Bhutan is a truly magical place and a holy grail for travelers around the world. It is also called ‘Druk Yul’ in its traditional name, meaning the ‘Land of the Thunder Dragon’.
Bhutan is a Buddhist kingdom situated in the eastern Himalayas between India and China. With a total land area of 38,394 square kilometers, the country has a diverse topography of lush subtropical plains and snow-capped peaks. Tucked in an unspoiled scenery of the Himalayan landscape, primeval forest, and traditional villages adds in the beauty of the country. The capital and the largest city of Bhutan is Thimphu and Dozankha is the national language.
Bhutan is also known as the “The Last Shangri-la” in the world where environmental protection and cultural preservation go hand in hand. Traveling to Bhutan offers a worthwhile experience for its tourists. Being a unique country, Bhutanese people believe in Gross National Happiness as the growth of the country. The picturesque view of the monasteries built in cliffs, prayer flags and majestic dzongs(fortress architecture) presents Bhutan as one of the pristine areas of Buddhist culture. The ancient monasteries and temples like Paro Ringpong Dzong, Punakha Dzong are the most majestic dzongs in Bhutan. The blend of the ancient tranquil atmosphere with modern life makes Bhutan a fascinating travel destination.
Bhutan is also popular for its adventure side. Adventure activities like rafting, cycling and trekking are some of the ideal ways to discover hidden Bhutan.
If you are traveling to Bhutan, having basic knowledge about its currency is a primary part. The Ngultrum (Nu) is the official currency of Bhutan. The currency code is BTN and the symbol is Nu. Cents in Bhutan are called Chhertum where 100 cents make 1 BTN. There are coins to the value of 25 and 50 chhertum and Nu 1, 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 500 and 1000 are the currency notes acceptable in the country. All of the currency notes imprint Bhutanese culture depicting different dzongs in the backside. Being closely related to the Indian currency (INR), 1 Ngultrum value 1 Indian Rupee. It is also readily accepted all over Bhutan.
There are several banks and money exchange center at Paro Airport and Bank of Bhutan branches in major towns of Paro and Thimphu. Travelers can opt to convert their foreign currencies to Ngultrum upon arrival as ATM services is unavailable in Bhutan, and not all credit cards are widely accepted. Only Visa, Master and American Express card payment is accepted in some major towns.
Travelers are advised to carry ample cash as per the needs for convenience in transactions. It is also advised to keep the receipts on purchase of handcrafted goods or antiques as tourists may be required to show proof of purchase while exchanging the money back on leaving the country.
TRANSPORTATION IN BHUTAN
Bhutan is a unique country known for its environment and culture preservation. Being laid in a Himalayan area until 1961 traveling in Bhutan was quite difficult. One had to travel by foot or on mule/horseback to enter Bhutan through dense forests and frozen pass. After careful infrastructure development, the transportation facility in Bhutan had a big development. Bhutan is now connected by both road and air. Many of the districts and major towns are accessible through roadways. Bhutan also offers a comfortable surface transport for a pleasant journey in this mountainous country. Some of the latest models of Japanese Toyota cars, SUVs, Hiace buses, and coaster buses are offered to tourists depending on the group size accompanied by tour guides. Bhutan also offers on-demand helicopter sightseeing for tourists. The service officially started on November 11, 2015.
SHOPPING IN BHUTAN
Bhutan is popular for souvenir shopping and authentic handicrafts. The goods manufactured and produced in Bhutan present a rich Bhutanese culture and tradition. The major cities for shopping in Bhutan are Thimphu, Paro, and Phuentsholing. With numerous shopping stores, tourists can buy Woven Bags, Stoles, Traditional Jewellery, Handmade Kira & Gho, Brassware, Yak-Bone Jewellery, Wooden Bowls, Hand-Woven Bamboo Items, Incense, Carpets, Carved Masks, Thangkas, Postage Stamps, Handmade Paper, finely crafted Metal products and many more. Apart from antiques, finely manufactured shawls, sweaters, and coats are also appealing to buy for apparel shopaholics. Bhutan is also famous for tourists fascinated by authentic jewelry(Himalayan beads or Dzi Beads). These goods may be expensive but one can find better quality items in fairer prices from markets of major cities of Bhutan.
Some of the places for handicraft shopping in Bhutan are Norzin Lam Street(Thimphu), Authentic Bhutanese Craft (Thimphu), Lunga Handicraft (Thimphu), and Bhutanese Collections(Paro).
COMMUNICATION IN BHUTAN
At present, all of the major towns and villages in Bhutan have efficient telecommunication facilities including phone, fax, and internet service. Bhutan has two cellular service operators (B-Mobile and Tashi Cell) with network coverage in most parts of Bhutan. Most of the hotels and accommodation units also provide email, internet, and WiFi service. Tourists can use public phone booths with a charge or buy a cell phone with Bhutanese SIM card which can be used in most urban places and some rural areas. Internet facilities have also been continuously increasing in Bhutan while some internet cafes still rely on dial-up collection. The standard mail service in Bhutan has also developed in most parts of the country, where one can use postal service to send and receive documents and packages. Other than that private company like DHL and FedEx are also noted for express postage services.
CLOTHES AND EQUIPMENT
Bhutan lies in a Himalayan belt. It is a geographically diverse country with altitude differences. Discovering what clothes to pack and travel equipment to carry while making your travel plan can be overwhelming. Based on the season, weather conditions and dress customs of Bhutan, one must be cautious about clothing and equipment or gears. Depending on the specific months of the year and specific altitude of where you are traveling in Bhutan, temperatures can vary.
If you are traveling Bhutan around October, November, December, January, and February, it is best to carry thick sweaters, layers of thermally efficient clothing and overcoats to protect yourself from the extreme cold weather. For the months of March, April, May, June, July, August and September, it is best to carry light clothing like t-shirts, cardigans, jeans with waterproof shoes and rain gears from June to August.
Bhutan is purely a Buddhist country with relatively conservative customs. Bhutanese people opt for a traditional dress on a daily basis. Following their cultural, implications and dress etiquette as you travel to Bhutan would be a better option. Tourists should present similar modesty as it is advised to avoid inappropriate clothes like shorts, skirts, tank tops, tight clothing. Most of the religious sites like temples, monasteries, and dzongs around the country require to cover-up. It is also advised to remove sun caps inside the temples.
Trekking in Bhutan takes you to the high altitude region. Depending on the months of the Bhutan tour, temperatures greatly fluctuate from day to evening. It is best to carry extra thin layers of a sweater, scarves, gloves, and lightweight jackets. Generally, most of the minimum daily package includes trekking equipment by tour operators, it is best to carry basic toiletries like toothbrush, soaps, toothpaste, towels, moisturizer, etc by yourself. It is also advised to carry cameras and power bank during the trek to Bhutan.