Best Time: March to May, September to November
Currency: Bhutanese Ngultrum (BTN)
"The Happiest Country in All of Asia"
The ‘Land of the Thunder Dragon’ – Bhutan nestles in the mountainous regions of the Eastern Himalayas and is one of the cleanest countries in the South Asian territory. Being landlocked, Bhutan enjoys significant tourist influx from the Autonomous Region of Tibet in China, India (with Sikkim, Assam, West Bengal and Arunachal Pradesh strengthening the border) and Tibet.
Without any colonial history, the Wangchuk family had maintained unity in this country and its constitutional monarchy is part of Bhutanese democracy. Paro has the only international airport in Bhutan and the Druk Air flights are operated between Paro and other airports in Gelephu and Jakar on a weekly basis. The weather remains comfortable during December through March and snowfall is the most in February.
As for protecting the environment, it is a constitutional obligation that 60% of Bhutan remains covered with forest and it is among the first ‘Carbon Negative’ countries in the world where Tobacco selling is banned. With its sustainable growth of natural resources, protected natural environment, cultural heritage and good governance, Bhutan achieved “Gross National Happiness” by switching from ‘Gross National Product’ ideal of the western countries.
Traditional attire is an indispensable part of Bhutanese people as you will find women and men wearing Kira and Gho respectively to work, educational institutions and on festivals. A government-sponsored country observing Tantric Buddhism and following Vajrayana Buddhism as the state religion. Bhutan has a number of highly detailed Dzongs and temples. Some of the dzongs have been UNESCO heritage since 2012. Bhutanese Ngultrum is the national currency and Bhutanese Dzongkha is the national language while English is the medium of teaching in schools.
The Drametse Mask Dance with colourful costumes depicting demons, heroes, gods and animals should not be missed as it is UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage. Modern Rigsar played with traditional instruments like boedra and zhungdra as well as modern electronic keyboards is an auditory treat.
Bhutan is geographically and culturally divided into three regions: Central, Eastern and Western. These are then divided into 20 different districts for administrative purposes.
West Bhutan: The western region of Bhutan is generally considered to be the traditional part of Bhutan. Also, the only operational international airport is situated in Paro, which is nearby to the western region. This is a popular segment of Bhutan and is home to some of the most famous tourist destinations in the country, like the Tiger's Nest Monastery. Other historic locations like Punakha, the scenic valley of Phobjikha, the small and beautiful town of Haa, Gangtey, and the sacred peak of Jhomolhari are located in the western region. Also, some of the most colourful festivals are celebrated in Paro during Spring and in Thimpu during Autumn. Hence, the west of Bhutan is undeniably the most important one in terms of cultural tourism in the country.
Central Bhutan: The central region of Bhutan is for those who wish to explore the country in detail and depth. The central part is all about deep valleys, ancient monasteries, daunting dzongs, and some of the most picturesque landscapes which the country has to offer. The dzong of Trongsa is the entrance point to the central region in Bhutan, and from this place, you will have access to the four beautiful valleys of Bumthang. In Bumthang, which is also known as the Chokhor Valley, you will get to experience some of the most exotic monasteries, royal palaces, remarkable sceneries and the most traditional architectural wonders. Some other major tourist destinations in this region are the beautiful small town of Wangdue, the Royal Manas National Park, Galephu, Jakar Dzong, Tamshing Goemba, and so on.
East Bhutan: East of Bhutan is all about fascinating village towns, beautiful silk and embroideries, temples and dzongs, and everything picturesque. The East-West Junction in Trashigang, which is termed as the ‘Jewel of the East, is a must-visit place in eastern Bhutan. The Trashigang Dzong or the Fortress of the auspicious hill, Trashiyangtse (the 1500 sq metre forest region of the National butterflies), Mongar, Lhuntse, Khoma Village, Samdrup Jongkhar, are some of the best tourist destinations in the eastern region of Bhutan. Eastern region is usually untouched by too much of tourism and is home to the minority ethnic groups, some of which comprises of less than 1000 people. So, in case you wish to get a glimpse of the best of local traditional arts & crafts, the eastern region of Bhutan should be there in your itinerary.
Best time to visit Bhutan
March to May, September to November is the best time to visit Bhutan
March to May (Spring) and September to November (Autumn) is the best time to visit Bhutan. Due to its location, Bhutan is prone to varying climatic and altitude differences. It has distinct seasons namely, spring, summer, rainfall, autumn and winter. In spring, which falls from March-May, the weather is beautiful and pleasant. The flowers are in full bloom, and the scenery of the land is brilliant. The country also hosts various festivals during the spring such as the Paro and Punakha Tshechu. Autumn, on the other hand, is from September - November which also boasts of affable and genial weather. Summers are from June to August where temperatures reach 24-25 degree Celsius. From July onwards the southwest monsoons set in offsetting the heat but one has to carry a raincoat if out on a sightseeing. Similarly the winter months of December -February witness the spell of the northeast monsoons. Snowfall is expected in late January and early February when the temperatures drop to the lowest.
Amazing weather at all times Picturesque surroundings Rich cultural history World's first carbon negative country
What's Not So Great?
Roads can be unsafe A threat of natural hazards such as landslides and earthquakes
Nature lovers. Pilgrims. People fascinated by cultural history.
Stay options in Bhutan
Traditional hotels, cottages and guest houses are easily available with all the essential amenities and facilities. There are a few luxury hotels, but these are very expensive. You can also enjoy a stay amidst the calm and serene environment of the Buddhist monasteries. You might not find a lot of smaller hotels being listed online.
The Ngultrum is primary currency in Bhutan. Ngultrum (Nu) = 100 Chetrum (Ch). Notes are in denominations of Nu 500, 100, 50, 20, 10 and 5. Coins are in denominations of Nu 1, and 50, 25 and 20 Ch.
Exchanging Money in Bhutan
Apart from the Ngultrum, the Indian Rupee and US Dollar are accepted as legal tender. Indian rupee holds almost equal value as that of Bhutanese Ngultrum. ATMs only accept Bhutanese bank cards apart from the Druk PNB ATMs. Travellers are thus advised to carry traveller's cheques in US Dollars or Indian Rupees.
Nightlife in Bhutan
Owing to the strong cultural influence that prevails in Bhutan, there is not much of a nightlife here. 8 PM is considered as the end of a typical working day. However, there are a few underground clubs where the part starts after 10 p.m. on Friday and a few other days of the week. There are a lot of Karaoke clubs where you can sing your heart out.
Shopping in Bhutan
Many hotels even have souvenir shops that sell local handicraft items, clothing, fridge magnets, jewellery, and herbs. Tourists very popularly demand Bhutanese stamps. Normally, these markets and bazaars are open from 8 AM to 8 PM. You can buy souvenirs from the base of The Tiger's Nest Monastery trek at an affordable price. Don't forget to haggle though!
Festivals of Bhutan
The most widely celebrated festival is Tshechu or the tenth day and is a major tourist attraction. This festival is celebrated on the tenth day of a month of lunar calendar corresponding to the birthday of Buddhist Guru Rinpoche. All visitors must attend a Tshechu fair and witness the mask dances to receive the blessings and wash away the sins. These mask dances are portrayals of historic incidents that took place in Bhutan during Guru Rinpoche's time. In monasteries, the mask dances are performed by monks, and in remote villages, they are performed jointly by monks and the village locals.
History of Bhutan
The Buddhist history of Bhutan is known with certainty as a written history was maintained after Mahayana Buddhism was introduced into the country in the 7th century by the King Songtsen Gampo. Widespread conversion to Buddhism was witnessed during this period. For the next thousand years, Bhutan existed as a series of rival monarchies in separate mountain valleys, but Buddhism remains, to date, the integrating factor.
Hygiene in Bhutan
Special precautions must be taken for Diphtheria, Hepatitis A, Malaria, Rabies, Tetanus, Typhoid. Bird flu has recently become common in Bhutan, and thus we recommend caution and care. Only drink boiled water if it is unbottled and have fruits and vegetable after washing them.
Customs of Bhutan
The customary greeting is joining palms and bowing down. Money is taken and given with both hands. Display of affection between people of different sexes publicly is not well received, so if you are travelling with your partner, avoid getting intimate in public. At monasteries or temples, it is customary to make a small donation to the monks as a sign of respect. Do not smoke at monasteries and in public places, since all tobacco items are strictly banned in Bhutan. In temples or religious places, remove shoes and head gear and wear clothing that expresses respect for the sacred nature of the site and the culture of the country.
Tips for visiting Bhutan
Mineral water is widely available
Milk should be boiled before consumption
Powdered or tinned milk is available
Only eat well-cooked meat and fish
Medical facilities are good but not always close at hand
Officials in Bhutan have reported repeated outbreaks of bird flu
Products containing tobacco (cigarettes, chewing tobacco, etc.) are effectively banned throughout Bhutan (which remains the only country in the world to do so), and penalties for possession or use may be severe
Give and take money with both hands
One needs to be dressed up in fully covered clothes (legs and arms should be covered) while visiting monasteries and other attractions
Carry a raincoat and a jacket at all times
Culture of Bhutan
The culture in Bhutan is a blend of Buddhism and Bonism traditions. Giant Phalluses can often be seen painted onto walls to keep the evil spirits away and ensure a positive environment. Dzongkha is the official language. Other languages spoken include Sharcop Kha, Nepali and English. Even though English is taught as the primary language in schools, more emphasis is put on learning Dzongkha. A lot of people also understand Hindi. People commonly wear traditional Bhutanese dress. Men wear Gho, a knee-length robe tied at the waist, and women a Kira, an ankle-length wrap-around accompanied by a jacket known as a Tego. They still wear long scarves while visiting Dzongs and other administrative centres. The colour of scarves signifies the status or rank of the wearer.
Food of Bhutan
Meals mostly vegetarian, but non-vegetarian meals are also available. The most popular dishes are Datshi (Cow's milk cheese) Be ready to savour some Ema Dhatsi (chillies and cheese), Kewa Datshi (potatoes and cheese) and Shawa Datshi (mushroom and cheese)
Other dishes include Tshoem (a spicy curry made with beef and mushrooms), Eue chum (Bhutanese red rice), Sha Kam (Dried beef), Hoentoe (Buckwheat dumplings), Jasha Maru (Spicy minced chicken), Goep (Tripe), Ara (alcohol made from fermented rice) and Chang (Local beer). Ema (Chillies) is a popular ingredient in the traditional Bhutanese Dishes.
Tourists are blessed with elusive sightings of Blood Pheasant, Black-necked Crane, Golden Langur, Clouded Leopard, Red Panda, Tibetan Wolf and Takin (the national animal), to name a few.
The pristine Bhutanese architecture featuring rammed earth, daub and wattle construction, intricate woodwork for roofs and windows and stone masonry are noteworthy. The castle fortresses of Dzongs have no iron bar or nail used in construction.
Another surprising thing in Bhutan is its roads devoid of traffic lights in the capital city of Thimphu as the white-gloved officers regulate the traffic.
Yak butter tea and meat curry with chilli are common Bhutanese food and beverage items to try.
The Gangkhar Puensum (24,840 feet) stands as the world’s highest unclimbed and sacred peak while Drangme Chhu valley is the lowest point in Bhutan.
The southern Shiwalik Hills covered in broadleaf forest, Mo Chhu river system in Black Mountains, Haa Valley, Bumdeling Wildlife Sanctuary, Royal Manas National Park and the Jigme Dorji National Park are the important sectors of biodiversity.
For trekking, Snowman Trek, Masagang Trek and Jhomolhari Base Camp Trek are popular.