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Bhutan Travel Informations

Introduction of Bhutan

BRIEF HISTORY

The lofty barriers had wrapped the country with a cloak of mysticism. For centuries, the country did not have a name for the outside world. Some Tibetan chronicles referred to it with exotic names as "the Southern Valley of Medicinal herbs", and the " Lotus Garden of the Gods". To the Bhutanese, the country was always "Druk Yul" literally meaning "The Kingdom of the Thunder Dragon".

The name Bhutan appears to have derived from the ancient Indian term "Bhotanta" which means the end of the land of the Bhots. Bhot was the Sanskrit term for Tibetans. Bhutan 's distant past is surrounded by mystery as books and documents were lost in a series of fires and earthquakes, which destroyed important Dzongs where the historical records had been stored. The prominent event in what little exists of Bhutanese history is the legendary flight of Guru Padmasambhava from Tibet in 747 AD. Guru Rimpoche, as he is today popularly referred to as, is considered the second Buddha. Guru Rimpoche arrived in Paro valley at the Taktshang (Tiger's nest). Today a monastery exists perched precariously on the cliff's face as an indelible mark of the Guru's visit. Guru Rimpoche is the founder of the tantric strain of Mahayana Buddhism practiced in Bhutan . He is also worshipped as the father of the Nyingmapa School of religion.

Although the religious presence was acting as the Spiritual cohesion, the country was not unified under one central authority. Many local lords who had for centuries been at war against each other ruled it. In the early 17th century, Shabdrung Nawang Namgyal, a Tibetan Lama of the Drukpa School , came to Bhutan and eventually ended the long period of rivalry between factions of feudal lords. He established the Drukpa sect, which is still prevalent today. The Shabdrung, meaning, "at whose feet one submits" established himself as the Country's supreme leader and vested civil powers in a high officer known as the Druk Desi. The Je Khenpo, another leader was charged with the religious affairs of the country. The country was divided into regions and a comprehensive system of law was codified.

The Shabdrung built a chain of Dzongs throughout the country, which served as the seat of Government and as fortress, which guarded each valley during the times of battles. The Shabdrung died in 1651. In the ensuing two centuries, the country was again engulfed into regional fiefdoms with intermittent civil wars. At the end 18th century, the Trongsa Penlop Ugyen Wangchuck, who then controlled the eastern and central region suppressed all his rivals and again united the country. An assembly of representatives of the monastic community, civil servants and the people unanimously crowned Ugyen Wangchuck the first king of Bhutan in 1907. The monarchy has thrived ever since and the present king, His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck commands the overwhelming support of his people.

GEOGRAPHY

Bhutan is one of Asia's smallest nations, nearly lost between the extensive borders of the two great nations of China and India . Only 46,500 square kilometers in extent, the kingdom straddles the 27 th parallel north latitude, and stretches from 8845' to 9210' east longitude a mere 150 km in its longest dimension. Sikkim and West Bengal lie on Bhutan 's western border, Tibet to the north and northwest, Arunachal Pradesh to the east, and Bengal Duars and Assam to the south. Bhutan is a land of Jungle-clad hills, Impressive River gorges and high mountains. No section of the country is without diversity. The southern strip, paralleling to the border with West Bengal and Assam is a jumble of forested hills heavily dissected by rushing watercourses with wide shingle banks.

The ridges of the southern hills generally trend north-south, and northward they give way to higher ridges oriented in a similar fashion. Between these mountains, many of whose summit exceeds 4000 m, lie broad flood plain valleys, the home of Bhutan 's largest towns and much of the country's population. The major concentration cluster around the sites of traditional fortress-monasteries known as Dzongs. Most of these are situated along major river courses, and inhabit the mid-mountain zone nearly equidistant from the northern and southern borders. From west to east the most important are in: Ha, Paro, Thimphu , Punakha, Wangdue Phodrang, Trongsa, Shongkar and Trashigang.

For centuries Bhutan 's isolated location and it's self-reliant national character kept the Kingdom outside the path of economic development in South Asia . Although this seclusion prevented Bhutan from fully benefiting from many of the medical, technical, and scientific advances of the day, it also shielded the country from many of the detrimental side effects of poorly planned or haphazard development. As a result, while most of the Himalayan region has seen its natural resource base severely compromised through deforestation, soil degradation, erosion and pollution, Bhutan's national patrimony of extensive and varied forests, limited yet fertile and productive farmland, and pristine water and air remains largely intact.

Travel Visa Application:
Tourist Visas: Your visa has to be approved prior to air ticketing and your arrival in Bhutan. Once you are ready to confirm your tour arrangements we will apply for your visas. We will need all of the following details.

  • Your full name (EXACTLY as it appears in your passport)
  • Permanent address
  • Occupation
  • Nationality
  • Passport number
  • Date of issue and expiration of passport
  • Date and place of birth
  • Telephone Nos

Your Bhutan visa will be stamped in your passport only when you arrive in Bhutan. Bhutan Visa Fees of US$ 20 which you need to wire together with your Airline and Tour Payment to Bhutan Majestic Travel in advance to process your Bhutan Visa and purchase Druk Air tickets.

Ground Transport:
Again, all ground transportation is already included in your daily tariff. We use only clean, comfortable and well maintained cars, vans and coaches to transport our guests. Our experienced drivers are trained and licensed by the DOT and the Road Safety and Transport Authority. You will be at ease riding in the mountains of Bhutan unlike the experiences you will have had in Nepal and India. Sanity on the road prevails, and drivers are courteous to each other.

By Air

The only airport is at Paro.

Bhutan's national airline, Druk Air, is the only airline servicing Paro. Click here for current flight schedule. FLIGHT

SCHEDULE

NOTE:During monsoons & Winter, unpredictable weather forces can delay flights and travelers are advised to include an extra day in their itinerary.

By Road
Kathmandu to Kakarvitta ( Nepal-India border) 500 km or Kathmandu-Bhadrapur flight ( Usd 118) and again to Phunsoling(Bhutan-India border) approx 200 km. The road from Bagdogra (the nearest Indian airport) enters Bhutan at Phuentsholing, the border town. It is a 4-5 hour drive from Bagdogra airport, which can be reached by plane from Calcutta and Delhi. From Darjeeling or Gangtok (Sikkim), it can take 7 hour to Phuentsholing. It takes approximately 6 hour from Phuentsholing to Thimphu or Paro.

GENERAL INFORMATION

Flora & Fauna
Among the Himalayan Nations, Bhutan has the richest diversity of Flora and Fauna made possible by the ecological sensitivity of the Bhutanese People and preserved by the policies of a concerned government. With over 70 percent of the country under forest cover and it's rich bio-diversity, Bhutan has been declared one of the 10 environmental "hot-spots" in the world.

The immense beauty of the Himalayas is contained in its diverse landscape. Cascading rivers, conifers, wild rhododendron and blue poppies, long sweeping valleys, fields of maize and tall, imposing white-capped peaks: these are only a few poetic references. The wealth of the floral variety includes "Rhododendron, Junipers, Magnolias, Orchids, Edelweiss, Gentians, Daphne. In addition, the rare Blue Poppy , Bhutan 's national flower, which can be found at altitudes as high as 4000 meters. Along with these, grow rare medicinal herbs and exotic mushrooms.

In Bhutan the vegetation profile falls into five general classes:

  • Tropical [up to 1000 m]
  • Sub-tropical [900 m-1800 m]
  • Temperate [1800 m-3500 m]
  • Sub-alpine [3500 m-4500 m]
  • Alpine [4500 m-5500 m]

Spotting unusual fauna in Bhutan is almost obligatory. There are over 500 species of Birds to be seen in Bhutan . The rich bird life includes the Monal, Pheasant, the Tragopan, many different types of wild pigeons and Doves, the rare Rufus-necked Hornbill and the endangered Black Necked Crane. There is also an abundant butterfly fauna. This reflects the kingdom's wide range of agro-ecological environments, from subtropical to alpine, and its zoo-geographical Indomalayan (oriental) region and the permeable and fluid (for birds) border with China .

The People
The population of Bhutan in the year 1994 was 600,000 with 43 percent of the population aged under 15 years. The government is keenly aware that an increased population will strain the country's resources. Bhutan 's 90 percent lead an agrarian life style and continue to live in the valleys isolated from one another and the outside world by formidable mountain passes. Bhutanese are traditionally rural dwellers and their homes and villages reflect their rich history.

Religion
Bhutan 's official religion is Drukpa Kagyu, school of Tantric Mahayana Buddhism , similar to the Buddhism of Tibet. Tantric form of religion emerged as the last phase in the long evolution of Buddhism. The word 'Trantism' comes from Tantras, the name of a body of esoteric texts which appeared roughly between the third and the tenth century. These are divided into four groups: tantras of action, tantras of behaviour, tantras of yoga, and finally tantras without any superiors. If we place Bhutan 's religion in the full context of Buddhism, it is necessary to go back nearly 2500 years and trace the points at which the Drukpa Kagyu lineage and its antecedents diverged from other schools of Buddhism.

Arts and Crafts
The Himalayan Mountains are a fragile environment the actions of wind, water, earthquakes and fire have made serious changes in the topography. The intervention of people on this environment has, to date, been without major effect. However, that influence is changing and, unless checked, could be disastrous to the Himalayan states and their neighbours.

The Himalayas posses an unforgettable aura and magnetism, a personality at once diverse and distant but also familiar and friendly; there are high mountain peaks, rushing streams and delicate waterfalls, narrow fertile valleys and mountain slopes carpeted with rich colours of autumn leaves or spring rhododendrons, of tall pine forests, green and glistening in the monsoon rains, or ghostly and reflective in winter.

Architecture
The traditional architecture of the kingdom of Bhutan is associated with a number of clear-cut architectural concepts and building types that are deeply rooted in Tibetan Buddhism: majestic and strategically positioned fortress monasteries [dzong], dramatically located temples [lhakhang] and monasteries [gompa], picturesque clusters of village farm houses [gung chim], and various types of religious and votive structures such as Buddhists stupas [chorten], prayer walls [mani], different types of spirit houses [lukhang and Tsenkang] and the technical genius of its cantilever and chain bridges [zam].

Anyone who has had the opportunity to experience Bhutan 's unique built landscape will have marveled at it's strikingly beautiful traditional architecture. Most publications that mention Bhutanese architecture tend to emphasize it's monumental character and aesthetic intent. It is possible that such object-oriented descriptions of architecture contribute - albeit unconsciously - to what may be called 'monumentalization', 'objectification', and 'concretization' of Bhutan 's 'living architectural tradition'. In terms of western values and approaches to issues of cultural preservation and conservation, each and every traditional architectural landscape in Bhutan , each and every building and structure, would seem entitled to conservation.

Clothing
Due to wide range of temperature and climatic conditions, it is advisable to bring appropriate clothing. From May to September normal traveling cloths plus a light woolen sweater or a light jacket and a light walking boots are sufficient. From November to end of April on the other hand, you will need very warm cloths including underwear or woolen tights to wear under trousers, thick socks, strong boots and down jacket.

You will be offending people if you walk around in skimpy or tight fitting clothes. Although there are normally opportunities to wear skirts or loose trousers, men should not wear singlets. During visit of monasteries, dzongs and other religious sites, you should not wear shorts and hats.

The following is a fairly exhaustive list of what you should pack for the trip:
Clothes as per season, sunglasses/spare glasses or contact lenses, pair of casual shoes, washing kit, shaving kit, towel, hat umbrella, camera, film and accessories, maps, insect repellent, hand cream, small sewing kit & safety pins, torch or flash light with spare batteries, mirror, sun screen cream, lip salve or soluble aspirin, antiseptic cream, preparation for the relief of sunburn. You may not be tuned to the Asian drugs so it is always better to bring own brand.

Currency
Bhutan 's unit of currency is the ngultrum (Nu), which equals 100 chetrums. It is at par with the Indian rupee, itself a legal tender in the kingdom. One US dollar is exchanged for roughly 44 Ngultrums. Tourists can exchange traveller's cheques or cash at the Bank of Bhutan or at their hotels. American or Australian dollars, pound sterling, French and Swiss francs, German marks, Dutch gilders, Hongkong dollars, Singapore dollars, Thai bath or Japanese yen are all accepted currencies.

Customs and Regulations:
Custom Regulation:The Bhutanese authorities strictly prohibit the export of any religious Antiquity or antiques of any type. All personal electronics, Cameras, Video Cameras, Computers and personal electronic equipment may be brought into the country but they must be listed on the customs form provided on arrival at Paro and will be checked on departure. Two liters of Alcohol and reasonable quantity of cigarettes may be brought in to the country without duty.

Post and Communications
The Bhutanese postal system is reliable, you can send mails from hotels and post offices and no special procedures are necessary. If you mail cards or letters from the Thimphu post office, you can buy exotic Bhutan postage stamps from the philatelic bureau and use them on your letters and postcards. Bhutan Post offers outgoing EMS [expedited mail service], which is a reliable and fast international mail delivery facility that is cheaper than courier services. It also has a LUM [local urgent mail] service for delivery within Bhutan . DHL is the only international courier to operate from Bhutan .

Most of the country's major towns have both domestic and international direct dial facilities. Nearly all hotels and some PCO's have facilities to send and receive faxes. Bhutan has its own Internet and email services.

Photography and Filming:
The photography opportunities on a trip are immense. Photography is permitted nearly everywhere in Bhutan and the local population has no aversion to being photographed. If you wish to record the local population, their houses, shops etc, always ask by gestures if it is okay to do so. Photography inside the Dzongs and Monasteries are not permitted. Please follow your guide's instruction carefully while visiting Dzongs, monasteries and religious institution. Of late, the Royal Government encourages the filming groups. Any commercial Filming must pay a royalty to obtain the permit from the Royal Government of Bhutan. We will assist you to get the permit.

Food and Drinks
Bhutanese food is a tantalizing blend of hot Himalayan flavours. Northern Indian cuisine mixes with the chillies of the Tibetan plateau and traditional recipes from Bhutan 's villages to create sizzling and memorable tastes. Chanterelle mushrooms, apricots, asparagus, a wide variety of chillis and a host of spices grow in abundance in Bhutan 's valleys.

These spices, fruits and vegetables are prepared with beef, chicken, pork, and dried yak or with each other to make dishes that resemble elements of both Chinese and Indian cuisine. Bhutanese dishes are traditionally served with ample portions of indigenous red rice. The food prepared for tourists is tempered to western taste. The tourism authority imported the knowledge of selected European hotel experts to improve the quality of food and beverage

 

Guides:
Guests of the kingdom are required to have guide accompaniment throughout their stay in Bhutan. You will have a very fluent English speaking guide and driver at your disposal at all times. This is not to say you have to have your hand held everywhere you go. We are very accommodating and we can be flexible. Our guides have all been trained and licensed by the DOT (Department of Tourism). Our trekking guides and cooks undergo additional mountain training, including safety and first aid. None of our guests have ever needed a rescue, but we have helped lost trekkers from other tour agencies get out of the high passes safely. We have been successfully leading groups through the Bhutan highlands ever since tourism was privatized.

Tourist Seasons:
A visit to Bhutan can be planned anytime of the year but the best period is from mid September to November and March to June. There are many festivals during these months, and visitors should take advantage of trekking and the Tsechu. Most hotels sell out during this time and it is important for us to plan in advance if you want to attend.

Contact us if you have any questions regarding the tour costs. The daily rate may sound high at first, but remember that this includes all your accommodations, meals, guided tours, and all ground transportation in Bhutan, museums fees.

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