- Bhutan Guide |
- Money & Currency |
- Eating & Drinking |
- Climate |
- Religion |
- Security & Books on Bhutan |
- Transportation |
- Customs |
- Arts & Crafts |
PRE-DEPARTURE GUIDE – BHUTAN
This information provided will be helpful in your preparation for a comfortable and enjoyable trip to Bhutan and covers the average range of conditions likely to be found on a touring trip to Bhutan. In remote destinations, abnormal conditions can prevail at any time, and all adventurous holidays can therefore be subject to unexpected changes. In order to enjoy them, we request you to be flexible when required.
GENERAL FACT & INFORMATION:
Country: Kingdom of Bhutan (Locally known as Druk or Drukyul and its people are called Drukpa) Bhutan or Bhutanese is western term adopted.
Location: Latitude: 27.5 Longitude: 90.5
Area: 47,000 sq. km (18,200 sq. m)
Population: 700,000 (estimated)
Capital city: Thimphu (35,000 people)
Languages: Dzongkha is the official language although English is widely spoken and it is the medium of the instructions in the schools. Sharchopkha, which is an Indo – Mongoloid language, is the dominant language in eastern Bhutan. Nepali is spoken in the south and other dialects also prevail in other regions.
Religion: 75% Vajrayana Buddhism, 20% Indian & Nepalese influenced Hindu and rest Christians
Government: Constitutional Democratic Monarchy
King: Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck
Time: 6 hours AHEAD of GMT
Telephone: Country code + 975, to dial out of Bhutan: 00 + country code + number
Electricity: 220 volts AC. A limited supply of transformers is available for appliances of different voltages. Sockets take round pin plugs. The power points are fitted with multi plugs. A travel adapter with surge protection is necessary due to erratic power and fluctuations. A flashlight is an essential piece of equipment.
Business Hours: Saturday and Sunday is the weekly off day for all Government Offices.
Private sector offices close on Sundays. Please note that the National Museum is closed on Mondays. Business hours are usually from 9am till 5pm
Terrain: Mostly mountainous with some fertile valleys and savannah grasslands
Climate: Bhutan’s climate varies widely from the tropical southern border areas to the perpetually snow-covered peaks of the high Himalaya, just 150km (93m) north.
MONEY & CURRENCY:
The currency in Bhutan is the Ngultrum (Nu). The Ngultrum is pegged to the value of the Indian Rupee. The Indian rupee is also officially accepted in Bhutan, but please note that due to counterfeiting problems most establishments do not accept 500 or 1000 denomination of Indian Rupee.
For current conversions rates please check out the following sites:
Currency Exchange can be done at the Paro Airport upon arrival.
You can cash traveller’s checks at any bank and most hotels, but you should only carry well known brands such as American Express. Cash is easier to exchange.
Don’t plan to use your credit card in Bhutan. Only few businesses accept credit cards and there are only a few ATMs that you can withdraw cash from. We recommend taking a combination of traveller’s checks and bills.
EATING & DRINKING:
Staple foods for Bhutan are rice and corn. In the area of higher altitudes, wheat is considered as a staple food. Sources of protein are, beef, pork, poultry, goat, yak, and fish depending on availability and location. Yak cheese is a part of regular diet of upland people. Meat soups, rice or corn, and spiced chilies comprise daily food. Beverages include buttered tea and beer distilled from cereal grains. Menus of restaurants in Bhutan are a concocted of the ingredients a restaurant would like to have than what is actually on their shelves. As your trip will be an all-inclusive package, we strongly recommend to eat most meals at your hotel. The dishes in buffet are a soup, rice, noodles, seasonal vegetables, potato, dal (lentils), and some chicken/pork/beef. This is followed by a sweet dish which is usually a fruit cocktail. Tea and coffee is served as per need and choice. These foods are tampered to western taste and therefore are not spicy hot as locals would eat.
Your guide can arrange dinner at local restaurants but beware that traditional Bhutanese food always use chilies and the most popular dish is ema datse made with large, green hot chilies in a cheese sauce. Although, there is a plenty of white rice available, Bhutanese people prefer a local, slightly nutty, red variety of rice.
Several Tibetan dishes are common in Bhutan, including momos (dumplings), and thukpa (noodles). Pork fat is popular in the wild because of its high energy content – visitors find it almost inedible because of its fats.
If you are touring, in many cases you will eat your breakfasts and dinners in your hotels. In the countryside and on long drives, we often have picnic lunches. In some cases, we stop at roadside restaurants to eat which is another adventure.
Most tourist visited areas are a year round destination which in general experiences warm days and cool nights with temperatures only getting below freezing on winter nights from late December till mid February. The seasons can be broken down as follows:
Autumn: September to November – warm days and cool nights – max 23ºC, min 2ºC (especially cold at high camps) with the chance of rain – camping trek season.
Winter: December to February – crisp sunny days great for mountain views and cold dry nights – max 20ºC, min -4ºC. Snow may fall but won’t settle for long in Western and Central valleys.
Spring: March to May – warm days and cold nights – max 24ºC, min 2ºC (Especially cold at high camps) Camping & Trekking season
Summer: June to August – warm days and balmy nights with rain most afternoons max 26°C, min 14°C.
For current and average temperature, visit following sites:
Every aspect of life in the kingdom is guided by the ethics of its official religion, Drukpa Kagyu Buddhism. More than 75 % of Bhutan’s population practice this form of Buddhism, which is closely related to Tibetan, or Lamaist, Buddhism. The symbols of Drukpa Kagyu Buddhism are the dominant theme in the national flag, the royal crest, and the national anthem. This sect establishes the Bhutanese code of ethics – based on the teachings of the Buddha and Padmasambhava. After Buddha, Guru Padmasambhava is the most important spiritual figure in Bhutan. He is considered the second Buddha, and shrines everywhere honor him as one of his eight manifestations.
The rest mainly practice Hinduism, which varies in Bhutan from traditional Hinduism to a fusion of Hinduism and Tibetan Buddhism, in which the beliefs and practices as well as the gods and shrines of both religions are worshiped. Although religious and secular authority is vested in the king, Buddhist lamas also exercise a powerful influence on national affairs. All Bhutanese art, dance, drama and music are steeped in Buddhism. Paintings are not produced for tourists, but for religious purposes; festivals are not quaint revivals, but living manifestations of a national faith; and almost all art, music and dance represents the struggle between good and evil. These traditions can be seen in all their glory at Bhutan’s spectacular religious festivals called tsechus.
It is safest to carry your documents and most of your money in a money pouch worn under your shirt or in a belt around your waist, especially in crowded areas. Be sure to carry official identification and a Xerox copy of your passport with you at all times. There is relatively little crime in Bhutan. The loss or theft of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to local police and the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate. Travelling in Bhutan is safer than most of the developed cities and country.
BOOKS ON BHUTAN:
For the list of recommended books on Bhutan, We recommend that you read lots of book to get realistic idea of the country and also to enjoy your visit.
Lonely Planet Bhutan by Stan Armington :
A general travel guide to Bhutan including trekking, information about Bhutan’s ancient Buddhist culture, and special features on national parks and the environment.
Odyssey Guide Bhutan by Francoise Pommaret
An authoritative overview of the kingdom, enhanced by color photographs, well chosen literary excerpts and many maps, this guide by Bhutan expert and ethnographer Pommaret is exceptionally good. With a general introduction to the history, geography, economy, flora and fauna, festivals and the arts.
Raven Crown: Origins of Buddhist Monarchy in Bhutan by Michael Aris
Bhutan: A Visual Odyssey Across the Last Himalayan Kingdom 212 pages and over a hundred photographs of the Himalayan kingdom
Beyond the Sky and the Earth: A Journey into Bhutan by Jamie Zeppa
Zeppa’s fascinating account of her time as a volunteer schoolteacher in Bhutan.
The Blessings of Bhutan (A Latitude 20 Book) by Russ and Blyth Carpenter
A personal and fascinating compilation of essays about the authors’ experiences and understanding of Bhutanese life.
TRAVELING VIA INDIA:
All passengers flying to and from Bhutan via Calcutta or Delhi must apply for an Indian Visa prior to their departure.
TRAVELING VIA AIR:
Druk Air (the national carrier) is currently the only airline operating in and out of Bhutan’s only Airport at Paro with two Airbus A319.
As Paro international airport is “daylight restricted” and totally dependent on weather, flights can sometimes be delayed. Passengers should keep at least 24 hours transit time for connecting flights out of Paro to cover in case of the flight delay.
Flights into Paro are also sometimes disrupted by the weather. Under such circumstances flights may not leave the airport of disembarkation. To be prepared for such an event, it is advised to carry essential personal items like medicines, toiletries, minimum change etc. in your hand baggage.
Hand Baggage Allowance: Druk Air requests that passengers limit their hand baggage to one piece, and the weight not exceeding 5 kg (11lbs).
Checked Baggage Allowance: Economy Class: 20 kg (44 lbs) Business Class: 30 kg (66 lbs)
Bulky items should be booked ahead as unaccompanied baggage/ cargo.
ROAD AND TRANSPORT:
The first road linking India with the Bhutanese capital of Thimphu was opened in 1962. Since then Bhutan has developed a skeletal road system linking most of the Middle Himalayan valleys. These roads have opened up large areas of central and eastern Bhutan. The roads cut into steep hillsides and mountains; during the rainy season frequent landslides block the roads. The roads are narrow and winding and bumpy. Yeedzin Tours uses best available transport such as imported (mainly Toyota & Kia & Hyundai make) sedan cars, 4WD and mini vans. As the roads are bumpy and curvy, we recommend that you bring some motion sickness pills. You can also plan your itinerary by avoiding very long drives.
Import and export of the following goods are strictly prohibited:
- Arms, ammunition, explosives and military stores
- All narcotics and drugs, medically prescribed drugs are exempted.
- Wildlife products, especially those of endangered species.
Antiques: Visitors are advised to be cautious in purchasing old and used items. Customs authorities will not allow any old/used items to be taken out of the country if they have not been certified as non-antique.
Please Note: Bhutan has become the first nation in the world to ban the sale and consumption (in public) of tobacco. While visitors can still bring in cigarettes for their own use the items will attract a duty of 200%.
The arts and crafts of Bhutan that represents the exclusive “spirit and identity of the Himalayan kingdom’ is defined as the art of Zorig Chosum, which means the “thirteen arts and crafts of Bhutan”.
The thirteen crafts are carpentry, painting, weaving, blacksmith, sculpting and many other crafts.
The Institute of Zorig Chosum in Thimphu is the premier institution of traditional arts and crafts set up by the Government of Bhutan with the sole objective of preserving the rich culture and tradition of Bhutan and training students in all traditional art forms; there is another similar institution in eastern Bhutan known as Trashi Yangtse. Bhutanese rural life is also displayed in the ‘Folk Heritage Museum’ in Thimphu. There is also a ‘Voluntary Artists Studio’ in Thimphu to encourage and promote the art forms among the youth of Thimphu. The thirteen arts and crafts of Bhutan and the institutions established in Thimphu to promote these arts.
Art & Architecture
The castle-like Dzongs with tapering walls and large courtyards are among the finest example of Bhutanese architecture. The first Dzong was introduced in Bhutan by Galwa Lhanangpa in the 12th century which was later taken up by Zhabdrung Nawang Namgyal in the 17th century. Most of the Dzongs today function as government offices and houses the monks. All art, crafts, dance, drama and music has its roots in religion. The art are more symbolic and personal. Therefore Buddhist arts are an explanation of values rather than depiction of facts.
The Thirteen Traditional Arts and Crafts
Bhutanese art and crafts are not only unique but are deeply rooted in the Buddhist philosophy. They are mostly subjective and symbolic and are highly attractive and decorative in their representation. The thirteen art and crafts are together known as Zorig Chusum.
Shing zo (Woodwork)
Dho zo (Stonework)
Par zo (Carving)
Lha zo (Painting)
Jim zo (Sculpting)
Lug zo (Casting)
Shag zo (Wood Turning)
Gar zo (Blacksmith)
Troe zo (Ornament Making)
Tsha zo (Bamboo Work)
De zo (Paper Making)
Thag zo (Weaving)
Tshem zo (Tailoring, embroidery and applique)
Shing Zo (Woodwork)
For centuries, Shing zo or woodwork has played an important role in the building processes of the magnificent dzongs and palaces, the temples and monasteries, houses and bridges and even furniture. The beauty and uniqueness of the Bhutanese woodwork is manifested in the houses, palaces, dzongs, temples and the bridges.
Stonework is an old craft which is not restricted or confined to one area but found throughout the Kingdom. Large Chortens or the stupas like Chorten Kora in Trashiyangtse and Chendebji are fine examples of Bhutanese stonework. Most of the Bhutanese houses in rural areas are also made of stones even today.
Par zo (Carving)
Carving in Bhutan is done on various materials ranging from stone, wood and slate. Masks, traditional symbols, bowls and cups, wooden sheaths or scabbards and handles for knives and swords, beautiful carved pillars and beams, printing blocks of wood and altars are excellent examples of woodcarving. Slate carving is another popular art and the finest examples are carvings of images of deities, religious scripts and mantras. Stone carving in Bhutan while not so evident has survived over the years. The large grinding stone mills turned by water and the smaller ones used by farmers at home, the hollowed-out stones for husking grain, troughs for feeding animals and the images of gods and deities carved onto large rocks and scriptures are examples that survive today.
Lha zo (Painting)
Vibrant paintings dominate the Bhutanese landscape and the shades of colors are visible in houses, in temples and monasteries and in dzongs. Paintings represent the most complete essence of the people’s beliefs and ideas, their feelings and thoughts and aspirations and hopes of our way of life. The most common painting on the walls of monasteries, temples and dzongs are those depicting religious figures. We can also find the paintings of images of Buddhist deities and saints.
Jim zo (Sculpting)
Sculpting or jim dzo is one of the oldest forms of craft in Bhutan and has its origin in the 17th century. Clay statues, paper mache, clay masks, pots, etc. are examples of jim dzo.
Lug zo (casting)
Lug dzo or the art of casting includes both wax and sand casting. In the past bronze was commonly used for making containers such as cups, urns, and vases. People also used bronze to make weapons such as battle-axes, helmets, knives, shields, and swords.
Shag zo (wood turning)
Shag dzo or wood turning is another ancient tradition that is vibrantly practiced in Bhutan. Bowls, plates, cups and containers from different types of woods are examples and are best practiced in Trashiyangtse in eastern Bhutan.
The art of black smithy is yet another ancient art. Bhutan always had its own iron mining resources of which the most known were Woochu in paro and Barshong in Trashigang. Blacksmiths have long been producing farming tools and defense weapons including spear or arrow tips, crude axes, knives and swords, (patangs).
The art of ornament making is also widely known in Bhutan. Ornaments are made of stones like turquoise, coral or etched agate (zee) as well as silver and gold.
Tsha zo (bamboo work)
The art of bamboo weaving or tshar dzo is still alive and is practiced mainly in Kheng Zhemgang and Trimshing Kangpara in Trashigang. Bangchungs, palangs, floor mats and mats for drying grains, musical instruments like flutes, matted bamboo for roofs and fences, traditional bows and arrows, quivers, etc are examples of tshar dzo.
De Zo (Paper Making)
The art of paper making was confined for monastic purposes in the past. However today, paper making is of great commercial value. The art of papermaking is popular in Bomdeling and Rigsum Gonpa in Trashi Yangtse. Desho is especially made from the bark of a plant known as Daphne (Deshing) and the paper products today are mainly used for wrapping gifts and writing religious scriptures.
The art of embroidery or tshemzo has played a very important role in the making of thangkas and other decorative clothes throughout Bhutanese history. Tailoring of garments is a popular craft. The three main crafts in tailoring are: stitching clothes such as the gho and kira worn by men and women, embroidery (Tshemdrup) and appliqué (Lhemdrup) and the production of traditional Bhutanese Tsho lham, boots.
Thag Zo (weaving)
Weaving holds a special place in Bhutanese society as an income generating source to supplement the agricultural income for rural people. Weaving is done always by women and rarely by male. The rich and complex art of textiles are embedded in the culture and history of Bhutan. Women of eastern Bhutan are one of the most celebrated weavers though weaving is an art that has widely spread throughout Bhutan. Some of the finest weaving comes from Khoma in Lhuentse and Radhi, Bartsham and Bidung villages in Trashigang.