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ABOUT BHUTAN


Bhutan is no ordinary place. Remote and isolated it is the last great Himalayan kingdom. Although completely cut off for centuries it has tried to let in some aspects of the outside world while fiercely guarding its customs and traditions.

The Bhutanese people with their Buddhist beliefs have a strong sense of identity and of the interdependence between man and nature, expressed through the national policy of Gross National Happiness and concern for the environment. Its environment is wild and pristine and it is home to some of the world’s highest unclimbed mountains, the last great undestroyed forests of the Himalayas and exotic wildlife such as the Black-Necked crane, the Golden langur and the Royal Bengal tiger.

Visas

We organise Bhutanese visas for you. We will require a scanned copy of the photo page of your Passport for the application.

If you are coming in and out via India you will need an Indian visa and you need to apply for this before you leave home.

If you are in transit through India and don’t leave the airport you can get by without a visa, but it is probably safer to get one anyway in case of delays; also because you can’t usually check your luggage through all the way to Bhutan, so it is easier to manage this if you can go through immigration, collect your luggage and check in again from there. Don’t forget to get a multiple entry visa if necessary.

If you are flying with Druk Air and have a stopover en route you don’t need a visa for India/Nepal/Bangladesh as you don’t get off the plane.

For Kathmandu if you are stopping over you can get a 15-day visa on arrival for US$30 – you need to take 2 passport photos with you. If you are coming into Bhutan via Phuntsholing you need to bring 2 passport photos with you, but arriving at Paro you don’t need to bring photos, just the copy of the visa authorisation we send you. If you come in overland you should be sure to get your exit stamp for India at the immigration office and not at the border.

Climate

On the same latitude as Miami and Cairo, Bhutan has a climate that varies with altitude. The southern border near India is tropical with a hot, humid climate, while the Himalayan mountains in the north are blanketed with snow almost all year round. Unless you are trekking, most of your time will be spent in the central region between the two.

There are two main seasons for visiting Bhutan, both of which offer the chance to visit festivals and to trek. The first is in the Spring (March to May). This is the season for wonderful flowers and birds, the days are warm and the mountain peaks are still visible for much of the time. Daytime temperatures in the main centres you are likely to be visiting are around 17 to 22 degrees Celsius, increasing through the season. It can even get much hotter – up to 28 or 30 degrees, especially in low lying areas such as Punakha or Wangdi. But nights can still be cool at this time of year, especially early in the season.

The other good time is Autumn (September to November), when there is much less rain, the skies are clear and the drying of chillies on the roofs of houses provides a very photogenic sight. In September, it is slightly wetter with the tail end of monsoon, with rainfall reducing as you go through the season. September temperatures will be between 20 and 25 degrees Celsius, with pleasant temperatures at night, reducing by about 5 degrees during October/November when nights will also become cool again. Trekking at altitude you need to be prepared for much lower temperatures than are mentioned here.

Summer (June to August) is the monsoon season which means heavy rains, especially in the south. Mountains disappear behind the clouds and the valleys are shrouded in mist. Landslides are frequent occurrences and can cause communication and transport difficulties. However, we don’t actively discourage travel during this season, because it is still a good time to visit Paro, Thimphu, Punakha and surrounding areas in western Bhutan, as long as you are prepared for rain. Striking sights at this time of year are the electric-green rice paddies against a background of the dark forests. In late summer wild orchids are abundant. Summer temperatures will be from 25 to 30 degrees Celsius, cooler in the evenings.

Winter (December to February) can be very cold, although December to early January can be a pleasant time to visit western Bhutan, with dry, clear days. Temperatures reach an average of 15 degrees Celsius in the valleys (although nights are much colder, sometimes below freezing). Snow is frequent from mid-January to mid-February.

Click here to find maximum and minimum temperatures (in Celsius) to be expected in towns across Bhutan throughout the year

Money

The Bhutanese unit of currency is called the ngultrum and is pegged to the Indian rupee. Ngultrum are not available outside Bhutan. Please note also that you cannot easily convert Ngultrum back to dollars. You can spend Indian Rupees in Bhutan, but 500 and 1000 Rupee notes are not accepted anywhere.

For spending money you should bring dollars if possible, as they are the easiest currency to change. You get better exchange rates for high value ($100) notes and also in some of the luxury hotels. Euros and sterling are also accepted throughout. Travellers’ cheques are not really worthwhile, as the exchange rates are poor. If you do want to buy souvenirs, credit cards can be used now in most places, although you may want to bring cash for market purchases where they won’t be. Visa is more readily accepted than MasterCard but there are places that you can use either.

It is possible to use credit cards in a couple of ATM’s in Thimphu, but only to draw out local currency and not foreign currency. So bring all the US$ cash you think you might need as it is difficult to get hold of it in Bhutan if you run out.

Culture and Customs

The Bhutanese are generally tolerant of Westerners and don’t expect that they will necessarily follow, or understand, local customs, so they are not quick to take offence, but it is worth bearing in mind the following:

It is polite to take any items offered to you (or to hold something out to another person) with two hands. This is also often done when shaking hands. If you only use one hand to take something from someone make sure it is the right hand.

Follow your guide’s lead on this – it is customary to remove your shoes on entering the important rooms of temples (and indeed private houses).

It is also customary to leave a small amount of money on the altar – you will see people touching the note to their forehead first. If a monk is present he will then pour some holy water from a small jug into your hand – if you wish you could make the gesture of taking a sip and then spreading the rest over your head

Don’t touch people on the head or feet (although this rule does not apply to small children), and don’t point your feet at anyone. If you are sitting on the floor try to sit cross-legged or kneel with your feet behind you.

Don’t point at people or religious objects or pictures. If you are indicating something in a painting, use your whole hand, palm upwards, pointing the tips of your fingers in the relevant direction. If you are waving someone towards you use your hand palm downwards.

Remember that you should always turn prayer wheels or navigate round a chorten, religious monument or temple in a clockwise direction.

Photography and filming inside temples is not allowed. Please ask if they mind before taking pictures of local people.

We also suggest that you discourage begging. Don’t give money or candy to local children. It will encourage them to beg whenever they see foreigners. Instead you could leave small donations to schools or the village development fund so that the money can be used to benefit the whole community

Trekking List

People often tell us it was colder on trek than they had anticipated – please make sure you bring plenty of warm clothes particularly for night time – it can be below freezing in camp.

General
     ● Rucksack or kit bag to put overnight trekking kit in for horses to carry (may get a bit beaten up)
     ● Waterproof sac to put over your day pack and plastic bags to help segregate and organise things
     ● Day pack (30 litres or so) to carry things you want access to during the day
     ● Sleeping bag – 3 season up to about 3000 metres, 4 season above that
     ● Silk liner for extra warmth
     ● Thermarest inflating mattress (if you feel you need extra padding – thin mattresses are provided)
     ● Inflatable pillow (if you find it more comfortable to have a head support when sleeping on flat ground)

Clothing (generally, layers of clothing make sense as temperature changes regularly)
     ● Trekking trousers
     ● Fleece pants or tracksuit to wear in camp
     ● T-shirts, long sleeve shirts, sweatshirt
     ● Thermal underwear (top and bottom) for night use

Outerwear
     ● Down jacket if above 3500 metres
     ● Fleece
     ● Windproof jacket
     ● Waterproofs
     ● Scarf and gloves

Footwear
     ● Hiking boots (should be water repellent)
     ● Sandals or trainers for use in camp
     ● Thick hiking socks and silk sock liners to guard against blisters
     ● Gaiters if trekking close to the monsoon season or in snow

Headwear
     ● Broad brimmed hat or baseball cap for sun during the day with bandana for shading the neck
     ● Woollen hat or balaclava for evenings
     ● Polarising sunglasses – best to have the ones with side covers

Other
     ● Walking poles
     ● Head torch with spare batteries and bulbs
     ● Washing line
     ● Small knife
     ● Water bottles (preferably metal)
     ● Dextrose tablets, snack bars and energy drinks
     ● Camera, film and polarising filter
     ● Books, iPod, playing cards and other diversions for evenings eg Yahtzee dice

Medicines
     ● Medicine for diarrhoea eg Immodium
     ● Rehydration sachets eg Dioralyte
     ● Paracetamol or Nurofen
     ● Plasters and Compeed for blisters
     ● Antiseptic cream
     ● Strepsils, Lemsip, cold and flu medicine
     ● Sting relief and Insect repellent

Toiletries etc
     ● Travel towel and sponge
     ● Soap and biodegradable liquid for laundry
     ● Toothbrush and toothpaste
     ● Toilet paper, tissues, wet wipes
     ● Sun cream (including total sun block)
     ● Lip salve
     ● Iodine tablets – or you can just use boiled water and on shorter treks mineral water
     ● Tweezers

Guides

We take a lot of care with the guides we hire for you, as we know that on an escorted tour a guide can make or break a trip. We have many tried and trusted guides who have worked with us for years and who have received consistently high feedback from clients. It is not unusual for clients to tell us that our guide was the best they have ever had in years of travel and we are lucky to have many excellent guides on our books.

Tipping

This is always a tricky one, but we try to help by giving you an idea of local expectations, while stressing that what and who you choose to tip is entirely up to you and will obviously depend on the service you have received. As a general rule, the amount that you may be expected to tip will depend on the length of your trip. But there is also an unwritten hierarchy, with the guide expecting the biggest tip, followed (if you are trekking) by the cook, then the driver and then (again if you are trekking) by the helpers and horsemen in that order.

If the amounts quoted seem like a lot, remember that many staff are only employed through the tourist season (perhaps six months of the year, if that) so the tips help to see them through the off season when they may not be able to get other work.

For a small group (1 or 2 people) the following may be appropriate for the group to tip, depending on the type and length of itinerary:

     Tips for guide and driver
               10 to 14 day tour:
                                     Guide - US$140
                                     Driver - US$100.
               22 day tour:
                                     Guide - US$200
                                     Driver - US$150.

     Additional tips for trekking staff if applicable
               5 day trek: Cook - US$100
                                     Helpers - US$50 (each)
                                     Horsemen - US$15 (each)
               10 day trek: Cook - US$120
                                     Assistant cook - US$60
                                     Helpers - US$60 (each)
                                     Horsemen - US$30 (each)
               15 day trek: Cook - US$160
                                     Assistant cook - US$80
                                     Helpers - US$70 (each)
                                     Horsemen - US$40 (each)

For a larger group (3 or more people) the following may be appropriate for the group to tip, depending on the type and length of itinerary:

     Tips for guide and driver
               10 day tour: Guide - US$180
                                     Driver - US$120.
               14 day tour: Guide - US$200
                                     Driver - US$160.
               22 day tour: Guide - US$250
                                     Driver - US$180

     Additional tips for trekking staff if applicable
               5 day trek: Cook - US$120
                                     Helpers - US$60 (each)
                                     Horsemen - US$20 (each)
               10 day trek: Cook - US$180
                                     Assistant cook - US$70
                                     Helpers - US$70 (each)
                                     Horsemen - US$30 (each)
               15 day trek: Cook - US$220
                                     Assistant cook - US$120
                                     Helpers - US$80 (each)
                                     Horsemen - US$50 (each)

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