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Difference between revisions of "Bhutan"

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*'''From Phuentsholing''': There are private buses and shared taxis from Phuentsholing to Thimphu but a comfortable option is to book a Bhutan Post bus (Rs/Nu 170) which leaves each morning at 7 AM (Bhutan time) from the post office.  
 
*'''From Phuentsholing''': There are private buses and shared taxis from Phuentsholing to Thimphu but a comfortable option is to book a Bhutan Post bus (Rs/Nu 170) which leaves each morning at 7 AM (Bhutan time) from the post office.  
 
===By train===
 
===By train===
There are no railways in Bhutan, but a link to Phuentsholing from [[India]] is under the final stages of construction. Until then, the nearest options (both in India) are:
+
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 October 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.
 
* [[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 October 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.

Revision as of 17:57, 28 June 2011

[[File:noframe|250px|frameless|Bhutan]]
Location
[[File:noframe|250px|frameless]]
Flag
[[File:Bt-flag.png|108px|frameless]]
Quick Facts
Capital Thimphu
Government Constitutional Monarchy; special treaty relationship with India
Currency Ngultrum (BTN)
Area total: 47,000 km2
water: 0 km2
land: 47,000 km2
Population 672,425 (2005 census)
Language Dzongkha (official), Bhotes speak various Tibetan dialects, Nepalese speak various Nepalese dialects
Religion Vajrayana Buddhist 75%, Indian and Nepalese-influenced Hinduism 25%
Electricity 220V/50Hz
Country code +975
Internet TLD .bt
Time Zone GMT +6

Bhutan [1] is a small country in the Himalayas between the Tibet Autonomous Region of China 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 neighbors. Bhutan is the only Vajrayana Buddhist nation in the world, and the profound teachings of this tradition remain well preserved and exert a strong influence in all aspects of life. Due to its pristine environment and harmonious society, the tiny Kingdom of Bhutan has been called "The Last Shangrila."

Contents

Understand

In terms of average wage, Bhutan is a poor country, however the land is fertile and the population small, so the people are well fed, and beggars and homeless are nonexistent, except for few. In addition, the current generation receives free education, and all citizens have access to free medical care. If a patient's ailment cannot be treated in the country, then the government refers the patients to reputable hospitals abroad.The sale of tobacco products is banned (foreign tourists and NGOs are exempt, though it is illegal for them to sell tobacco to locals), and smoking in public areas is a fineable offense.

A unique aspect of Bhutan is that progress is not purely defined by economic achievements as in most countries, but also based on the level of cultural and environmental preservation and development. This ideology was the brain child of King Jigme Singye Wangchuck who, having gained a modern education in India and the UK, realized 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. Currently, work is in progress on converting the GNH from being a mere guiding principle for the country's development into a workable set of standard indicators. As a result of this more humane style of governance, Bhutan has developed high environmental protection standards (the use of plastic bags, for example, is completely banned) and a peaceful and harmonious society that actively protects its rich culture and profound Buddhist traditions. Major sources of income for the kingdom are agriculture, tourism and hydroelectric power.

Still, while Bhutan is often painted as a modern-day Shangri-La in the Western press, the country remains poor, with average life expectancy around 66 and a 7.2 per mil infant mortality rate. The kingdom became a parliamentary democracy in March 2008 upon the command of the Fourth King.

Culturally, Bhutan is predominantly Buddhist with 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 respectively. The Ngalops primarily consist of Bhutanese living in the western part of the country. Their culture is closely related to that of their neighbor to the north, Tibet.

The official name for the country is Druk Yul - Land of the Thunder Dragon - but due to the harmonious nature of the society, it has acquired the additional nickname of Deki Druk (Yul) - (Land of) the Peaceful Thunder Dragon.


History

The first humans probably arrived sometime 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, formalized 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 official coronation took place in November 2008. The fifth King is Boston and Oxford educated.

Guru Rinpoche
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 traveled 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.


Weather

Although the country expanse is quite small Bhutanese weather varies from location to location mainly depending upon the elevation. In the North of Bhutan on the borders with Tibet it is perennially covered with snow. In the western, central and eastern Bhutan (Ha, Paro, Thimphu, Wandue, Trongsa, Bumthang, Trashi Yangtse, Lhuntse) you will mostly experience cold European-like weather. Winter lasts here from November to March. Punakha is an exception as it is in a lower valley and summer is pretty hot but winter is pleasant. Southern Bhutan bordering with India is hot and humid with a sub-tropical climate. The monsoon is the determining factor for rain here. Spring and autumn are the best season to visit Bhutan. There are four distinct seasons similar in their divisions to those of Western Europe. The Monsoon occurs between June and August when the temperature is normally between 8° and 21°C (46°-70°F). Temperatures drop dramatically with increases in altitude. Days are usually very pleasant (average about 10°C/50°F) with clear skies and sunshine. Nights are cold and require heavy woolen clothing, particularly in winter. Generally, October, November and April to mid-June are the best times to visit – rainfall is at a minimum and temperatures are conducive to active days of sightseeing. The foothills are also very pleasant during the winter...

National Holidays

2011:

  • January 2 (not fixed) - Winter Solstice (Western Bhutan only)
  • January 16 (not fixed) - Traditional Day of Offerings (a day to offer food to hungry creatures - celebrated as new year in Eastern Bhutan)
  • February 14-15 - (not fixed) - New Year (losar)
  • February 21-23 (every year) - Birth Anniversary of HM the Fifth King Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuck
  • May 2 (every year) - Birth Anniversary of Third king Jigme Dorji Wangchuck
  • May 4 (not fixed) - Shabdrung Kuchoe (commemorates the passing of Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal in 1651 CE)
  • May 27 (not fixed) - Commemoration of Lord Buddha's Parnirvana.
  • June 21 (not fixed) - Anniversary of the Birth of Guru Rinpoche
  • July 15 (not fixed) - The first sermon of Lord Buddha
  • September 13 (not fixed) - Thimphu Drubchen (Thimphu Only)
  • September 17-19 (not fixed) - Thimphu Tshechu(Thimphu Only)
  • September 23 (not fixed) - Blessed Rainy Day
  • October 17 (not fixed) - Hindu ceremony of Dashain
  • October 29 (not fixed) - Descending Day of Lord Buddha
  • November 11 (every year) - Birth Anniversary of HM the fourth King Jigme Singye Wangchuck
  • December 17 (every year) - 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.

Recommended reading/viewing

  • Travellers and Magicians [2], Bhutan's first internationally acclaimed feature film was made in 2003 and showcases life in Bhutan.
  • Beyond the Sky and the Earth (buy) - a novel by Jamie Zeppa telling the true story of a young Canadian's (Jamie) experiences 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.

Media

  • Kuenselonline [3]. Partially government owned - a newspaper with a forty year history.
  • BBS [4]. The official TV broadcasting station
  • The Bhutan Times [5]. An independent source of news on Bhutan - commercial and somewhat tabloid in nature.
  • The Bhutan Observer [6]. An independent source of news on Bhutan - a social leaning paper with in-depth stories.
  • Radio Valley [7]. Bhutan's first Private FM Radio Station. A program called "With Love From Home" can be listened online.
  • Kuzoo FM [8] An English language radio channel - mixture of youth orientated music and discussion programs - FM 105.
  • Centennial Radio An English and Dzongkha (National Language) program.

Regions

Bhutan can culturally and geographically be divided into three regions, which are further divided into 20 districts or dzongkhag (singular and plural):



Cities

While Bhutanese villages are extremeley picturesque, the towns are generally characterized by their harsh concrete structures and lack of green public spaces. Notable exceptions to this generaliztion are Trashigang and Trashiyangtse, where the buildings are constructed of traditional material.

  • Jakar - An administrative town in the north and the birthplace of Buddhism in Bhutan.
  • Mongar - One of the largest towns in east Bhutan.
  • Paro - The location of the international airport and Taktsang Monastery.
  • Punakha - A former winter capital of Bhutan.Still hosts the Monastic Body in Winter.
  • Phuentsholing - A town on the Indian border. The point of entry for travelers arriving by bus from Kolkata.
  • Samdrup Jongkhar - An administrative town in the southeast, near the Indian border.
  • Trashigang - A picturesque administrative town in the east.
  • Trongsa - A small administrative town famous for its dzong and the Tower of Trongsa

Other destinations

The majority of tourists do "cultural tours" where they visit important destinations in a vehicle. This allows maximum coverage of the country within a limited period of time. Paro, Thimphu, Punakha, Wangdue, and Jakar are popular destinations. Further afield, the unexplored region of Zhemgang (birders paradise, excellent wildlife viewing) and Eastern Bhutan are the least visited.

Treks

Treks are the best way to see and "feel" the country. The Snowman Trek below is the toughest but there are plenty of other easy and fun hikes and treks.

Snowman Trek with Gangkar Puensum

This trek goes to the remote Lunana district and is considered to be the most difficult trek in Bhutan due to distance, altitude, weather conditions and remoteness. A very fit trekking group could tackle the final stage from Tshochenchen to Bumthang (Day 22: 21 km, 13 hours) in one day. Seasons: The Snowman Trek is frequently closed because of snow and is almost impossible during winter. The recommended season for this trek is mid-June to mid-October.

National Parks

Wildlife sanctuaries/Nature reserves

Official Site of National Parks and Protected Areas in Bhutan: [9]


Get in

Everybody except citizens of India and Bangladesh must apply for a visa at least 30 days in advance of their proposed date of entry into Bhutan. There is no issuing of Visa on arrival. The local travel operator processes the visa on behalf of the guests. While the visa itself costs a reasonable US$20 for 14 days (extendable once), the visa will not be issued without pre-paid bookings for a tour, which costs from US$200 per person per night. These fees include room, board, guide, and transportation within Bhutan. This policy is influenced by the Gross National Happiness (GNH) policy, whereby the country intentionally develops slowly and learns from mistakes made by other countries. The tourism policy is designed to limit the number of arrivals through price controls. Bhutan claims it cannot afford to have too many tourists as it will dilute the rich and ancient tradition & culture. Although the tours are organized by private local tour operators, the cost is set & monitored by the government and thus not negotiable. It is illegal to under cut prices for the tours. However, a rule of thumb is that tours are slightly cheaper during off-season (January, June, & July) and more expensive for groups of three or less. There is surcharge of $40 per night for solo travelers and $30 pp/per night for groups of two people. There is also a surcharge for luxury hotels and certain treks. The only other options for visiting the country are to receive an invitation by "a citizen of some standing" or a volunteer organization. Once the tour or invitation has received government approval, visas will be issued either by immigration at Paro airport or in Phuentsholing - basically all the work for a visa application is completed within Bhutan. There is no need to visit a Bhutanese embassy or consulate.

As travel to Bhutan almost invariably requires at least one flight change in India, Nepal, or Thailand, ensure that you can meet the visa requirements of those countries before departing on your journey. Nepal and Thailand offer visa 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 has a number of embassies and consulates, including those listed below [10].

  • 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 - 150 Isabella Street, Ottawa, Ontario K1S 1V7. Tel:(613) 232-1222 Fax:(613)569-4667
  • 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: joycecheung@nwd.com.hk
  • Thailand: The Royal Bhutanese Embassy in Bangkok - Jewelry Trade Center Building, Rm. 1907, 19th Floor, 919/1 Silom Road, Bangkok 10500. Tel:2671722, 630119 - Fax:6301193.

There are only two legal entry points into Bhutan: Paro's airport, and the land border with India at Phuentsholing. A third border crossing from Samdrup Jongkhar in southeastern Bhutan into India's Assam state is open, but for exit only - see Samdrup Jongkhar - 'get out' section for more detailed information.

Visa application

At Phuentsholing, Indians can visit the Immigration office to apply for a visa on entry. A photograph and Identification document (Passport, Ration card or Election ID) is needed along with a photocopy. Fill the document with purpose "Tourism" and stay location as "Any hotel". At Phuentsholing 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 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.

By plane

  • Paro Airport (PBH) is the country's sole international airport. It is in the south west of the country and served only by the country's flag carrier Druk Air [11]. Druk operates 2 planes (two airbuses) which fly routes to Bangkok, Kolkata, Delhi, Dhaka, Gaya, Kathmandu, Siliguri (Bagdora) and Guwahati. Note that Druk Air will not issue tickets without a visa clearance number. E-tickets have been in use since April 1st 2008.
  • Bagdogra Airport (IXB) [12]. Serving the city of Siliguri in the neighboring 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 on Sundays and Wednesdays (with out going flights on Tuesdays and Saturdays).

By bus

  • From Kolkata: The Royal Bhutanese Government runs a service to Phuentsholing. These buses depart from Kolkata's Esplanade bus station at 7PM on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday and from the Phuentsholing Bhutan Post office at 3PM on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. The journey takes around 18 hours and costs 300Rps/Nu. 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: There is frequent service between Siliguri and Phuentsholing/Jaigaon. It is roughly a four hour journey. Buses operated by Royal Bhutan Government depart from across the main highway from the bus station, near Heritage Hotel, at 7:30AM and 1:30PM daily. Tickets cost Rs 62 and are available on entering the bus.
  • From Phuentsholing: There are private buses and shared taxis from Phuentsholing to Thimphu but a comfortable option is to book a Bhutan Post bus (Rs/Nu 170) which leaves each morning at 7 AM (Bhutan time) from the post office.

By train

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 October 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 around 80rs max. Alternatively you can also take a local train to Hasimara which costs around Rs40 and takes around 3 hours. Trains from NJP should be booked ahead, as it is a popular stations amongst locals. There are not any trains leaving from this station with a tourist quota.

Get around

Permits

  • 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. These permits are issued by the immigration office in Thimphu (Northern end of Norzin Lam).

By bus/car

  • The roads that cross the country are characterized 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. Tourists usually prefer to travel by a 4 wheeler-offroad or mini bus, which can be reserved through a tour operator. However, traveling by local or inter-district bus allows the traveler to meet Bhutanese people first hand and get more of a "feel" for really being in Bhutan.

Hitchhiking

  • 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 recognized, and you will need to flag down a passing vehicle in order to get one to stop. NB: 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 traveling 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.

Roads

  • Due to the mountainous terrain, roads are frequently blocked by rock falls during the summer monsoon season. Therefore, it is best to avoid traveling 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 because if the landslide is substantial it could take some time to clear the road.
  • At an altitude of 3750 meters, 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 monsoon period in particular.

Food and refreshment

While there are ample restaurants on highways between main towns and the hygiene standards at such places is acceptable, the quality of the food is very low and the choice of dishes limited. In addition, the dining halls offer an environment no better than a bus station waiting room. Therefore, it is generally better to prepare food and refreshment for the journey at the point of departure.

See

  • Scenery. As most of Bhutan is in the Himalayas and foothills, scenery is mostly characterized by high mountains and towns precariously perched on ridges. The Paro and Bumthang valleys are especially impressive.
  • 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.

Sacred sites

Taktsang Monastery, Paro
  • 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.
  • Taktsang Monastery (Tiger's Nest), Paro. This is one of the most important Buddhist sites in the world, and Guru Rinpoche visited here on his second visit to Bhutan. The temple is built on a 1,200 meter cliff and is Bhutan's most well known sacred site.
  • Singye Dzong , Lhuentse. This is is a sacred valley located near the Tibetan border. The main temple in the valley was founded by Yeshi Tsogyal, and Guru Rinpoche visited the region on his second visit to Bhutan. However, partly due to the fact that the valley is in a sensitive area near the border and also partly due to Bhutan wishing to preserve the sanctity of its sacred sites, the valley is not open for tourists.

See also: Sacred sites of the Indian sub-continent

Do

  • 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. The Fall 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 Fall 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.

Talk

Common Languages

  • Dzongkha. The mother tongue of most people residing in Western Bhutan, and the kingdom's official language.
  • Sharchopkha. The major regional language spoken in Eastern Bhutan.
  • Bumthangkha. Similar to Sharchopkha - spoken in the Bumthang region.
  • Nepali. Most people of the borders used to use nepali language.
  • English and Hindi. Both languages are understood by most people in urban areas.

Usage

  • 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.

Buy

  • 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 the southern Bhutan, but available throughout the country.

Eat

Rice is a staple with every meal. Vegetable or meat dishes cooked with chili and/or cheese comprise the accompanying cuisine.

Bhutanese food has one predominant flavor - chili. 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 yogurt or milk.

Vegetarian dishes

  • Ema-datsi. Ema means chili and datsi is a kind of cottage cheese, so ema-datsi is a kind of spiced-up Welsh rarebit.
  • Kewa-datsi. A potato, cheese and chili dish.
  • Shamu-datsi. A mushroom, cheese and chili dish.

Kewa-datsi and shamu-datsi tend to be less hot that 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 to 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.

Drink

  • Ara. A local spirit brewed from rice or corn. It is popular in rural areas.
  • 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.
  • Coffee. The coffee culture that has swept most of the planet is just beginning to creep into the country. However, for the most part, coffee in Bhutan means the instant variety and it is served simply white or black.

Sleep

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.

It is important to note that 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 $250 per person per night irrespective of the hotel rates (except for very expensive hotels where a surcharge is added).

Learn

Buddhism

  • 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.
  • Deer Park Thimphu [13] holds various Dharma related events in the capital, including weekly meditation sessions.

Weaving - Bhutanese woven cloth is prized throughout the world for its unique designs and high quality, and there is a weaving center in Khaling in Trashigang.

Work

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.

Stay safe

  • Crime is not a problem in Bhutan, and it remains one of the safest countries in the world.
  • Bears are a threat in remote mountainous regions.

Stay healthy

  • Hospitals and clinics are located throughout the country, even in the remotest areas. However, travelers 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. 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.

Respect

  • The king and former king are accorded a great deal of respect in Bhutan. 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 head gear and wear clothing that expresses respect for the sacred nature of the site. You will need to wear pants 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.
  • Tobacco. Products containing tobacco (cigarettes, chewing tobacco etc) are effectively banned throughout Bhutan (which remains the only country in the world to do so) and penalties for possession or use may be severe.

Cope

Money

  • US Dollar, US dollars are widely accepted. Bhutanese currency is only needed for soft drinks and buying small souvenir items.
  • Money exchange. Banks operate a money exchange service for major currencies
  • ATM. Bhutan does not operate an international ATM service, though certain shops specializing in tourist goods accept payment by credit card.
  • Western Union Money Transfer, Thimphu Post Office. This facility can receive transfer of funds from overseas, but cannot make payments from customers' personal accounts.

Although Indian currency is legal tender in Bhutan, the Royal Monetary Authority of Bhutan has issued a notice banning the use of Indian 500 rupee and 1000 rupee notes. Nonetheless, as of Oct 2009, the 500 rupee note is largely accepted by most locals. Government owned establishments do not accept the aforementioned notes, and hence it is advisable to carry sufficient currency in either Bhutanese currency or in the form of Indian 100 rupee notes.

Also, be keenly aware that the import and export of Indian rupees to and from India by foreign (not-Indian) nationals is illegal.


Contact

  • The international dialing code for Bhutan is 975
  • Most centers of population have internet cafes, though they are relatively expensive, and the connection is slow. Please make sure your travel agent find an appropriate internet cafe in advance if you need a connection for work.
  • Telephone call booths are existent in major towns in Bhutan
  • Most of Bhutan has mobile phone coverage, and as B-Mobile has agreements with some Asian and European countries on mobile roaming, cellular phones from these countries can be operated in Bhutan

Get out

  • Kolkata - Druk Airways 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 3 p.m., and the journey takes around 18 hours and costs 300 Rps/Nu.
  • New Delhi - Druk Air flies between Paro and Delhi. It also operates flights between other Indian cities of Guwahati, Gaya and Siliguri (Bagdogra Airport).
  • Nepal - many travelers to Bhutan combine the visit with a trip to this other Himalayan country and Druk Airways and Buddha Air operate flights from Paro to Kathmandu.
  • Thailand - Druk Air operates daily flights from Paro to Bangkok.


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