Traveling to Bhutan is like traveling back in time some 100 odd years to a time when the world was a far more contented and peaceful place. There is beauty to be beheld everywhere, from the lush farmlands replete with rice terraces to the pine forests and the many temples and monasteries that dot the landscape. Traveling to Bhutan is much more than just a vacation, with a philosophy far removed from the materialistic world of today, Bhutan is an experience to be cherished. A country that is intensely protective of its unique identity, it is best to know what to expect during your visit before you embark on an experience of a lifetime.
A relatively small country, smaller than even its neighbors Nepal and Tibet, Bhutan has nevertheless managed to remain politically independent for most of its history. Its long period of self-imposed isolation from the rest of the world which ended only in the 1980’s means that western influence is only now being felt here in the many cyber cafes and mobile centers sprouting up in every city and town. Buddhism is the official religion of Bhutan and has a huge influence on the culture, festivals and way of life. Bhutanese are very particular about adhering to age old cultural traditions and festivals. Buddhist monks can be seen everywhere and held in great respect. Extremely hospitable and friendly people, Bhutanese can turn quite unfriendly if they feel someone is being disrespectful towards their customs and traditions. Be mindful of local customs and try not to talk too loudly or play loud music as these are frowned upon by locals who prefer peace and quiet for meditation. Try to include at least a couple of monastery visits while you are in Bhutan to understand what makes the Bhutan such a paradise of happiness.
What makes Bhutan such an interesting country to visit is the way old customs have intermingled peacefully with new ideas, particularly as far as the youth are concerned. Though limited in nature Bhutan does boast of a nightlife particularly in the capital city of Thimphu. Thimphu boasts of quite a few nightclubs that serve both locally brewed drinks as well the more well- known brands to the accompaniment of live music and food. Entry fee is pretty reasonable, approximately 300 Nu or 50/- and people start filling into nightclubs around midnight. By 2:30 the place starts winding up. Bhutanese are expected to wear their traditional dress while tourists are free to dress in western outfits.
It is important to know the essential dos and don’ts before visiting any country to avoid any unpleasantness. Knowing the local do’s and don’ts is even more important for a culturally sensitive company like Bhutan where preserving culture and tradition is accorded so much importance. Below is a list of essential do’s and don’ts that should help make your Bhutan experience even more enriching.
DO remember that some of the Himalayan Mountains in Bhutan are considered to be the dwelling place of Gods and therefore not open to tourists.
DO remember that credit cards are not accepted in small shops. So remember to carry Bhutanese currency with you though India Rupee is also widely accepted
DO know that GSM phones work well in Bhutan but not India network.
DO be cautious about purchasing anything old or antique in Bhutan since export of antiques is strictly forbidden in Bhutan.
DO enlist the help of your guide or driver in selecting good quality items to purchase. They know what is the best, but they are often too polite to say anything unless you ask.
DO remember to take off hats and sunglasses while entering dzongas and monasteries
DO remember to keep mobiles on silent while entering monasteries and other religious places
DO refrain from touching any murals, paintings and any other ritual objects
DO refrain from uttering any negative comments on either the royal family, religion or the chief abbot
DO ensure you walk in clockwise direction when visiting religious places
DO desist from giving sweets or money to children
DON’T wear shorts in monasteries and public buildings and monasteries as it is considered to be a sign of disrespect
DON’T forget that all electronic devices including cameras, laptops, video recorders and even mobiles need to be registered with the customs authorities upon arriving in Bhutan. There is a checking again on departure so be sure to declare all electronic items upon arrival.
DON’T forget that smoking is strictly prohibited in most of the areas in Bhutan. Bhutanese stores are also not allowed to sell tobacco. Visitors are permitted to bring 100 cigarettes into the country provided they are willing to pay 200% tax
DON’T ever point at any person, object or animal with a single finger, instead use an upturned flat extended hand especially while indicating a sacred object or place.
DON’T ever touch the robe of a monk
DON’T throw garbage anywhere except designated places
It is best to be well prepared while traveling to a country as remote as Bhutan. Below are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions.
Frequently Asked Question’s
Is there anything for children to do in Bhutan?
A trip to Bhutan can be a real eye opener for kids of all ages. The sheer beauty aside, there is much to do for families in Bhutan. There are many short treks available like the Taktsang which can easily be done by kids, the dramatic changes in landscape is sure to keep them entertained. There are also plenty of plenty of museums with programs especially designed to keep little minds busy and informed. Apart from that there is the National Chorten engaged in teaching children a wide variety of ancient arts and crafts. Apart from these, Bhutan is also richly endowed with beautiful parks that aim to stretch the minds and bodies of all, big and small.
What precautions do senior citizens need to take while traveling to Bhutan?
Bhutan is an extremely safe country for tourists and senior citizens can travel worry free in this small peaceful kingdom. Since much of Bhutan lies at a high elevation, seniors need to be aware of the possibility of suffering from breathing issues, especially if they have a history of heart problems. Please consult with your doctor regarding medication before visiting Bhutan. Also seniors are advised to travel in groups and carry sufficient supply of prescribed medicines since not all medicines might be readily available there.
Any safety concerns that I should be aware of while traveling to Bhutan?
Given that the government of Bhutan Seniors are advised to travel in groups and have ample supply of their medicines that may not be available in Bhutan measures the wealth of the nation on the basis of Gross National Happiness, there is a lot more emphasis on quality of life rather than quantity. All this means that the government is very vested in ensuring the well-being of its citizens, all of which translates into low crime rate and a very safe country for tourists. While there are hardly any incidents of petty theft and crime, it is still advisable to keep valuables with you and keep luggage secured at all times.
Are there any emergency assistance numbers helpful for tourists in Bhutan?
For any emergency assistance and to reach the Bhutan police please dial 113. For ambulance services please dial 112 in Bhutan.