About Bhutan

About Bhutan

Bhutan with her legendary beauty is a wealth of life in Himalayas. Although it measures only 110 miles from the north to south and 200 from east to west, Bhutan – called by its people Druk Yul, “the Land of the Thunder Dragon” — is home to a remarkable variety of climates and ecosystems. Essentially, the country is divided into three major land regions: plains and river valleys in the south; a mid-Himalayan (5,000 to 14,000 ft. high) area north of the valleys; and the mountainous lands in the Himalayas, which range from 14,000 to 24,000 ft. above sea level.

Bhutan’s unique natural beauty unites with a wide range of cultural values, languages, customs, and friendly social atmosphere. With a population 672,425 people, Bhutan is a tiny country full of colors. Carefully preserved between high mountains, Bhutan was never colonized and she has always protected her genuine culture in a natural environment. Bhutan is comprised of a mosaic of different peoples who continue to live in valleys isolated from one another and the outside world by formidable mountain passes. Differing ethnic groups are also distributed according to the varying environments. It is possible to divide Bhutan’s population into three broad ethnic groups, though the distinctions blur in places.

Nature inspires us and gives us peace and calmness. Actually, whole Himalayas are noteworthy for their biological richness. Since the Himalayas’ geologically recent origin less than 25 million years ago, they have molded the region’s fauna and flora by limiting Indian species from moving northward, and Tibetan species from moving southward. Himalayan rivers were in place before the mountains were, and consequently, the river courses have remained unchanged while they have cut ever deeper gorges and valleys. These valleys have provided the main avenues of contact between Indian and Eurasian wildlife.

Bhutan, far less explored and catalogued, is still a mystery for the most people around the world. A land of legends, Yeti, folktales, Buddhist spirit, and peace Bhutan is our home, where we grew and became what we are today.

Bhutan History

Evidences of existence of Bhutan dates back to as early as 2000 B.C. The historical artifacts and archaeological findings indicate this Himalayan nation as so old.

Independent and sovereign throughout the history, Bhutan is abound with myth and legend and their roles in shaping the unique civilization.
However, the recorded history begins from the advent of Buddhism in the country in 747 A.D by a Buddhist saint called Padmasambhava popularly known as Guru Rinpoche (precious master) in Bhutan.
Then on, Buddhism has been a driving force for Bhutan’s political, social and cultural evolution.
In the subsequent centuries, several Buddhist masters came to the country from Tibet who played vital roles in maintaining the country’s nationhood.

In the 13th century one of the greatest Tibetan saints, Phajo Drugom Zhigpo visited Bhutan. He had been instrumental in spreading the Dharma (Buddhism). Later on, Drukpa Kagyud, a sect of Mahayana Buddhism, the saint spread, was adopted as the state religion which exists to date.
Several Tertons (treasure discovers) too played critical religious and political role that ensured the societal bondage among the people and peace for the nation
. One of the most prominent treasures-discovers (Terton) was Pema Linga. He is believed to have discovered ter (relic) from a lake named Mebarstho (burning lake) with a butter lamp still burning after a dive into the lake. The lake is located in Bumthang (a central district) and is one of the popular tourist hotspots.

A figure from Tibet, who was to be immortalized in Bhutan, as one of the most prominent religious and political forerunners arrived in 17th century. He was Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal (1594-1651). He was a great political and religious personality Bhutan’s history knew before the establishment of a hereditary monarchy in 1907.

The theocratic governance system he introduced had and continues to have great impacts on the Bhutanese polity – both as monarchical and now a democratic system. Under the dual governance system Zhabdrung Rinpoche established, head of the clergy was known as Je-Khenpo who looked after the religious affairs, and Desi (Temporal ruler) who was responsible to look after the state’s affairs.
The dual administrative system continued until the establishment of the present Wangchuck Dynasty in 1907 with undeniable resemblance in today’s Bhutan as a democratic nation. Zhabdrung was not only a famous spiritual personality, but also a warrior, architect, statesman and builder. The first Dzong (fortress) Simtokha Dzong, which he built in 1629, still exists with enduring symbolism of importance of fortresses in Bhutan. Fortresses continue to serve as both administrative and monastic purposes even today.

Besides, Zhabdrung codified laws that are the frameworks of the Bhutanese judicial system. He pioneered the national etiquette called Driglam Namzha – the source of important Bhutanese value of modesty can be traced. Bhutan’s identity of unique, culture, tradition and nationhood are assets people consider Zhabdrung gifted them. Following the end of Zhabdrung’s era, Bhutan was riddled with internal strife and external threats. Among the leaders of political factions, Jigme Namgyel the father of Bhutan’s first King Ugyen Wangchuk came out victorious, and consolidated the country to some extent.

It was Ugyen Wangchuck who went through a share of a leader’s trouble to unify the country when he was unanimously enthroned by the people of Bhutan as King in 1907. Then on peace, tranquility and rapid economic development took place in the country. The fourth hereditary King Jigme Singye Wangchuck, who voluntarily abandoned the Golden Throne in favor of his son the fifth King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, introduced democracy in Bhutan in 2008.

Bhutan Culture

The uniqueness of Bhutan’s culture has been the bedrock of her identity. Though small in size and population, Bhutan has culture deeply rooted in the values and principles of Buddhism.

Reflecting ‘unity in diversity’ people of 18 different ethnicities live in harmony with strong sense of oneness. Bhutan’s culture is uniquely evolved and time-tested. To provide hospitality to strangers is one of the core social values. Care for strangers and neighbors during the time of adversity like death of a family member is a living fact of a strong caring culture. The traditional festivals are centuries-old and still vibrant. Mask dances are the mainstay of various festivals held round the year in different parts of the country. Mask dances include naked dances performed at the festivals to ward off evil spirits. So the festivals, too, are rich in myth, legends and beliefs. Bhutan’s uniqueness in her dress code is one important aspect of the culture that has the potential to keep the history living and reliving. The national dress is called gho (for men) and kira (for women).

One of the most wonderful character of the Bhutanese culture, is, there is no layers of social castes unlike in many other countries, especially developing countries. Man and woman, rich and poor, powerful and weak are all equal. Most elements of the Bhutanese culture are part of the national etiquette called Driglam Namzha.

Bhutan Ecology

One of the four pillars of Bhutan’s development philosophy of Gross National Happiness is the preservation of its environment.

It is quite interesting to note that some of the crucial development activities are also compromised it they were found to be impacting the environment.

From the time immemorial, people of Bhutan have learnt to live with the nature in harmony. They believe mountains, forests and rivers as abodes of Gods and Goddesses.

Not only human life, the Bhutanese people believe that all forms of life are precious and sacred. The belief has contributed a lot in keeping Bhutan’s environment intact.

The recently adopted Constitution of Bhutan mandates to have minimum of 60% of the country under forest coverage. Today, forests constitute 72% of the country.

There are more than 3,281 plant and 770 bird species making Bhutan one of the top 10 bio-diversity hotspots in the world.

Abound with diversity of flora and fauna, Bhutan is a home of some of the most endangered animals on the planet like Red Panda, Takin, Golden Languor and Snow leopards.

Also, the country prides for its multiple medicinal plants. To foreigners, Bhutan was once known as a land of medicinal hub.

Bhutan People

Bhutan is one of the least densely populated countries in the world, with 79 percent of 672,425 people living in the rural areas.

The kingdom’s independent history explains the nature of its people who are natural, confident, and gentle. Bhutanese people share a good sense of humour and are widely accepting of different cultures.

People from the western region of the country are often referred to as “Ngalops” descendents of Tibetan immigrants who arrived in Bhutan from the 9th century. In the east, are Sharchops, widely believed to be the original inhabitants of the country. To the south are Lhotsmpas, largely descendents of immigrants from Nepal who settle in Bhutan in the 19th century.

Bhutanese people are strongly independents in spirit and outlook. Not ever having been colonized, traditional Bhutanese society was charactersied by small scattered communities living in isolation with little contact with one another. The first motor road was built in Bhutan only in 1961, linking Bhutan to India in the south and eventually developing into a national highway that stretches across the country.

Bhutanese communities, therefore, retain a strong sense of individualism. We have the “Bumthap” or the people from Bumthang, and the “Mandheps” in Trongsa, the Khengpas in the central region of Zhemgang, the nomadic “Layaps” in the North West, the “Brokpas” in the eastern Bhutan villages of Merak and Sakteng, the “Doyas” or “Lhops” in the southern Bhutan of Samtse, and the “Lepchas” in the south.

While Dzongkha is the Bhutan’s national language, and English is widely spoken, Bhutan has registered 10 languages and dialects. This diversity in language and culture is an indication of the cultural richness and heritage of the Bhutan.

People in Bhutan, no matter how simple their rural lives are, have a welcome smile for every visitors or travelers to Bhutan. The Bhutanese people are gracious hosts and treat all visitors as guests. Bhutanese hospitality is even more evident in the rural villages where the local people genuinely welcome visitors or travelers to Bhutan as honoured guests.

How to reach Bhutan


Tourism Regulation

Tourism has not been that much widespread in Bhutan as we look at preserving and nurturing our culture and tradition. Bhutanese are immensely religious people and therefore it would be good on ones part to respect and understand the local customs and way of life, especially while visiting those places of religious significance.

Tourism Industry in Bhutan is founded with the principle of sustainability in mind, which means that tourism must be environmentally and ecologically friendly, socially and culturally acceptable, and also economically feasible.

Due to this, tourism is monitored with a strict hand and the number of tourists visiting Bhutan is maintained at an environmentally manageable level.

Visitors may experience Bhutan only on all-inclusive package tours for which a fixed daily tariff is set by the Royal Government of Bhutan. This tariff covers the following services: accommodation & all meals, transport, guide, entrances fees to museums, monuments and cultural sites, and additionally a cultural program for visitors traveling in a group of three or above.

VISA

Your passport must have at least 6 months’ validity. You will also make sure that you have an additional page for a visa for Bhutan, as well as space for the visas for any countries you are visiting en route. If you need to get a new passport please do so well before your planned trip so that there is no delay in applying for your Bhutanese visa. The visa is issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs within Bhutan as Bhutan has very few embassies abroad. No foreign missions abroad grant Bhutan tourist visas. You may apply in advance through a tour operator such as Super Value Travel and receive confirmation that your application has been approved before you travel to Bhutan. There is no need to send the pictures or sign the visa application at this time.

It is advisable to apply early for the visa because the process takes a little more time than a normal visa application. Once you send your personal information, Super Value Travel submits your application first to the Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB) and then to the Department of Immigration, Ministry of Home and Culture Affairs, both based in Thimphu. The visa is not issued until the TCB has checked that the full tour payment has been received into its bank account. The confirmation and reference number then sent to Super Value Travel and a copy will be send to you. You have to show this at the check-in desk for Druk Air. You can not board the Druk Air flight without this document so it is very important to have it along with your passport.

Upon your arrival in the country, either at Paro Airport or at Phuentsholing/Samdrup Jonkhar (if you are entering by road) the actual visa is stamped on the passport. At this time at the place of entry you have to present a passport photo with your passport number written on the back. Please keep in mind that the visa is issued for exactly the same number of days and dates as booked by you. If circumstances arise for a visa extension once you are in Bhutan it can be arranged. Members of groups are expected to arrive and depart together.

PERMITS

Route permits are required when moving between all districts in Bhutan except from Paro to Thimpu.Super Value Travel obtains a permit for the places mentioned in your itinerary and this permit is checked and endorsed by the police at immigration checkpoints strategically located at important road junctions. Permits to Enter Temples after 2001 the rules were changed to allow tourists to visit the courtyards of dzongs and, where feasible, one designated lhakhang (temple) in each dzong but only when accompanied by a licensed Bhutanese guide. This provision is subject to certain restrictions, including visiting hours, dress standards and other rules that vary by district. Because dzongs are open to all during the time of a Tsechu. You may visit the courtyard, but not the lhakhangs, if your trip coincides with a festival. If you are a practicing Buddhist, you may apply for a permit to visit specific dzongs and religious institutions. This is issued by the National Commission for Cultural Affairs, and an application should be made in advance through Super Value Travel. The credibility of your application will be enhanced if you include a letter of reference from a recognized Buddhist organization in your home country.

ACCESSIBILITY

The most convenient way of entering Bhutan is by Druk Air, the country’s national (and so far only) carrier. As flights can be delayed due to weather conditions (particularly during the summer months), it is advisable to allow 24 hours before any onward connection.

DRUK AIR is the only airline flying to Bhutan
– Two A319 aircraft with 20 business class seats and 94 economy class seats.
– We have only one international airport and it is situated at an elevation of 2,200 meters in Paro, Bhutan.

The gateway cities into Paro, Bhutan are:
– Bangkok
– Dhaka, Bangladesh
– Kolkata, India
– Gaya, India
– New Delhi, India
– Bagdora, India
– Katmandu, Nepal

Baggage weight limits are:
– 30 kg for Business Class
– 20 kg for Economy Class

Extra luggage cost per kilogram is:
– US $5.00 / kg from BKK
– US $4.00 / kg from DEL
– US $2.50 / kg from all others

GATEWAY BY LAND:
Arrival or departure by land is also possible through the southern border town of Phuentsholing. The nearest airport is at Bagdogra, West Bengal, about 4 hours drive away. Phuentsholing allows entry/exit for travelers wishing to visit the Indian states of Sikkim and West Bengal along with Bhutan. It is possible to arrange land exit through the southeastern border town of Samdrup Jongkhar, which is approximately 3 hours drive from Guwahati, capital of the Indian state of Assam. Please check with Super Value Travel if you are interested in this route.

FLIGHT CONNECTION

It would be very convenient if you arrive at Bangkok, Delhi or Kathmandu, one day earlier to the Druk Air departure for Bhutan. Druk Air flights usually depart early in the morning. We cannot be held responsible if you miss the connection to Bhutan, though we will do our extreme to help you get on the next flight and to extend your visa. All additional costs incurred will be borne by you. Similarly, on the return journey, we would not advise you to book a flight which connects on the same day unless you have a ticket that allows some flexibility. Druk Air flight schedules are subject to weather conditions in the mountains and are often altered at the last minute.

FLIGHT FREQUENCY AND AIR FARES

Our national airline flies several times a week between most of its destinations, but flight timings and frequency vary according to season. Druk Air’s website www.drukair.com.bt includes details of current flight schedules and airfares (airfare cancellation policy). Please check the website or contact Super Value Travel for the latest information when planning your travel arrangements. Please let us know if you would like the current flight schedule.

The magnificent mountain landscape en route is seen at its best in the winter months, when skies are generally very clear. While flying via Kathmandu to Paro you experience the most impressive view of the Himalayan Mountain Ranges, including the Everest region. Mountain Kanchenjunga is visible for some time on all routes when the weather is clear. Flying to and fro from Bhutan is a lifetime experience to be cherished.

CUSTOMS

Visitors have to complete a passenger declaration form which will be checked by custom officials at the exit point.

After collecting your baggage you must decide which channel to take – Green Channel(nothing to declare) or the Red Channel(goods to declare).

As per international risk management practice, random checks on your baggage may be conducted by the Customs official even if you are proceeding through the Green Channel.

The following articles are exempt from duty: –
a) the visitor shall be allowed to import temporarily free of Customs duty his/her personal effects and articles required for the visit, provided that items imported are for personal use and that the items will be re-exported on their leaving Bhutan.
b) 1 bottle of Spirits not larger than one liter
c) 1 carton of Cigarettes (containing 200 pieces) subject to 100 percent customs duty and 100 percent sales tax
d) device, equipment or appliances for professional utilization
e) photographic equipment, video cameras and other electronic gadget for personal use.

The articles mentioned under (d) & (e) must be declared on the declaration form. If these items are disposed of in Bhutan by sale or gift, they are liable for customs duty. Visitors are required to surrender their forms to the Customs authorities while departing.

IMPORT/ EXPORT

Import/export of the following goods is prohibited

  • Arms, ammunitions and explosives
  • All narcotics and drugs excluding medically prescribed drugs
  • Wildlife products, especially those of endangered species
  • Antiques

Imports of plants, soils etc. are subject to quarantine regulations. These items must be cleared on arrival. Visitors are advised to be cautious in purchasing old and used items, especially of religious or cultural significance, as such items cannot be exported without a clearance certificate.

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