You probably knew Bhutan is nestled in the laps of Himalayans, but what you may not have known is that during your stay in Bhutan, you will be at an elevation of 4000-11000 feet the entire time! Also, Bhutan, which translates to “Land of Thunder Dragon” has earned the nickname due to the thunderous storms that often roll in its mountains. These trivia aren’t meant to scare you – only prepare you for what to expect and what not to expect when travelling to Bhutan.
Knowing your budget
Bhutan is not your budget holiday destination or the place for backpacker-style drifting from your imagination. Shut to the foreigners until the 1970s, the country still closely guards its ecology and illustrious heritage, even at cost of its budding tourism. Travels must be planned through government-appointed agencies and paid in full advance before you receive a visa. The visa cost amounts to USD $250 per day during peak season (March-May and September-November), and $200 during off-seasons (December-February and June-August). However, the visa covers most expenses like a guide and a custom-made itinerary including accommodation, transportation, sightseeing and meals. If you need spending money, you’ll need cash. There are ATM machines in larger towns but they aren’t always reliable. You can spend the money in US dollars, Indian rupees, or the local currency – Ngultrum (Nu).
Timing and priorities
Now, it really boils down to what you want to see and do. If you are planning a trek to the high hills and mountain bases, months of April, May, September, and October are the optimum months with best clearance and visibility. Note that winter lasts in Bhutan from July to August. While summer is best suited for mushroom-picking in Phobjika Valley, winter’s a good time to catch the rare black-necked cranes in their winter homes.
Similarly, Bhutan celebrates numerous festivals throughout the year, although the most famous ones like ThimphuTshechu and Paro fall during peak tourist season. Other than religious ones, Bhutanese people also celebrate festivals like Black-necked Crane Festival, Royal Highlander Festival, and Rhododendron Festival to name a few. Most Bhutanese festivals include spirited dances in colourful costumes, with a huge number of on-lookers dressed in ornate traditional costumes. But, if you are looking for a more spiritual experience, consider going to a lesser-known festival.
To do’s and not to do’s
Some of the first Dzongkha (Bhutanese) word you should probably learn are KuzoZangpo La (Hello), Layshom Ye (Are you well?), and Kadinchey (Thank You). Learning basic words and phrases in Dzongkha will take you far – especially when bargaining for discounts at the markets. Social etiquettes in Bhutan pretty much align with its South Asian neighbours like taking off your shoes before entering a temple or house, refraining from wearing short clothing, and public display of affection. Also, Bhutan has absolutely barred production and sales of Tobacco products, meaning you are allowed to bring only certain quantity of cigarettes with you and strictly smoke only in designated areas.