Bhutan – Land of the Thunder Dragon is one of the most exotic destinations in the world today. This kingdom, often referred to as the last Shangri-la, is a land of outstanding people, remarkable scenery and natural wonders, and a proud and vibrant culture. A unique and rare place that few have had the privilege of visiting.
Wedged between the world’s giants, India and the Tibetan region of China, Bhutan is today slowly opening up to the world through a sensitive approach to tourism.
You can now discover the cultural and natural wonders of this last remaining Mahayana Buddhist Kingdom of the Himalaya. Here is a kingdom that is just throwing off the veil of mystery, and opening its doors to visitors.
Bhutan has a pristine environment, almost no pollution, and a living culture where festivals and cultural events are a part of daily life and not creations for tourism. Let us take care of your needs on your tour of this little known kingdom.
The ancient period of Bhutan that dates from the beginning till the 8th century AD, was marked by rural settlement, domestication of animals, agriculture, the first advent of Buddhism and subsequent buildings of Buddhist temples.
The visit of Guru Padmasambhava and other Buddhists saints and scholars from India and Tibet marked the medieval Bhutan. Emergence of ruling clans and development of arts and architecture were also seen during this period.
Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, a leader of the Drukpa sect, came to Bhutan in 17th century. He introduced the dual system of Government and for the first time some degree of stability was maintained, which was unseen before. But this did not last long. After Ngawang Namgyal’s death, successors became victims of intrigues and rivalries. The instability continued till the early 20th century.
The country’s modern period began with the establishment of monarchy in Bhutan. The powerful Bhutanese Chief, Ugyen Wangchuk was crowned as the first hereditary ruler of Bhutan in 1907. The country’s self-imposed policy of isolation continued till the reign of the third king Jigme Dorji Wangchuk. He decided to shed this age-old policy and introduced the country to the outside world, bringing the country into the international mainstream.
Though the country is known as Bhutan to the outside world, to Bhutanese it has been known as Druk Yul ‘Land of the Thunder Dragon’. The people call themselves Drukpas.
Bhutan is a landlocked country wedged between the autonomous region of Tibet, China, in the north and India in the south along the lofty mountains of the eastern Himalayas. It is located between 88°45'and 92°10' longitude east and between 26°40' and 28°15' latitude north. It covers 46,500 square kilometers and has population of 650,000 with seventy five percent of the population living on cultivation and livestock rearing.
The country can be divided into three major geographic zones: the southern foothills and plains with hot and humid climate, the hills and valleys in the center with moderate rainfall and the highland of the north with high mountains covered with snow almost through out the year.
Bhutan is the land of complex gorges and valleys, soaring snow-peaked mountains and steep slopes, humid jungles and foothills, magnificent lakes and waterfalls, fast flowing rivers and streams and the richest biodiversity of flora and fauna.
The best way to enter Bhutan is by Druk Air, Bhutan's National Flag carrier. Druk Air has flights from India (Delhi & Calcutta), Nepal (Kathmandu), Thailand (Bangkok) and Bangladesh (Dhaka). Druk Air is the only air operating TO/FROM Bhutan.
By land, one can enter or exit Bhutan from Phuntsoling, the southern Bhutanese border town that is soon connected to West Bengal state of India. For travellers willing to visit Darjeeling, Sikkim and Nepal, Phuntsoling serves as a best connecting point. Exit from Bhutan can be made from Samdrup Zongkhar also. This frontier town is approximately three hours drive from Guwahati, the capital city of Assam state of India. Samdrup Zongkhar is the only other authorised exit point in Bhutan from where you can make further visit to other parts of India.
As per government rule, it is mandatory to travel at least one way to/from Bhutan or both.
A visa is required for traveling to Bhutan and it is processed and arranged by travel agents in Bhutan. No foreign mission grants tourist visa. Once you've decided to participate in one of Around Himal's Bhutan programs, our partner agent in Bhutan will take care of your Visa preparation. Please download this <Visa Application Form> fill it carefully and mail it to us at least four weeks prior to date of your proposed travel, for processing it with the concerned authorities. Please include four copies of a recent passport size photographs. Actual visa is stamped on arrival in Bhutan while visa is cleared in advance and a visa clearance number issued. Once we've gone through this process and received a clearance number, we will confirm your travel.
Customs and regulations
The Bhutanese authorities strictly prohibit the export of any religious antiquity or antiques of any type. All personal electronics, cameras, video cameras, computers and personal electronic equipment may be brought into the country but they must be listed on the Customs form provided on arrival at Paro and will be checked on your departure. Two liters of Alcohol and reasonable quantity of cigarettes may be brought in to the country without duty.
Bhutan's unit of currency is the Ngultrum (Nu), which equals 100 Chetrums. It is at par with the Indian rupee, itself a legal tender in the kingdom. One US dollar is exchanged for roughly 44 Ngultrums. Tourists can exchange traveller's cheques or cash at the Bank of Bhutan or at any authorised hotels. US dollar, Australian dollars, pound sterling, Euro, French and Swiss francs, German marks, Dutch guilders, Hongkong dollars, Singapore dollars, Thai bath or Japanese yen are all accepted currencies.
Hotels vary in style and quality but are generally considered one of the welcome surprises for visitors. There is a variety of hotels in Bhutan, ranging from simple huts that cater to Bhutanese yak herders to Paro's fancy Olathang Hotel, which was built for royal guests. There is no International chain of hotels and not much imported hotel equipment. To be more precise, what you get is a Bhutanese version of what the tourists expect. In most cases, the facilities and service are good. The Tourism Authority of Bhutan approves the hotels for the International tourists.
Photography & Videography
The photography opportunities in Bhutan are immense. Photography is permitted nearly everywhere in Bhutan and the local population has no aversion to being photographed. If you wish to record the local people, their houses, shops etc, always ask by gestures if it is okay to do so. Photography inside the Dzongs and Monasteries are not permitted. Please follow our guide's instruction carefully while visiting Dzongs, monasteries and religious institution.