the Bhutanese accommodations can be divided into four different categories .
Bhutan hotels are classified by the National Tourist Association and receive a rating from one to five stars. As a rule, holiday makers are at least accommodated by the travel agencies in 3-star hotels in order to guarantee a certain degree of comfort. These accommodations usually have a television, wireless Internet, room service and a fitness center or spa. Of course, the equipment may vary. Accommodations range from small, clean rooms with basic amenities to luxurious resorts that offer every imaginable luxury. Details can usually be clarified with the travel agency. The daily costs may increase accordingly depending on the rating of the hotel.
In the guesthouses - a basic set of options, but here you can feel the real Bhutanese life. Like hotels, these are rated according to a national 5-star rating. Here as well, guests are usually accommodated in 3-star hotels (or higher).
An experience of a special kind offers a "Farmstay". This is the Bhutanese variant of "farm holidays". Agriculture still plays a prominent role in Bhutan, and a Farm Stay is the ideal way to immerse yourself in the lives and everyday lives of the population. Visitors have the opportunity to get an insight into the typical daily routine and enjoy the hospitality and the cooking skills of their host family. However, travelers must be able to handle the originality of such accommodation. Since the farms are located away from the big cities in more rural areas, there is usually no electricity and no running water here. However, these restrictions also ensure the authenticity of the stay.
A "homestay" is hardly different from a farm stay. Again, the accommodations are mostly in rural areas. You will be supplied by your host family and here too there is usually no electricity or running water. The only difference remains that Home Stay is not just a farm.
Many travel agencies offer their customers a certain say in the choice of accommodation. Tourists must note, however, that not every agency offers all possibilities.
*The voltage in the network is 230 V, 50 Hz. Power surges in the network are not uncommon, so we definitely recommend getting a surge protector before going to Bhutan so that expensive equipment does not fail. There are also short-term power outages.
The fact that Bhutan is no ordinary holiday destination becomes clear at the latest when it is determined that the organization of a holiday in the land of the Thunder Dragon can not be carried out independently. Accordingly, it is not surprising that there are very specific rules for entering the small Himalayan state.
Currently, there are only two ways to enter the Himalayan kingdom. The most common option is to board the plane via the international airport in Paro, which is around 6 kilometers from the city of Paro and 40 kilometers from the capital, Thimphu. Only three airlines have the right to land at the airport - two Bhutan (Druk Air and Bhutan Airlines) and one Nepal (Buddha Air).
From anywhere to Bhutan except few direct destinastions like Delhi, Mumbai, Singapour, Kolkota, Dhaka, Bangkok or Kathmandu - can be reached only with a transfer.
Most travel agencies take over the organization of the flight (but usually only from Delhi, Kathmandu or Bangkok). Tourists should be aware of whether they need a transit visa for the airport for the onward journey through one of the above cities (which is often the case but if you stay longer than 48 or 72 hours in the respective country).
By car from India
Also on the overland route there are several ways to reach Bhutan. On the border with India there are three different border crossings , which can be crossed by tourists.
- Pheuntsholing is located in western Bhutan on the border with India and is approximately 170 kilometers from the capital Thimphu. The journey from Phuentsholing to Thimphu takes about 6 hours due to the difficult terrain. Phuentsholing can be reached next to the car by bus from the Indian Calcutta or Shiliguri.
- Another border crossing is located approximately in the middle of Bhutan on the Indian border. The journey from Gelephu to Thimphu takes about 10 hours for a distance of about 250 kilometers.
- Samdrup Jongkhar is located in the east of the country . The border crossing connects the Indian state Assam and the Trashigang district in Bhutan. The journey from Samdrup Jongkhar to the capital Thimphu can take up to three days. However, the border crossings in Samdrup Jongkhar and Gelephu are only for Indian tourists.
Travelers traveling overland to Bhutan also need a visa, as do air travelers. Whether the entry over land is organisationally possible, must be clarified with the appropriate tour operator.
Before entering Bhutan, tourists need a departure stamp from the Indian Immigration Office . Subsequently, the travel documents, ie the visa and the passport , must be checked at the border crossing by the Bhutanese guards. In addition, the presentation of a passport photo and an additional fee is required to cross the border.
If you arrive by car, you have to take some formalities into consideration . Be sure to contact the Embassy of the Kingdom of Bhutan regarding the border crossing of a car before departure. For self-driving in the country tourists need in addition to their actual driver's license, an international driver's license, as well as an international vehicle registration. In Bhutan there is left-side traffic.
The transport infrastructure in Bhutan is poorly developed compared to India or Bangladesh . There is no rail network, nor a motorway.
Two smaller airports were opened in Bumthang and Trashigang , but they serve only domestic flights. In addition, the air terminal from October 2012 is also on the border with India, near the town of Gelephu. In connection with the increase in the flow of tourists, the government is actively working to create a number of small airports throughout the country. However, in 2018, the only available option of traveling around Bhutan for tourists is still the transport provided by the tour operator.
Among the local population, the most popular in the role of public transport of Bhutan are buses. But tourists are not allowed to travel on their own even on them. Therefore, all your movements will have to be coordinated with your travel agency.
Perhaps this is the main and most accessible form of transport in Bhutan. There are about 8 thousand km of roads, and the main highway was built in 1952. The main route of Bhutan takes its beginning near the border with India, in the city of Phuntsholing , and ends in the east of the country, in Trashigang. The width of the asphalt road is only 2.5 m, and road markings and signs are considered to be a great rarity. Bhutan has a speed limit of 15 km / h. This is dictated by the fact that sometimes the road runs through mountainous areas, the height of which reaches up to 3000 m above sea level. In addition, landslides and landslides are quite a particular phenomenon here, so along the route you can often meet special points with rescuers who are ready to provide all possible assistance at any time.
The policy of the country is such that you will not succeed in renting a car and driving yourself in Bhutan. A tourist visa necessarily involves cooperation with a tour operator in Bhutan.
Communication and Wi-fi
In 1999, Bhutan's population changed a lot. This year, the little kingdom was the last country in the world to receive television and the Internet. Four years later, the mobile network followed.
The selection of mobile phone companies in Bhutan is very low. The most important provider is B-Mobile . Travelers from some countries have the problem that they can not simply rely on the possibility of roaming. Although the company has concluded some contracts with international providers in recent years, you have to check partners.
Bhutan Prepaid Sim
Travelers from some countries therefore only have the option to use a local sim card. Originally it was only possible with these prepaid cards to make telephone calls within the country borders and to send SMS, but for some time now there is also the possibility for prepaid customers (via "pay per use") to use the mobile internet. The corresponding SIM cards can be bought in all major cities in the associated shops.
In addition, tourists have the opportunity in most hotels to use the often free Wi-Fi. Larger houses meanwhile also offer connections in the rooms, while in the smaller hotels the service is often available only around the lobby. In addition, the number of cybercafes in the country has grown rapidly in recent years. Especially in the capital Thimphu you will find cafes equipped with PCs on several corners, but their connection speed often leaves something to be desired.
By post or DHL travelers can send packages and holiday greetings in a traditional way. Tourists should be aware, however, that the Bhutan Post is often very slow and delivery may take several weeks.
The Bhutanese cuisine is unique. Despite the country's situation, the cuisine of the kingdom is only marginally influenced by its neighbors, so that over the centuries a very unique culinary trend has developed. Of particular importance in everyday life of the Bhutanese red rice, wheat and increasingly corn.
The red rice is reminiscent of its structure strongly of brown rice, but has a stronger, nutty taste. As a side dish, it is served to a large part of the dishes. The national dish Ema Datshi without eating rice is simply unthinkable for a local. Incidentally, Ema Datshi is made from chili peppers and yak cheese, as well as various types of vegetables, and its consistency is most reminiscent of a stew.
Other popular dishes include Ema Datshi Jasha Maru, also a stew of chicken, mint and tomato and vegetables or Jasha Choem, a special kind of chicken curry.
Basically you will find in the Bhutanese cuisine in many dishes chili peppers . In addition, other vegetables such as fern, bamboo, lentils and various dried varieties are also prepared with pork, chicken or yak meat. Also widely used are dairy products such as milk, butter or cheese, mostly from the yak, but often also from the cow. Classic spices include chilli, garlic, ginger, cardamom, cumin and turmeric.
It is customary to drink black or green tea with the meal, wheat beer "chang" or "changi". Bhutanese tea is a very dense drink: salt, pepper and butter are added there.
Do's and Dont's
The state religion in the independent Kingdom of Bhutan is Buddhism , which accounts for almost three quarters of the population. Travelers should therefore familiarize themselves with local customs and codes of conduct.
Basically you should be respectful of other people. Public outbursts of rage and loud public behavior are frowned upon and uncomfortable for both sides. This is especially true for dealing with older people and monks.
If you want to draw your companion's attention to something special, do not point it with your finger. A nod with the head in the appropriate direction serves the same purpose. In addition, you should avoid, for whatever reason, touching other people's heads. This is basically an insult in Buddhist countries, as the head is perceived as the highest part of the body. Exactly the other way around is with the feet (meaning the soles of the feet). These are considered to be the lowest part of the human body and should therefore never be displayed in a sitting position on strangers, nor should they show the image of the Buddha or other religious symbols.
When entering a temple , shoes and headgear are discarded. Taking photos is usually prohibited as well. Stupas or Manisteine are always bypassed so that they are on the right shoulder of the visitor and prayer rolls are always rotated in a clockwise direction. In addition, the country's temples and monasteries are expected to donate to monks wherever possible.
If you eat with chopsticks, do not poke it in the food or stick the chopsticks upright in the rice. Would you like to photograph locals during your holiday, it requires the courtesy in advance to ask. In Bhutan, smokers are particularly hard hit, as there is a strict smoking ban throughout the country.
In conclusion, however, it can be said that Bhutan is a very open country and is often overlooked by small misdemeanors (smoking is not one of them!). Travelers should, however, always remember that the king and the royal family in the country are highly valued and therefore never speak out in public about them. This would be a breach of trust, which can not be made up for so quickly and can even be punished with roads.
The official language in Bhutan is Dzongkha . Overall, however, the country speaks another eighteen regional languages. The official language is taught in all schools and there are increasing efforts to anchor the language even more in everyday life.
Other dialects and languages are spread throughout the country.
English is now widely spoken in the language of instruction but is still not understood or spoken by a large part of the population, especially in rural areas. One of the reasons for this is the number of illiterates over the age of 14, which is just under 50%. In the meantime, however, compulsory education is prevalent in the land of gross national happiness, so that more and more young people also acquire English language skills. Especially in the larger cities, you can often get along well with younger people and also the employees of the tourism industry usually speak a decent English. Somewhat more problematic is the understanding, however, in the touristy untapped regions.
Nightlife and Party
Travelers coming to South Asia in search of a sparkling and exciting nightlife are certainly wrong in Bhutan. Nightlife is simply non-existent in smaller towns and cities. Apart from some restaurants, there are no (or very limited) opportunities to be entertained here in the evenings. Things are a bit different in the larger cities of the country.
In the capital Thimphu there are several bars and even clubs and discotheques, and in Paro and Phuntsholing there are also some places that serve alcohol until late at night . Nevertheless, the nightlife in Bhutan is very different from the European party scene. Bars and pubs usually close their doors at around 11pm, while the clubs and nightclubs are open one hour longer or until 2am on the weekends.
Alternatively, one finds in some cities of the country the so-called " liquor shops ". In these shops you will find only alcoholic drinks of any kind. It should be noted, however, that these shops have closed during public holidays.
Another way to round off the evening is to visit the hotel bar . Most in-house restaurants serve wine, beer and spirits. By the way, the prices for alcohol in the country are not as cheap as one might think and are therefore only slightly below the European level.
Especially popular in Bhutan is the enjoyment of Ara , a rice schnapps that is served warm, but whose sale in the country is banned because of the lack of quality control. Nevertheless, in many parts of Bhutan this schnapps is self-produced in the private sector and offered at family celebrations and at most meals as a kind of apparative.
As mountain climbing over 6000m in the country is prohibited, the Bhutanese government has sought alternative ways to boost tourism in the country. There are now well over a dozen approved trekking routes, mainly in central Bhutan and in the north of the country. As usual, a guide is needed for the hikes, which vary considerably in difficulty.
The offer is extremely diverse and ranges from simple 2-day hikes to sweaty tours in the mountainous north of the country, which can take up to 25 days. The organization of these tours will be clarified in advance by the organizer. For companies that take more than 14 days, it is important to pay attention to the entry requirements, since the usual visa only provides a two-week stay. Such questions must be discussed before departure with the travel agency.
Bhutan is a very special travel destination. Holidaymakers should take into account before they travel to ensure that their vacation runs as smoothly as possible.
Bhutan is considered a very safe travel destination . Although vacationers should not neglect the everyday caution, away from small thefts, especially in the big cities, there are only rarely criminal acts in the country.
Unlike India or Bangladesh, Bhutan is also a very safe destination for women traveling alone.
Special customs regulations
Customs inspection before departure to Bhutan is a very serious matter. The government of the country is very biased about things that tourists can bring or withdraw from the kingdom. High-quality objects (meaning electronic devices such as tablets, smartphones, video cameras, etc.) must be listed in the customs declaration prior to entry.
Therefore, in order to avoid trouble, remember the following rules:
- Export and import of Bhutanese currency is prohibited. The money that is with you must be accompanied by a declaration.
- You can take alcohol with you, but not more than 2 liters. If you have tobacco products, you will need to pay a 200% duty.
- It is forbidden to import and export products other than baby food (if you are traveling with a child).
- All equipment that you take with you on a trip must be declared.
- It is forbidden to import and export products made of leather, plants, animals, antiques, drugs, weapons and medicines.
Special criminal provisions
The possession and trafficking of illegal substances that violate the Narcotics Act, is punished in principle with harsh penalties. Even the possession of small amounts of soft drugs is sufficient to be sentenced to a long prison sentence. Unintentional taking of illegal narcotics for third parties is also punished.
Violation of customs regulations or entry requirements threatens arrest on departure.
Again and again there are natural disasters in Bhutan. Various risks can adversely affect the lives of the residents and also of the vacationers. Due to the melting of the glaciers, there are always floods in the country , some of them affecting entire areas and destroying precious agricultural and pastureland. Heavy rains during the monsoon can also cause landslides . In the dry winter months, however, forest fires are not uncommon.
However, a particular danger comes from earthquakes . Although these have their epicenter mostly in India, but can still cause significant damage in Bhutan. Most recently, there was a quake in 2009, with at least ten deaths in Bhutan. In 2011, the earth shook in the Indian state of Sikkim, where in Bhutan, one person lost his life and several were injured. In 2012 and 2013 there were further small shakes in the region.
In the event of a quake, it is strongly advised to seek shelter under a massive piece of furniture in order to protect yourself from falling objects. In the event that you are outside of a building, it is as soon as possible to go to a free space away from power poles and tall buildings and endure the quake there.
After a catastrophic event, you should get in touch as soon as possible with your relatives or, if this is not possible, with the Embassy (also responsible for Bhutan).
Safety instructions - Mountaineering
The immediate proximity to the Himalayas attracts numerous tourists every year to the small country north of India. Incidentally, mountaineering was banned in Bhutan in 1994. After numerous expeditions failed and ended in fatality, the natural dam of a glacier lake collapsed this year, after which a significant monastery of the former capital was largely destroyed. In the country there is the belief that in the mountains the gods live and every disturbance of the peace brings with it a catastrophe. However, trekking tours are offered up to a height of 6000 m.
However, a classic problem with such guided tours is the rigid schedule that must be adhered to. Participants are usually not given sufficient time for acclimatization, which often leads to cases of altitude sickness. Women are more affected than men, young people more often than older women. On the other hand, physical fitness and physical condition do not affect the onset of the disease. In addition, people with migraine as well as heart or lung ailments are particularly at risk. The main symptoms are headache, tiredness, loss of appetite, nausea and drowsiness and dizziness, and in critical cases also impaired vision, vomiting and respiratory distress. If these symptoms occur from a height of 2500 m over a longer period, the descent is recommended.
Danger to life exists as soon as the altitude sickness passes into an altitude cerebral edema or a high altitude lung edema. As far as possible, hikers should spend a few days between 2000 and 3000 m altitude before continuing to climb. If this option is not available, medicines may be taken for prophylaxis, but their effects and side effects should urgently be discussed with a knowledgeable doctor. A reliable rescue from the mountains is not guaranteed in Bhutan.
In addition to tetanus, diphtheria, mumps, measles, rubella, whooping cough and influenza and pneumococci, vaccination against hepatitis A / B and on longer stays against rabies, typhoid and Japanese encephalitis may be useful.
Basically Bhutan is at risk of developing malaria . The infection is transmitted by a nocturnal mosquito and, if left untreated, can be fatal. The disease is especially critical with the so-called malaria tropica, which occurs in Buthan in more than 50% of cases. Symptoms can sometimes occur only weeks after the actual sting and are therefore often misdiagnosed. Be sure to refer to the stay in a malarial area when visiting a doctor.
Reduce malaria risk
Since there is no vaccine against the disease, travelers in the endangered areas should always follow some rules. It is important to wear long, light and impregnated clothing and the use of a suitable mosquito repellent for the free body parts. At night it is advisable to sleep under an impregnated mosquito net and also a precautionary chemoprophylaxis may be helpful under certain circumstances. Drug-related measures should always be discussed in advance with a doctor and are only recommended in exceptional cases.
Bhutan has a low to moderate transmission risk throughout the year . In the south, the risk of disease is highest, while it decreases slowly to the north, due to the increasing altitude. In the summer months from May to October, the risk of illness increases. Exceptions to this are altitudes of over 2000 m, as they are usually considered malaria free.
Dengue fever, like malaria, can be transmitted through a mosquito. Classic symptoms include rash, headache and body aches as well as rash. Since the symptoms are similar to those of the flu or malaria, it can occasionally cause problems here in the diagnosis. Even with dengue fever, the first signs can sometimes appear only after one or two weeks. Effective drugs or a prophylactic vaccine does not exist. To prevent disease, the malaria prevention measures listed above should be followed. Dengue fever occurs mainly in the southwest of the country, with an accumulation during and after the rainy season. The central parts of the country can also be affected at this time. From an altitude of 2000 m, the risk of illness decreases rapidly.
Like the two previous infections, Japanese Encephalitis can also be transmitted by a mosquito (nocturnal). This virus-induced brain inflammation occurs primarily in pigs and aquatic birds, without the usual symptoms. If you do not want to take the recommended vaccination against Japanese Encephalitis, you should definitely comply with the malaria prophylaxis measures mentioned above. The transmission risk is highest in the southern parts of the country, but human diseases are much less common than malaria or dengue.
In Bhutan there is a real danger of getting rabies. This deadly infectious disease is transmitted by viruses in the saliva of animals or humans. Frequently, the licking of a wound by an infected animal is enough to develop rabies, and even from person to person, the pathogens can easily be transmitted through a droplet infection. There is a certain risk of being bitten by an infected animal across the country. Reliable medicines do not exist, therefore the precautionary vaccination is of particular importance. After a bite this must be refreshed urgently. This is possible in Bhutan at a clinic in Thimphu or in the large hospitals in neighboring India.
Diarrheal diseases are not uncommon in Bhutan . Nationally there is a risk of infection for salmonella, shigella and typhoid fever, amoebae, lamblias and worm diseases, hepatitis A and E. This is due to the quality of some surface waters that may be contaminated by fecal bacteria on the one hand and the quality of the drinking water on the other hand. In addition, there are other causes that vacationers can counteract by following some basic rules:
- Travelers should only use original packaged canned or bottled drinks. Carbonated beverages are also less likely to be contaminated with the liquid. If you are still dependent on tap water, you should cook it off beforehand.
- Packed water should not only be used for consumption. Also for brushing the teeth or for washing fruits and vegetables, tap water should be avoided. Anyone who has a sensitive stomach should also refrain in restaurants on the ice cubes.
- The consumption of raw meat should also always be avoided. Other foods must be boiled or at least peeled off. It is also important to keep flies away from food.
- Of fundamental importance are the general hygiene measures. Regular hand washing as well as the use of disinfectants after using the sanitary facilities are mandatory for prevention. The use of disposable towels may be useful.
Tuberculosis is more common in Bhutan than in Europe. The pathogens can be transmitted via a droplet infection or close physical contact. After a diagnosis, the disease must be treated sufficiently long, otherwise relapses can occur.
In the winter months, the country is rife with seasonal influenza, including influenza A / H1N1, the so-called swine flu. Risk groups should consider appropriate vaccination before departure.
Since 2012, there have been recurrent cases of avian influenza in Bhutan. However, bird flu (influenza A / H5N1) in humans has not been registered so far. Although the risk of disease is considered low, contact with birds and poultry should be avoided, especially in markets.
Medical care in the country is by no means in line with Western standards . Frequently problems with the technology and hygiene, but also lack of competence on the part of the staff are criticized. Doctors with sufficient foreign language skills are rarely on site. An adequate supply can be found only in the capital Thimphu. For more serious illnesses, evacuation to one of the major clinics in the neighboring country should be undertaken. In particular, a supply in Calcutta offers itself due to the geographical proximity. Alternatively, hospitals in New Delhi or even Bangkok can be considered.
For such cases, it is therefore fundamentally important for travelers to have worldwide health insurance coverageas well as a reliable travel insurance. An individually designed travel pharmacy and the corresponding storage of the medication is also an absolute must. This is particularly true in Bhutan, as a reliable supply of medication and a continuous cold chain can not always be guaranteed. Required medicines must be introduced accordingly. In the run-up to the trip, have your doctor confirm the necessity of the medication in English so that you do not experience problems when you arrive. In particular, chronically ill people must be aware of the health risk of a trip to Bhutan.