Bhutan

Bhutan, Druk Yul, or the Land of the Thunder Dragon is the most isolated and exotic land in the Himalayas. Roughly the size of Switzerland, it is almost entirely mountainous, ranging in altitudes from as low as 350 feet in the southern foothills to as high as 24,000 feet in the mighty Himalayas. This helps to explain Bhutan’s long‐term isolation from the rest of the world until the 1960’s. In Bhutan, standards of dress, architecture, food, and education are ruled by ancient tradition. You can travel for days through Bhutan’s uninhabited pine forests or follows the paths of ancient warrior monks who have repelled invaders from the north. You May visit an ancient Bhutanese monastery where helmets, shields, bows, and spears still hang ready for action.

Entry

You will be met upon arrival at the front entrance of Paro airport by our local representatives.

Customs

All visitors are required to complete the Customs Declaration Form and an emigration form before your plane lands in Bhutan. The emigration form must remain with your passport until you leave the country.

Anything you are bringing into the country for personal use ‐ camera gear, video cameras, binoculars, etc.– will be allowed.

Electronic items should be registered with the customs authorities on arrival and will be checked on departure.

Import and export of the following goods are strictly prohibited: arms, explosives, ammunition, etc. narcotics and drugs (medically prescribed drugs exempt), antiques, and wildlife products, especially those of endangered species.

Clothing

  • Lightweight hiking boots or comfortable walking shoes
  • Extra pair of shoes or sandals
  • Long shorts
  • Comfortable, lightweight pants
  • Formal pants or skirt (optional)
  • Lightweight long‐sleeve shirt
  • T-shirts, short sleeve shirts
  • Heavy sweater or sweatshirt
  • Lightweight jacket or windbreaker
  • Warm fleece/Polartec type jacket (for summer)
  • Rain gear – poncho or jacket
  • Sun hat or cap with wide brim
  • Swim suit (optional)
  • Socks
  • Sleepwear
  • Under clothes

Personal First Aid Kit

  • Aspirin or other pain killer
  • Cold relief tablets, antihistamine, cough drops
  • Bandaids, gauze pads
  • Antibiotics
  • Prescription medicines
  • Aloe gel or lotion in case of sunburn
  • Anti-diarrhoea medicine
  • Antibiotic cream/ointment
  • Supply of feminine hygiene items
  • Motion sickness tablets

Essential Items for Your Carry-On Bag

  • Passport
  • Air tickets
  • Travelers cheques, money and credit cards
  • Insurance certificates
  • Address and phone number of emergency contact
  • Prescription medicines
  • Extra set of underclothes
  • Toiletries in small leak-proof bottles
  • Camera gear, film and other valuables

Personal Items

  • Ear plugs (and spares) are essential
  • Torch in case of blackouts
  • Sunblock (waterproof, high SPF)
  • Lipbalm with SPF
  • Insect repellent with DEET content
  • 2 spare passport photos (in case of lost passport)
  • Wrist watch and/or travel clock
  • Sunglasses (with strap, case)
  • Extra eyeglasses/contacts
  • Money belt or pouch for valuables
  • Small flashlight with extra batteries
  • Copies of all important documents
  • Day pack
  • Camera, memory cards, film, batteries, charger
  • Lead bag to protect film in X-rays
  • Lightweight binoculars
  • Plug adapter (if needed)
  • Soft duffel with shoulder strap or durable suitcase
  • Luggage tags
  • Ziploc-type bags for packing shampoo or other liquids
  • Stuff sacks or plastic bags for organizing inside luggage (also useful for dirty laundry)
  • Thread, needles, safety pins for minor repairs
  • Small packable umbrella

Optional Items

  • Binoculars
  • Address book, writing paper, or journal, pen/pencil
  • Small washcloth
  • Wet wipes/moist towelettes and Kleenex
  • Favorite snack foods (pre-packaged)
  • Pictures of your house and family
  • Map
  • Silica bags for moisture (protect camera equipment)
  • Video camera
  • Phrase book

Food & Restaurants

  • All meals are included in trip cost.
  • Drink only bottled drinks, and avoid tap water, fountain drinks and ice cubes.
  • Eat only foods that are thoroughly cooked, and raw fruits and vegetables that you have peeled yourself.
  • Avoid fresh salads unless the vegetables are washed with purified water, and avoid dairy products that are unpasteurised or may not have been refrigerated properly.
  • Most restaurants/hotel buffets are clean and trustworthy.
  • Traditional Bhutanese food is hot and spicy. For our visitors, Chinese, Indian, and Continental fares are also served.

The more adventurous can try hot Bhutanese dishes. Meals are normally served buffet style in the hotels.

Money and Currency Exchange

  • The basic monetary unit in Bhutan is the Ngultrum (Nu).
  • Indian 100 Rupees denomination may be used in Bhutan, but Ngultrum cannot be used in India. Indian Rupees of denomination note of Rs. 500/- and Rs. 1000/- are not accepted in Bhutan.
  • Check the current exchange rate at http://www.xe.net/ucc/
  • Credit cards are generally not accepted in Bhutan.
  • There are no ATM machines in Bhutan.
  • It is advisable that if you are taking cash into Bhutan, take US Dollars.
  • All major currencies can be exchanged at banks in Paro and Thimphu, and US Dollars can be exchanged at most hotels.
  • You may need to show your passport when you exchange money or travelers checks, so keep it handy.
  • We suggest bringing US$30‐50 per person/per day for items not included in the cost of the trip such as some beverages and souvenirs and emergency money (if you enjoy shopping, we suggest bringing more).
  • It is a good idea to bring newer dated currency that has no rips, marks, folds, or holes.
  • Take local currency with you to the countryside.

Altitude Sickness

  • PLEASE NOTE: The information below is provided to increase awareness of symptoms that some travelers experience, and is not meant to be alarming. Most people experience few, if any, symptoms.
  • Altitude sickness is caused by abrupt change from low elevations to high altitudes. Mild symptoms include: headache, shortness of breath, light‐headedness, difficulty sleeping, loss of appetite, mild nausea or vomiting, and fatigue.
  • Take it easy the first day or two upon arrival at high altitude. Be sure to drink fluids, avoid alcohol, eat regularly and get plenty of rest. Your body will soon acclimatize and you will feel fine.
  • Trekkers hiking up to high elevations may feel the continuing effects of altitude as they make their ascent.
  • Tour itineraries are planned to allow for a slow pace and plenty of time for acclimatization to minimize these effects.
  • Local guides will not allow you go too high too fast and are prepared to adjust the pace if necessary, so the risk of Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) is extremely low. On rare occasions, extreme symptoms may manifest themselves. If this occurs in yourself or if you notice symptoms in a fellow trekker, please tell your guide immediately.
  • The first response to severe symptoms should be a quick descent to a lower altitude. Most cases, if they occur, are mild, and symptoms improve promptly with a return to lower altitude.
  • Consult your physician for information about any drugs which can help to speed acclimatization and reduce minor symptoms such as Acetazolamide (Diamox).

Emergency Services

  • Medical treatment is available in Thimphu and other major cities/towns throughout the country.
  • Medical facilities and services in the countryside are severely restricted.
  • Emergency evacuation by helicopter is usually not an option.
  • Prevention of injury is always the best policy.
  • Your guide will advise you in the case of urgent medical need.

Language

Dzongkha is the national language of Bhutan and is similar to Tibetan. The alphabets are exactly the same, but they use a different style of script.

  • Most of the consonants in Dzongkha are pronounced the same way they are in English.
  • The letter “h” after some of the consonants isn’t actually pronounced. For example, “th” is pronounced “ta” as in “take” and “ph” is pronounced “pa” as in “papa”.
  • Exceptions to this rule are “ch”, which is pronounced like the “ch” in “such” and “sh”, which is pronounced like the “sh” in “shop”.
  • The vowels in Dzongkha are pronounced as follows: “a” as in “mama”, “e” as the “ey” in “they”, “i” as in “bit”, “o” as in “so”, and “u” as the “oo” in “look”.

Some key words and phrases

  • Hello -kuzo zangpo la
  • Good-bye- legshembe joen (if you’re the person staying) -legshembe shug (if you’re the person leaving)
  • Yes -ing
  • No -me
  • Thank you- kadin chey
  • No thank you- miju
  • Ok -toup
  • Rice -chum
  • Chili- ema
  • Butter- tea suja

Climate

  • Bhutan’s climate varies greatly depending on elevation – from the warm, subtropics of the south to the cool, permanent snow-covered Himalayas.
  • The monsoon season lasts from mid‐June until late September.
  • October-November brings clear skies, warm days and cool evenings.
  • Autumn is a great season for the best mountain views.
  • In Paro, the temperatures can reach below freezing in the winter, though the day – time temperatures are usually mild, reaching the low 50’s (ºF), and snowfall is minimal.
  • The summers are generally mild, averaging the upper 70’s.

Passports

Passports are required of foreign Citizens to enter.

Must be valid for at least 6 months after your trip – if not, apply or renew immediately.

Keep a copy of the picture page of your passport in a separate place while traveling.

Carry an extra passport photo in case you need to apply for a quick replacement.

Visas

A Visa is necessary for entry into Bhutan. Your travel & Tour Agent can have your Visa processed for you prior to your departure. Your Visa will be endorsed on arrival.

Your visa clearance letter will be issued to you along with your Druk Air ticket prior to your departure.

Health, Immunizations

Some immunizations are highly recommended, but none are compulsory for entry.

Recommended immunizations include: polio, tetanus, typhoid, MMR, hepatitis A & B.

A vaccination certificate for yellow fever is required for entry if arriving from other infected countries.

SEEK INDEPENDENT MEDICAL ADVICE from your physician or local traveler’s health service.

Druk Air – Getting In & Out of Bhutan

Your travel & Tour Agent can assist in booking your flight to Paro, Bhutan with Druk Air.
Druk Air is restricted to flying during the day, is totally dependent on weather, and flights can sometimes be delayed or cancelled. Plan at least 24 hours between connecting flights and/or travel on non‐restricted tickets.

Flights into Paro can at times be disrupted due to unfavorable weather conditions. Under such circumstances, the flight will stop for the night at a transit station. It is not possible to remove checked luggage at the transit stations.

You are advised to carry essential items such as medicines, toiletries, change of underclothes, etc. in your carry-on.

Please remember to take note of restrictions to carry on liquids.

Druk Air allows two suitcases that are restricted to 20 kg/44 lb (30 kg/66 lb business class) total at check-in. Luggage in excess of this limit will be subject to excess baggage charges.

Carry-ons are strictly limited to one piece, the size not exceeding 17.5 x 13.5 x 8 inches and the weight not exceeding 11 lbs. A small purse will also be allowed. Any overweight items or bulky bags should be checked. If your carry on is deemed too large or heavy it may be seized during boarding ‐ be sure to remove any valuables and travel documents and lock the bag before handing it over.

Electricity

230 volts, 50 Hz.

Electricity is unreliable and cannot be guaranteed, even in major cities. There is no power in most small villages.

Most appliance converter kits will have adaptors for C, D, F & G type plugs.

Time Difference

Bhutan is six hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT +6).

Bhutan does not follow Daylights Savings Time.

It is 13 hours ahead of Pacific Standard Time and 10 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time.

 

Pre-Departure Tasks

Obtain or renew passport.

Buy travelers cheques in low denominations.

Evaluate and obtain trip cancellation, baggage and medical insurance.

Consult with physician for immunizations and prescription medicine recommendations

Make final payment to Bhutan Travel Bureau at least 60 days before trip departure.

The Department of Revenue & Customs, Ministry of Finance via their Notification Number DRC/C/ENF/NOT/09/2003‐04/1962 dated 8th December 2004 states: “This is to inform all concerned that in keeping with the decision of the 82nd Session of National Assembly to ban sale of tobacco products, imports of tobacco and tobacco products for commercial purpose will be prohibited with effect from 17th December 2004”. “Further, Department of Revenue & Customs, Ministry of Finance would like to clarify that the import of tobacco and tobacco products for personal consumption shall attract 100% Sales Tax and 100% Customs Duty. The maximum allowable ceiling for personal consumption prescribed in the Rules on Sales Tax, Customs and Excise Act of the Kingdom of Bhutan 2000 is reproduced as follows:

  1. Cigarette: One Carton containing 200 pieces of cigarettes
  2. Pipe Tobacco: Three Tins of 50 grams each
  3. Other Tobacco products: 50 grams

Any import in excess of the permissible quantity shall be confiscated by the duty personnel of the Department of Revenue & Customs at the Paro International Airport, Paro”.

Do’s and Don’ts

  • Foreign tourists are not allowed inside some monasteries. Please ask your guide for more information.
  • While attending festivals within dzong walls, strict dress codes are enforced – long pants, long sleeve shirts and shoes (not sandals) are required. Head coverings (hats, scarves, etc.) are not allowed.
  • Please remove your shoes and headgear before entering a monastery or a local home.
  • Photography inside temples, monasteries and dzong buildings is prohibited.
  • Please try to remember to follow a clockwise direction when walking around temples, stupas, & dzongs
  • Refrain from making loud noises around the temples, hospitals, and dzong areas
  • Use your right hand or both hands to give or receive an object, bring small gifts for your guide and for those whose homes you visit.
  • Do not use your finger to point, especially at deities or religious objects. Instead, use an open hand with the palm up.
  • Do not point your feet at anyone.
  • Do not collect wildflowers and plants.
  • Do not purchase any antiques and wild animal products.
  • Help us in managing waste by disposing of your garbage at appropriate places.
  • Practice energy saving methods.
  • Use toilets where available.
  • Respect the local natural and cultural heritage.
  • Avoid providing money, sweets, pens or other items to children and local people as it leads to begging. Instead, please donate to local institutions such as schools, monasteries, or local community groups. For more information
  • please don’t hesitate to seek the advice of your guide.

Trekking Conditions

Trekking trails can become very muddy and wet at the end of the rainy season and can get very cold in the spring and fall.

  • Gaitors, walking poles, waterproof boots, and winter wear are all helpful.

Equipment & Packing

A good goal is to fit everything into a single piece of checked luggage and one carry on daypack.

We recommend a durable, water‐resistant, soft duffel bag (for treks) or lightweight soft‐sided suitcase as your checked luggage. Hard suitcases are not practical due to space limitations.

A small backpack or hip‐pack is ideal for carrying bottled water, camera, rain gear, etc, while on excursions where the terrain requires your hands to be free.

Choose a distinctive, easily identified bag, and use a luggage tag for bag identification by staff, ‐ Casual clothing is appropriate at all times.

Lightweight & light colored clothes will help keep you cooler. Keep in mind that synthetic fabrics dry faster than natural fibers like cotton, especially in humid areas, so you can pack less if you are able to wash and dry clothes easily.

Some hotels may have laundry services, but you will probably need to wash some clothes en route.

Druk Air allows two pieces of checked luggage that are restricted to 20 kg/44 lb total, and one carry-on bag & purse.

  • (Excess luggage will be subject to a fee).

You may want to bring an extra smaller, collapsible (lockable) duffel, to leave items in a city hotel while you are on an excursion or to use on your return for souvenirs.

People

You will find the Bhutanese people to be very open and friendly.

It is best to ask permission before entering houses or taking portrait photos. If in doubt, ask your guide.

Time

Relax and enjoy the easy‐going rhythm of Bhutan.

Do not expect everything to happen on time; remember that in some places time is not as important as it is back home, and there is often little concern for punctuality.

At times it is often hard to predict times and distances in Bhutan, though your staff will make the best effort to get to your next destination in a timely manner. Please keep this in mind while traveling.

Photography

The photography opportunities on a trip to Bhutan are immense.

Carry plenty of films, memory cards and batteries. Photo shops in Bhutan do not sell equipment or accessories, and even locally available batteries from major brands are unreliable.

Restroom Facilities

It is a very good idea to carry your own small supply of toilet paper. In cities where there are flush toilets you will usually find a wastebasket next to the toilet.

most sewage systems can’t handle paper.

Most bathrooms will neither look nor smell as sanitary as those you are used to.

Safety

Crime is very rare in Bhutan, but you will still need to observe the same precautions taken at home.

Carefully conceal your wallet and passport in a pouch worn around the neck inside of the shirt or in a money belt around the waist, and do not leave baggage unattended in public.

Make use of security facilities provided for valuables in your accommodation.

It is highly recommended that you buy travel insurance that covers your baggage before you leave.

Don’t take anything you can’t afford to lose or can’t replace.

Shopping

Popular souvenirs are: Thangkha paintings, Wooden masks, Silver & metal crafts, Textiles and Stamps.

Bartering is not as common in Bhutan as in other Asian countries. In the outdoor markets and some shops it’s possible, but many prices are fixed. Ask your guide when it may be appropriate.

Driving Times & Distances (estimated)

  • From To Distance Driving Time (approx)
  • Paro -Thimphu 65 kms 2 hrs
  • Thimphu- Phuentsholing (South) 176 kms 6 hrs
  • Phuentsholing -Bagdogra (India) 170 kms 4 hrs
  • Thimphu -Punakha 77 kms 3 hrs & 15 min.
  • Punakha -Wangduephodrang 13 kms 45min.
  • Wangduephodrang -Trongsa 129 kms 4 hrs & 30min.
  • Trongsa -Bumthang 68 kms 2 hrs & 30 min.
  • Bumthang -Mongar 198 kms 7 hrs
  • Mongar -Lhuentse 76 kms 3 hrs
  • Mongar -Trashigang 90 kms 4 hrs
  • Trashigang -Samdrup Jongkhar (South) 180 kms 6 hrs
  • Samdrup Jongkhar -Guwahati (India) 110 kms 3 hrs

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