Travelling into the mystical land of Bhutan is a rare pleasure. People come to visit the remote monasteries and spiritual temples, to trek the wondrous Himalaya and admire the mountainous pastures. With customs and traditions still going strong after centuries, and cultural festivals celebrated from corner to corner, there is nowhere quite like blessed Bhutan!
Bhutan Tours & Travel
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Articles on Bhutan
How travel makes you happy
Posted on Thu, 20 Mar 2014 by Jane Crouch
March 20 is proclaimed as the UN International Day of Happiness. The day recognises the importance of happiness and well-being as universal goals and aspirations in the lives of people [...]Read more
So much to say about Bhutan
Posted on Thu, 7 Aug 2008 by Sue Elliot
Exploring in countries like Bhutan so often leaves an indelible impression, and that was certainly the case for Cate Gaston… “LOL as I am writing this in Kolkata, a herd [...]Read more
Intrepid believes half the fun of experiencing a new country is getting there, and getting around once there! Where possible, Intrepid uses local transport options and traditional modes of transport - which usually carry less of an environmental impact, support small local operators and are heaps more fun.
Depending on which trip you're on while in Bhutan, you may find yourself travelling by:
Travelling with Intrepid is a little bit different. We endeavour to provide travellers with an authentic experience to remember, so we try to keep accommodation as unique and traditional as possible.
When travelling with us in Bhutan you may find yourself staying in a:
At a glance
|Capital city:||Thimpu (population 30,000)|
|Time zone:||(GMT+06:00) Astana, Dhaka|
|Electricity:||Type D (Old British 3-pin) Type F (German 2-pin, side clip earth) Type G (Irish/British 3-pin) Type M (see D)|
Best time to visit Bhutan
Although it can be wet from March to May, this is still a good time to visit Bhutan as there are plenty of birds around and the wildflowers are out in bloom. September to November is also a great time to visit as rainfall is lower and views are clear. Although it rains all year round, monsoonal weather can be expected in Bhutan between June and August. From December to February snowfalls may result in road closures and delays. Nevertheless, winter can be a good time to visit as the days are generally sunny (although cold) and the blanket of snow makes for picturesque panoramas.
Culture and customs
Eating and drinking
Intrepid believes that one of the best ways to experience a country is by eating! Whether you're sampling street food, savouring a cheap eat or indulging in a banquet, there are endless options to choose from wherever you are in the world.
Laced with chilli, Bhutanese food is known for being very spicy so be aware of this before digging in. Vegetarians will be spoilt for choice, meat isn’t as prevalent as in some other countries.
Things to try in Bhutan
1. Red Rice
The people of Bhutan eat loads of rice and one thing you’ll notice here is that the rice is of a reddish colour. Grown in the fertile Paro Valley soil, this quick cooking rice has a nutty flavour and is typically paired with mushrooms and chilli.
Although a Tibetan dish, momo is also very popular and widely available in Bhutan. Essentially a dumpling, fillings usually range from cheese to pork or other meats, and are served in batches as a savoury snack.
3. Red Panda Beer
This locally brewed beer is made using a natural fermentation process and often bottled in recycled (pre-loved) beer bottles. Often touted as one of Asia’s best beers, Red Panda is a pleasant surprise - try it for yourself.
Geography and environment
History and government
As one of the few countries in the world to have never been conquered or occupied by another, Bhutan has a long history of independent governance. Although its early history is shrouded in mystery, Bhutan is thought to have been inhabited from as early as 2000BC. Tibetan Buddhism was introduced into the region sometime around the 9th century, when many Tibetans fled neighbouring Tibet to seek refuge in Bhutan. The leadership and governance of Bhutan has always been linked to its religion, and this continues in today’s political, legal and religious leadership of the country. The 16th and 17th centuries saw some conflict with Tibet, although Bhutan was never officially taken over by its neighbour. External threats from the British presented themselves in the 18th and 19th centuries; however, once again Bhutan was never officially controlled or governed by an external power.
In the last 40 years, Bhutan has had many ‘firsts’. Bhutan introduced a new monetary system and currency in 1974, and also opened up its borders to welcome foreign tourists in the same year. By 2000, Bhutan had its first television set and internet cafe, and by 2004 Bhutan became the first country in the world to ban the sale of tobacco products. Bhutan’s first constitution was drawn up in 2005, and its first democratic multi-party election was held in 2008, when the constitution was finally ratified. Today, Bhutan’s economy relies mainly on tourism, agriculture and forestry, although ‘Gross National Happiness’ continues to be valued more than economic abundance or growth in domestic product.
Top 10 Happiness-Inducing Experiences of Bhutan
1. Magic Monastery
Visiting the unbelievable ‘Tiger’s Nest’ Monastery (Taktshang), precariously perched atop a cliff face, is one of life’s rare pleasures. Surrounded by breathtaking panoramas, it’s easy to feel deep peace and contentment at the Tiger’s Nest.
2. Tough Trekking
There’s nothing quite like testing your physical limits out among the green hills and valleys of the Himalaya. The combination of fresh mountain air, majestic scenery and physical exertion makes for happy days.
3. Fiery Flavours
Wake up your taste buds and make them happy with a dose of Bhutanese cuisine. Local curries, stews and soups are often packed with zingy chilli – a smile-inducing prospect for those who love a little heat in their food.
4. Lovely Locals
Surrender to the warm and happy Bhutanese way of life when meeting and mingling with locals. Visitors have been charmed and touched by the humble happiness displayed by Bhutan’s residents, cultivated from a life of family, purpose and spiritual connection.
5. Cultured Craftsmanship
Traditional Bhutanese arts and crafts are beautiful mementos and a precious link to the past. The museums, galleries and workshops of Bhutan all display wonderful examples of fine weaving and delicate embroidery – perusing these age-old crafts is a cultural delight.
6. Perfect Panoramas
Simply sitting back in stillness and pondering the profound beauty of the Himalayan landscapes is an experience not to be overlooked while in Bhutan. Take the time to step away from distractions and appreciate Mother Nature's truly amazing canvas.
7. Charming City
Experience moments of bliss while walking down the character-filled streets of peaceful Paro. It’s hard not to smile at the colourful buildings, houses without front doors and locals dressed in traditional clothing.
8. Mystical Moments
Witnessing pilgrims and monks perform century-old Buddhist rituals is a moving and transcendental experience. Be carried away by the stirring chants and moved by the displays of devotion.
9. Yak Attack
Your first glimpse of a group of yaks grazing in the green meadows of Bhutan is definitely smile-worthy. Nomadic yak herders can be found all over the countryside – be captivated by this organic, uncomplicated lifestyle.
10. Tea Time
Yak butter tea may be an acquired taste but there’s something strangely satisfying about downing a cup of this warming traditional drink loved by the Bhutanese.
If you’re after top quality handicrafts and colourful art, then Bhutan will delight. While Bhutan isn’t known as a top shopping destination, there are many talented artisans creating good quality souvenirs to buy here.
It's a good idea to check with your local customs officials to ensure that you are able to bring certain items back into your home country. Australia and New Zealand generally have strict quarantine laws.
Things to buy in Bhutan
1. Hand-Woven Fabric
Traditional weaving is at its very best in Bhutan. Choose from colourful rugs, clothing, blankets and accessories when visiting one of the many textile stores and boutiques in Bhutan’s cities.
2. Traditional Music
Why not pick up a CD of Bhutanese harmonies, or chanting monks, as a melodic stress-buster for when you’re back at home and in work mode.
3. Spiritual Souvenirs
Vibrant prayer flags, fragrant incense and prayer beads make meaningful gifts for friends and family back home.
Festivals and Events in Bhutan
Paro Spring Festival (Paro Tshechu)
The people of Paro welcome the start of spring with five days of cultural and spiritual celebration. Locals shake off the winter blues by indulging in sword dancing, drumming and feasting. Expect to see stirring rituals, colourful clothing and touching displays of faith if you’re lucky enough to travel during this time.
Thimphu Festival (Thimphu Tschechu)
This three-day festival is meant to be highly auspicious to all who attend. Bhutanese people travel from all over to attend this spiritual celebration that features prayers and rituals to invoke the gods as well as traditional dance, costume and theatre. This highly joyous time gives travellers an important insight into Bhutan’s culture and the chance to mingle with locals.
FAQs on Bhutan
Prayer flags = US$1
Hand made coin purse = US$5-10
Gofur (wooden bowl) = US$10-15
Ceremonial mask = US$20-40
For more information on insurance, please go to: Travel Insurance
Feb 11 Losar *
Feb 21 Birth Anniversary of Fifth Druk Gyalpo
Apr 20 Zhabdrung Kuchoe *
May 2 Birth Anniversary of Third Druk Gyalpo
May 25 Lord Buddha’s Parinivana *
Jul 10 Birth Anniversary of Guru Rinpoche
Jul 12 First Sermon of the Lord Buddha *
Sep 11 Thimphu Drubchen *
Sep 14 Thimphu Tshechu *
Oct 5 Dashain *
Nov 1 The Coronation of the Fifth Druk Gyalpo
Nov 11 Birth Anniversary of the Fourth Druk Gyalpo
Dec 17 National Day
* Bhutan’s towns and villages also celebrate many small festivals, which change date each year. Buddhist festivals are timed according to astrological observances – so some of the dates above are estimates only and are subject to change.
For a current list of public holidays go to: http://www.worldtravelguide.net/Bhutan/public-holidays
We keep the following information up to date as much as possible, but rules do change. It is important that you check for yourself.
You must provide Intrepid at the time of booking with your full name, sex, date of birth, nationality, passport number & date of issue / expiry, plus a scanned copy of your passport, your email address and a contact number for you when you are in Bhutan.
If you have not booked flights to Bhutan with Intrepid, we will also require your flight details to finalise the visa process.
Intrepid will then forward you the scanned copy of your Bhutan Group visa shortly prior to your trip start date.
You must show the copy of your Bhutan Group visa at the check-in for your flight to Bhutan and on arrival at the immigration in Bhutan where you will have your Bhutan visa stamped into your passport.
Travel in Bhutan is strictly controlled and to do any independent travel outside of a group tour is extremely difficult and expensive to arrange. We provide a group visa for travellers on our tours in Bhutan, which stipulates that all travellers must arrive and depart on the same days that our tour program starts and finishes. For this reason we are generally not able to provide additional accommodation outside of our tour dates and advise all travellers to book flights in and out of Bhutan that correspond with the start and finish day of the tour. In the rare case that no flights are available and you need to arrive earlier or depart later we are only able to book additional accommodation for you in conjunction with a special individual visa which can add around AUD1000 to the cost of your tour, to be paid at the time of booking. PLEASE NOTE: If you are flying in and out of Paro via India, please check what visa you need for India. If you plan to spend time travelling in India on your way to Bhutan (or vice versa), please be aware you will generally need a tourist visa (rather than a transit visa); and tourist visas currently need to have a gap of 2 months between visits. Please check the limitations on Indian visas if you plan to spend time in India on the way to Paro. Please also be aware that currently the maximum amount of time allowed for passenger transiting via an India airport for a connecting flight is 18 hours. Note that this information can change at any time and you will need to check this information for yourself.
Health and Safety
Intrepid takes the health and safety of its travellers seriously, and takes every measure to ensure that trips are safe, fun and enjoyable for everyone. We recommend that all travellers check with their government or national travel advisory organisation for the latest information before departure:
From New Zealand?
Go to: http://www.voyage.gc.ca/
Go to: http://travel.state.gov/
Go to: http://www.fco.gov.uk/en/
The World Health Organisation
also provides useful health information:
Go to: http://www.who.int/en/
Bhutan Travel Tips
Intrepid is committed to travelling in a way that is respectful of local people, their culture, local economies and the environment. It's important to remember that what may be acceptable behaviour, dress and language in your own country, may not be appropriate in another. Please keep this in mind while travelling.
Top responsible travel tips for Bhutan
1. Be considerate of Bhutan’s customs, traditions, religion and culture.
2. Dress modestly and respectfully. Shoulders to knees should be covered, especially when entering places of worship.
3. For environmental reasons, try to avoid buying bottled water. Fill a reusable water bottle or canteen with filtered water instead.
4. Always dispose of litter thoughtfully.
5. Don’t light up! Tobacco products are banned in Bhutan, so avoid bringing them into the country as penalties apply and smoking in public is not accepted.
6. Learn some local language and don't be afraid to use it - simple greetings will help break the ice.
7. Shop for locally made products. Supporting local artisans helps keep traditional crafts alive.
8. Refrain from supporting businesses that exploit or abuse endangered animals.
9. Please ask and receive permission before taking photos of people, including children.
10. Religious iconography is everywhere in Bhutan in the form of stupas, mani stones, shrines and temples. Always show respect for these religious objects by avoiding sitting or posing in front of them.
11. Show respect for Bhutan’s current and former king when conversing with local people.
12. As a sign of respect, place a small donation in the donation box while visiting monasteries.
|Buttertea at Sunrise: A Year in the Bhutan Himalaya||Britta Das|
|Treasures of the Thunder Dragon: A Portrait of Bhutan||Ashi Dori Wangmo Wangchuck|
|The Heart of the Buddha||Elsie Sze|
|Beyond the Sky and Earth||Jamie Zeppa|
|The Blessings of Bhutan||Russ Carpenter|
|The Divine Madman – The Sublime Life and Songs of Drukpa Kunley||Translated by Keith Dowman|
|Seeing with the Third Eye; Growing up with Angay in Rural Bhutan||T. Sangay Wangchuk|