Himalaya Karakoram Travel Bhutan
All tourists (excluding Indian, Bangladeshi and Maldivian passport holders) who wish to travel to Bhutan require a visa and must book their holiday through a Bhutanese tour operator or one of their international partners. The tour operator will take care of Visa arrangements for visitors. In keeping with the Tourism Council of Bhutan’s policy of “High Value – Low Impact” tourism, a Minimum Daily Package is required for tourists.
Minimum Daily Package
The minimum daily package covers the following services.
- A minimum of 3 star accommodation (4 & 5 star may require an additional premium).
- All meals.
- A licensed English speaking Bhutanese tour guide for the extent of your stay. Japanese, German and other languages speaking guides are available on request for additional fees.
- All internal transport (excluding internal flights).
- Camping equipment and haulage for trekking tours.
- All internal taxes and charges.
- A sustainable tourism Royalty of $65 daily. This Royalty goes towards free education, free healthcare, poverty alleviation, along with the building of infrastructure.
A wide variety of accommodation is available ranging from luxurious 5-star hotels to cozy little hotels and homestays in traditional Bhutanese homes and settings. Visitors can be assured of their warmth and comfort of the hotels. Similarly, the ambience and hospitality offered by the hotels are incredible. The types of accommodations can be divided into: Hotels, Resorts, Farm-stays and Home-stays.
Additionally visitors embarking on long treks will be provided with tents and whatever other camping equipment is deemed necessary. Regardless of where they stay, visitors can be assured of their comfort and traditional Bhutanese hospitality.
Bhutan has hundreds of hotels located all across the country. They range from small, simple and clean local hotels to luxurious resorts for affluent travelers seeking the ultimate getaway. Hotels in Bhutan are rated according to a National 5 Star rating System. All Tour Operators are required to provide their guests with a minimum of 3 Star accommodations so you can be assured of your comfort. Most hotels provide their guests with Television, Room Service, Fitness Centers, Spas and Wi-fi. However the exact services available will vary from hotel to hotel.
There are various Guesthouses located around the Bhutan. They are graded on the same scale as hotels. The exact services available can vary among Guesthouses.
Visitors also have the option of spending a night in a traditional Bhutanese Farm House. Agriculture is still one of the major sources of livelihood amongst the Bhutanese people and a Farm-Stay will give you an excellent glimpse into the day-to-day life of a typical Bhutanese family. You’ll be able to observe age old Bhutanese farming traditions as the family goes about its daily tasks. You’ll enjoy delicious home-cooked meals and the unparalleled hospitality of a Bhutanese host. All officially sanctioned and listed Farm-stays are located in the gorgeous Bhutanese countryside amidst lush farmland far from the noise and crowds of population centers. In order to experience a traditional life, electricity and running water are usually not available at Farm-Stays. Hot water can be provided by the family but will be served in a wash basin/bowl.
Visitors have the option of spending a night in the traditional home of a Bhutanese family. A Home-Stay will give you an excellent glimpse into the day-to-day life of a typical Bhutanese family. You’ll enjoy delicious home-cooked meals and the unparalleled hospitality of a Bhutanese host. All officially sanctioned and listed home-stays are located in the gorgeous Bhutanese countryside, far from the noise and crowds of population centers. In order to experience a traditional life, electricity and running water are not available at Home-Stays. Hot water can be provided by the family but will be served in a wash basin/bowl.
Getting to Bhutan
Travel by Land and Travel by Air. The Kingdom of Bhutan remained largely cut off from the rest of the world up until the early 1960’s. Entering the country was difficult as it was only accessible by foot from two main entry points, one in the North and another from the South. The Northern route was through Tibet, crossing high mountain passes that were inaccessible throughout the winters. The second entry route from the South came through the plains of Assam and West Bengal. The high, frozen passes in the North and the dense, jungles in the South made it extremely difficult to enter the country. However, carefully planned economic development has made the country much more accessible and there are now a network roads entering and traversing the country, as well as one international and multiple domestic airports.
Today the main roads entering the country are through Phuentsholing in the South, linking Bhutan with the Indian plains of West Bengal, through the border towns of Gelephu, in the central region and Samdrup Jongkhar, in the East, that link with the Indian state of Assam.
All visitors to Bhutan require a visa to enter the country (see visa). Visa clearance must be obtained before coming to Bhutan and travel must be booked through a Bhutanese tour operator or their international partner. Indian, Bangladeshis and Maldivian nationals can receive a visa on entry and it is not necessary for them to book travel through a tour operator, however it is recommended. In the case of Indian nationals a passport or voters card are acceptable on entry.
Travel to Bhutan by Air
There are flights to destinations that include Bangkok, Delhi, Kolkata, Bagdogra, Bodh Gaya, Dhaka, Kathmandu, Guwahati, Singapore and Mumbai. Paro is situated at a height of 2,225 m (7300 ft) above sea level and is surrounded by mountains as high as 4,876 m (16,000 ft). At present two carriers operate to Bhutan, Drukair and Bhutan Airlines. And there are domestic airports in Yongphula in Eastern Bhutan, Bumthang in Central Bhutan, and Gelephu in South-Central Bhutan. A second international airport is currently under construction in Gelephu along the southern border to India.
Flying into Bhutan’s Paro International Airport is typically an exciting experience as the descent into Paro valley brings you closer to the mountain tops than most other flights in the world. The flight between Paro and Kathmandu is one of the most exciting ones as the aircraft passes over four of the five highest mountains in the world. In fine weather, as you soar higher up, you can enjoy the spectacular view of Mt. Everest, Lhotse, Makalu and Kangchenjunga at their best.
Travel to Bhutan by Road
Phuentsholing, Gelephu and Samdrup Jongkhar are the only land border areas open to tourists. The town of Phuentsholing in the south-west is located approximately 170 km east of the Indian national airport at Bagdogra. After crossing Phuentsholing, you begin your journey to Thimphu, the capital city with travel time of about six hours for the 170 km stretch.
Gelephu in south-central Bhutan is another entry point to Bhutan. It is approximately 250 kms from Thimphu and the journey will take you through the sub-tropical areas of Bhutan before entering the alpine zone and then finally into Thimphu. One will have to traverse across three districts and the travel time will be about ten hours.
The district of Samdrup Jongkhar in south-east Bhutan borders the Indian district of Darranga, Assam and is approximately 150 kms away from Guwahati, the capital city of Assam and its international airport. The journey from Guwahati is about three hours. Tourists entering Bhutan through Samdrup Jongkhar will travel to Trashigang, and from there over the lateral route to Mongar, Bumthang, Trongsa, Wangdue Phodrang and then finally into capital, Thimphu. The distance is about 700 kms and will take you a minimum of three days to reach Thimphu.
Visa & Passport
With the exception of visitors from India, Bangladesh and Maldives, all other visitors to Bhutan need a visa. Indian, Bangladeshis and Maldivian nationals can obtain a visa at the port of entry on producing a valid passport with a minimum of 6 month validity (Indian nationals may also use their Voters Identity Card (VIC)). All other tourists must obtain a visa clearance prior to travel to Bhutan.
Visas are processed through an online system by your licensed Bhutanese tour operator, directly or through their foreign travel agent partner. You are required to send the photo-page of your passport to your tour operator who will then apply for your visa. The visa will be processed by the Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB) once the full payment of your holiday (including a USD $40 visa fee) has been wire transferred and received in the TCB bank account. Once received the visa clearance will be processed within 72 working hours. At your point of entry you will be required to show your visa clearance letter, the visa will then be stamped into your passport.
The following information acts as a guide when traveling to Bhutan. This practical advice is not a comprehensive list but should provide some useful information for you as you plan your travelling.
Medical & Travel Insurance
You should not travel internationally without travel insurance. The Royal Insurance Corporation of Bhutan has initiated a travel and medical plan solely for our visitors. Travel insurance can be provided through your Bhutanese tour operator or international partner.
Bhutan’s currency is the Ngultrum (Nu.) It is at par with the Indian rupee, which is accepted as legal tender in the country. Note: INR (Indian Rupees) denominations of 500 and 1000 are not accepted in Bhutan.
ATMs are located within all main towns throughout Bhutan, where money can be withdrawn using a Visa or MasterCard. For concerned travellers a list of ATM locations throughout Bhutan is found here: http://www.bob.bt/locate-atms/.
Financial institutions in Bhutan have been greatly enhanced and today we have a number of banks that cater to the needs of the people. Some of the banks that you can avail of while in Bhutan are the Bank of Bhutan Limited, the Bhutan National Bank, the Druk PNB and the Tashi Bank.
Traveller’s cheques can be easily withdrawn and exchanged for local currency. Many of these banks provide internet banking facilities. ATMs are located within all main towns throughout Bhutan, where money can be withdrawn using a Visa or MasterCard.
All major towns are well connected with electricity that runs on 220/240 volts with round hole two-pin and three-pin power outlets. It is recommended that you bring flat-to-round pin converters for your electronics if necessary, however, most hotels offer multi plug sockets.
Bhutan is a carbon neutral destination. Our energy is clean and green generated by hydro power.
Weather and Climate
Bhutan experiences great variations in its climate. In general summers are warm with average daily temperature ranging from 20 to 25 degrees Celsius, while winter temperatures can occasionally reach below 10 degrees Celsius.
The northern regions of the country are colder than the more tropical south and it is recommended you pack accordingly. Trekkers will need to bring appropriate warm clothes and comfortable hiking boots (well broken in) preferably with ankle support and weather-proof to complement the weather and rugged terrain. Others suggested items to pack:
- A pair of sunglasses
- Sunscreen lotion
- Spare camera batteries
- Flash light (with spare batteries)
- Travel sickness tablets
- Antiseptic cream
- Anti-histamine cream
- Anti-diarrhoea pills
- Altitude sickness medication (Diamox) for trekking above 3000m (find more on Diamox, Altitude & Mountain Sickness here)
- Insect repellent
- Any medication you require regularly as not all medications are available everywhere in Bhutan.
Bhutan offers immense opportunities for photography especially during outdoor sightseeing trips. However you should check with your guide before taking pictures or filming inside Dzongs, temples, monasteries and religious institutions as in some area photograph/filming is not permitted. You are free to capture images of the landscape, the panoramic views of the mountain ranges, rural life, flora and fauna, distinctive Bhutanese architecture and the exterior of Dzongs and Chortens in particular.
Some popular handicraft items available for purchase are hand-woven textiles of raw silk or silk, carved masks, woven baskets of cane and bamboo, wooden bowls known as Dapas, handmade paper products or finely crafted gods of silver. Other items you may be interested in are the exquisite Buddhist Thangkha paintings or Bhutan’s wide array of colourful and creative postage stamps. You can come across these items in the many handicraft shops in and around Thimphu and in other major towns. Please remember that buying and selling of antiques is strictly forbidden in Bhutan.
Tipping is a purely personal matter. We leave it up to you as to whether you want to give a gratuity to your guides and drivers. However, if doing so, we recommend that you place the gratuity in an envelope.
The following articles are exempt from duty:
- Personal effects and articles for day to day use by the visitor .
- 1 litre of alcohol (spirits or wine) .
- 200 cigarettes, on payment of import duty of 200%.
- Instruments, apparatus or appliances for professional use .
- Photographic equipment, video cameras and other electronic goods for personal use.
You have to complete the passenger declaration form at your port of entry. Visitors are advised to be cautious in purchasing old and used items, especially of religious or cultural significance, as such items may not be exported without a clearance certificate. If importing any items to Bhutan which are for sale or gift, they may be liable for customs duty.
On departure, visitors are required to fill out a departure form, which will be asked for by Customs authorities. Import/export of the following goods is strictly prohibited:
- Arms, ammunitions and explosives .
- All narcotics and drugs except medically prescribed drugs .
- Wildlife products, especially those of endangered species .
- Antiques Imports of plants, soils etc. are subject to quarantine regulations.
These items must be cleared on arrival.
The country has a good network of telecommunication facilities. Most hotels and cafe’s offer Wi-Fi internet access. Bhutan has a comprehensive mobile (cell) phone network with global roaming also assessable.
Bhutanese speak a variety of languages with Dzongkha being the national language and one of the most widely spoken. English is also spoken by the majority of Bhutanese making communication very easy. It is encouraged to speak with the local Bhutanese, especially in the urban areas and towns,as it will enhance your knowledge on Bhutan.
Bhutan has a good team of interpreters and licensed guides that are well versed in local history and possess good communication skills. All guides are tested and certified by the Tourism Council of Bhutan. Guides are available who are fluent in Japanese, Thai, Spanish and other European languages.
Clothes and other Paraphernalia
With great altitudinal variations, weather and in particular temperatures in Bhutan vary accordingly. So be prepared to face the unforeseen weather conditions. We expect visitors to dress modestly and respectfully especially if you are planning a visit to the monasteries, Dzongs and other religious institutions.
Long pants and long sleeved tops should be worn when visiting such places. As a mark of respect, be kind enough to remove your hats, caps etc. as you enter religious and administrative premises, institutions and in any other place that you come across with the national flag being raised.
Measures, Weights & Time
Bhutan ascribes to the metric system and most weights are measured in gram (g) and kilogram (kg). The standard time is 6 hours ahead of GMT.
Health / Inoculations
Before embarking on a trip to Bhutan, please seek advice from your doctor with regard to vaccinations and appropriate medication you should have prior to your travels. As a minimum you should have tetanus, typhoid and hepatitis A inoculations.
Bhutan is one of the safest countries in the world. However you should still exercise caution when visiting. Please ensure that your belongings especially your passports, cameras, wallets and purses are properly secured. Please refrain from leaving such items within sight in locked vehicles while sightseeing.
Avoid drinking tap water which has not been boiled or ice cubes in drinks at all times as most water sources in Bhutan are untreated. One can easily acquire affordable treated and bottled water.
Also, Bhutan has a duty to protect its citizens from drugs and tobacco products. To do this we need your help and cooperation. Please co-operate if stopped and asked about your baggage. Please do not carry tobacco goods in excess of the set limit.
A Tshechu is a religious festival meaning “tenth day” and is held annually in various temples, monasteries and dzongs throughout the country. The Tshechu is a religious event celebrated on tenth day of a month of the lunar calendar corresponding to the birthday of Guru Rimpoche (Guru Padmasambhava). However the exact month of the Tshechu varies from place to place and temple to temple. Tshechus are grand events where entire communities come together to witness religious mask dances, receive blessings and socialize.
In addition to the mask dances Tshechus also include colourful Bhutanese dances and other forms of entertainment. It is believed that everyone must attend a Tshechu and witness the mask dances at least once in order to receive blessings and to wash away their sins. Every mask dance performed during a Tshechu has a special meaning or a story behind it and many are based on stories and incidents from as long ago as the 8th century, during the life of Guru Padmasambhava.
In monasteries the mask dances are performed by monks and in remote villages they are performed jointly by monks and village men. Two of the most popular Tshechus in the country are the Paro and Thimphu Tshechus in terms of participation and audience. Besides the locals many tourists from across the world are attracted to these unique, colorful and exciting displays of traditional culture.
Trekking in Bhutan is still a real adventure. The treks traverse very remote areas and there are very few settlements along the routes. Some of the treks lead several days walk away from the next road head, so all equipment and food supplies for the entire trek have to be carried from the beginning.
Bhutan’s mountains are covered in dense primary forest up to an altitude of 3500 meters. The landscape and vegetation are spectacular and unspoiled. During our treks we want to make sure that this remains and so we always carry our rubbish back out of the mountains and make sure that we leave our camp sites as we found them.
Our trekking guides are licensed and have many years of trekking experience. For the treks leading through very high altitude, we carry a hyperbaric chamber in case of anyone having problems with altitude illness. Medical kids are standard part of the equipment.
For your safety we carry a PAC – Portable Altitude Chamber from Treksafe as well as Iridium Satellite Phones. Air rescue from remote trekking routes is possible, but very costly. (find more on Diamox, Altitude & Mountain Sickness here)
Comfort and Transport
During our treks we provide three person dome tents for two trekkers to give you enough space and comfort. Single tent accommodation can be arranged on request. We also provide you with comfortable inflatable thermo rest mattresses. Kitchen and dinning tent as well as a toilet tent are standard.
All our treks are guided by experienced and licensed guides, supported by a crew consisting of a cook(s), helper(s) and transport animal handlers. At lower altitudes, we use horses and ponies as pack animals to carry the entire equipment; yaks will take over in higher elevations. You will have to carry only a small pack with your personal items required for the day.
Climate and Weather
Bhutan is a year round travel destination. Every season has its charm and attractions. The best time to trek in Bhutan is definitely during spring time and from late September to end of November. It is however not impossible to trek during the rainier months of the year when the plants are blooming and are showing a spectacular display of colors and shapes.
We would like to request all our clients to have appropriate travel insurance as well as a health insurance with a worldwide cover. Weather conditions may cause delays in flights, travel and trekking itineraries. High passes can be closed due to sudden heavy snowfall and alternative routes have to be taken. This may shorten or extend the length and number of days of a tour and trek. Chances that this may occur are especially high on the Snowman Trek. Heavy rainfall can lead to land slides and roadblocks. These events are beyond our control and the Government of Bhutan is doing all in its power to keep the roads passable at all times. However, patience, flexibility and team spirit is required when traveling and trekking in Bhutan.