Concealed from the rest of the world by the majestic Himalayan mountains, the landlocked country of Bhutan is a unique existence of ancient cultures and modern development merged together in harmony. The tourism industry is heavily regulated by the government with a “minimum daily package” imposed on all tourists, except for citizens of India, Bangladesh, and Maldives. This means that you must book your tours with a registered Bhutanese travel company to be allowed in the country.
Once inside, immerse yourself in the wealth of cultures in Paro, Thimphu, Jakar, Punakha, and Wangdue. Wildlife enthusiasts will have a field day at Zhemgang while the newly opened Eastern Bhutan beckons the adventurous with its enticement of pristine and untouched land.
Bhutan is a landlocked country with a very limited number of entry points. The sole international airport of the entire kingdom, Paro Airport, only serves flights from just a few Asian countries. The alternative is to enter the country by one of the only two official entry points at the border to India.
The official currency in Bhutan is the Ngultrum though US Dollars and Indian Rupees are widely accepted too. However, you should note that the 500 and 1000 Rupee notes are banned by the Bhutanese government. ATMs accepting Visa and Master cards can be found in major cities. You should always carry some cash with you since only high-end hotels and shops accept payments in credit cards while all transport arrangements must be paid in cash.
The official language of Bhutan is Dzongkha and with over 19 dialects spoken in the country, it is linguistically rich. However, you will not have a problem communicating with the locals as most Bhutanese speak English. Even road signs and government documents have an official English version, making it a breeze to ask for help or navigate through the country.
The peak tourist seasons are the spring months of March to May and autumn months of September to November as the weather tend to be milder. The shoulder season of December to February sees temperature fall but the days are usually sunny with clear skies, which can be a rather pleasant time to travel in Bhutan with low tariffs and without the crowd. June to August is the monsoon season with heavy rainfall, rendering most treks unexplorable.
Bhutanese love their chilli and it is very evident in their food. The national dish, ema datshi, packs a punch with its spicy chili peppers covered in rich creamy cheese sauce and is always accompanied by warm fluffy rice. Most local meals consist of rice with a couple of side dishes made with meat or vegetables, almost always with a spicy twist.
Traveling in Bhutan
In keeping with Bhutan’s policy of “minimum daily package” for tourists, your internal transportation will be taken care of by your tour operator. However, if you want to drive around the country on your own, you must acquire a route permit and have extensive experience driving in mountainous regions because the roads are marked by twists, turns, and sharp inclines.
Tightly controlled by the government, tourism in Bhutan is not for backpackers and the budget-minded. However, this is how the kingdom maintains its mysterious allure and every single tour promises uniqueness and quality.