So you’ve decided to visit the country of happiness? Here’s a short guide of things you need to keep in mind when visiting Bhutan for the first time
- The Weather: Start with researching about what kind of climate you’ll encounter during your visit there. The weather in Bhutan is most ideal in spring from March to May and autumn from September to November. This is also the time when the tourist rush is the highest so in case you’re planning to travel during this time, make all bookings in advance. However, in case you’re looking to travelling in an extremely pocket friendly manner, December to February is the perfect time to do so. Although, it’ll be cold during this time since there’ll be less tourists, you should be able to save throughout. If you love trekking, avoid travelling from June to August as because of mud puddles and leeches everywhere, it is advisable to not trek during this time in order to avoid an unpleasant experience.
- Currency: Do make sure your debit or credit card supports making international transactions. Although if you’re from India, people in Bhutan do accept Indian currency everywhere, however, unless you have a card available to withdraw cash from, that’s hardly of any help. Also, since, Ngultrum is the currency of Bhutan, it’s always a good idea to convert your currency in advance and carry some of it with you for easy and hassle-free transactions.
- Seasonal Attractions: Keep an eye out for any festivals or special events that are scheduled to happen during the time of your visit so you can plan to witness them and don’t miss them solely because you didn’t know about them happening. Tshechu is one festival that you must try and catch. It’s a religious festival whose name means ‘tenth day’ and is held in each district or dzongkhag of Bhutan on the tenth day of a month of the lunar Tibetan calendar. It is celebrated to honor the Guru Rinpoche (Guru Padmasambhava) and the month for celebration of the Tshechu varies from place to place and temple to temple. Out of the many Tsechus, the two that are most popular are the ones held in Thimphu (usually celebrated late September or early October) and Paro (usually celebrated late March or April). Some other must not miss festivals are Jambay Lhakhang Drup, Punakha Drubchen and the Haa Summer Festival.
- Passport / Visa related questions: Carefully read and research about which all documents will be required to get an entry into Bhutan. Indian citizens only need a permit to enter Bhutan. This can be applied for and got at Phuentsholing directly, however, here you will initially only get a permit for 7 days which allow you to only visit Paro and Thimphu. In case you want to stay for a longer duration or visit other places within the country, you will have to renew your permit at Thimphu. If you’re not from India, however, depending on your citizenship, you might require to apply for and get a visa before your visit to Bhutan so do check that out beforehand. Want to check out an awesome holiday package for Paro, Bhutan? Click here.
- Mode of Transport: There are multiple ways to reach Bhutan. One way is to reach Bagdogra via flight and then catch a taxi/bus till Jaigaon (last stop in India). You can then cross over to the Bhutanese city of Phuentsholing from here on foot. Another way is to catch a flight directly from your country to the Paro airport (the only airport in Bhutan). This method is slightly heavier on the pocket but rewarding in the sense that you’ll get to see amazing views from the flight of the Himalayas. Druk Air and Bhutan Airlines both provide international flights from India to Bhutan. The approximate return fare from Kolkata to Paro is Rs. 30,000 but this price obviously varies depending on various factors such as how early you book before your visit, etc.
(Source – Wikimedia Commons)
- Important Things to remember: Smoking in public places is illegal in Bhutan so be a little wary of this fact when visiting this country. However, smoking areas are allowed in non-public areas of hotels (smoking rooms etc.). Another thing to keep in mind is that in order to enter the many Dzongs in the country, you have to be wearing full pants and shirts with full sleeves so always remember to carry a jacket with you wherever you go.
- Connectivity: Getting a local pre-paid SIM is easy and only requires your permit to be shown as proof. SIM cards are even available at Phuentsholing so you can purchase them as soon as you enter the country and the activations are instant.
- Tete-a-Tete with the locals: Meeting locals is something you cannot avoid while traveling. You’ll encounter them no matter where you go so make the most of this opportunity to learn more about them and their culture. Majority of the Bhutanese citizens are extremely friendly, helpful and know Hindi and English. This is of immense help when interacting with them. Don’t want to miss any elements in your upcoming trip to Bhutan? Click here to see few of the best itineraries.
- Cuisine: Bhutanese love chilies so a lot of their dishes have chilies in them, be it green or red. When visiting Bhutan, it goes without saying that one must definitely try Tibetan cuisine. Some must-try dishes are Thukpa, Kewa Datshi, Ema datshi and of course Momos. However, Bhutan also has a number of good eateries where you can get continental food as well so depending on your preference you can choose where to go for your meals. Out of the many good eating joints, The Zone, Ambient Café and Hotel Tandin in Thimphu and Champaca Café and My Kind of Place in Paro are some good places to eat at.
- Places to Cover: This will vary from person to person depending on what you’re interested in covering the most. For example, if you’re into a lot of outdoor activities such as trekking, you should definitely include Paro in your list of places to cover as a lot of treks start from here. However, having said that, Paro is one place I absolutely recommend visiting even if you’re not interested in going for any treks. This extremely quaint and beautiful place is extremely peaceful and picturesque and will surely ensure you forget all your life’s problems once you visit it.
- Bhutan’s History: Bhutan is one of the very few countries who have stayed independent throughout their history and never been conquered or governed by an outside. Although there is some speculation that it was under the Tibetan Empire or the Kamarupa Kingdom in the 7th to 9th centuries, firm evidence is lacking but from the various historical records, it’s quite clear that this country has continuously and successfully defended its sovereignty.
- Gross National Happiness: The fourth king of Bhutan, Jigme Singye Wangchuck, coined this term in the 1970s. The main belief behind this is that for the development of any society, multiple issues (collective happiness) are important and not just economic advancement.
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