Except for India, Maldives and Bangladesh, all other visitors need to obtain a visa for Bhutan. Visas are obtained through an online system by your licensed Bhutanese tour operator directly or through a foreign travel agent. Tourists are required to send the photocopy of their passports to their tour operator, who will then apply for their visa. Once the full payment of the holiday (including your visa fee of USD 40) is made, the tourism council of Bhutan will process the visa within 72 working hours.
Spring (mid February- March – April), Autumn (September – October) and early Winter (November) are the best seasons to visit Bhutan. Northern Bhutan lies close to the Himalayan Mountains and this makes it much colder than the rest of the country. The region receives snowfall during winter. Southern Bhutan with its tropical climate is the warmest. During the monsoon season (June to August) there is heavy rainfall and humidity. The endangered Black-Necked Cranes migrate to Phobjika Valley from Tibet during late October. October to mid-February is the ideal time for bird-watching tours.
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Bhutan’s climate ranges from hot and humid in the tropical belt (southern and central Bhutan) to freezing in the north. Spring and Autumn (popular tourist seasons) are generally pleasant with clear skies and mild temperatures. There is heavy rainfall during monsoon or summer season. While the north remains shrouded in clouds the rest of the country gets drenched with heavy rainfall during this time. In winter there is heavy snowfall in the northern parts, while the southern and eastern regions enjoy pleasant weather.
The national dish of Bhutan is ‘Ema Datshi’ (chili with cheese sauce) and ‘Zow Shungo’ (rice with mixed vegetables). ‘Jasha maru’ (chicken stew), ‘Phaksha Paa’ (pork prepared with vegetables and spices), ‘Hapai Hanteu’(Bhutanese meat dumplings), ‘Kewa Datshi’ (baked potatoes and yak cheese), ‘Tshoem’ (beef with mushrooms) etc. are some of the important local dishes. Bhutanese widely consume rice (red rice grown locally), meat items(yak meat, pork, cheicken, beef and mutton), chili peppers, dairy products( milk, cheese) and organic vegetables. Popular beverages include butter tea or Pho cha, ‘Ara’ an alcoholic drink and beer.
Bhutan tourism policy is based on sustainability and environmental protection. According to the Bhutanese government tourism in the country must be “ecologically friendly, economically viable and socially and culturally acceptable”. The government strictly regulates the number of tourists visiting the country annually. Independent traveling is not allowed and it is mandatory for all foreign tourists to book their tours with a government registered tour operator in Bhutan.
Bhutan’s unit of currency is Ngultrum (NU). Once you fly into Bhutan, you can exchange currency at the money exchange counters at Paro International Airport. Bank of Bhutan accepts foreign currency as well as travelers’ cheques. Foreign currencies that are accepted include US Dollar, Euro, Pound Sterling, Indian Rupee, Swiss Franc, Canadian Dollar, Australian Dollar, Japanese Yen etc. Since banking and ATM facilities are available only in the major cities it is advisable to carry local Ngultrum while traveling in the rural areas. Only a few upscale establishments (hotels and handicraft stores) accept credit cards. When you shop for items or exchange currency you will be given receipts. Hold on to these as you may need to show the same while leaving the country. If you purchase antique items, you will be asked to show the receipt (of purchase) at the customs checkpoint. Receipt of foreign exchange (that you had received while exchanging currency on entering the country) may also be needed while exchanging the local currency to USD or other currencies.
‘Dzonkha’ is the national language of Bhutan. Other than the national language, Sharchop, Nepali and Lepcha are widely spoken in Bhutan. English is used as the medium of instructions in most of the country’s educational institutions.
The Sharchops, living in the eastern part of Bhutan are believed to be the earliest inhabitants of Bhutan. In the western part of the country live the Ngalongs, descendants of Tibetan settlers. Southern Bhutan is populated by Lhotsampas, settlers who came from Nepal during the nineteenth century. Brokpa, Dhakpa, Lepcha, Doya, Layap and Lhopu make up the indigenous tribes.
When you visit Bhutan you will rarely find Bhutanese wearing western clothes. Almost all of them will be attired in their traditional attire. While the men wear a kilt-like garment called ‘Gho’, women are seen wearing the traditional robe known as ‘Kira’, a blouse called ‘Wonju’ and a light jacket -‘Taego’. These traditional dresses are made with textiles woven on traditional looms. Accessories worn by the women include brooches and necklaces and earrings made of precious stones.
If on a trip to Thimpu, don’t forget to visit the lively ‘Weekend Market’. A local farmer’s market which is held during the weekends (from Friday afternoon till Sunday), the Weekend market has sellers from the rural areas selling handicraft items, cheese, honey, meat, vegetables, fruits, incense and an assortment of other goods. You can buy souvenir items at the market or the handicraft shops. Items worth buying include thangkas, traditional handloom items, handmade wooden bowls (Dappa), bamboo baskets (Bangchung), wooden masks, handmade paper products, Bhutanese traditional jewellery, rugs etc. Paro, Thimpu and Phuentsholing are the best cities for shopping.
Please do not forget to provide your emergency contact information while filling out the form to book this trip. You can give the contact details of a family member or someone close to you.