Pre-Departure Guide

Bhutan


Overview

Tucked away in the eastern edge of the Himalayas lies a garden of serenity, Bhutan. This landlocked kingdom is still wonderfully undiscovered, which helped preserve its Buddhist culture and traditional lifestyles. On this magical nine-night journey, experience the last Mahayana Buddhist kingdom of the Himalayas, walk through dazzling rice fields, wander through serene monasteries and get connected with your spiritual self. Start off at the capital of Thimphu, then hike the valleys of Punakha, Thimphu, Phobjikha and Paro. Our tour will take care of the driving and logistics for you, ensuring that you get to explore more areas while making the most of your holiday.


Highlights

  • Explore the Bhutan culture and understand why Bhutan is considered the happiest country in the world.
  • Explore lush, beautiful Bhutan landscapes on multiple day hikes.
  • Lots of exclusive activities included: heritage framhouse stay, outdoor yoga class, plant a tree, mountain biking tour, play Bhutanese archery, and herbal hot-stone bath.
  • We only work with the best local service providers: our partner has over 10 years of experiences guiding tours in Bhutan, and is accredited by the Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB) and is a member of the Association of the Bhutanese Tour Operators (ABTO).

Itinerary Disclaimer

While it is our intention to adhere to the itinerary described, there is a certain amount of flexibility built into the itinerary and on occasion it may be necessary or desirable to make alterations. The itinerary is brief, as we never know exactly where our journey will take us. Due to our style of travel and the regions we visit, travel can be unpredictable. The itinerary is a general guide to the tour and region and any mention of specific destinations or wildlife is by no means a guarantee that they will be visited or encountered. Additionally, any travel times listed are approximations only and subject to variance due to local circumstances.


Introduction

Country: Bhutan (Locally known as Druk or Drukyul) and its citizens are called Drukpas.
Area: Approx. 38,000 sq. km (14,700 sq. mi.)
Population: 716,896 (estimated) as per July, 2012 demographic survey.
Capital City: Thimphu (population 104,000) estimated. Area – 2067 sq. km. Altitude - 2320 m.
Languages: Dzongkha is the official language and there are many other local dialects. English is widely spoken and it is taught in schools. Sharchopkha, which is an Indo- Mongoloid language, is the dominant language in eastern Bhutan. Nepali is spoken widely in the south.
Religion: Himalayan Buddhism 75%, Hinduism 20% and rest Christians.
Form of Government: Democracy
King: Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck
Time Zone: UTC+6


Climate & Weather

The southern part of Bhutan is tropical, and in general the eastern region of the country is warmer than the central valleys. However, bear in mind that the higher the altitude, the cooler the weather. With a brisk wind blowing down off the mountains, even a low-lying valley can become quite chilly.

The central valleys of Punakha, Wangdue, Mongar, Tashigang and Lhuentse enjoy a semi-tropical climate with cool winters, whilst Paro, Thimphu, Tongsa and Bumthang have a much harsher climate, with summer monsoon rains and winter snowfalls which may block passes leading into the central valleys for days at a time. Winter in Bhutan is from mid-November till mid-March, and at this time of the year the climate is dry and sunny for the most part, with temperatures peaking at around 59F in the daytime to 24.8F at night. The monsoon usually arrives in mid-June, with light rain falling mainly in the afternoons and evenings. At the end of September, after the last of the big rains, autumn suddenly arrives, and it is a magnificent season for visitation due to the great weather and spectacularly clear views.

  • Spring (Mar–May): Warm days and cold nights. Average maximum temperatures of 75.2F vs. minimums of 35.6F - (especially at high camps). This is a great season for camping and trekking.
  • Summer (Jun–Aug): Warm days and balmy nights with rain most afternoons. Average maximum temperatures of 78.8F vs. minimums of 57.2F.
  • Fall (Sept–Nov): Warm days and cool nights. Average maximum temperatures of 74F vs. minimums of 35F - (especially cold at high camps). There can be rain in the early part of autumn. This is another great camping and trekking season.
  • Winter (Dec-Feb): Crisp sunny days great for mountain views and cold dry nights. Average maximum temperatures of 68F vs. minimums of 24.8oF - snow may fall but won’t settle for long in the Western and Central valleys.

Visa

For Bhutan, Travel Her Way will arrange the visa for you. The cost of the visa is included in the tour price. The Bhutanese visa is issued to your passport on arrival. No passport photos are required for this.

In order to arrange the Bhutan visa, you must provide us with the following items 40 days before departure:

  • Scanned color passport copy
  • Arrival and Departure flight details for Paro

The visa letter will be forwarded to you 7-10 days before departure. Please understand that we are not able to get the visa letter issued any sooner. After you receive the letter, please print it out and bring it with you when you travel. You will be required to show this before boarding your flight to Paro.

Important: If arriving and departing Paro from India, please note that the Indian government has recently made some changes to visa regulation due to misuse of the Tourist visa. We encourage all passengers to contact the Indian consulate or embassy in their home country to get up to date information on entry requirements. This is especially important for those planning on entering India multiple times in a two-month period.

Foreigners holding an Indian Tourist visa, who after initial entry into India plan to visit neighboring Nepal, Bhutan or Sri Lanka and then re-enter India within two months need to get special authorization.


Emergency Contact

Should you need to contact us during a situation, it is best to first call our local representative. If for any reason you do not receive an immediate answer, please leave a detailed message and contact information, so they may return your call and assist you as soon as possible.

Contact Info:

  • Mr. Pelden D. : +975 1763 3317
  • Mr. Sherab D. : +975 1771 9310

Arrival

After passing customs at the airport, our local representative will greet you at the arrival gate, holding placards with our company's logo and your name on it. In case you have trouble finding our representative, please contact the emergency contact and our local contact will help you.


Age Requirements

Adventuresses are required to be at least 18 years old if traveling independently. Our tours are open to younger adventuresses aged 15 or older, who must be accompanied by an adult over 21. A parent is required to fill out the “Travel with Minors” form in this case. If the adult is not a parent, he/she is required to fill out a “Parental Consent Guardianship Form” and get it signed by the minor’s parent.


Travel Insurance

Travel insurance is mandatory for all our travelers. Your travel insurance must provide coverage against personal accidents, death, medical expenses and emergency repatriation (including air ambulance and helicopter rescue services) with a recommended minimum coverage of US $200,000 for each of the categories of coverage. We also strongly recommend travel insurance that covers cancellation, curtailment, personal liability and loss of luggage and personal effects. You must provide proof of your travel insurance on the first day of your trip; you will not be able to join the trip without it.


Health & Vaccinations

Although no vaccinations are currently required for any of the featured destinations, please note that the U.S. Centre for Disease Control (CDC) & the World Health Organization recognize a risk of malaria for certain areas of South East Asia and South Asia. Therefore we suggest you contact your personal physician for details of the health measures you should take prior to your departure.

Please note that all travelers are required to complete the sections ‘A’ and ‘B’ of the medical form. If you have indicated that you have a pre-existing medical condition you are required to complete section ‘C’ also which must be signed by your physician. This is to ensure that travelers have the necessary fitness and mobility to comfortably complete their chosen trip.


Traveling From India Or Other Countries

All visitors flying to and from Bhutan via India must have Indian visas prior to departure from your country. Visas for India must be obtained prior to arrival in India. Similarly if you are traveling to China or Myanmar, visas are not available upon arrival. Nepal visas can be obtained upon arrival at the airport, so it is not necessary to obtain before departing.


Flight, Airport, Baggage Allowance

Bhutan has one international airport, Paro, and two airlines, government-owned Druk Air and a private airline Bhutan Airlines, a division of Tashi Air. As Paro Airport is “daylight restricted” and totally dependent on weather, flights can sometimes be delayed. Passengers should allow at least 24 hours transit time for connecting flights out of Paro to cover in case of flight delays. Flights into Paro are also sometimes disrupted by weather. To be prepared for such an event, you should carry essential personal items like medicine, toiletries, extra cash, etc. in your carry-on baggage. It is also advised that international flights be at least be booked with one full day of transit time especially in cases of long delays and cancellations due to severe weather conditions.

Carry-On Allowance

Druk Air requests that passengers limit their hand baggage to one piece, with weight not to exceed 5 kg (11lbs). In addition to this piece of luggage, a passenger may also carry on a laptop or camera bag.

Checked Baggage Allowance

  • Economy Class: 20 kg (44 lbs)
  • Business Class: 30 kg (66 lbs)

Bulky items should be booked ahead as unaccompanied baggage/cargo. Departure taxes are included in the cost of your Druk Air tickets.


Money

Financial institutions in Bhutan have been greatly enhanced and today there are a number of banks that cater to the needs of the people. Some of the banks in Bhutan include the Bank of Bhutan Limited, the Bhutan National Bank, the Druk PNB and the Tashi Bank. ATMs are located in a number of places where you can withdraw your money especially in Thimphu, Paro and in the border town of Phuentsholing. There are bank branches in all major towns. A few hotels and shops in Thimphu accept payment by credit card, but with a surcharge added. Visa is more widely accepted than Mastercard or American Express. Traveler’s checks can be easily withdrawn and exchanged into local currency. However, as you travel into the interior, ATM and Internet facilities are almost non-existent and we suggest that you do your banking activities while in Thimphu. You should also take some cash while visiting Bhutan, as ATMs are not always available.


Electricity

All major towns are well connected with electricity that runs on 220/240 Volts with round hole two-pin and three-pin power outlets. The energy is clean, green energy generated by hydropower. Guests from the U.S. and Canada who are used to 100 – 110 Volts should bring a travel adapter with surge protection.


Photography

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 is 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.


Accommodation

Bhutan’s government has rolled out a Star Classification System to accredit hotels and accommodation providers for visitors. However, it is important to note that the Star Classification is NOT at par with the international Star Accreditation System. Therefore, please do not expect a 3-star or a 4-star hotel in Bhutan to be the same as in a developed city in the world. Hotels and guesthouses in Bhutan have comfortable rooms with basic amenities and a traditional ambience. Generally, hotels in western Bhutan are better appointed, while accommodation establishments in the central and eastern part of the country are more modest, with fewer amenities. The majority of hotels in Bhutan are 3-Star properties. Accommodation in all resorts, hotels, lodges or inns, is in standard rooms, unless otherwise stated. If you have any special request for certain services, please advise us so that we could notify your hotel, but we cannot guarantee that it will be accommodated.


Shopping

For people who love shopping and taking home gifts, Bhutan offers a variety of goods that revolve mainly around textiles. You may shop for items like hand-woven textiles made of raw silk or silk, carved masks of various animals, woven baskets of cane and bamboo, wooden bowls known as Dapas, handmade paper products or finely crafted gods of silver. You can also shop for thangkha paintings and Bhutan’s exquisite postage stamp. One can come across these items in the many handicraft shops in and around Thimphu and also in major towns. Please remember that buying and selling of antiques is strictly forbidden in Bhutan.


Gratuities

Tipping isn't mandatory – however, if you are satisfied with the staff’s services, you are welcome to tip them according to your will. The amount does not really matter, as there really isn’t a set norm. So, we leave it up to you as to whether you want to tip your guides, drivers and the trekking crew.


Alms Giving

The giving of alms to mendicants and holy men in the vicinity of markets and outside temples is an accepted practice. In exchange for your contribution of a small coin, a prayer will be intoned for you. Some of our visitors have also made charitable donations to schools and other needy people, but please consult with the guide for the necessary procedures, and we will facilitate your assistance. In order to discourage begging, please DO NOT entertain children who come asking for money.


Drinking Water

Avoid drinking unboiled water or ice cubes at all times, as most water sources are untreated. However many Bhutanese people drink it straight from the tap. All water sources are from mountain spring waters. Mineral water will be provided but we do have a policy to reduce the use of plastic bottles on our trekking tours in order to be environmentally friendly.


Food & Drinks

Food staples for the Bhutanese include rice. We also eat beef, pork, poultry, goat, yak, and fish. Yak cheese is part of the regular diet of upland nomads. Meat soups, rice or corn, and spiced chilies comprise daily food; beverages include buttered tea and beer distilled from cereal grains. As your trip will be an all-inclusive package, expect to eat most meals at your hotel. Usually served buffet-style, most meals will include a soup, rice, noodles, seasonal vegetables, potato, dal (lentils), and some protein (Chicken/Pork/Beef). This is followed by a sweet dish which is usually fresh fruits. Tea and coffee (Nescafe) is served too. These foods are tempered to Western taste and therefore are not spicy as locals would eat.


Culture

For monasteries and temples, do not wear hats. Shoes are always taken off outside before entering the shrine or temple. Socks are allowed. Floors of these temples sometimes tend to be cold, so we recommend wearing warm socks. Smoking, consumption of alcohol or narcotics in and around temples/monasteries or religious monuments is taboo, as is shouting, yelling or laughing with loud voices in and around religious areas. Do not point with your forefingers to people, religious figures or statues. Instead a stretched palm is used as a respectful way to point to someone. When visiting temples or monasteries, small donations are welcomed. If you wish to give these donations as an offering, convert into smaller denominations. Always walk clockwise around monasteries, Chortens (stupa) and Prayer Wheels.

Photography is usually permitted in public areas such as courtyards and dance grounds, but not permitted inside the chapels of religious complexes. During festivals, never enter the performing arena in search of the perfect shot as most local spectators will not appreciate it.


Dress

Bhutan is very conservative and you should dress accordingly. As a general guideline, shoulders and legs should be covered at all times. The wearing of shorts is not allowed (except while hiking) as it will restrict your entry into buildings of a religious nature and family homes. A water and windproof jacket is useful and a hat and sunscreen are essential. Due to the altitude, it can be cold in the mountains even in the summer.


Religion

Every aspect of life in the kingdom is guided by the ethics of its official religion, Drukpa Kagyu Buddhism. More than 75 percent of Bhutan's population practices this form of Buddhism, which is closely related to Tibetan, or Lamaist, Buddhism. The symbols of Drukpa Kagyu Buddhism are the dominant theme in the national flag, the royal crest, and the national anthem. This sect establishes the Bhutanese code of ethics – based on the teachings of the Buddha and Padmasambhava. After Buddha, Guru Padmasambhava is the most important spiritual figure in Bhutan. He is considered as the second Buddha, and shrines everywhere honor him. The rest mainly practice Hinduism, which varies in Bhutan from traditional Hinduism to a fusion of Hinduism and Tibetan Buddhism, in which the beliefs and practices as well as the gods and shrines of both religions are worshiped.

All Bhutanese art, dance, drama and music is steeped in Buddhism: paintings are not produced for tourists, but for religious purposes; festivals are not quaint revivals, but living manifestations of a national faith; and almost all art, music and dance represents the struggle between good and evil. These traditions can be seen in all their glory at Bhutan's spectacular religious festivals called Tshechu.


Guides & Drivers

Travel Her Way uses the best available Tour Guides licensed by the Tourism Council of Bhutan. They are educated in English–speaking schools and are at least high school graduates (10+2). They are well-spoken in English, but please understand that English is still their second language. Most have a fair knowledge of culture and history that they learn in school or as a part of their Guiding course.