Flags during the Druk Path in Bhutan

Bhutan Travel Guide

Practical information

22:07:25
Language(s)
Dzongkha
Currency
Bhutanese Ngultrum
Time zone
GMT +6

Bhutanese history

Bhutan's history is shrouded in mystery until the mid 8th century. Then in 747AD a very honourable, religious leader named Guru Rimpoche came to Bhutan from Tibet. The story tells that he rode on the back of a tiger and at Paro Taktsang defeated the demons blocking the spread of Buddhism through the country.  In reality, he visited the King who was on death's door and cured his illness, before meditating with his followers in a cave near to where the Taktsang monastery now stands. In the nearby Kuje monastery there is also the remnants of a rock upon which his feet and fingerprints were apparently etched. During his time in Bhutan, Rimpoche founded the Nyingmapa sect of Buddhism. The trends of buddhism ebbed and flowed over the coming centuries, with emigrants from Tibet bringing new forms of the religion, the most dominant being the Drukpa sect of Kagyupa. By 1600 many Drukpas were forced to flee Tibet due to the rise of Gelugpa and amongst them was Ngawang Namgyal. He arrived in 1616 and with the support of rich, western Drukpas he set about building dzongs in all the main valleys in western Bhutan. These quickly became a focal point of authority for each region, unifying them under one governing body and religion. In 1639, when the Tibetans invaded, this strength proved instrumental as they were swiftly defeated. After this victory, Namgyal effectively became the leader of Bhutan and lead them to another two victories over vast Tibetan armies. He then set about appointing a government and separating himself, as leader of the religious aspects of the country, from the 'Druk Desi' who lead in a political aspect. He also introduced a standard law system and split the country up into regions, each with an allocated governor. Five years after Namgyal's death in 1651, Bhutan was lead by a single government under one religion - Drukpa Buddhism. As no religious leader was appointed outright, the role fell to the 'Druk Desi' or Prime Minister until a new leader was reincarnated. As the process of reincarnation involved appointing a leader at birth, by the time they were old enough to rule the Druk Desi didn't want to part with their power and so the religious control of the regions fell to the 'Penlops' (governors). This brought with it some civil unrest, however all were still united under Drukpa Buddhism.
Bhutan then looked to expand it's influence and in 1772 it had gained control of Cooch Behar. Unfortunately the East India Company also wished to stake it's claim on these areas and in 1773, British led troops defeated the Bhutanese to capture two forts in the area. The Bhutanese, shocked at their defeat, called upon a high raking Tibetan Lama who wrote to the British Governor with a peace treaty. The British Governor agreed to sign the land back over to Bhutan, however further disputes between Britain and Bhutan occurred when Bhutan tried to expand it's control to the east, into Assam. After several years of unrest, fighting over control of the Assam passes, Bhutan was eventually defeated and agreed to hand over control of the passes and accept further mediations with it's neighbouring countries from Britain, in return for free and open trade and 50,000 rupees a year.
In 1903, a British expedition to Tibet, passing through Bhutan, was offered assistance from the Tongsa Penlop, Ugyen Wangchuck. Impressed with his knowledge and support of the expedition and his role as a mediator with the Tibetans, he was awarded a Knight Commander of the Indian Empire (KCIE). This prestige was highly respected in Bhutan, Britain and Tibet and helped to bond the relations between the British and the Bhutanese further. This respect continued to be displayed when on December 17, 1907, Ugyen Wangchuck was enthroned as King of Bhutan. This seemed to be a popular decision, although there is little written evidence around this. When he died in 1926, he was replaced by his son. Up until now there have been four kings of Bhutan, however, unlike other monarchies they live a very simple life with little ceremonies and exploitations of wealth. 

Time Zone

The time zone in Bhutan is GMT +6

Languages

Dzongkha

The main language in Bhutan is called Dzongkha.
Two other major languages in the country are Tshanglakha and Lhotshamkha.

Useful Phrases

  • Kuzungpo la  Hello
  • Kadrin Cheyla  Thank you
  • Tashi Delek  Welcome
  • Shay Go  Food
  • Ga tey? – Where?
  • Gadee? – Which?
  • Ching – One
  • Ngee – Two

Currency

Bhutanese Ngultrum

The Bhutanese Ngultrum (Nu) is the local currency of Bhutan and equal in value to the Indian Rupee. It is a closed currency so you will not be able to buy this before you arrive. All major currencies, such as US Dollars, Sterling Pounds and Euros, and traveller’s cheques can be exchanged at Paro Airport, banks, hotels and the local market. Hotels in the towns will accept foreign currency but we recommend that you take local currency on the actual trek with you for incidentals and souvenirs.

Bhutan is a cash economy and credit cards are not commonly accepted. Mastercard may be accepted in larger shops and hotels, but Amex is rarely accepted. If you are relying on a credit or debit card for emergency funds while you travel, make sure you tell your card issuer that you will be using it abroad, or you may find that it won't work when you really need it.

USD
NU

Electricity

There are 2 types of electrical sockets in Bhutan – type D which are old UK style (3 round pins) and type C  which are standard European style (2 round pins) – and are 220v, same as the UK. The type D socket is commonly found in India, so any adapter that is suitable for India will be the right size, and a European adaptor will be fine for the type C socket. 

Weather

Bhutan, like Nepal, experiences the tail-end of the Asian Monsoon that moves up through India in late May bringing high temperatures, very high humidity and crazily heavy rainfall. The monsoon will last until the end of August and once it has passed you can expect lush green valleys and sunny days for trekking. Winter in Bhutan can get very cold, especialy at higher altitudes. In the spring time from February to May temperatures gradually get higher and higher until the monsoon arrives and brings some relief from the heat and much needed water for the landscape. 

SIM cards

You can buy SIM cards from a counter at the airport, pay locally and collect them on arrival. To get a SIM card you will need a copy of your passport and your SIM will need to be unlocked from it’s current network. The people at the counter will set up the SIM for you so it will be available to use as soon as you have bought it. Your guide can help you with this.

 

These are the options you will have for SIMS at the airport:


1 week package (300Nu) includes 50 minutes and 2500 MB data

2 weeks package (650Nu) includes 100 minutes and 6000 MB data


Dressing Appropriately

Please avoid body hugging, sleeveless t-shirts, jeans, mini-skirts or shorts while visiting temples and dzongs, and when attending festivals. Please take off your hat when entering religious sites while on your trekking adventure in Bhutan. You will need to take off your shoes when entering the monasteries and temples. We recommend taking some thick socks with you to wear, as the floors are often made of rock or marble and can be incredibly cold!

Domestic flights in Bhutan

Some of our trekking itineraries in Bhutan involve a domestic flight. The airfield at Paro is subject to Visual Flight Rules (VFR) and as such can be affected by poor visibility when clouded in. It is not uncommon for bad weather to cause delay as the airport will be closed if the cloud cover is too great. If possible you should allow some extra days in Paro at the end of your trip so that we have some leeway if any of your flights are delayed.
Mountains in Bhutan

Geography

The last Buddhist Kingdom in the world, this beautiful, largely unspoiled country nestles in the foothills of the Himalaya between two of the most powerful countries in Asia – India and China. With tourism not starting until 1974, Bhutan remains one of the most isolated countries in the world, and its culture and traditions remain very much intact.

With one of the world’s greatest concentrations of mountains, the experience begins with the flight into Paro offering close up views of Mt Everest, Mt Kanchenjunga and other great Himalayan peaks. Once on the ground, this is a country of high rugged mountains and deep shadowy gorges, cloaked in dense primeval forest, resplendent with rhododendron blossom in the spring and offering ecosystems that are both rich and diverse. The full glory of this ancient land is discovered through majestic fortress-like dzongs, numerous ancient temples, monasteries and stupas which take prime position in this picturebook landscape.


The true charm of this tiny kingdom must surely lie in its use of Gross National Happiness as a measure of development, placing real value on such things as heritage, health, education, good governance, psychological wellbeing and community spirit. The people of Bhutan are warm and welcoming, and you will easily become immersed in their traditional way of life.

Etiquette

Apart from the courtyards, guests are not allowed to take pictures inside any monastery, temple or dzong. Always walk in a clockwise direction while visiting religious places or sites such as stupas, temples, monasteries, prayer flags etc. Please do not point a finger at a sacred object or place - it is considered disrespectful.

Smokers have to declare cigarettes at the airport and pay 200% tax, for which they will be given a receipt which permits them to smoke. Smoking without a receipt is illegal in Bhutan and smoking is not allowed in public areas, only designated smoking areas. Please refrain from smoking while you are visiting the dzongs and monasteries.

Young buddhist monk in Thimphu, Bhutan

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