Bhutan often revered as the "Land of the Peaceful Dragon", is still regarded as one of the last "Shangrilas" in the Himalayan region because of its remoteness, its spectacular mountain terrain, varied flora and fauna and its unique ancient Buddhist monasteries. It is in the relatively unexplored pockets of Asia, which allows only a limited number of discerning travellers in order to protect its fragile environment and culture.
Bhutan, a purely Buddhist Himalayan Kingdom, is unsurpassed in its scenic majesty and vibrant culture. The kingdom shares with Nepal the world's greatest concentration of mountains and living heritage of Buddhism. The fifty minutes flight from Kathmandu to Paro can truly be described as a flight into fantasy. During the flight, a first hand close up view of Mt. Everest, Mt. Kanchenjunga and other famous peaks become a reality. Biweekly flights between these two kingdoms have made travel easier to the long isolated Dragon Kingdom of Bhutan.It can also be accessed by air from air from Delhi, Kolkata, Dhaka and Bangkok.
Trip2himalaya works in the closest of relationship with the best local tour operator in Bhutan. With its wonderfully unspoilt environment, friendly people and Buddhist stupas, chortens and prayer flags abounding, Bhutisit.
Fact about Bhutan
Capital City: Thimphu
Language: Dzongkha, English
Area: 18,147 sq mi
Calling Code: +975uddh
Goverment: Absolute Monarchy 2% other
Histry of Bhutan
Bhutan has been fortunate enough to never be colonized. It has therefore managed to retain a purity of culture that is entirely local with very few outside influences. Although recorded history mentions Bhutan in the 7th century, its existence as an independent entity was recognized even before that. In the 8th century, the great Tantrik mystic, Guru Padmasambhava or Guru Rinpoche came to Bhutan from Swat, in present-day Pakistan, and spread the Buddhist faith.
The next defining event in Bhutan's history was the arrival of Ngawang Namgyal, the "Shabdrung" (literally, at whose feet one submits) in 1616. The Shabdrung was the father and unifier of medieval Bhutaather and unifier of medieval Bhutan. After repelling numerous Tibetan invasions, the Shabdrung subdued the many warring feudal overlords and brought all of Bhutan under the influence of the Drukpa Kagyud School. His 35-year reign also saw the establishment of a nationwide administration, aspects of which still endure, and the building of dzongs as easily defensible fortresses and seats of local government. In fact, many of the dzongs one sees today were built during the Shabdrung's reign.
The most recent watershed in Bhutan's history was the coming to power of Ugyen Wangchuk, the first hereditary monarch of Bhutan. Ugyen Wangchuk pacified the feuding Regional Governors who had plunged Bhutan into a state of almost perpetual civil war. Having consolidated his authority across the entire country by 1885, he played the key mediator role between the British and the Chinese. Finally, on December 17, 1907, Ugyen Wangchuk was unanimously elected by all Regional Governors and the Central Monastic Body, at the Punakha Dzong and crowned "Druk Gyalpo" (literally, precious ruler of the dragon people). The present king, the fourth hereditary monarch, is Druk Gyalpo Jigme Singye Wangchuk, upon whose coronation in 1974 Bhutan opened its doors to tourists
Climate in Bhutan
Bhutan is at the same latitude as Miami and Cairo. The climate varies widely depending on the elevation. In the southern border areas it is tropical; at the other extreme, in the high Himalayan regions, there is perpetual snow. Temperatures in the far south range from 15° C in winter (December - February) to 30° C in summer (June - August). In Paro the range is from minus 5°C in January to 30° C in July, with 800mm, of rain. In the high mountain regions the average temperature is 0°C in winter it may reach 10° C in summer, with an average of 350mm of rain. Rain occurs primarily during the south-west monsoon season from June to September. Bhutan bears the brunt of the year receiving more rainfall than other Himalayan regions- up to 5.5m a year. Only 150 km south of Bhutan, Cherrapunji in Assam has recorded the highest rainfall in the world, averaging 9.5m annually with a record of 19.7m, the hight of a six-storey building.
Bhutan Visa Information
To enter Bhutan we must be in prior receipt of details such as full name, passport number, nationality, date of birth, sex, occupation and the permanent address to facilitate visa processing. Based on the reference number provided by the Bhutan Tourism Bureau visa's for Bhutan is available upon arrival at Paro airport and costs US$ 20 per person (subject to change). 2 Passport size photographs are required to be affixed on the visa application form which are required to confirm the booking. Entry formalities : all foreigners intending to visit Bhutan has to avail of Bhutanese visa two weeks prior to departure.
Visa Fees : US$ 20:00
Cost for one person : US$ 240 per day
Cost of two persons : US$ 230 per person/per day
Cost of three persons : US$ 220 per person
Per day four person : US$ 200 per person
Per day the cost : It includes full board basis, inclusive of (breakfast/lunch/dinner) on fixed menu basis + visits with an english speaking guide with entrance fees + assistance.
The flight operates from Delhi / Paro US$ 286 per person & Kathmandu / Paro US$ 175 per person & Dhaka / Paro US$ 175 per person & Bangkok / Paro US$ 340 per person & the rates are subject to change. It is Druk Air - (Type of Aircraft BAE 146-100) seat configuration 10 business class, 61 economy class.
The seasons and Altitudes
The four distinctive seasons in Bhutan show off the country and the life of its farmers in four distinct hues. And a drive from South to North covers a wide range of temperatures and altitudes. The contrast is overwhelming: an eight-hour drive starting in the south would take you from the heat of the South Asian lowlands, to a comfortable Mediterranean-like climate one hour later, a cool temperate climate within four hours, and a chilly Siberian climate on the high passes in the North.
The northern part of Bhutan is generally high, cool and cold and the southern part is lower, warm and hot. Geographically Bhutan is divided into three areas: tropical in the south, temperate in the centre and alpine in the north. All these areas offer distinct flora and fauna which is one of the charms for those who visit Bhutan.
Spring begins in late February with local festivities when the first signs of life pop up from the ground. In no time, the colour of the peach, apple, mustard, magnolia, wild cherry and rhododendrons brightens the whole country. The farmers plough their fields for the new season preparing to grow corn, millet, buckwheat, chillies, potatoes and rice, manually or with oxen. In the western part of Bhutan you will see small tractors but as you travel to the east farmers still practice the same age-old tradition, pair of their hands. The beginning of the spring season is hazy but towards the end of spring, if the weather permits, you will have wonderful clear skies and mountain views.
The rainy season begins around late June and lasts until mid September. Summer is wet but humidity is low. The "green season" as I refer to it, is the perfect time to see Bhutan, since it is really green and there is a great opportunity to study plants and insects. Mother Nature revels in colour and, for the farmers, it is the busiest time of the year. It is also the time of the year when Bhutan is hidden in among the clouds and the Land of the Thunder Dragon really roars. The swollen rivers gushing down, small and big flowing directly from the base of the Himalayan Mountains snaking through the small mountains are part of the character of the country that ultimately flows into the Bay of Bengal. If you are visiting in summer it is also part of the adventure and very few visitors seen at that time of the year.
Autumn begins with the blossom of cosmos and change of clours in leaves. The burst of atoms in the leaves from the sudden severs cold is another scene. The celebration of Blessed rainy day, officially the rain stops just like the tap water and the merry making season begins. It is also the peak season for the tourism and tourist gather from all over the globe to see some of the well known festivals in Thimphu, Wangdi, Bumtha,Mongar and Trashigang.It is also the time for the farmers to harvest their
crop, in the fields you will see farmers singing, dancing and dirking locally brewed colorless liquor called Ara. Towards the end of the autumn the fields turn into brown, herds of cows gather from their summer grazing and the cow herders blowing flute perhaps to the cows or he is singing for being lonely. The houses roofs are bright red, drying chilies and other winter vegetables. The weather is superb and the views of the eastern Himalayas are out of this world. The night is another joy for those who are into star gazing- Away from Thimphu you can take a night walk near by any of the hotel or lodge, listening to the rustling sound of the leaves, freshly fallen from the trees on the ground and above zillion stars gazing directly upon you and the shooting (hunting) stars disappearing momentarily just like our life!
In the near future the Government is planning to open the southern part of Bhutan and it will be idle for jungle safari in the Manas Wildlife sanctuary. The weather is warm and unlike summer infested with leech and other biting insects, it is free from the blood sucking insects in winter.Dry and pleasant conditions make this the best time of year for bird watching in the jungles, some birds migrational and some are native migrating from the alpine areas to the sub-tropical.
We are also planning to lead a winter trek in the lower altitudes, walking from village to village and visit some local peopleor a bicycle trip along quiet mountain roads.. Following the age-old hiway is interesting because it used to be the national highway before the motor roads came to Bhutan. If you are interested in studying a threatened bird species called black-necked crane, indeed it is the season. Winter is off season and very few visitor at this time of the year.
Place to visit in Bhutan
Paro Valley :
This beautiful valley, where nature & man conjured to create their dearest image, with its rich terraced farmland, is home to some of Bhutan's oldest Temples & Monasteries as well as Bhutan's only Airport. To the north of the valley Mount. Jhomolhari (7300 meters) reigns in white glory and the glacier water from its peak plunge, through deep gorges finally forming pa - chu (paro river).
Thimphu Valley :
- Drukgyal Dzong :
The dzong with a delightful village nestling at its foot, was built in 1647 by Shabdrung Nawang Namgyel to commemorate his victory over the Tibetan invaders led by Mongolian warlord, Gushri khan 1644. Historically & strategically this Dzong withstood all its glory and had captured western eyes in 1914 vide National geographic magazine. The glory of Drukgyal Dzong remained even when it was destroyed by fire in 1951. Since than the dzong has been in ruins. On a clear day one can see the commanding view of Mount. Jhomolhari from the village.
- Taksang Monastery :
Literally meaning Tiger's nest; built around the cave in which Guru Padmasambava meditated in the eight century, clings seemingly impossible to a cliff of rock at 800 meters above paro valley. It is believed that Guru Rimpoche landed on this spot in a miraculous manner, flying on the back of a tigress. For local people it is a place for pilgrimage but for tourist a hike up to the view point cafe opposite the monastery is breathtaking, thrilling and mystical.
- Ringpung Dzong :
Meaning fortress on the heap of jewel's was built during the time of Shabdrung Nawang Namgyel in 1646. The approach to the dzong is through the traditional covered bridge called Nemi Zam. A walk through the bridge to the dzong is very interesting. The dzong now houses the paro Monastic body and the office civil administration for paro valley. It is also the venue of paro tsechu (Festival), held once a year during spring time.
- Ta - Dzong :
Located behind Ringpung Dzong on the hillside, is the castle shaped Ta - Dzong, one time used as watch tower to defend the Dzong below was built in 1651. Since 1967 the Dzong was re - established as the only national Museum and it has fascinating collections of Art, relics and religious Thankha painting.
- Farm House :
Bhutanese farm houses are very decorative. Built & painted in traditional style. The house looks very big from outside but it is quite simple inside. The houses are normally of 3 storey. The ground floor is always used for cattle, top floor is used for drying hay and in the middle family lives. The best room in the house is always kept as family shrine. A visit to a farm house is very interesting to see how Bhutanese people live.
Thimphu, the morden capital of Bhutan lies at an elevation of 2300 meters in a valley transversed by the Wang - Chu (Thimphu river). The Tashichho Dzong the main secretariat building houses the Throne room of the King and the Summer residence of the central Monk body. The city of Thimphu is nothing like what a capital city is imagined to be. Nevertheless, for Bhutan it is a fitting and lively place. Unlike many modern cities, Thimphu has kept a strong national character in its architectural style.
Bumthang Valley :
- Memorial Chorten :
This chorten was built in 1974 in the memory of the Third King Jigme Dorji Wangchuk, who died in 1972. The paintings and Images inside the monument provide a very rare in - sight into Buddhist philosophy.
- Tashichho Dzong :
The Dzong which was initially built in the 17th century, was rebuilt in early 1960s by third King, H.M. Jigme Dorji Wangchuk, as the permanent capital of Bhutan. The dzong houses as the main secretariat building and summer residence for the central monk body. The dzong is opened for visitors during the Thimphu festival and in winter when the Monk body moves to Punakha.
- Simtokha Dzong :
Six kilometers away from Thimphu, on a lofty ridge. Built in 1627, this oldest Dzong in the country now houses the school for Buddhist studies.
- Indigenous Hospital :
Where traditional medicine which is prepared from herbs is still practiced here in this Hospital.
- National library :
Where thousands of manuscripts and ancient texts are stored, as well many modern printing blocks.
- Painting School :
Located above the library. At this school, children learn the traditional techniques and painting.
- Punakha :
Blessed with a temperate climate and drained by Pho - chu (Male) and Mo - chu (Female) rivers the fertile valley of Punakha produces rich crops. Until 1955, Punakha served as the Capital of Bhutan and even today, it is the winter seat of the Je khenpo (chief Abbot) and the central Monk body. The Dzong was built at the junction of the two rivers in the 17th century by Shabdrung Nawang Namgyel. At present it serves as the winter residence for the central Monk body and administration center for the valley.
- Wangdi Phodrang :
Towards the south of Punakha, located at the altitude of 1,350 meters is Wandgdi Dzong, built again in the 17th century by Shabdrung. The Dzong stands at the confluence of Punakha - chu and Tang - chu river. The higher reaches of the valley provides rich pastureland for cattle. Phubjikha valley in Wangdi Phodrang is the winter place for the rare black neck cranes. The district is also known for its fine bamboo work and its slate carvings.
- Tongsa :
The landscape around Tongsa is spectacular, and for miles on the end of the Dzong seems to tease you, wondering if you will ever reach there.
- Tongsa Dzong :
Built in 1648 is the ancestral home of the Bhutan's Royal family. Both the first & second kings ruled the country from this ancient seat. All four kings of Bhutan held the post of Tongsa penlop (honorary Governor) prior to being crowned as King. A massive structure with many levels which slopes down the contour of hill on which it is set. Because of its highly strategic position on the only connecting route between eastern & western sectors the Tongsa penlop was able to control the whole of the eastern region effectively for centuries.
To the eat of Tongsa lies Bumthang valley at the altitude of 2,600 meters, where tales of Guru Padmasambava & his re - incarnations known as Lingpa dominates the holy places. The valley is home to some of the most sacred and the oldest Monasteries in the country. Jambey Lhakhang built by Tibetan King Songten Gembo, incarnation of Buddha of compassion, in the 7th century, is among 108 monasteries built by him to subdue the evil spirit in the Himalayan region.
- Kurje Lhakhang :
The Monastery located above Jambey Lhakhang, consists of three temples. The first one on the right side being the oldest built in 1652 on the rock face where Furu Rimpoche meditated in the 8th century. The second Temple is the holiest because this is the site of a cave containing a rock with the imprint of Guru Rimpoche's body. The cave is not visible as it is concealed by a large statue of Guru Rimpoche. The third temple was built on this holy place by the present Queen Mother of Bhutan is yet to complete. The three Temples are surrounded by a 108 chorten (stupa) wall, which is the symbol to dedicate it to each joint of human body.
- Tamshing Lhakhang :
Located opposite Kurje Lhakhang on other side of the river was founded in 1501 by Terton Pema Lingpa, reincarnation of Guru Padmasambava. The monastery has very interesting religious paintings inside such as thousand Buddhas and twenty one Taras (female form of Buddhisatawa). This temple was later restored at the end of 19th century.
- Jakar Dzong:
Founded by great grand Father of Shabdrung Nawang Namgyal was initially built as monastery in 1549. The monastery was later rebuilt as Dzong during the time of Shabdrung after he had firmly established his power in 1646. The Dzong is now used as Administration center for Bumthang valley.
Mongor is the site of one of Bhutan's newest Dzong built in 1930s following the traditional architectural pattern handed down through times, without any plans on paper or the use of any nails. A visit to the Dzong gives visitors an impression of how over the centuries traditional Bhutanese architecture has continued to exist to this day without any changes.
- Tashigang :
In the far east of Bhutan, on the bank of Gamri chu river, lies Tashigang, the Country's largest district. Tashigang Dzong stands on the hill slope below the main street. The Dzong built in the mid 17th century, serves as the Administrative seat for the district, as well as school for the monks. Tashigang once the center of a busy trade with Tibet, is today the junction of the eastwest highway with road connecting to Samdrup Jongkhar and then to the Indian state of Assam