Despite popular mythology, you don’t need special ‘pull’ to get a visa, neither is there a limit on the number of tourists allowed to visit. However, to minimize the perceived threat to Bhutan’s unique culture, the government has established a stringent set of rules, which means you must travel on a pre-arranged itinerary. all costs included. Apart from that, the process is relatively straightforward. All visa applications must be channelled through the Department of Tourism (DOT) from a selected tour operator such as Goway. With notification of approval, visas are issued when you arrive in the country. It is actually an extremely efficient system and you can set up a trip with as little as 2 weeks’ planning.
The largest and most colourful festivals (tsechus) take place at Bhutan’s dzongs and monasteries once a year in honour of Guru Rinpoche. They normally take place in spring and the fall. Tsechus consist of up to five days of spectacular pageantry, masked dances and religious allegorical plays that have remained unchanged for centuries. As well as being a vital living festival and an important medium of Buddhist teaching, tsechus are huge social gatherings. The Bhutanese revel and rejoice together, dressed in their finest clothes and jewellery, in an infectiously convivial atmosphere where humour and devotion go hand in hand. For visitors, the tsechu provides an ideal opportunity to appreciate the essence of the Bhutanese character. Pack as much film as you think you will need and then double it.
Hotels are one of the several delightful surprises visitors can expect in the Kingdom. The hotels ensure their guests a consistent style and comfort level throughout their stay. Each property is designed in the traditional Bhutanese style, yet each retains its own character and is set in unusual and dramatic locations: from the Hotel Olathang in the foothills of the Paro Valley surrounded by blue pine forests to the Hotel Motithang (Bhutan’s first hotel) overlooking Thimphu’s skyline to Trongsa’s Sherubling Lodge, with its alpine feel and remarkable vista over the golden roofs of Trongsa Dzong. A restaurant serving traditional Bhutanese cuisine tempered to western tastes can be found in all of the hotels. Many of the hotel chefs have been trained at hotel schools in Europe and are very comfortable preparing food to please the western palate. Meals are usually served in buffet style.
Spicy chillies mixed with a cheese sauce called emadatse are the national dish of Bhutan. Chillies are treated as a vegetable rather than a seasoning in the Bhutanese diet. A wide variety of fresh vegetables are a daily staple of the Bhutanese diet. Red and white rice are served at all meals. Meats, poultry and fish (usually in the form of stews) are also found on many Bhutanese menus along with Tibetan momos and noodle dishes. Bhutan’s professional chefs temper their natural tendency to over spice dishes by preparing food more suitable to western taste ranging from Continental to Chinese. Bhutanese, Tibetan and Indian cuisines are also available.
Mode of transportation within Bhutan is by motor vehicles only. There are no domestic airlines or trains. However the main roads are well maintained. The main two-lane highway runs from west to east connecting all the major towns and villages. The mountainous terrain and winding roads restrict the average speed of vehicles to less than 40 km.per hour. During monsoon and winter months, weather can disrupt travel and unexpected changes might occur in itineraries. Every effort will be made to stay as close to original travel itinerary as possible.
Druk Air, the national airline is the only airline that serves Bhutan so most visitors to Bhutan are introduced to the kingdom in its care. Flights enter from Delhi, Calcutta, or Kathmandu and later, Bombay and Madras will be added. It is a flight that travellers will always remember. As the aeroplane rises towards the foothills of the Himalayas, the mountains rise to eye-level with the aircraft. On clear days from Kathmandu, the aeroplane flies past the summit of Everest.
Bhutan’s changeable climate means you have to bring an assortment of clothes including rain gear. A layered wardrobe makes the most sense. Good walking shoes or hiking boots are essential even if you are not hiking. Because of the altitude, a hat or cap and a good pair of sunglasses are essential. Warm clothes are recommended for the evening. Because of the long distances between towns and villages, bring the medicines you will need along with some first-aid supplies. A good flash-light (torch), water bottle and polarizing filter for your camera will also come in very handy.
No vaccinations are currently required for travelling to Bhutan. However, visitors coming from an area infected with yellow fever are required to have had a yellow fever vaccination at least 10 days before their arrival. Cholera vaccinations are strongly recommended for visitors coming from a cholera infected area. Anti-malarial medication is also recommended for all travellers who will be visiting rural areas of districts bordering India.
The photographic opportunities on all trips are immense. The natural scenery is superb, and you will also wish to record the local people, their houses and shops etc. Always ask by a gesture if it is ok to do so. Don’t take your destination as a living museum! Also, note that photography in shrine rooms of dzongs, monasteries and religious institutions is generally not permitted. Outdoor photography is usually permitted, but when visiting such places, please check with your guide before taking any photographs.
Hand-woven textiles, carved masks, woven baskets, wooden bowls, handmade paper products, finely crafted metal objects, thangkha paintings and Bhutan’s exquisite postage stamps are the items mostly purchased by travellers in Bhutan. Thimphu has the most extensive range of textiles, but for yatha (hand-woven woollen textiles), the range is greatest in Bumthang. Thimphu’s gold and silversmiths make to order, with items ready in seven days.
The buying and selling of antiques is strictly forbidden. Be cautious when considering the purchase of old and used items, especially of religious or cultural significance, as such items may not be exported without a clearance certificate. Etho Metho’s advice should be sought before committing to such purchases. It is best to buy more expensive items at reputable shops which provide receipts as proof of purchase.
Hotel and restaurant bills include service charges amounting to 20%. There is no need to add anything further to this.
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