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Bhutan

Photo by Rinzin Tsheten

Bhutan Itineraries

Bhutan Cultural Tour

Sensational Himalayan scenery and Buddhist culture

Perched high on the mighty Himalayan range, the Kingdom of Bhutan is one of the last unexplored destinations where globalization balances with values that have kept this society together through the ages. Isolated until recent times (the first group of tourists from America arrived in 1974), remote Bhutan has maintained its unique features and the landmark fortresses and monasteries are enduring evidence of the country’s deep Buddhist spiritual beliefs and practices, magnificently woven throughout the tapestry of its people’s lives.

Vigorous and colorful festivals, arts, crafts, paintings, symbols and national dress are some other outstanding features of the indigenous Bhutanese culture, all protected by the country’s constitution. In 2008, the country became a Democratic Constitutional Monarchy after the voluntary surrender of power by the Fourth King of Bhutan. Modern features such as internet, TV, cell phones and ATMs are recent introductions.


Trekking and adventure

This mystical land offers unique trekking with trails past remote and ancient monasteries, through villages and meadows of wild flowers. Along the way you’ll meet nomads, spot blue sheep, endangered takins (goat-antelopes), snow leopards and enjoy stunning views of Himalayan peaks.

Treks range from simple 3-day village walks to the legendary 25-day Snowman’s Trek leading experienced trekkers through some of the most exquisite spots in the country. Snowman’s is also labeled the world’s toughest trek as it goes over 12 mountain passes, all more than 4,500m above sea level.

The best time for trekking is in spring and autumn as monsoon rain in summer and some snow in winter makes the trails unpleasant. Apart from trekking, this is also a paradise for other adventures like water rafting, birding, butterfly tours, mountain biking and motor biking through the exotic landscape of the ‘Thunder Dragon Kingdom’, the local name for Bhutan.

Western Bhutan
Most tourists visit this area with its seven beautiful valleys of Thimphu, Paro, Haa, Wangdue Phodrang, Punakha, Chukkha and Gasa, separated by stunning high passes with some of  the country’s finest historical museums, monuments and fortresses.


Bhutan’s special take on tourism

Bhutan is an egalitarian society. Women and men enjoy equal status and there is no rigid class system. The people follow a refined traditional system of etiquette known as “Driglam Namzha”, outlining respect for the authority and elders. It also demands devotion to the institution of family and marriage. The code also provides a framework for public behavior such as the dress code, eating manners and speech, mirroring traditional values.

The Bhutan government has a carefully managed tourism policy based on ‘High Value, Low Impact’.
Note: following policy is based on Tourism Council of Bhutan:

Bhutan’s tourism sector is regarded as one of the most exclusive travel destinations in the world. Bhutan enjoys a reputation for authenticity, remoteness and a well-protected cultural heritage and natural environment. Today tourism is a vibrant business with a high potential for growth and further development.  The Royal Government of Bhutan adheres strongly to a policy of ‘High Value, Low Impact’ tourism which serves the purpose of creating an image of exclusivity and high- yield for Bhutan.

 The vision is: “To foster a vibrant industry as a positive force in the conservation of environment, promotion of cultural heritage, safeguarding sovereign status of the Nation for significantly contributing to Gross National Happiness.”


When To Go

The best time for trekking is in spring and autumn–  March, April, May and Sept, October, November.

Spring is a botanist’s delight with the blooming of rare flowers.

Summer (June, July, August, is monsoon season) – not so good for sightseeing or trekking.

Autumn brings a bright golden glow to the vast landscape and winter with sunny days and of clouds drifting over the mountain tops.

Winter is very cold and harsh with a climate similar to the Arctic in northern Bhutan.  The southern region is hotter in the summer and warmer in the winter, so winter is a better time to be in the south!

Bhutan has many festivals and dates each year according to  the lunar calendar. See tentative dates at www.bhutanbuddhismtravel.com/festival-tours or ask your local tour operator.

High and Low Season

High season: March, April, May, September, October, November.

Low season: January, February, July, August, December.

The best time for trekking is in spring and autumn – the months of March, April, May and September, October, November. The monsoon months are June, July and August and visitors avoid Northern Bhutan in winter.

Weather and Climate

Bhutan has the four seasons of the Northern Hemisphere, namely Spring (March, April, May), Summer (June, July, August), Autumn (September, October, November) and Winter (December, January and February).

The varied climates in Bhutan depend upon the altitudes so, despite being a geographically small country, generalizing about climate is difficult because of the variations in the elevation.

Spring and Autumn are the best time to visit Bhutan as the weather is pleasant. However, Bhutan can be an enriching experience no matter what time you visit.

The northern region experiences climates similar to the Arctic with very harsh, cold winters. Winter is a good time to visit the warmer south.  The southern region is hotter in the summer and warmer in the winter. Eastern Bhutan is warmer than Western Bhutan.

Events and Holidays

Apart from the natural diversity, Bhutan has unique festivals  called ‘Tshechus’ reflecting ancient Buddhist culture. These festivals are held in every district of the country in the honour of Guru Rimpoche, a Buddhist saint who brought Buddhism to Bhutan in the 8th century and are a rich form of oral tradition where the Bhutanese pass on values, mythology and spiritual beliefs through masked dances in the costumes of great Yogis and deities.

This is the time where thousands of Bhutanese gather in their best attire with deep faith and devotion which makes these festivals a very special occasion. Due to the nature of the Lunar calendar, exact dates for these festivals vary year to year and tentative dates can be found at www.bhutanbuddhismtravel.com/festival-tours .

What To Pack and Wear

Due to the wide range of temperature and weather conditions, appropriate clothing is essential. Usually your tour operator will
advise, depending on your choice tour.

In the winter months from October-February mornings and evenings will be cold.  Layers work best for warmth. In the months of March, April, May, June, July, August and September the days are warmer.  June, July and August can be wet and some rain gear is necessary.

Visitors are advised to dress comfortably in long pants and cover up as as Bhutan is generally a formal place with shorts, short skirts and revealing tight clothing to be avoided.

The Bhutanese people wear their full traditional dress and formal wear to Dzongs and to temples. Visitors should wear long pants (even if jeans), shirts with full sleeves, and skirts below the knees to these places. Slippers and sandals are discouraged. Sun hats/caps are not permitted inside Dzongs and temples.

What it Costs

The Standard Tariff for International Tourists is set by the Royal Government of Bhutan and is valid for all holiday packages.

The tariff for tourists visiting in a group of 3 people or more is as follows:
Peak Season (Mar, Apr, May, Sept, Oct, Nov): US$250 Per Person Per Night Off Season (Jan, Feb, Jul, Aug & Dec): US$200 Per Person Per Night

For Individual Travelers or two the following surcharges are applied
:
Single Individual: US$40 per Night on the Standard Tariff.
Group of Two: US$30 per Person per Night  on the Standard Tariff.

The Standard Tariff includes:
Internal Taxes and charges (35% Royalty)
Standard Government Approved 3 Star Hotel Accommodation
All Three Meals (However, meals at luxury hotels are available at your own cost)
Transportation within Bhutan in a comfortable SUV/BUS
Entrance Fee for all Museums as per itinerary
Licensed Guide & A Driver
Trekking Equipment (For Trekking Activities)
Trekking Crews (Chef, Assistants, Crew, Ponies etc)
Mineral water in the car.

However the Standard Tariff doesn’t include the following
:
Beverages
Telecommunication Charges
Airfares & Visa Fee of US$40 per person
Payment transfer fee from your Bank to Bhutan.
Excess baggage Charges
Personal Expenses

Payment Procedure
Tour payment is done through wire transfer and payment must be made three (3) months prior to your arrival. It is advisable to make payment for the air tickets 3 to 4 months before your arrival as it helps to obtain confirmed seat on the requested date and flight sector.

Discount on Standard Tour Tariff
Children up to the age of 5 Years can travel free. Children between the ages of 6-12 years have a 50% discount on the standard tariff.
Full-time students under 25 years holding valid ID card from their Academic institution are eligible for 25% discount on the royalty.
Cancellation Policy:
Cancellation within 31 days of arrival: 100% Refund after deduction of Bank Charges
Cancellation within 21 days of Arrival: 50% refund after deduction of Bank Charges
Cancellation within 14 days or after the arrival shall not be eligible for any refund.

Visa Fee & Airfare

All visitors traveling to Bhutan are required to obtain a visa. It is processed and arranged by the local tour operators only. No foreign embassy grants Bhutan tourist visas.

The Government of Bhutan will sanction visas only after the receipt of full payment in advance. The cost of the visa itself is (currently) US$40, which is paid together with your tour payment. Your visa can be further extended with an additional fee of US$15. It normally takes two or three working days to clear your visas. Once cleared, we will send you Visa Clearance Letter (VCL). Based on this VCL, an actual Bhutan visa will be stamped on your passport on arrival at Paro international airport.

You may purchase online air ticket from Druk Air (www.drukair.com.bt) and Bhutan Airlines (www.bhutanairlines.bt) but your local tour opearator can arrange your air ticket for your convenience.

Insurance

All visitors are advised to get their insurance cover from their own country and insurance of any kind is not included in our tour price.

Tipping and Costs That Add Up

Although the system of ‘give and take’ is always there in Bhutanese tradition, tipping is not compulsory. But if you appreciate the services of our guides, drivers and service staff you may tip them according to your will.

Transportation

As all visits to Bhutan are processed and arranged by local tour operators and confirmation of tours is subject to full advance payment.  The government of Bhutan will sanction visas only after receipt of full payment is made. All transportation arrangements are included in your daily tariff organised by local tour operators in comfortable buses for groups of seven visitors or more. Also in six-seater Japanese hi-ace buses, or 4WD for one or two passengers. For the travelers who want to avoid the snaking roads through the high mountain passes (especially during the monsoon road blocks) Bhutan has domestic flights once or twice a week, but early booking is necessary.

 

Background

Although a tiny land, the country has rich cultural diversity. The Shachops of the East, Ngolop of the West, Lhotshampas of the South and a small minority of nomads in some northern region make up the approximate 70,000 population. The people in the east speak Shachokpa. The western people speak Dzongkha which is also the national language of the country. The southern people speak Nepali. The nomads have their own dialects. Shachops and Ngolops are mostly Buddhist. The Lhotshampas are generally Hindu. In recent times, few people have converted themselves into Christianity. The constitution of Bhutan provides freedom of religion albeit Buddhism is a state religion.

Food and drink
Rice is the staple of Bhutanese meals,  accompanied by one or two side dishes. Ema datshi is the most common dish – spicy/ very hot from chilies cooked with the local cheese. Western people eat more ema datshi than the eastern region. Momo is another popular dish, Tibetan-style steamed dumplings made from cabbage, meat, cheese or pork and served in almost every restaurant.  Also, try hoentey, a fried dumpling made from either turnip or dried spinach covered with buckwheat flour and one of the popular cuisines of people of Haa.

Then there are nutritious Puta and Khule to try; Puta is a buckwheat noodle and Khule is a slightly bitter buckwheat pancake. Bhutanese are fond of Suja, a salted butter tea served everywhere. There are also varieties of homemade liquors you may want to try, with caution, of course!

Souvenirs
Apart from the unforgettable intangible experiences, there are some tangible souvenirs you can take home from the trip.
Yathra and Mathra (colourful strips of wool clothes)
Buddhist cloth paintings and embroidery
Stamps
Portable religious objects such as bells, statues, cymbals and prayer wheels
Handmade wooden bowls
Gho and Kira, traditional dresses of men and women.
Liquor
Coins

Etiquette

Bhutan is an egalitarian society. Women and men have equal status and there’s no rigid class system. The people follow a refined traditional system of etiquette known as “Driglam Namzha.” It outlines respect for authority and older people and devotion to the institution of family and marriage. The code also frameworks public behavior such as the dress code, eating manners and speech,  mirroring unique traditional values.

Bhutanese people have a distinct manner of greeting people, sometimes with a slight nodding of the head or bowing slightly if we meet older, senior people. Guests are encouraged to observe the local etiquette and not to talk too loudly when meeting Bhutanese.

A nod of the head is also appreciated when meeting people, particularly in villages and towns outside Thimphu. Intimacy in public is generally not appreciated.

Visitors are advised to dress comfortably in long pants and cover up as as Bhutan is generally a formal place with shorts, short skirts and revealing tight clothing to be avoided.

The Bhutanese people wear their full traditional dress and formal wear to Dzongs and to temples. Visitors should wear long pants (even if jeans), shirts with full sleeves, and more formal skirts below the knee to these places. Slippers and sandals are discouraged. Sun caps are also not permitted inside Dzongs and temples.

Cuisine

Rice is the staple of Bhutanese meals,  accompanied by one or two side dishes. Ema datshi is the most common dish – spicy/ very hot from chilies cooked with the local cheese. Western Bhutanese people eat more ema datshi than the eastern region. Momo is another popular dish, Tibetan-style steamed dumplings made from cabbage, meat, cheese or pork and served in almost every restaurant.  Also, try hoentey, a fried dumpling made from either turnip or dried spinach covered with buckwheat flour and one of the popular cuisines of people of Haa.

Then there are nutritious Puta and Khule to try; Puta is a buckwheat noodle and Khule is a slightly bitter buckwheat pancake. Bhutanese are fond of Suja, a salted butter tea served everywhere. There are also varieties of homemade liquors you may want to try, with caution, of course!

Language

Although a tiny land, the country has rich cultural diversity. The Shachops of the East, Ngolop of the West, Lhotshampas of the South and a small minority of nomads in some northern region make up the approximate 70,000 population. The people in the east speak Shachokpa. The western people speak Dzongkha which is also the national language of the country. The southern people speak Nepali. The nomads have their own dialects. Shachops and Ngolops are mostly Buddhist. The Lhotshampas are generally Hindu. In recent times, few people have converted themselves into Christianity. The constitution of Bhutan provides freedom of religion albeit Buddhism is a state religion.