Situated between China and India, the tiny Kingdom has a population of little over 750,000. Bhutan is predominantly a Buddhist country. Its incumbency in the lives of Bhutanese people since the 7th century, Buddhism has deeply influenced the culture and tradition of Bhutan. Ancient temples, monasteries, and fluttering prayer flags are ever-present across this country.
A developmental philosophy known as Gross National Happiness guides national policy formulation and developmental activities. GNH in its essence is a belief that the true measure of a society’s progress is the happiness of its people rather than simply measuring the Gross Domestic Product.
BHUTAN TOURISM POLICIES VISITORS MUST BE AWARE OF
Booking a Trip to Bhutan
All visitors must book their trip through an authorized local tour operator. The local tour operator will assist travelers in processing tourist visas, booking accommodations, and flight reservations, planning tour itineraries, and other logistics.
Most local tour operators offer a range of predesigned Bhutan tour packages to choose from or visitors can discuss and customize an itinerary as per their preferences and needs.
Applying for a Tourist Visa
Travelers cannot apply for a tourist visa independently. To apply for the visa, travelers must apply and process the visa through a local travel agent. Travelers are required to fill in a simple visa application form and submit a copy of their passport. The passport must at least have a validity of 6 months.
The visa processing can take up to 48 hours and a one-time visa processing fee of US$ 40 per person is levied by the Department of Immigration. It is also important to note that the Tourism Council of Bhutan will only endorse your visa application upon the verification of successful full tour payment.
Minimum Daily Tariff (How much does it cost to visit Bhutan)
Bhutan was awarded the Earth Award at the International Tourism Bourse 2018 in Berlin in recognition of its commitment to developing sustainable and responsible tourism. The Royal Government of Bhutan promotes a high value low-impact policy to achieve this goal.
Visitors are levied what’s called the minimum daily tariff. Tourists are charged US$ 250 per person per night during the peak traveling season (US$ 200 during the lean season). The tariff is an all-inclusive package. It includes accommodation, food, land transport, and tour guide services.
A solo traveler is levied an additional US$ 40 per night as a FIT surcharge. For a group of up to 2 persons, the FIT surcharge is US$ 30 per person per night. For groups of more than 2 travelers are not required to pay the FIT surcharge and are only charged the minimum daily tariff.
GETTING TO BHUTAN
Paro International Airport is the only port of entry for travelers visiting Bhutan by flight. Bhutan’s national airlines Druk Air and Bhutan Airlines operate inbound flights from Singapore, Bangkok, Dhaka, Calcutta, Kathmandu, and New Delhi.
ENTERING BHUTAN BY ROAD
Travelers can also enter Bhutan by road. Phuntsholing town is 175 kilometers away from Thimphu city. The border town links with the Indian state of West Bengal and it is approximately an hour's drive from Bagdogra National Airport and the New Jalpaiguri train station.
Travelers can also enter Bhutan the Indian state of Assam. The southeastern border town of SamdrupJongkhar is roughly 170 kilometers from the national airport in Guwahati India. This point of entry is ideal for travelers looking to explore the eastern region of Bhutan.
BEST TIME TO VISIT BHUTAN
The trekking season in Bhutan is during the months of March, April, May September, October, and November. Trekking routes are closed by heavy snowfall during the winter months and are not recommended during the monsoon season.
While there are festivals throughout the year, the most popular mask dance festivals in terms of crowd attendance are the Paro Tsechu and Thimphu Tsechu. Paro Tsechu usually is celebrated in the months of March or April and Thimphu Tsechu in the months of September or October.
Traveling during the lean season can be cheaper. The minimum daily tariff is cheaper by US$ 50 per person per night. The airlines also offer discounted airfares and the hotels offer cheaper rates. Tourists will also enjoy private trips to popular tourist attractions.
TOP THINGS TO DO WHILE IN BHUTAN
Immerse in the Unique Culture
The establishment of ancient tradition and culture that evolved through centuries of isolation is deeply rooted in the Bhutanese society and continues to govern the Bhutanese way of life despite the rapid modernization and the influence of Western culture steadily gaining popularity.
During business hours and in school, locals have their dress code. Men wear Gho (a knee-length robe) and women wear Kira (an ankle-length dress). Dzongkha is the national language of Bhutan.
The majority of the population are farmers living in rural villages. The farmers work hard in the fields to sustain their livelihood and during the non-cultivation season, they devote their time seeking spiritual guidance.
Nature and Adventure
Bhutan is the only carbon-negative country in the world. It means that it absorbs more carbon than it emits. Thanks to its abundant and pristine natural environment. The thriving natural environment supports a diverse ecology and is home to many endangered species on the planet.
Bhutan’s constitution mandates a minimum of 60% forest cover at all times. The majority of these areas are identified as national parks and wildlife sanctuaries. Bhutan’s proximity to the high Himalayan Mountains offers outdoor enthusiasts many trekking and hiking options. The glacial-fed rivers are ideal for rafting and kayaking.
Mask Dance Festival
Locally known as Tsechu, the annual festival is a religious event celebrated across the country. The festival honors Guru Rinpoche, a 7th-century Buddhist saint. He is believed to have introduced Buddhism in Bhutan.
The festival is celebrated within and around the medieval fortresses. During the festival, the monks chant prayers and perform Chaams, a religion-inspired dance wearing silk robes and exquisitely crafted masks. The masks depict Buddhist deities and gods. The dances are believed to invoke deities to bless the congregation.
The festival draws people from within the region and many tourists from across the globe to be a part of this unique celebration.
Hike to the Tiger’s Nest
The Tiger’s Nest is a 300-year-old Buddhist monastery in Paro Valley. What attracts many tourists to visit this sacred place is that the monastery is perched on a cliff 900 meters above the Paro Valley.
To get to the monastery, tourists will have to hike up the mountain for three hours. Legend has it that Guru Rinpoche (7th-century Buddhist saint) meditated in a cave that lies at the heart of the monastery for many years and further adds that Guru arrived at