Situated in between India and China, Bhutan has been isolated from the world for centuries and has succeeded in maintaining their culture and spiritual heritage preserved in age-old traditions. Bhutan exudes a special charm, a feeling of calm and serenity, which envelops each visitor the very instant they set foot in the kingdom. The Bhutanese are generally Buddhist. The air of spirituality is evident, even in the urban centers where spinning of prayer wheels, the murmur of mantras and the glow of butter lamps in the houses are still important features of everyday life. Monasteries, temples and religious monuments are dotted across the landscape, bearing witness to the importance of Buddhism, while red-robed monks, young and old are everywhere, mingling freely in towns, villages and markets. Visiting Bhutan: All foreign national tourists visiting Bhutan must travel through all-inclusive package tours, for which there is a fixed tariff set by the Royal Government of Bhutan. This tariff includes the services of accommodation & meal, transport & guide, sightseeing and entrance fees. Reservations: All tours must be booked through a travel agency. In peak seasons and festival time, it is necessary to book 8 weeks in advance. Festivals held in autumn and spring are peak time for tourists and without early reservation it can be difficult to confirm flights and hotels. Visa: Visa is required to travel and Bhutan and is processed in Thimpu via a travel agent. No foreign mission/Embassies abroad grant tourist visa. All passport details should be forwarded to the agent at least 4 weeks prior to date of travel for visa processing. All payments for the desired tour must be paid in full advance and after which travelers will be provided with support papers for Visa Clearance. Visa fee is USD 40 per person payable on arrival in addition to the package costs. For visiting exceeding 2 weeks, an additional fee of USD 10 is charged. TOUR ESCORTS: Well-trained, knowledgeable guides, certified by Department of Tourism, will escort all tours. Most of the guides are English speaking but Japanese, French, Italian, Spanish, German, Russian-speaking guides could also be provided with prior information and on additional cost. Food: Bhutanese delicacies are limited with spicy chillies and cheese. However tourists will be provided with a buffet of continental food with some local dishes too. On treks, the trained cooks prepare dishes suitable to western taste ranging from continental to Chinese and Bhutanese to Indian. Money: Bhutan’s unit of currency is the Ngultrum. The Ngulturm is pegged to the value of Indian Rupee. Approx 1 USD = Nu.43 Clothing: Due to wide range of temperature and climate conditions, it is advisable to bring appropriate clothing. For protection against cold: layered clothing is better than a few thick one, so choose your clothes accordingly. On treks, cloths should be preferably be made from natural materials, which will allow the body to breathe better. You may be offending people if you walk around in skimpy or wear shorts, it is advised to women to wear shirts and loose trousers and men should not wear singlets. During visit to the monasteries, Dzong and other religious sites and institutions you should not wear shorts hat and should be properly dressed.
Dzongkha, the language of the dzong, belongs to the Tibetan linguistic family. Originally spoken only in western Bhutan, Dzongkha is now Bhutan’s national language. English is commonly spoken in the main towns and is the principal medium of instruction in schools throughout the kingdom.
Bhutan has a rich and unique cultural heritage that has largely remained intact because of its isolation from the rest of the world until the early 1960s. One of the main attractions for tourists is the country’s culture and traditions. Bhutanese tradition is deeply steeped in its Buddhist heritage. Hinduism is the second dominant religion in Bhutan, being most prevalent in the southern regions. The government is increasingly making efforts to preserve and sustain the current culture and traditions of the country. Because of its largely unspoiled natural environment and cultural heritage, Bhutan has been referred to as The Last Shangri-la.
Bhutan’s recorded history dates back to the eighth century when the Tibetan King Songtsen Gampo built two of his proverbial 108 temples in Bhutan. Later in that century, the Indian saint Guru Padmasambhava came to the country on invitation of a local king. It is said that through the display of his grandeur in restoring the health and prosperity of the King, the whole kingdom became his field of conversion. Buddhism was introduced with all of its accompanying value system among the people.
However, it was not until the seventeenth century that Bhutan emerged as a unified state. The charismatic Tibetan religious hierarch Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel introduced a system of dual religious and secular rule which stressed the on wellbeing of all sentient beings. Thus a theocracy was for the first time established in the first half of the seventeenth century. The first state laws introduced in the country were credited to him or his immediate successors. These laws were based on the sixteen pure human conducts according to the Buddhist way of living. The country was named Drukyul (land of the thunder dragon) after the Zhabdrung’s tradition of Tibetan Buddhism which was called Drukpa (the Dragon tradition).
The ngultrum (Nu.) has been the currency of Bhutan since 1974. It is subdivided into 100 chhertum (called chetrums on coins until 1979). Denomination of 1, 5, 10, 20, 100, 500 and 1000 are available. However, US dollar and Indian Rupees are widley accepted.
Tourism is Bhutan’s second largest industry after hydro-power. The country’s stress on development with values has assured that tourism is today ‘high value, low volume.’ This official policy ensures that while the Bhutanese people are able to fully reap the benefit which interaction with diverse cultures can bring, they do not become overwhelmed by the explosion in visitor numbers which can result in overcrowding and erosion of indigenous values and wisdom. Thus, a policy of tariff to ensure that a large amount of tourism revenue goes into securing the continuity of public welfare schemes like free quality education and health for all has been in place. At the same time, a fixed rate for all means that visitors get the best of hospitality apart from being saved from the vagaries of market forces.
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, and that with a brisk wind blowing down off the mountains, even a low-lying valley can become quite chilly. The valleys of Punakha, Wangduephodrang, Mongar, Trashigang and Lhuentse enjoy a semi-tropical climate with cool winters, whilst Paro, Thimphu, Trongsa 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 (mid-November till mid-March) is dry and sunny for the most part with daytime temperatures of 16-18C (60-65F). The spring season (mid March to mid June) offers warmer temperatures gradually warming to 27-29C (80-84F). 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 is a magnificent season for trekking until November.
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