Bhutan: Travel/Tourist Information Guide
Bhutan, officially known as the Kingdom of Bhutan, is a small country in South Asia at the eastern end of the Himalayas.The country used to be ruled as absolute monarchy but it has been changes in the elections of 2008 and the country transited to constitutional monarchy. Outsiders sometimes call Bhutan, “The Forbidden Kingdom”. It borders China to the north and India to the south, east and west. The capital of Bhutan is Thimpu, which is also the largest city in Bhutan. According to a global survey made in 2006, Bhutan was rated as the happiest country in Asia and the eighth-happiest in the world. On the other hand, another report which is called the World Happiness Report made in 2016 by the United Nations ranked Bhutan as the 84th happiest country.
Bhutan has a picturesque natural scenery and a strong sense of culture and tradition that binds the kingdom. It is the only Vajrayana Buddhist nation in the world. It is a unique country in terms of many things such as it is the world’s last remaining Buddhist Kingdom. It is still a third world country. On the other hand, the current generation receives free education, and all citizens have right to receive free medical care as well. One thing to consider is that Bhutan banned the sale of tobacco products and smoking in public is also considered as an offensive act which can be punished with fines. Most of the time, Bhutan makes its income from tourism, hydroelectric power and agriculture.
In terms of culture, Bhutan has a very tradition depended culture. In 1999, Internet and TV made their way to the country which had a major effect on people. Therefore, bars and snooker halls became more modern. On the other hand, it is not possible to find anythig related to quality comtemporary art, theatre and music in Bhutan. Bhutanese people primary consist of the Ngalops, Shahchops and Lhotsampas which are the Western Bhutanese and Eastern Bhutanes, and Southern Bhutanese. Because Bhutan is a very culture depended country, it is opposed to any influence of any distinct culture on Bhutan. So that many of Hindu Napalese immigrants were expelled or fled as stateless people to refugee camps in Nepal.
In terms of climate, Bhutan’s weather changes from north to south even tough it is a small country. The north of Bhutan is usually covered with snow when the west, central and east parts of Bhutan is mostly European-like weather. Winter i from Novermber to March. The south is usually hot and humid with sub-tropical climate. Winter is the driest period and spring and autumn tend to be more pleasant. There are three seasons in Bhutan which are low, shoulder and high. Low season lasts from June to August that mostly monsoon rains put an end. Secondly, the shoulder lasts from December to February that this season has fewer tourists and it can be beneficial in terms of savings. The weather is pleasant however December and January can be cold. Lastly, the high season last from March to May and from September to November. The weather is ideal in spring and autumn. This season is the season when the tourists visit Bhutan the most. Booking flights and accomodation in advance are recommended.
Bhutan has three major regions which are Central Bhutan, Eastern Bhutan and Western Bhutan. They are further divided into 10 districts or dzongkhag. The notable cities are Thimphu which is the capital city, Jakar which is an administrative town in the north and the birthplace of Buddhism in Bhutan, Mongar which is one of the largest towns in east Bhutan, Paro, Punakha, Phuentsholing, Samdrup Jongkhar, Trashigang and Trongsa. The most popular destinations are Paro, Thimphu, Punakha, Wangue and Jakar. In terms of activities, trekking is extremely popular in this country. The most common trekking point is the Druk path. There also more trekkks in the country such as the Jomolhari, Laya Gasa and the Snowman Trek. The Snowman Trek is the toughest treks in the world which takes around 30 days and the recommended season for this trek is from mid-June to mid-October. Other notable things to do in Bhutan are festivals that Tsechu is the largest religious festival in Bhutan, archery which is the national sport of Bhutan, biking, Hot Stone Bath and Ceremonial Buddhist Weddings.
Central Bhutan is culturally closer to Eastern Bhutan. On the other hand, the towns have been developed with a mixture of both Eastern and Western design. The notable cities of this region are Chhumey, Jakar, Tang, Trongsa and Ura. The ideal time to visit here is in spring and in autumn. The notable sights in this region are Trongsa Dzong, Jakar Dzong which is one of the largest and most impressive landmarks in Bhutan, Tower of Trongsa Royal Heritage Museum, Yoser Lhamo Shop, Kurhey Lhakhang whish is a temple in Jakar that was built around a cave with a body print of Guru Rinpoche imbedded in the wall, and many more. The other destinations are Jigme Singye Wangchuk National Park, Royal Manas National Park and Phibsoo Wildlife Sanctuary. In terms of acitivites, the region is perfect for long treks in mountains. Other recommended things to do might be Duer Hot Springs and Weaving houses in Chhumey.
The region is a less visited spot of Bhutan by travellers which makes it more attractive and beneficial for budgets. The cities and towns are generally built on mountain slopes. He notable cities and towns are Bartsam, Deothang, Khaling, Lhuentse, Mongar, Samdrup Jongkhar, Trashigang, Trashiyangtse and Wamrong. The main sights of the region are Mongar Dzong, Chorten Kora which is an impressive stupa, Yakgang Lhakhang, Yongla Gompa which is a famous Monastery perched high above the village of Oron, the Rufous-necked Hornbill, Sherabtse College and many more. Other destinations in this region are Bomdeling Wildlife Sanctuary, Khaling Wildlife Sanctuary, Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary and Singye Dzong.
The west part of Bhutan is the most attractive spot for tourists and travellers. The notable cities are Chuchka, Gedu, Kuruthang, Paro, Phuentsholing, Punakha, Thimphu, Tsimasham and Wangdue Phodrang. The most famous sights of this region are Punakha Dzong, Paro Dzong, Gangte Goemba, National Museum, Radak Neykhang, Paro Taktshang Monastery which is one of the most important Buddhist sites in the country, Zangto Pelri Lhaklang and many more. Other destinations are Jigme Dorji National Park and Toorsa Strict Nature Reserve.
In order to travel around Bhutan, route permits are required. There are check points in most districts and travellers are required to produce these documents to proceed. There are several ways to get around Bhutan. Firstly, Bhutan has a difficult topography, roads are generally very well-maintained and safe. On the other hand, mountainous terrain causes roads to be blocked by rock falls during the summer season. Therefore, it might take some time to get somewhere from somewhere. It is recommended to carry some water and snacks just in case. There are local and inter districts bus services which are not very comfortable and they sop frequently. It is recommended to provide a vahicle and driver for the duration of stay. Tour operators can also organize local or inter district bus or taxi. The region is mountainous so that driving without experince might not be such a good idea. Secondly, hitchhiking is a very common way to get around in Bhutan because of the infrequency of the public tranport between towns. The usualy hitchiking method with the thumb in the air is not recognized in Bhutan so a flag should be shown to a passing vehicle in order to make them stop. Most drivers require no money and some drivers pick up passengers as a means of supplementing their incomes. It is generally safe to hitchhike throughout the country.