The Kingdom of Bhutan (Dzongkha: འབྲུག་ཡུལ་, Druk Yul) is a small country in the Himalayas between Tibet and India. Besides the stunning natural scenery, the enduring image of the country for most visitors is the strong sense of culture and tradition that binds the kingdom and clearly distinguishes it from its larger neighbours. Bhutan is a bastion of Vajrayana Buddhism, and the profound teachings of this tradition remain well preserved and exert a strong influence in all aspects of life.
Bhutan can culturally and geographically be divided into three regions, which are further divided into 20 districts or dzongkhag (singular and plural):
- 1 Thimphu (Dzongkha: ཐིམ་ཕུ) – The capital city
- 2 Jakar (Dzongkha: བྱ་ཀར) – An administrative town in the north and the birthplace of Buddhism in Bhutan.
- 3 Mongar (Dzongkha: མོང་སྒར) – One of the largest towns in east Bhutan.
- 4 Paro (Dzongkha: སྤ་རོ་) – The location of the international airport and Taktsang Monastery.
- 5 Punakha (Dzongkha: སྤུ་ན་ཁ་) – A former winter capital of Bhutan. Still hosts the Monastic Body in winter.
- 6 Phuentsholing (Dzongkha: ཕུན་ཚོགས་གླིང་) – A town on the Indian border. The point of entry for travellers arriving by bus from Kolkata.
- 7 Samdrup Jongkhar (Dzongkha: བསམ་གྲུབ་ལྗོངས་མཁར་) – An administrative town in the southeast, near the Indian border.
- 8 Trashigang (Dzongkha: བཀྲ་ཤིས་སྒང་།) – A picturesque administrative town in the east.
- 9 Trongsa (Dzongkha: ཀྲོང་གསར) – A small administrative town famous for its dzong and the Tower of Trongsa.
- 1 Jigme Dorji National Park
- 2 Jigme Singye Wangchuck National Park
- 3 Royal Manas National Park
- 4 Phrumsengla National Park (Dzongkha: ཕྲུམ་སེང་རྒྱལ་ཡོང་གླིང་ག)
Wildlife sanctuaries and nature reserves
- 5 Bumdeling Wildlife Sanctuary
- Jomotsangkha Wildlife Sanctuary
- 6 Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary
- 7 Jigme Khesar Strict Nature Reserve
Official website of National Parks and Protected Areas in Bhutan: 
|Population||807.6 thousand (2017)|
|Electricity||230 volt / 50 hertz (AC power plugs and sockets: British and related types, Schuko, BS 1363, BS 546, Europlug)|
|Time zone||UTC+06:00, Asia/Thimphu|
|Emergencies||112 (emergency medical services), 110 (fire department), 113 (police)|
|edit on Wikidata|
Perched high in the Himalayas, Bhutan is the world's only Vajrayana Buddhist country. Furthermore, as an initiative of the fourth king, it has developed the philosophy of Gross National Happiness, whereby development is measured using a holistic approach of well-being, not just based on gross domestic product. As part of this philosophy, all citizens receive free education and medical care.
Major sources of income for the kingdom are tourism, hydroelectric power, and agriculture.
Culturally, Bhutan is predominantly Buddhist with Dzongkha as a national language (although there are regional variations - such as Sharchopkha, the predominant language in Eastern Bhutan), and a common dress code and architectural style. Bhutanese people primarily consist of the Ngalops and Sharchops, called the Western Bhutanese and Eastern Bhutanese, and Lhotshamphas (Southern Bhutanese), a people of Nepalese origin, respectively. The Ngalops primarily consist of Bhutanese living in the western part of the country. Their culture is closely related to that of their neighbour to the north, Tibet.
The Druk is the Thunder Dragon of Tibetan and Bhutanese mythology. As the national symbol of Bhutan, it appears on the national flag holding jewels in its claws. In Dzongkha, Bhutan is called Druk Yul ("Land of Druk"), and Bhutanese leaders are called Druk Gyalpo, "Thunder Dragon Kings".
Gross National Happiness
The ideology of Gross National Happiness was the brainchild of King Jigme Singye Wangchuck who, having gained a modern education in India and the UK, realised that mere economic success did not necessarily translate into a content and happy society. Consequently, soon after his coronation in 1974, the young king began to float the idea of developing a new set of guidelines by which to govern the country. Slowly these ideas took shape, and in 1998 the GNH indicator was established. GNH stands for "Gross National Happiness" and is defined by the following four objectives: to increase economic growth and development, preserve and promote the cultural heritage, encourage sustainable use of the environment, and establish good governance. While the concept of GNH receives much international praise and is a major draw for tourists, the idea is very much in its incubation stage, and there is very little evidence of GNH in the country.
On 19 July 2011, 68 countries joined the Kingdom of Bhutan in co-sponsoring a resolution titled “Happiness: Towards a holistic approach to development,” which was adopted by consensus by the 193-member UN General Assembly. In follow up to the resolution, the Royal Government of Bhutan convened a High Level Meeting on “Happiness and Well Being: Defining a New Economic Paradigm” on 2 April 2012 at the United Nations headquarters in New York. This meeting initiated the next steps towards realizing the vision of a new wellbeing- and sustainability-based economic paradigm that effectively integrates economic, social, and environmental objectives. Bhutan continues to be a champion of the resolution and actively promotes the concept internationally.
The first humans probably arrived some time after the Ice Age, and little is known about Bhutan's prehistory. Historical records began with the arrival of Buddhism in the 7th century, when Guru Rinpoche (Padmasambhava) visited Bhutan and established monasteries.
In 1865, Britain and Bhutan signed the Treaty of Sinchulu, under which Bhutan would receive an annual subsidy in exchange for ceding some border land. Under British influence, a monarchy was set up in 1907; three years later, a treaty was signed whereby the British agreed not to interfere in Bhutanese internal affairs and Bhutan allowed Britain to direct its foreign affairs. This role was assumed by independent India after 1947. Two years later, a formal Indo-Bhutanese accord returned the areas of Bhutan annexed by the British, formalised the annual subsidies the country received, and defined India's responsibilities in defense and foreign relations.
In December 2006, King Jigme Singye Wangchuck transferred power to his oldest son, the Crown Prince Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, bestowing upon him the title of the fifth Druk Gyalpo. The coronation took place in November 2008. The Fifth King was educated in Boston and Oxford and is held in high esteem throughout the country.
It is not possible to travel far in Bhutan without seeing images of a man wearing a tall, elaborate hat and with eyes that are open wide and staring forward into space. This is the great 8th-century sage of Vajrayana Buddhism, Padmasambhava or Guru Rinpoche as he often called. According to legend, Padmasambhava was reincarnated into a lotus blossom as an eight-year-old child, and from very young he possessed great wisdom and insight. Furthermore, he had mastery of the elements and so like a potter manipulating basic clay and turning it into beautiful pots, he was able to transform harmful action and substances into something positive and beneficial.
Guru Rinpoche's special association with Bhutan began when he travelled to the town now known as Jakar at the invitation of a local king to subjugate negative forces. The mission was a success, and from this encounter Buddhism spread throughout the land. A body print of the great sage exists to this day at Kurjey Lhakhang in Jakar, and he is also associated with many other sacred sites in Bhutan, with perhaps the most notable being the cliff-hanging Taktshang Monastery in Paro.
Bhutan's weather varies from north to south and valley to valley, mainly depending upon the elevation. In the North of Bhutan on the borders with Tibet it is perennially covered with snow. In western, central and eastern Bhutan (Ha, Paro, Thimphu, Wandue, Trongsa, Bumthang, Trashi Yangtse, Lhuntse), you will mostly experience European-like weather. Winter lasts here from November to March. Punakha is an exception as it is in a lower valley where summer is hot and winter is pleasant. Southern Bhutan bordering with India is hot and humid with a sub-tropical climate. While the monsoon significantly affects Northern India, it does not command the same influence in Bhutan. Summer months tend to be wetter with isolated showers predominantly in the evenings only. Winter is by far the driest period while spring and autumn tend to be pleasant.
There are four distinct seasons similar in their divisions to those of Western Europe. Temperatures in the far south range from 15°C in winter (December to February) to 30°C in summer (June to August). In Thimphu the range is from -2.5°C in January to 25°C in August and with a rainfall of 100mm. In the high mountain regions the average temperature is 0°C in winter and may reach 10°C in summer, with an average of 350mm of rain. Precipitation varies significantly with elevation and the average rainfall varies from region to region.
When to visit
The best time to visit Bhutan is the spring and winter season. In the spring (March to June) the jacaranda and rhododendron trees can be seen in full bloom. In the winter (October to December) visitors get an unobstructed view of the snow-capped Himalayan range bounding Bhutan due to clear sky with little to no rain.
Bhutanese holidays are rooted in the Drukpa Lineage of Kagyu Buddhism, the House of Wangchuck and the Tibetan calendar. Even secular holidays, however, have a measure of religious overtone, as religious choreography and blessings mark these auspicious days.
- January 2 - Winter Solstice (celebratory in Western Bhutan)
- January/February (1st day of the 12th month in Tibetan Calendar) - Traditional Day of Offerings (a day to offer food to hungry creatures - celebrated as new year in Eastern Bhutan)
- February 21–23 - Birth Anniversary of HM the Fifth King Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuck
- February or March (1st day of the 1st month in Tibetan Calendar) - Bhutanese/Tibetan New Year (losar)
- May 2 - Birth Anniversary of Third king Jigme Dorji Wangchuck
- April or May (10th day of the 4th month in Tibetan Calendar) - Shabdrung Kuchoe (commemorates the passing of Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal in 1651 CE)
- May or June (15th day of the 4th month in Tibetan Calendar) - Commemoration of Lord Buddha's Parnirvana.
- June or July (10th day of the 5th month in Tibetan Calendar) - Anniversary of the Birth of Guru Rinpoche
- July or August (4th day of the 7th month in Tibetan Calendar) - The first sermon of Lord Buddha (turning of the Dharma wheel)
- 'September (not fixed) - Thimphu Drubchen (Thimphu Only)
- September (not fixed) - Blessed Rainy Day
- September or October (1st day of the 6th month (Ashvin) in Hindi calendar) - Hindu ceremony of Dashain
- September or October (not fixed) - Thimphu Tshechu (Thimphu Only)
- November 1 (not fixed) - Coronation Day of His Majesty the King
- November 11 - birth anniversary of Jigme Singye Wangchuck the 4th king of Bhutan, Constitution Day
- November (22nd day of the 10th month in Tibetan Calendar) - Descending Day of Lord Buddha
- December 17 - National Day, commemorating the 1907 coronation of the first hereditary king of Bhutan, Ugyen Wangchuck
In addition to the above national holidays, there are also Tshechu holidays which are celebrated regionally.
Read and watch
- Travellers and Magicians, Bhutan's first internationally acclaimed feature film was made in 2003 and showcases life in Bhutan.
- Beyond the Sky and the Earth (buy) - Jamie Zeppa writes about his experiences as a young Canadian teaching at schools in Bhutan - very entertaining and informative.
- The Raven Crown (buy) - A book by Michael Aris about the origins of the Buddhist monarchy in Bhutan.
- The Circle of Karma - an excellent novel by acclaimed local author Kunzang Choden - insights into the lives of Bhutanese women.
Bhutan does not have addresses, though streets in the bigger towns, such as Thimphu, have been designated names, which come before the suffix lam, meaning street or road. As an example, the main street in Thimphu is Norzin Lam. Monasteries are called by their specific names, followed by the word for monastery or temple in Dzongkha - Lhakhang or Goempa (Gompa). As an example, Khurjey Lhakhang is a famous monastery in Jakar.
Bhutan has one of the most restrictive visa policies in the world, and travel to the country is highly regulated under the government's "High Value, Low Impact Tourism" scheme. In accordance with this, virtually all nationalities require a visa to enter the country, except citizens of India, Bangladesh, and the Maldives.
All tourists must book their travel through a local licensed tour operator (or international partner). Visas are applied for online by your local tour operator and it is not required that you visit a Bhutanese Embassy or consulate. Your holiday must be paid in full, via a wire transfer, to the Tourism Council of Bhutan account before a tourist visa is issued. Visa clearance takes no longer than 72 hours, once full payment has been received. The visa fee is US$40 per entry which you should buy with your travel package. At your point of entry the visa will be stamped in your passport. Visa extensions can be obtained through your local tour operator at a cost of Nu.510 (1 Ngultrum = 1 Indian Rupee) and the tourist will also be subject to the daily tariff for the additional days.
Visas are issued on receipt of full payment of your holiday by the Tourism Council of Bhutan, and the fixed rates are typically around US$250/person/day depending on time of year. The money remains with the Tourism Council until your travel in-country is complete before the local tour operator is paid. Bhutan does not restrict tourist numbers any longer and operates an open door policy.
As travel to Bhutan almost invariably requires at least one flight change in Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Singapore or Thailand, ensure that you meet the visa requirements of those countries before transiting through. Nepal and Thailand offer visas on arrival or visa waiver for many nationalities. India generally requires visa procedures to be completed before arrival, and this can take up to two weeks.
Bhutan Entry Permit - for Indian tourists
For citizens of India, Bangladesh and Maldives only, visas are issued on entry. A photograph and a valid Passport (or Voter ID Card for Indian residents only), is required (along with a photocopy of either). Fill the document with purpose "Tourism". At land border crossings you will only get 7 days for Paro and Thimphu. For extension of duration apply in Thimphu at the Immigration office at the northern end of Norzin Lam. For visiting other districts you will need to apply for road permits at the same office. They are best applied in the morning and you will receive the document in the afternoon. In case you are a defence official without a passport or a student without the above three accepted identification papers, you can request the Indian consulate further up the road to provide you an identification endorsement document but this takes time.
All regional tourists (citizens of Bangladesh, Indian and Maldives) are required to obtain a route permit before entering Bhutan. Regional tourists require permits for Bhutan since they do not need to obtain a Visa for entering Bhutan. Regional tourists entering Bhutan via Air can get the Entry Permit at the Paro International Airport.
What is an Entry Permit?
Regional tourists entering Bhutan via road are asked to obtain an Entry permit and are asked to produce it in every check posts in Bhutan. Entry permits are obtained from the Immigration office in Phuntsholing. The immigration office is open from 08:00 till 16:00 on weekdays and closed on Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays. Lunch hours are from 13:00 to 14:00 BST. BST is 30 minutes ahead of IST.
There are 3 points to enter into Bhutan via land.
Phuntsholing (western Bhutan), Gelephu (central Bhutan), Samdrup jongkhar (eastern Bhutan)
All of the entry points require the same procedure to avail the entry permit.
What documents are required to obtain the Entry Permit PERMIT ?
- Passport copy/Voter ID card + 2 Photographs (Please carry originals also for verification). For children below 18 years without valid passport, Birth Certificates and valid school ID are required to get an Entry Permit. (Both are required in the case of a school-going kid).
- A Hotel Confirmation voucher. This is to make sure that all tourists visiting Bhutan has a proper address. So book a hotel prior to your arrival and have your hotel send you a confirmation voucher before entering Bhutan.
The Entry Permit granted by immigration officials in Phuntsholing is valid for travelling in Thimphu and Paro only. Once you arrive in Thimphu, you must apply for a Special area permit to visit any places other than Thimphu and Paro, such as Punakha.
Once you arrive in Thimphu, take a photocopy of your route permit to the Immigration office in Thimphu and process for the Special Area Permit. You must fill out another form and attached your route permit along with it. You can collect your extension permits from the same office after 1 hour. If you are driving your own vehicle, you need to avail the Extension Permit from RSTA (Road safety and transport authority) next to Lutenzampa School/bus parking.
Aadhar Cards are no longer accepted to apply for an entry permit into Bhutan. In case, you are not carrying a valid travel document (Passport/Voter ID), you should approach the Indian Consulate Office in Phuentsholing and apply for the “Identification Slip” with proper proof of Indian nationality. If you are driving your own vehicle, you need to avail the permit for the vehicle as well. To avail this vehicle permit, produce your driver’s license.
Advance Online Permit
An online permit can be availed for entering into Bhutan. You need to book a minimum 3-star hotel, and your tour should be accompanied by a tour guide. You need to book your trip with a local tour operator in Bhutan. Have your tour operator avail an online permit for you before your trip. The online permit also mandates you to have a passport with minimum validity of 6 months before the exact date of travel. Voter cards/ adhar cards are not accepted.
Procedure for obtaining the Entry Permit
Usually it takes around 30 minutes to get all formalities done and get your permit. You need to fill in a form, attach your photographs and submit at the first counter. Your name will be called at the next counter, once your name is called at the next counter, you need to reach there to get your picture clicked and provide fingerprints. You can collect your Entry Permit from the third counter stamped and signed. It may take longer on Mondays as the office is closed on weekends.
Validity of the Permit
Entry Permit and Special area permit is valid for a maximum of 7 days and if you want to spend more time than 7 days, you need to visit the Immigration office in Thimphu again and apply for an extension of stay. Documents required for extension: A copy of Original Entry Permit, 1 photograph.
Though there is an immigration office in Paro, but extensions are provided only at the Thimphu immigration office.
Immigration office at Thimphu for extension of your stay or getting permit for restricted areas.
Penalties for not obtaining the Entry Permit.
There are immigration check posts at all routes and it is your responsibility to get your entry and extension passes stamped both during entry and return. In case you miss getting your pass stamped, there is a hefty fine (on a daily basis) and also the chances that your permit may be confiscated by authorities. So, please make sure to stop at all these checkpoints both at entry and exit.
Your special area permit will be checked in Hongtsho, before arriving Dochula pass. So, please ensure to get the required extensions in advance to avoid any inconvenience.
Fee for obtaining the Entry Permit
There is absolutely no cost for obtaining the entry permits, special area permits or vehicle permits unless you hire a local agent to avoid going through the hassle yourself.
Keep your permits with you throughout your trip.
You permit is an important document while you are in Bhutan and you must keep it with you at all times. It is checked at various immigration points while travelling between cities and also to enter in all key Dzongs and Monasteries including Paro, Punakha & Thimphu Dzongs and Tiger’s Nest Monastery.
Disposal of permit
At the end of the trip, you must submit the Entry Permits and extensions at the last immigration point during exit.
The Tourism Council of Bhutan operates the daily tariff for all tourists entering the country. It is not possible to enter Bhutan as a tourist without paying this tariff, unless you are a citizen of India, Bangladesh or the Maldives.
The daily tariff covers:
- A minimum of 3-star accommodation – Luxury hotels may incur an additional fee
- All meals – Breakfast, lunch, dinner
- A licensed Bhutanese Tour Guide for the extent of the stay
- All internal transport – excluding any internal flights
- Camping equipment and haulage for trekking tours
- All internal taxes and charges
- A royalty of US$65 (which is included in the tariff price)
The minimum tariff is (for a group of 3 persons or more):
- US$250 per person per night for the months of March, April, May, September, October and November.
- US$200 per person per night for the months of January, February, June, July, August and December.
The rates are applicable per tourist per night halt in Bhutan. Groups of two or less are subject to a surcharge, over and above the minimum daily rates applicable, as follows:
- Individual, US$40 per night
- 2 persons, US$30 per person per night.
There is no charge for children up to the age of 5 years. Children aged between 6 and 12 years accompanied by parents or guardians are given a 50% discount on daily rates and 100% discount on Royalty. Full-time students below the age of 25 years holding valid identity cards from their academic institutions are also given a 25% discount on daily rates. A discount of 50% on daily rates is given to one person in a group of 11 to 15 people. 100% discount is given to one member in a group exceeding 16 persons.
A 50% discount on the royalty fee is provided after the 8th night and a 100% discount on Royalty is provided after the 14th night.
This Tour Cost Calculator uses the above conditions to calculate and return an exact tariff for a trip to Bhutan.
It is illegal to undercut tariff prices, and any tour operators found to be undercutting will have their licence terminated.
The only other options for visiting the country are to receive an invitation by a Bhutanese citizen, where proof of the relationship must be presented on applying, or through an NGO.
India, Bangladesh and the Maldives citizens are exempt from minimum tariff requirements. They also do not pay the tourism royalty charges, and certain taxes that form part of the daily tariff.
Paro International Airport (PBH IATA) is the only entry point to Bhutan by air, located in the southwest of the country near capital Thimphu. Flag carrier Druk Air operates 2 Airbuses which fly routes to Bangkok in Thailand; Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Bodh Gaya/ Gaya, Bagdogra, Guwahati in India; Kathmandu in Nepal; Dhaka in Bangladesh and Singapore. Bhutan Airlines offers daily flights to Bangkok. For aviation enthusiasts, the approach into Paro Airport is one of the most difficult in the world due to the fact that it involves flying at low altitude through a winding, mountainous valley.
The other option is Bagdogra Airport (IXB IATA), serving the city of Siliguri in the neighbouring Indian state of West Bengal. Bagdogra is a four-hour drive from the Bhutanese border town of Phuentsholing. Bagdogra receives frequent flights from major cities within India, and Druk Air operates flights from Bangkok at least weekly.
There are three land border crossings located along the southern border to India only. Phuntsholing in the west, Gelephu in the central region and Samdrup Jongkhar in the east. No border crossings are open along the Chinese northern border. Road permits are also required; however, these are processed by your local tour operator, along with your visa.
- From Kolkata: The Royal Bhutanese Government runs a service to Phuentsholing. These buses depart from Kolkata's Esplanade bus station at 19:00 on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday and from the Phuentsholing Bhutan Post office at 15:00 on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. The journey takes around 18 hours and costs ₹/Nu.300. The buses are comfortable, but because much of the highway to Kolkata is like the surface of the moon, don't bank on getting much sleep on the way.
- From Siliguri: Buses depart daily at 07:30 and 13:30 from opposite Golden Plaza on Burdwan Road (behind Air View More) to Phuentsholing. Tickets are sold at a counter near the bus and the journey takes around four hours.
- From Phuentsholing: There are private buses departing from the bus station every half an hour until 16:00. Shared taxis are also available from near the bus station.
There are no railways in Bhutan. The nearest options (both in India) are:
- Hasimara on the main Kolkata/Siliguri line to Assam is the nearest railway station to Phuentsholing, 17 km away. Indian Rail operated train #13149 and #4084 stop here. As of 2010, some sections of the road from New Jalpaiguri/Siliguri to Phuentsholing are in a very bad shape. Extending travel by train till Hasimara would save your freshness for Bhutan.
- New Jalpaiguri Station (NJP) in Siliguri is a popular choice for travellers heading to Bhutan by land. There are direct shared taxis from NJP to Jaigaon or there is the option of buses from Siliguri bus station. A taxi between the station and the bus station costs up to ₹80. Alternatively you can also take a local train to Hasimara which costs around ₹40 and takes around 3 hours. Trains from NJP should be booked ahead, as it is a popular station amongst locals. There are not any trains leaving from this station with a tourist quota.
Route permits are required to travel around Bhutan, and there are check posts in most districts east and north of Thimphu where you are required to produce these documents in order to proceed. Route permits are processed by your local tour operator on applying for your visa. These permits are issued by the immigration office in Thimphu (Northern end of Norzin Lam).
Plane travel is a fast and relatively safe alternative to tackling Bhutan's twisty roads, but schedules are sparse and flights are cancelled at the drop of a hat. Druk Air and Bhutan Airways (aka Tashi Air) fly from Paro (Thimphu) to Yongphula Airport near Trashigang and Bathpalathang Airport in Jakar, Bumthang region, and to Gelephu close to the Indian border, in the southern central region.
By bus or car
The roads that cross the country are characterised by their twists, turns, and steep inclines, but despite the difficult topography, they are generally very well-maintained and safe. Local and inter-district bus services are not so comfortable and stop frequently. Your local tour operator will provide a vehicle and driver for the duration of your stay. This cost is included in the daily tariff. However, travelling by local or inter-district bus or taxi can also be organised. It is recommended that you drive in Bhutan only if you have experience driving in mountainous regions. The quality of road surface is variable with endless mountainous hairpin bends. It is recommended that you pack travel sickness tablets.
As the public transport running between towns in Bhutan is infrequent, hitching is a very common way to get around. The thumb in the air symbol, however, is not recognised, and you will need to flag down a passing vehicle in order to get one to stop. As some drivers pick up passengers as a means of supplementing their incomes, it is customary to offer payment when getting out of the vehicle (the amount depends roughly on the distance, but it will be comparable to the cost of travelling by bus). However, most drivers require nothing, and are more than happy just to have some company and the opportunity to make a new friend. If you plan to hitch a lot (and in some rural areas there is no other way to get around), it is a good idea to take a few small gifts to offer the drivers as an expression of your appreciation.
Due to the mountainous terrain, roads are frequently blocked by rock falls during the summer season. Therefore, it is best to avoid travelling long distances from the beginning of June to the end of August. However, if you must travel at this time, carry ample bottled water and snacks as if a landslide occurs it could take some time to clear the road.
At an altitude of 3750 m, the section of road that runs through the Thrumshingla Pass connecting Bumthang and Mongar is the highest in the country and offers some spectacular scenery. However, due to the steep sides of the valley it is especially susceptible to rock falls, so be prepared for long waits during the wet periods in particular.
The majority of tourists do "cultural tours" where they visit important destinations. Paro, Thimphu, Punakha, Phobjikha, and Jakar are popular destinations. Further afield, the unexplored region of Zhemgang (birders paradise, excellent wildlife viewing) and Eastern Bhutan have just been opened up to tourism. If you are an adventurist and want to explore the unexplored the east of Bhutan is the place for you. This unique and yet untouched part of the country offers the ultimate experience.
Taktsang Monastery (Tiger's Nest), Paro. This is one of the most important Buddhist sites in the world, and Guru Rinpoche visited here in the 8th century on his second visit to Bhutan. It is the most recognised and visited monument in Bhutan. It is believed that he arrived on the back of a winged tigress, hence the name, Tiger's Nest. The temple is built on a 1,200-metre cliff and was built in 1692.
Hundreds of monasteries dot the landscape in some of the most pristine and remote areas.
Kurje Lhakhang, Jakar. A temple built around a cave with a body print of Guru Rinpoche embedded in the wall. Guru Rinpoche practiced meditation here on his first visit to Bhutan and as such it is the earliest Buddhist relic in the country.
Buddha Dordenma is a gigantic Shakyamuni Buddha statue in Thimphu. The statue houses over one hundred thousand smaller Buddha statues, each of which, like the Buddha Dordenma itself, are made of bronze and gilded in gold. The Buddha Dordenma is located among the ruins of Kuensel Phodrang, the palace of Sherab Wangchuck, the thirteenth Desi Druk, overlooking the southern approach to Thimphu. At a height of 169 feet (51.5 m) it is one of the largest Buddha rupas in the world.
The dzongs are ancient fortresses that now serve as the civil and monastic administration headquarters of each district. Apart from the architecture, which in itself makes a dzong worth visiting, they also hold many art treasures.
Dzongs dot the countryside and were built without the use of cement, nails or plans. Dzongs in Bhutan you can visit are:
- Punakha Dzong
- Trongsa Dzong
- Jakar Dzong
- Lhuentse Dzong
- Simtokha Dzong
- Gasa Dzong
- Rinpung Dzong
- Tashichho Dzong - Buddhist monastery and fortress on the northern edge of Thimpu; traditional seat of the Druk Desi (or "Dharma Raja"), the head of Bhutan's civil government (synonymous with the king since 1907) and summer capital
- Lingzhi Yügyal Dzong
- Drukgyal Dzong
- Changchukha Dzong
- Tsechen Monastery and Dzong
- Shongar Dzong
- Singye Dzong
Trekking is also extremely popular. The Druk path is the most commonly trekked from Paro, to the capital Thimphu. However, many other more impressive treks are available, see the complete list below. The Jomolhari, and Laya Gasa trek are also very popular and the Snowman Trek is reported to be one of the toughest treks in the world, taking approximately 30 days. The recommended season for this trek is mid-June to mid-October.
Other treks include:
- Bumthang Cultural Trek.
- Bumthang Owl Trek.
- Chelela Trek
- Dagala Thousand Lakes Trek.
- Dongla Trek
- Druk Path Trek.
- Dur Hot Spring Trek.
- Gangjula Trek
- Gangkar Puensum
- Gantey Trek.
- Jomolhari Trek.
- Laya Gasa Trek.
- Lingmithang – Zhemgang Trek
- Nabji Korphu Community Based Trek.
- Nubtsona Pata Trek
- Punakha Winter Trek.
- Rigsum Goenpa Trek
- Royal Heritage Trek
- Sagala Trek
- Samtengang Trek.
- Sinchula Trek.
- Gantey Trek.
- Snowman Trek.
- Wild East Rodungla Trek.
Bhutan's pristine environment offers ecosystems which are rich and diverse. Due to its location and great geographical and climatic variations, Bhutan’s high, rugged mountains and valleys boast spectacular biodiversity, earning it a name as one of the world’s ten most important biodiversity hotspots.
Recognizing the importance of environment, conservation of its rich biodiversity is one of its development paradigms. The government has decreed that 60% of its forest resources will be maintained for all time by law. Today, 72% of the total land area is under forest cover and 26% is protected in four parks.
35% of Bhutan is made up of protected national parks. Namely, Jigme Singye Wangchuck National Park (1,300 km2), TrumshingLa National Park (768 km2), Royal Manas National Park (9,938.54 km2), Jigme Dorji National Park (4,349 km2), Bumdeling Wildlife Sanctuary (1,545 km2) and Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary (650 km2).
Festivals or Tshechu (“tenth day”) are another major draw card to Bhutan and are held every year in various temples, monasteries and dzongs across the country. The Tshechu is mainly a religious event celebrated on the tenth day of the lunar calendar month corresponding to the birth day of Guru Rinpoche (Guru Padmasambhava). However the month of Tshechu depends place to place and temple to temple.
Tshechus are large social gatherings where people from various villages come together to witness the religious mask dances which are based on incidents from as long ago as the 8th century from the life of Guru Padmasambhava and to receive blessings from lamas. The event also consists of colourful Bhutanese dances and other entertainments.
It is said that everyone must attend a Tshechu and witness the mask dances at least once to receive the blessings and wash away the sins. Every mask dances performed during Tshechu has a meaning or a story behind. In monasteries the mask dances are performed by monks and in remote villages they are performed jointly by monks and village men. Among many Tshechus in the country most popular are Paro and Thimphu Tshechus in terms of participation and audience. Besides the locals many tourists from around the world are attracted to this unique, colourful and exciting culture.
Other festivals which happen throughout the year are:
- Black Necked Crane Festival. November 11th in Phobjikha
- Chorten Kora Festival.
- Gomphu Kora Festival.
- Haa Summer Festival.
- Jampa Lhakhang festival.
- Kurjey Festival.
- Lhuentse Festival.
- Merak Tshechu.
- Mongar Festival.
- Nimalung Festival.
- Nomad Festival.
- Paro Tsechu.
- Pema Gatshel Festival.
- Punakha Festival.
- Sakten Tshechu.
- Takin Festival.
- Thimphu Festival.
- Trashigang Festival.
- Trongsa Festival.
- Ura yakchoe.
- Wangdue Phodrang Festival.
- Bhutan Birds Festival 2019 : The second Bhutan Birds Festival (BBF) was held in Tingtibi, Zhemgang in November 2019. The BBF intends to encourage the local community of Zhemgang to protect their rich forest and conserve the high diversity of wildlife. Zhemgang is a popular birding destination.
- Trekking: Bhutan is a popular place for trekking, though the walks are generally quite tough as there are no places to stay or eat in the higher regions, and so all food and camping equipment must be carried in. Autumn and spring are the best seasons for undertaking a trek. In the summer, the paths are too muddy, while in winter they are snow-covered. However, despite the difficulties of the treks, all efforts and discomforts are more than compensated for by the stunning scenery and extremely friendly, gentle and hospitable people that are met along the way. See: Wilderness backpacking.
- Festivals: Tshechu is the largest religious festival in Bhutan and is celebrated in the late summer and autumn throughout the country (see city articles for local information), though Thimphu Tshechu is the most famous and attracts around 30,000 people. The highlight of the tshechu ceremonies is the masked dances by monks, which were developed according to precise instructions given by past Buddhist masters. According to Buddhist philosophy, all experiences leave an imprint in the mind stream that produces a corresponding result in the future, and so viewing these dances, which are imbued with sacred symbolism, is considered to be a very auspicious and sanctifying experience. While the event is not held in a solemn atmosphere and there is much merriment, visitors are reminded that it is still a religious festival that is of great importance to Bhutanese people, and so appropriate behavior is expected.
- Archery: This is the national sport of Bhutan and competitions are held throughout the country at most weekends. Visitors are very welcome to watch and also to add voice to the boisterous cheering that accompanies these events.
- Hot Stone Bath: The hot stone bath is a ritual in itself, riverside rocks are heated till red hot and gradually dropped into a wooden tub filled with water and scattered with Artemisia leaves. The burning rocks heat the water gradually and thus release minerals in to the water. Traditionally these bath are done near a river bed with plenty of supplies of stones and water and preferably after dark in the open air.
Bhutan is a linguistically diverse country, with many languages spoken throughout the country.
Dzongkha, a member of the Tibetic language family, is the national language of the country and the mother tongue of most people residing in Western Bhutan.
In Eastern Bhutan, the major regional language is Sharchopkha (Tshangla), which derives much of its vocabulary from Classical Tibetan. The language is mostly used as a spoken language rather than a written language.
Nepali is understood by a vast majority of Bhutanese and it is the most widely spoken Indo-Aryan language in the country.
English is widely understood by the vast majority of Bhutanese, as it is used as the medium of instruction in Bhutanese schools.
Due to the influence of Bollywood (Hindi-language cinema) and close relations with India, some Bhutanese people can also understand Hindi, but it is not as widely spoken as Nepali.
Aspects of talking in Bhutan include:
- La. The suffix 'la' is an honorific, and many Bhutanese feel that their remarks sound too harsh if it is not used, and this carries over even into English. So, don't be surprised if you hear expressions such as "Yes-la" or "I'm not sure-la". It just implies respect.
- Reach. In Bhutan, the verb 'reach' means to 'take' or 'accompany' (a person). For example: "I'll reach you to the bus station" means "I'll take/accompany you to the bus station."
- Cousin-brother, Cousin-sister. Extended families living under one roof are common in Bhutan. As a result, the dividing line between siblings and cousins is blurred, and so it is not uncommon to be introduced to a "cousin-brother" or "cousin-sister". Although these people are just cousins, the English word implies a more distant relationship than is the fact in Bhutan.
- BST. The exact meaning of this phrase is 'Bhutan Standard Time', but as Bhutanese people are notorious for being late or just not turning up at all, it has taken on the meaning of 'Bhutan Stretchable Time'. Therefore, when someone arrives late, they will often excuse themselves by saying that they are running on BST.
Exchange rates for Bhutanese Ngultrum
As of January 2022:
Exchange rates fluctuate. Current rates for these and other currencies are available from XE.com
The currency of the country is the Bhutanese ngultrum, denoted by the symbol "Nu." (ISO code: BTN). It is fixed to the Indian rupee at an exchange rate of 1:1, and small Indian rupee bills (₹200 or less) can be used interchangeably in Bhutan. (This is one-way only, since ngultrum are not accepted in India.)
- US dollar: US dollars are widely accepted. Bhutanese currency is only needed for expenses personal in nature and buying small souvenir items.
- Credit cards: Visa, MasterCard and Visa Maestro are compatible with most ATMs in Bhutan, most of which are concentrated in Thimphu and Paro.
- Money exchange Banks and major hotels change major currencies.
- ATMs: The main banks operate ATMs that accept international cards such as Visa MasterCard. However, as the service it is not overly reliable, it is best to have other funds on hand.
- Western Union Money Transfer: Thimphu Post Office. This facility can receive transfer of funds from overseas, but cannot make payments from customers' personal accounts.
- Woven cloth. Bhutanese handwoven fabric is prized around the world, and is available stitched into clothing, wall hangings, table mats and rugs.
- Yathra. A brightly colored woven material made from wool and dyed with natural colors. It is sold in pieces or sewn into jackets, bags, rugs and wall hangings. Yathra is available in Thimphu and other cold areas, but is a specialty of the Jakar area.
- Dappa. Hand made wooden bowls. The halves of the bowl fit tightly together so they can be used to carry cooked food, which is their function in Bhutan. However, they also make excellent salad or cookie bowls. Dappa are a specialty of the Trashi Yangtse region, but can be purchased throughout the country.
- Bangchung. Small bamboo woven baskets with two tightly fitting halves. They are a specialty of southern Bhutan, but available throughout the country.
- See also: South Asian cuisine
Rice is a staple with every meal; traditionally red rice, but white rice is now common too. Vegetable or meat dishes cooked with chilli and/or cheese comprise the accompanying cuisine.
Bhutanese food has one predominant flavour - chilli. This small red condiment is not only added to every dish but is also often eaten raw. So, if you don't like spicy-hot food, make this abundantly clear before ordering a meal. Otherwise, you'll be spending the next hour dousing your mouth with cold yoghurt or milk.
Bhutanese delicacies are rich with spicy chilli and cheese. All the hotels, resorts and restaurants will offer delicious Bhutanese food, Chinese, Continental, and Indian cuisines.
Rice forms the main body of most Bhutanese meals. It is accompanied by one or two side dishes consisting of meat or vegetables. Pork, beef and chicken are the meats that are eaten most often. Vegetables commonly eaten include Spinach, pumpkins, turnips, radishes, tomatoes, river weed, onions and green beans. Grains such as rice, buckwheat and barley are also cultivated in various regions of the country depending on the local climate.
The following is a list of some of the most popular Bhutanese dishes:
- Ema Datshi: This is the National Dish of Bhutan. A spicy mix of chillies and the delicious local cheese known as Datshi. This dish is a staple of nearly every meal and can be found throughout the country. Variations on Ema Datshi include adding green beans, ferns, potatoes, mushrooms or swapping the regular cheese for yak cheese.
- Momos: These Tibetan-style dumplings are stuffed with pork, beef or cabbages and cheese. Traditionally eaten during special occasions, these tasty treats are a Bhutanese favourite.
- Phaksha Paa: Pork cooked with spicy red chillies. This dish can also include Radishes or Spinach. A popular variation uses sun-dried (known as Sicaam).
- Hoentoe: Aromatic buckwheat dumplings stuffed with turnip greens, datshi (cheese), spinach and other ingredients.
- Jasha Maru: Spicy minced chicken, tomatoes and other ingredients that is usually served with rice.
- Red Rice: This rice is similar to brown rice and is extremely nutritious and filling. When cooked it is pale pink, soft and slightly sticky.
- Goep (Tripe): Though the popularity of tripe has diminished in many countries it is still enjoyed in Bhutan. Like most other meat dishes, it is cooked with plenty of spicy chillies and chilli powder.
- Ema-datsi. Ema means chilli and datsi is a kind of cottage cheese, so ema-datsi is similar to jalapeños with cream cheese.
- Kewa-datsi. A potato, cheese and chilli dish.
- Shamu-datsi. A mushroom, cheese and chilli dish.
Kewa-datsi and shamu-datsi tend to be less hot than ema-datsi; all three dishes are generally served with rice.
- Mutter paneer. Though not a Bhutanese dish, this Indian staple of curried peas and cheese is readily available throughout Bhutan and is therefore an additional choice for vegetarians.
- Cheese momo. A small steamed bun that traditionally contained cheese, cabbage and sometimes onion. However, these days other vegetables, including green papaya, may be substituted for cabbage.
- Khuli. Buckwheat pancakes - a specialty of Bumthang. They are often served with ema-datsi as an alternative to rice.
- Puta. A dish of buckwheat noodles usually served with curd - a specialty of Bumthang
Imtrat run canteens that sell excellent Indian dishes along with tea from 9:30AM–4:30PM. The quality of the food is very good, while the price is low. The canteens are located throughout the country, especially along main highways.
- Ara. A local spirit brewed from rice or corn. It is popular in rural areas, and often served in restaurants, particularly at the start of meals, poured from a special vessel. Ara is more commonly drunk in the east of the country, particularly in and around Lhuentse.
- Tea. Located next to the tea growing regions of Assam and Darjeeling, a steaming cuppa remains the popular drink in Bhutan, with both the butter variety (suja) and sweet milk kind (cha) readily available throughout the country. The butter tea is very traditional but has quite a strong flavor and is similar to Tibetan tea, while the sweet milk kind is very drinkable and is like Indian chai.
- Coffee. The coffee culture that has swept most of the planet has taken root in the country, and there are a number of good cafes in Thimphu, Paro, and Jakar. However, outside these three towns, coffee means the instant variety and it is served simply white or black.
- Beer. The main local beers are from Bhutan Brewery (founded 2006), part of the Tashi Group conglomerate, and are sold in 650 ml bottles: Druk 11000 (8%) is cheapest and a lot of alcohol; slightly higher quality and lower alcohol are Druk Lager Premium (5%) and Druk Supreme (6%); none of these are particularly good. There is also sometimes Red Panda Weissbeer (wheat beer), which is rather good. Imported beers may not be available, as importing these is sometimes banned (to preserve foreign reserves).
- Whisky. There is some "Bhutanese whisky", though it is neither Bhutanese nor straight whisky. Rather, it is blended whisky, made of imported Scotch malt whisky blended with grain neutral spirits: it is blended and bottled in Bhutan, but not distilled locally. These are produced by the Army Welfare Project in Gelephu, and the main brand is Special Courier, which is surprisingly drinkable.
All towns connected by motorable roads have hotels, though the standard varies considerably. International standard hotels are mostly found in tourist areas or major towns, while five star accommodation is only available in Paro, Jakar, Punakha, Gangtey and Thimphu.
The hotel rates shown on the city articles are only relevant to people who have residency, visa exemption (generally this only applies to Indian nationals) or who are visiting the country as an invited guest. Other visitors can only enter the country as part of a tour, for which the daily rates are set by the Bhutanese authorities at around US$250 per person per night irrespective of the hotel rates (except for very expensive hotels where a surcharge is added).
- It is possible to receive instruction on Buddhist practice at any monastery, though for discussions on Buddhist philosophy it is better to consult with the khenpos or loppons (teachers) at Buddhist colleges (shedra), such as, for example, Lhodrak Kharchhu Monastery in Jakar, Tango Monastery near Thimphu or Chokyi Gyatso Institute in Deothang.
- Weaving - Bhutanese woven cloth is prized throughout the world for its unique designs and high quality, and there is a weaving centre in Khaling in Trashigang.
There are a few NGOs based in Bhutan, so it is possible to arrange volunteer work. However, Bhutan is very selective about who it engages in this field. In addition, it is highly unlikely that a position can be found while visiting Bhutan, so those interested in undertaking volunteer work here should first seek employment with NGOs overseas and then express a preference to be located in Bhutan.
- While drug abuse is not uncommon in urban areas, it will not affect tourists, and Bhutan remains one of the safest places in the world for travellers.
- Police in Thimphu are quite active, they keep doing rounds around the city late nights to ensure safety.
- Bears are a threat in remote mountainous regions.
- Hospitals and clinics are located throughout the country, even in the remotest areas. However, travellers should not expect hi-tech facilities, and at many of the Basic Health Units the resident doctor is often away.
- Indigenous medical facilities are located in all district capitals, with the largest being in Thimphu, so it is also possible to have ailments diagnosed and treated using natural herbal compounds while in Bhutan.
- Waterborne diseases such as diarrhea, dysentery, giardia and even typhoid are not uncommon in Bhutan, especially during the summer monsoon season. Tap water is not safe to drink. Therefore, ensure that all water has been thoroughly boiled or otherwise purified before consuming.
- In case of emergency, it is advisable to carry first aid material, which might include a few antibiotics and acetaminophen (paracetamol).
- Altitude sickness can strike at altitudes as low as 2,500m. Be aware of this before embarking on expeditions in the mountains. If you suffer palpitations, shortness of breath or severe headaches, inform your guide and head to a lower altitude immediately. Take altitude sickness seriously. It can and does kill.
- The hygiene standard is acceptable in tourist areas. However, it is probably wise to prepare medicine for stomach upsets.
- The Street dog population is very high in Thimphu (and to a lesser extent in many of the towns). Most of the animals are extremely docile and there are very few cases of tourists ever being bitten. Still, it is best to err on the side of safety and not to disturb the animals. Moreover, if bitten, immediately receive a rabies vaccination. Although incidences of the disease are uncommon, it inevitably proves fatal if left untreated.
- Malaria and dengue fever are not common problems in Bhutan, though there are outbreaks in the Indian border regions during the summer monsoon season.
- The Bhutanese royal family is venerated in Bhutanese society. It is wise to bear this in mind when conversing with local people.
- Sacred objects. Always pass mani stones, stupas and other religious objects with your right side nearest to the object, and turn prayer wheels in a clockwise direction. Never sit on mani stones or stupas.
- Clothing. When visiting temples, remove shoes and headgear and wear clothing that expresses respect for the sacred nature of the site. You will need to wear trousers and long shirts.
- Donations. At monasteries, it is custom to make a small donation to the monks as a sign of respect; and also to the Buddhist statues as a means of developing a generous and spacious mind. There are many places in each temple where you can donate, and it is expected that you donate to each place. Remember to have small notes for this gesture. However, this is not mandatory.
- Smoking. It is illegal to smoke at monasteries and in public places.
- Proselytizing is illegal in Bhutan, and can be punished by prison sentences of up to 3 years. Respect should be afforded to the state religion of Vajrayana Buddhism.
Embassies and consulates
Bhutan has a number of embassies and consulates, including those listed below .
- India: Royal Bhutanese Embassy - Chandragupta Marg, Chanakyapuri, New Delhi 110 021. Tel: 609217/ 609218, Fax:6876710
- U.S.: Consulate General of Bhutan - 2 UN Plaza, 27th Floor, New York NY 10017. Tel:(212) 826–1919, Fax:(212) 826–2998.
- Canada: Honorary Consul of Bhutan - 146 Yorkville Ave, Toronto, ON M5R 1C2. Tel: (416) 960-3552 Email: [email protected]
- Hong Kong: Honorary Consul of Bhutan - 32/F, New World Tower, 16-18 Queen's Road, Central, Hong Kong. Tel: (852) 28443117, 2844–3111, Fax: (852) 25247652 Email: [email protected]
- Thailand: The Royal Bhutanese Embassy in Bangkok - Jewelry Trade Centre Building, Rm. 1907, 19th Floor, 919/1 Silom Road, Bangkok 10500. Tel:2671722, 630119 - Fax:6301193.
- Kuwait: Royal Bhutanese Embassy, Adailiya-Block 3- Essa Abdul Rahman Al-Assoussi Street, Jaddah No. 32- Villa No. 7, Kuwait. Phone: +9652516640/50, Fax: +9652516550
- Bangladesh: Royal Bhutanese Embassy, House No.12 CEN, Road No.107, Gulshan, Dhaka-1212. Phone: +880-2-8826863/8827160, Fax: +880-2-8823939
- The international dialling code for Bhutan is +975
- Wi-Fi is readily available in the majority of hotels throughout the country, and most population centres have internet cafes, although they are relatively expensive.
- Most of Bhutan has mobile phone coverage, which is smart phone capable. B-Mobile has agreements with North American, some Asian and European countries on mobile roaming. Tashi Cell is another mobile company based in country.
- Tourists can now quickly and easily register for a B-Mobile SIM that is valid for 1 month. Simply take your passport to a B-Mobile office. The SIM card costs 50Nu, and comes with 50Nu credit. Ask them to activate 3G and data access while you are there, and test if it works before leaving. There are no data plans per se, but the rate is affordable by international standards (0.0003Nu/KB). The only available SIM card size is the standard size, but some offices have sim cutters for the iPhone 4 & 5 (if you're worried, bring your own SIM cutter). B-Mobile recharge cards can be purchased in most general stores.
- The official tourism board in Bhutan is the Tourism Council of Bhutan, for more information on the destination you can find it on their website.
- Kuensel. A partially government-owned newspaper with a forty-year history. Kuensel is published daily.
- BBS. The official TV broadcasting station.
- Radio Valley. Bhutan's first private FM radio station. A program called "With Love From Home" can be listened to online.
- Kuzoo FM An English language radio channel - mixture of youth orientated music and discussion programs - FM 105.
- Kolkata - Druk Air (Royal Bhutan Airlines) flies between Paro and Kolkata. In addition, the Bhutan Government operates an overnight bus service from Phuentsholing on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. The buses depart from Bhutan Post office at 15:00, and the journey takes around 18 hours and costs ₹/Nu.300 New Delhi - Druk Air flies between Paro and Delhi. It also operates flights between the other Indian cities of Guwahati, Gaya and Siliguri (Bagdogra Airport).
- Nepal - many travellers to Bhutan combine the visit with a trip to this other Himalayan country and Druk Airways operate flights from Paro to Kathmandu.
- Thailand - Druk Air operates daily flights from Paro to Bangkok.
- Dhaka - Druk Air operates 3 flights a week from Paro to Dhaka, capital city of Bangladesh. It is one of the major cities of South Asia.