Bhutan is one of those countries that have a firm grasp on tradition and culture even during the modern times. Travellers can experience not only the taste of Buddhist culture but also stunning natural sceneries. Bhutan is the only remaining Vajrayana Buddhist nation in the world, and the profound teachings of this tradition wield a very strong weight on the everyday lives of the people.
Bhutan is geographically and culturally divided into three regions: Central, Eastern and Western. These are then divided into 20 different districts for administrative purposes.
December - March is the best time to visit Bhutan
Despite low temperatures, winter is the best time to be here and enjoy the Himalayas in their true spirit.
Amazing weather at all times. Picturesque surroundings. Rich cultural history.
Roads can be unsafe. A threat of natural hazards landslides and earthquakes.
Nature lovers. Pilgrims. People fascinated by cultural history.
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 listed online.
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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.
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.
Read more about Local Dishes of Bhutan
Bhutanese Ngultrum (BTN)
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.