Bhutan

Country

Bhutan is a tiny, Himalayan Kingdom located between India and China. Its name means "Land of the Thunder Dragon." That can be attributed to violent storms coming off the This conservative Buddhist kingdom had no paved roads until the 1960s, was off-limits to foreigners until 1974, and launched television service only in 1999. Fertile valleys (less than 10 percent of the land) feed all the Bhutanese. Bhutan's ancient Buddhist culture and mountain scenery make it attractive for tourists, whose numbers are limited by the government.

Population

The latest survey estimates Bhutan’s current population 970,000

Local Time

The standard time is 6 hours ahead of GMT.they do not observe daylight savings in summer.

Language

Bhutan is linguistically rich with over nineteen dialects spoken in the country. The national language is Dzongkha, Dzongkha literally means the language spoken in the Dzongs, massive fortresses that serve as the administrative centers and monasteries. Two other major languages are the Tshanglakha and the Lhotshamkha. Tshanglakha is the native language of the Tshanglas of eastern Bhutan while Lhotshamkha is spoken by the southern Bhutanese of Nepali origin.

English is also spoken by the majority of Bhutanese making communication very easy. Bhutan has a good team of interpreters and licensed guides that are well versed in local history and possess good communication skills. All guides are tested and certified by the Tourism Council of Bhutan. Guides are available who are fluent in Japanese, Thai, Spanish and other European languages. -

Visa and Travel Requirements

Indian, Bangladeshis and Maldivian nationals can obtain a visa at the port of entry on producing a valid passport with a minimum of 6 month validity (Indian nationals may also use their Voters Identity Card (VIC)).

All other tourists must obtain a visa clearance prior to travel to Bhutan. Visas are processed through an online system by your licensed Bhutanese tour operator, directly or through a foreign travel agent.

You are required to send the photo-page of your passport to your tour operator who will then apply for your visa. The visa will be processed by the Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB) once the full payment of your holiday (including a USD $40 visa fee) has been wire transferred and received in the TCB bank account. Once received the visa clearance will be processed within 72 working hours.

At your point of entry you will be required to show your visa clearance letter, the visa will then be stamped into your passport.

Currency

Bhutan’s currency is the Ngultrum (Nu.) It is at par with the Indian rupee which is accepted as legal tender in the country. - ATMs are located within all main towns throughout Bhutan, where money can be withdrawn using a Visa or MasterCard. For concerned travelers a list of ATM locations throughout Bhutan is found.

In addition, POS (Point of Sale) services are available nationwide, meaning visitors can pay by credit card at most hotels and handicrafts stores.

For example, 1.00 USD= 61.6260 BTN (approximate).

Electrical Current

All major towns are well connected with electricity that runs on 220/240 volts with round hole two-pin and three-pin power outlets.

It is recommended that you bring flat-to-round pin converters for your electronics if necessary, however, most hotels offer multi plug sockets. Bhutan is a carbon neutral destination.

Weather

The climate in Bhutan is extremely varied.

Southern Bhutan has a hot, humid sub-tropical climate that is fairly unchanging throughout the year. Temperatures can vary between 15-30 degrees Celsius.

In the Central parts of the country the climate cools a bit, changing to temperate and deciduous forests with warm summers and cool, dry winters.

In the far Northern reaches of the kingdom the weather is cold during winter. Mountain peaks are perpetually covered in snow and lower parts are still cool in summer owing to the high altitude terrain.

The Indian summer monsoon lasts from late-June through late-September and is mostly confined to the southern border region of Bhutan. It brings heavy rain and high humidity, to the southern region.

Thimphu experiences dry winter months (December through February) and almost no precipitation until March, when rainfall averages 20 millimeters a month and increases steadily thereafter to a high of 220 millimeters in August for a total annual rainfall of nearly 650 millimeters.

Bhutan's generally dry spring starts in early March and lasts until mid-April. Summer weather commences in mid-April with occasional showers and continues to late June. The heavier summer rains last from late June through late September which are more monsoonal along the southwest border.

Autumn, from late September or early October to late November, follows the rainy season. It is characterized by bright, sunny days and some early snowfalls at higher elevations.

From late November until March, winter sets in, with frost throughout much of the country and snowfall common above elevations of 3,000 meters. The winter northeast monsoon brings gale-force winds at the highest altitudes .

Food, Alcohol, Water

The most distinctive characteristic of Bhutanese cuisine is its spiciness. Chillis are an essential part of nearly every dish and are considered so important that most Bhutanese people would not enjoy a meal that was not spicy.

Rice forms the main body of most Bhutanese meals. It is accompanied by one or two side dishes consisting of meat or vegetables. Pork, beef and chicken are the meats that are eaten most often. Vegetables commonly eaten include Spinach, pumpkins, turnips, radishes, tomatoes, river weed, onions and green beans. Grains such as rice, buckwheat and barley are also cultivated in various regions of the country depending on the local climate.

All Meals are Included with most of the tours. Drinks Alcholic and non alcoholic have to be paid for separately.

Attire

One of the most distinctive features of the Bhutanese is their traditional dress, unique garments that have evolved over thousands of years. Men wear the Gho, a knee-length robe somewhat resembling a kimono that is tied at the waist by a traditional belt known as Kera. The pouch t which forms at the front traditionally was used for carrying food bowls and a small dagger. Today however it is more accustomed to carrying small articles such as wallets, mobile phones and Doma (beetle nut).

Women wear the Kira, a long, ankle-length dress accompanied by a light outer jacket known as a Tego with an inner layer known as a Wonju. Bhutanese still wear long scarves when visiting Dzongs and other administrative centers. The scarves worn vary in color, signifying the wearer’s status or rank. The scarf worn by men is known as Kabney while those worn by women are known as Rachus.

With great altitudinal variations, weather is quite mixed in Bhutan. So be prepared to face the unforeseen weather conditions.

Values & Tradition

While Bhutan is one of the smallest countries in the world, its cultural diversity and richness are profound. As such, strong emphasis is laid on the promotion and preservation of its unique culture. By protecting and nurturing Bhutan’s living culture it is believed that it will help guard the sovereignty of the nation.

Until just a few decades ago arranged marriages were common and many married among their relatives.,however, this practice is now becoming less common place among the literate masses and most marriages are based on the choice of the individuals.

Marriages are simple affairs and are usually kept low-key. However, elaborate rituals are performed for lasting unions between the bride and Groom.

Cultural Considerations

Visitors are expected to dress modestly and respectfully especially when visiting the monasteries, Dzongs and other religious institutions.

Long pants and long sleeved tops should be worn when visiting such places. As a mark of respect, be kind enough to remove your hats, caps etc. as you enter religious and administrative premises, institutions and in any other place that you come across with the national flag being raised.

Religion

The Bhutanese constitution guarantees freedom of religion and citizens and visitors are free to practice any form of worship so long as it does not impinge on the rights of others. Christianity, Hinduism and Islam are also present in the country.

Bhutan is a Buddhist country and people often refer to it as the last stronghold of Vajrayana Buddhism. Buddhism was first introduced by the Indian Tantric master Guru Padmasambhava in the 8th century. Until then the people practiced Bonism a religion that worshipped all forms of nature, remnants of which are still evident

With the visit of Guru Padmasambhava, Buddhism began to take firm roots within the country and this especially led to the propagation of the Nyingmapa (the ancient or the older) school of Buddhism.

Phajo Drugom Zhigp from Ralung in Tibet was instrumental in introducing yet another school of Buddhism – the Drukpa Kagyu sect. In 1222 he came to Bhutan, an event of great historical significance and a major milestone for Buddhism in Bhutan, and established the DrukpaKagyi sect of Buddhism, the state religion.

By far the greatest contributor was Zhabdrung Nawang Namgyal. His arrival in 1616 from Tibet was another landmark event in the history of the nation. He brought the various Buddhist schools that had developed in western Bhutan under his domain and unified the country as one whole nation-state giving it a distinct national identity.

The Buddhism practiced in the country today is a vibrant religion that permeates nearly every facet of the Bhutanese life style. It is present in the Dzongs, monasteries, stupas, prayer flags, and prayer wheels punctuate the Bhutanese landscape. The chime of ritual bells, sound of gongs, people circumambulating temples and stupas, fluttering prayer flags, red robed monks conducting rituals stand as testaments to the importance of Buddhism in Bhutanese life.

Information courtesy of the Tourism Council of Bhutan.

For more information: http://www.tourism.gov.bt/

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