Travel guide to Bhutan

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The country of Bhutan is a fascinating and still largely unexplored country in Asia. It is highly protective of the existing cultural and religious traditions, which originated in Buddhism. Bhutan furthermore enjoys many beautiful and idyllic landscapes as well as very impressive architecture.

Facts

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Local name
The locals call the country "Druk-Yul" or "Land of the Thunder Dragon".
Capital
Thimpu (20,000)
Size
46.620 sq km
Principal Languages
Dzongkha
Principal Religion
Drukpa Kagyu Buddhism
Inhabitants
600,000 (1998)
Government
Monarchy
Geography
Generally speaking Bhutan consists of three areas: the northern mountain areas of the Himalayas; the flat plains in the centre; and the hot jungle areas in the south. Bhutan borders with Tibet in the north, but is otherwise surrounded by India. The country's highest mountain is the Kulha Gangri, which is 7554 metres above sea level - near the Tibetan border. Bhutan is a small earthly paradise, with more than 675 bird species, 72 per cent of the country covered by forest (a law orders that at least 60 per cent must remain covered by forest at all times!) and more than 5000 varieties of plants (with 300 having a known medicinal effect). More than 25 per cent of the country's acreage is nature reserve or national parks where people are not permitted to settle.

Travel preparation

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Best time to visit

The best time to visit Bhutan is from March to May and from September to November, as the weather is clear and pleasant then. The monsoon from June to August should be avoided, and the winter is cold and makes many places impossible to get to.

Literature

LonelyPlanet Bhutan Tibet Handbook with Bhutan

Local conditions

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Currency

Ngultrum (Nu)

Net cafes

Internet cafés don't exist in Bhutan, but the fax service is impeccable.

Tipping

It is prohibited by law to accept tips, but it is accepted, though, for particularly good service - even though the person will get very humble and embarrassed. Guides, trekking guides and drivers expect a tip.

Timezone

When it is 12.00 in England, it is 17.00 in Bhutan.

Weight and Measures

Following units of measurement are used in Bhutan: Weight: kilograms Length: metre

Photography

Ask before taking pictures of people, as not all of them wish to be immortalized in that way. Be unassuming in front of those who you wish to photograph, and remember that even though they are poor and apparently 'innocent natives', they are still people with dignity. It is also prohibited to photograph inside temples and places of worship.

Drinking water

Avoid drinking the tap water, primarily because it contains a lot of bacteria. In most towns you can buy bottled water

Electricity

The following current is used in Bhutan: 220-240V, 50 Hz. The sources of electricity aren't completely reliable, so remember to bring a flashlight.

Behaviour

In a Dzong (temple/palace) it is forbidden to smoke, interrupt prayers, wear a hat and generally to disturb anyone, as well as it being prohibited to take pictures inside. Certain monasteries are closed to tourists. The country is a 'paradise lost' - let it remain so. Don't throw garbage anywhere and respect nature. Always ask people if you can photograph them. In Bhutan you don't haggle, so don't - it's considered insulting. Be humble in this unique country, to its people and traditions

Business Hours

Banks are open 9.00 to 13.00 (Monday to Friday) and 9.00 to 11.00 (Saturday). Public offices are open 8.00 to 12.00 (Monday to Friday). Shops are open 9.00 to 18.00 (Monday to Friday). Most shops are also open for a few hours on Saturdays.

Food and drink

Rice with heavily spiced vegetables and meat in a curry-sauce is most commonly eaten, and chili with cheese is the national dish. Tibetan dishes such as momo (rolls with filling) and noodle-soup are also popular. Yak's meat is eaten in the winter, and fresh fruit is only available when it is ripe. Sweet tea with milk is the most common drink, and is good for all seasons. Real coffee doesn't exist, only Nescafe. You can also buy alcohol.

Disabled travellers

No steps have been taken to aid the physically impaired, making a trip to Bhutan very difficult

Holidays

Bhutanese New Year, 19 February The anniversary of Zhabdrung Ngawangs death, 27 April The third king's birthday, 2 May The third king's death, 21 July Blessed Rain Day, 23 September Dasain, 21 October Buddha's descent from Tushita, 2 November The present king's birthday, 11-13 November The Meeting of the 9 Evils, 16 December National Day, 17 December Holidays in Bhutan don't fall on the same day every year, as the Bhutanese calendar is slightly different from ours.

Accommodation / Hotel

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Camping

When trekking you'll often sleep in tents, otherwise never.

Hotels

The hotels are not categorised. In most major cities you'll find a certain Bhutanese luxury, but otherwise the hotels are quite simple - most of them clean and orderly.

Local transport

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Planes

There are no domestic flights.

Bus

Buses are the best way to get around if you don't have your own vehicle. You get to meet the locals, but it is very uncomfortable.

Trains

Do not exist.

Taxi

There are a few taxis in Bhutan and they drive without a taxi metre, so you should agree on the price before getting in.

Car rental

Cars can be rented in all major cities, always with a driver.

Other Transport

It has become possible to rent mountain bikes in some of the major cities - and it is a fantastic way of getting around at your own pace.

Special conditions

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There are no cash dispensers for credit cards, so you need to bring traveller's cheques and cash. Credit cards are not accepted. There are about 6000 tourists a year to this country, and it is not permitted to enter the country by your own means. This is in order to protect the country from being devastated by too many tourists (spending too much money and corrupting the traditional way of life) - so you are required to travel in groups with a tourist agency. The minimum is four, and if less you pay extra. There is a guide with you all of the time who you pay for yourself, but if you stay more than 10 days it gets cheaper. The price includes accommodation (where you want, and where there is room), food, transport, guide, cultural programmes, and carriers and mules if you are going trekking. As there is rabies, malaria and other tropical diseases, you will need a vaccination. Ask your own doctor.

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