How to Enter Bhutan?
Entering by Air:
The national carrier of Bhutan is Drukair – Royal Bhutan Airlines. Drukair fly regularly to Paro, Bhutan’s only international airport, from Bangkok, Dhaka, Delhi, Kolkata, Bagdogra, Guwahati, Gaya, Kathmandu, Singapore & Mumbai.
Important Note: Drukair operates in an alpine environment with a small fleet and delays can occur due to weather or other operational requirements. We strongly advise visitors to factor in at least an 8 hour transit time before connecting to or from a Drukair flight.
New Domestic Air Services In Bhutan from mid- late 2012
Drukair commenced domestic air services in 2012 using the ATR 42 turbo prop aircraft. The route is Paro to Bumthang (central Bhutan) and on to Trashigang in eastern Bhutan and return. This will allow return visitors to avoid the long drive to central Bhutan to focus on the central and more remote eastern region in a shorter time frame.
Drukair currently operates 3 Airbus A319 jets, offering economy and business class seating, and 1 ATR-42 turbo prop aircraft (for the shorter sector flights) offering economy class only seating. These aircraft are extremely well suited for the alpine environment and your descent in to the Paro Valley will be among the highlights of your visit. The flight between Paro and Kathmandu runs parallel with the Himalayas for much of the journey and Mt Everest can often be seen very clearly.
Entering by Road:
There are currently two authorized entry & exit points by road for foreign tourists.
The first is at Phuntsholing in southwest Bhutan, from West Bengal in Northern India. The adjacent Indian town is called Jaigaon. We strongly recommend visitors entering or departing at Phuntsholing spend the first night there on the Bhutan side. Jaigaon is chaotic and only offers low standards of accommodation.
The second entry/exit point is at Samdrup Jongkhar in the far southeast of Bhutan. This option, bordering the Indian State of Assam, is useful for visitors who travel to the more remote eastern side of Bhutan. It is 3 hour drive from Samdrup Jongkhar to the Indian airport of Guwahati which will connect you by air to your onward destination.
Important Note: Driving in Bhutan, the roads are narrow and the driving speed in Bhutan is generally 35-40 kms per hour, courtesy of the high number of bends per kilometre (up to 13 or more bends in some areas and especially in eastern Bhutan).
How to get Bhutan Visa?
Other than Indian, Bangladeshis and Maldivian nationals, all visitors to Bhutan require a visa; all visas are issued from Thimphu. Visas are only issued to tourists booked with a local licensed tour operator, directly or through a foreign travel agent. Applications for tourist visas are submitted by the tour operator. Visa clearance from Thimphu must be obtained before arriving to Bhutan. Visa clearance takes at least 10 days to process. Air tickets to Bhutan cannot be purchased without visa clearance. At your point of entry the visa will be stamped in your passport on payment of US$20, two passport photos will also be required. Visas are issued for a 15day period; extensions can be obtained in Thimphu at a cost of (Bhutanese ngultrum)Nu.510.
Government Rate to travel Bhutan
The Government of Bhutan sets minimum rates for all the travel packages to Bhutan which must be paid in US dollars before arrival. High Season Tariff is US$ 250 per person per night
Your pre-payment includes the following facilities:
• All internal taxes and charges (including the royalty)
• Basic Accommodation
• All Buffet Meals
• A licensed Bhutanese Tour Guide
• All Internal Mass Transport
• Camping Equipment and shipping them
The rate given above is per tourist per night in Bhutan. The rates shall apply uniformly irrespective of locations and the type of accommodation provided/asked for. List of hotels and lodges approved for international tourist accommodation updated from time to time shall be issued by TCB.On the day of departure, your host’s obligation shall be limited to breakfast only. Other than that , all other payments shall be made by the traveler.
Note:The existing Low season discount for the months of January, June and July will be discontinued to promote Bhutan as an “All-year-round” destination. Also, the royalty for children below the age of 12 years will be waived off. These changes will be effective from 1st July 2011.
Individual tourists and smaller groups of less than three persons shall be subject to surcharge, over and above the minimum daily rates applicable, as follows: Single individual US$ 40 per night Group of 2 persons US$ 30 per person per night.
Tour programmes booked and subsequently cancelled with be subjected to the following charges:
• within 30 days of start of programme ~ no charges
• within 21 days ~ 10% of rate
• within 14 days ~ 15% of rate
• within 7 days ~ 30% of rate
• less than 7 days or without notice ~ 50% of rate
• after arrival in Bhutan ~ 100%
There are many different types of accommodations available to visitors in Bhutan. There are hundreds of options available ranging from luxurious 5-star resorts to cozy little hotels and home-stays in traditional Bhutanese homes.
The types of accommodations can be divided into:
Travel Tips and Checklist Details:
The Royal Insurance Corporation of Bhutan has initiated a travel and a medial scheme solely for our visitors. Hence it is important that you get detailed information about the insurance scheme from your travel agents before you leave for Bhutan.
Bhutan’s currency is the Ngultrum (Nu.). It is however recommended that you carry travelers’ cheque or cash, preferably American Express and US dollar. The ATM facilities for foreign currency are limited to just few towns including the capital city Thimphu. Visa and American Express credit cards are also widely accepted.
Financial institutions in Bhutan have been improved greatly. Some of the banks that you can get services and facilities from are the Bank of Bhutan Limited, the Bhutan National Bank, the Druk PNB and the Tashi Bank. Many of these banks provide you with SMS and internet banking facilities. There are also ATM facilities and ATMs are located in a number of places where you can withdraw your money especially in Thimphu and in the border town of Phuentsholing. Traveler’s cheque can be easily withdrawn and exchanged into local currency. However, as you travel into the interior, ATM and internet facilities are almost non-existent. So, it is suggested that you do your banking works while in Thimphu.
All major towns are well connected with electricity that runs on 220/240 volts with round hole two-pin and three-pin power outlets. All the energy in Bhutan is clean and green energy generated by hydro power.
The country has a good network of telecommunication facilities. Almost every town has an internet cafe and calling booths from where you can log on to and send messages home and to your loved ones. Also most hotels in Thimphu and Paro have internet access. Mobile (cell) phone is also widely used with international roaming facilities.
Bhutan experiences a great variation in its climate. Summers are warm with average daily temperature ranging from 20 to 25 Celsius, while winters are cold. In winters temperatures are usually below 15 Celsius. So bring with you a couple of warm clothes and comfortable shoes to go with the weather, the terrain and the program. You might want to consider ‘what to wear’ for hikes, trekking and sightseeing, as well as for dinners, appointments and functions. Other than that you could consider bringing with you a pair of sunglasses, sun screen lotion and a hat; antiseptic cream, anti-histamine cream, anti-diarrhea pills, altitude & car sickness medicine; insect repellent, flash light, umbrella, camera, films and accessories (including spare camera batteries) etc.
Bhutan is an ideal place and a frequent haunt for photographers offering immense opportunities for photography especially during our outdoor sightseeing trips. However you may need to check with your guide for indoor photography as taking photographs inside Dzongs, temples, monasteries and religious institutions are restricted unless you have a special permission from the Department of Culture. One can however, capture images of the landscapes, the panoramic views of the mountain ranges, the rural folk life, the flora and fauna, the Bhutanese architecture and the Dzongs and Chortens in particular.
Customs and Entry:
Customs duty on Import and export:
Visitors are required to complete a passenger declaration form for checking by concerned officers on arrival. The following articles are exempt from duty: –
• Personal effects and articles for day to day use by the visitor.
• 2 liters of alcohol (spirits or wine).
• Instruments, apparatus or appliances for professional use.
• Photographic equipment, video cameras and other electronic goods for personal use.
Please note cigarettes and all tobacco products are dutiable, and should be declared on arrival at Bhutan Customs. The public consumption of any tobacco product is banned by the government of Bhutan.
The articles mentioned under (d) & (e) must be declared on the declaration form. If any such items are disposed of in Bhutan by sale or gift, they are liable for customs duty. On departure, visitors are required to surrender their forms to the Customs authorities.
Import/export of the following goods is strictly prohibited
• Arms, ammunitions and explosives
• All narcotics and drugs except medically prescribed drugs
• Wildlife products, especially those of endangered species
Imports of plants, soils etc. are subject to quarantine regulations. These items must be cleared on arrival. Visitors are advised to be cautious in purchasing old and used items, especially of religious or cultural significance, as such items may not be exported without a clearance certificate. Advice should be sought before committing to such purchases.
Weather in Bhutan:
Bhutan’s weather varies vastly from north to south and valley to valley, depending upon the elevation. In the North of it is perennially covered with snow. In the western, central and eastern Bhutan you will mostly find Europe-like weather.
Winter is from November to March. Punakha is an exception because it is in a lower valley and summer is hot and winter is pleasant. Southern Bhutan is hot and humid with a sub-tropical climate. Summer months are wet with secluded showers predominately in the evenings only. Winter is the driest period and spring and autumn are mostly pleasant.
There are four distinct seasons. 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 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 the elevation. The average rainfall varies from region to region.
People and language:
The national language is Bhutanese (Dzongkha), one of 53 languages in the Tibetan language family. The script, here called Chhokey (“Dharma Language”), is identical to classical Tibetan. In the schools English is the medium of instruction and Dzongkha is taught as the national language.
Ethnologue lists 24 languages currently spoken in Bhutan, all of them in the Tibeto-Burman family, except Nepali, an Indo-Aryan language. Until the 1980s, the government sponsored the teaching of Nepali in schools in Southern Bhutan. However, after the armed uprising in the south, Nepali was dropped from the curriculum. The languages of Bhutan are still not well-characterized, and several have yet to be recorded in an in-depth academic grammar. Before the 1980s, the Lhotshampa (Nepali-speaking community), mainly based in southern Bhutan, constituted approximately 30% of the population.
Dzongkha is partially intelligible with Sikkimese and spoken natively by 25% of the population.Tshangla, the language of the Sharchop and the principal pre-Tibetan language of Bhutan, is spoken by a greater number of people. It is not easily classified and may constitute an independent branch of Tibeto-Burman. Nepali speakers constituted some 40% of the population as of 2006. The larger minority languages are Dzala (11%), Limbu (10%, immigrant), and Kheng (8%).
There are no reliable sources for the ethnic or linguistic composition of Bhutan, so these numbers do not add up to 100%.
The Last Shangri-La:
Bhutan is a small land locked country in the Himalayas between Tibet (China) and India with an area of 47,000 km² and has total population 736,267 people.
Apart from its stunning natural scenery, the lasting image of the country for most visitors is its strong sense of culture and tradition. Bhutan is the only Vajrayana Buddhist nation in the world, and the profound teachings of this tradition remain well preserved and are a strong influence in all aspects of life. Because of its unspoiled environment and harmonious society, the tiny Kingdom of Bhutan has been called “The Last Shangrila.”
Situated high in the Himalayas, the world’s last remaining Buddhist Kingdom, Bhutan is a unique country both culturally and environmentally. It has developed the philosophy of Gross National Happiness; where development is measured using a holistic approach of well-being, not just based on gross domestic product.
Bhutan is termed as a third world country because the most people here are mostly practicing subsistence farming in its fertile land. The people receive free education, and all citizens have access to free, though basic, medical care. The sale of tobacco products is banned and smoking in public areas is a fineable offense in Bhutan.
Major sources of income for Bhutan are tourism, hydroelectricity and agriculture.
While traditional culture has been very well preserved, the opening of the country to TV and internet in 1999 has had a major effect in the society. But modern-day culture is mostly centered in bars and snooker halls. There seem to be very little quality contemporary art, theatre or music in Bhutan.
Its national language is Dzongkha and is spoken in several styles and dialects. Bhutanese culture is very closely related to that of their neighbor to the north, Tibet, perhaps because they share the same religion.
It was declared a parliamentary democracy in March 2008 at the initiation of the Fourth King, who is highly respected throughout the kingdom.