Bhutan is a small, mountainous country set in the eastern Himalayas between China and India. Its inaccessibility has meant that it has been isolated from the rest of the world for centuries. This has helped to preserve its unique culture and character, and given it a special mystique among travelers who refer to it as the last Shangri-La, a lost kingdom of great natural beauty and with a deeply spiritual heritage. To the question, “Is there a Heaven on Earth?” the answer given by many travelers in Bhutan is that truly this is it. Known as Druk Yul or Land of the Peaceful Dragon, Bhutan offers a rare combination of peace and harmony amidst some of the world’s most stunning mountain scenery.
Veiled in its Himalayan mystery, in the grandeur of its icy mountain peaks and lush valleys, the people of Bhutan have been largely unaffected by the pressure of western cultural influences that have had such a great impact on the rest of the world.
Tourism, Culture and the Environment
Tourism is still limited here and visitors pay a minimum daily tariff of US$200 in the low season and US$250 in peak season. This may make Bhutan seem like one the most expensive of destinations, but the figure includes accommodation, transport, food and official guides, plus a US$65 per day tax that goes towards funding free healthcare, education, and projects for the alleviation of poverty in the country. For such a unique and unforgettable experience as any visit to Bhutan surely will be, the question whether the trip represented value for money is never uppermost in the minds of departing visitors.
The people of Bhutan are extremely religious. This is much in evidence even in the urban centers where the spinning of prayer wheels, the murmuring of mantras and the lighting of butter lamps, which represent the illumination of wisdom, are common features of daily life. Buddhists comprise up to three-quarters of Bhutan’s population. Buddhism is the state religion, and monasteries, temples, religious monuments and chorten can be seen throughout the country, bearing witness to its importance. Red-robed monks and nuns, both young and old, can be seen everywhere mingling freely in the towns and village markets.
The landscape of Bhutan ranges between snow-covered peaks in the north through subalpine forests to subtropical plains in the south. Almost three quarters of the land is covered by forests. The preservation of its great natural beauty and rich flora and fauna is enshrined in the constitution, and more than a quarter of its forested land is designated a protected area. Bhutan is committed to a policy of high-value, low-impact tourism.
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Useful facts for visitors
The official language of Bhutan is Dzongkha. Other languages widely spoken include Nepali, Sharchop, Bumthap and Hindi. Most people in the major towns understand English, which is used as the teaching medium in Bhutan’s schools.
There is only one time zone. Bhutan time is 15 minutes ahead of Nepal, 30 minutes ahead of India, 6 hours ahead of GMT, and 1 hour behind Thailand. The monsoon season is between June and August.
A variety of alcoholic and soft drinks are available in shops, HOTELS AND restaurants in most towns. Many Bhutanese enjoy traditional homemade alcoholic drinks made from wheat, millet or rice. In the major cities, boiled and filtered water is also available. Beyond the cities it is advisable to drink only tea, soft drinks or bottled water, or use water sterilization tablets.
Many tourists buy traditional Bhutanese arts and handicrafts, which are produced by skilled artisans and are generally of a high quality. These include Buddhist paintings and statues, jewelry, textiles, and wooden bowls and carvings.
Most government offices are open 5 days a week from 9.00am to 5.00pm in summer or until 4.00pm in winter. Most shops are closed on weekends.
All towns in western Bhutan have a reliable 220/240 volt electricity supply. Elsewhere it is less reliable and many outlying areas have no electricity.
Most passenger and freight transport within the country and to the neighboring Indian states is by road. Taxis are also available.
Bhutanese food is spicy. Chillies are an essential ingredient in most dishes. The typical Bhutanese meal consists of rice accompanied by one or more meat or vegetable side dishes. Restaurants also serve a variety of Indian and western dishes.