The Kingdom of Bhutan is a small landlocked country located in the southern foothills of the Himalayan mountain range, sandwiched between the People's Republic of China in the north and the Republic of India in the south. It is surrounded by the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) of China to the north, and the Indian territories of Assam and West Bengal to the south, Arunachal Pradesh to the east and Sikkim to the west. The tiny landlocked kingdom has a total area of 46,500 km² and spreads between meridians 89°E and 93°E, and latitudes 27°N and 29°N. The climate is extremely varied, which can be attributed to two main factors-the vast differences in altitude present in the country and the influence of North Indian monsoons. Bhutanese people can be generally categorized into three main ethnic groups. The Tshanglas, Ngalops and the Lhotshampas. Bhutanese society is free of class or a caste system. Slavery was abolished by the Third King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck in the early 1950s through a royal edict. Though, a few organizations to empower women were established in the past, Bhutanese society has always maintained relative gender equality. Bhutan is listed as one among the top 10 biodiversity hot spots in the world. It has total forest coverage of over 70% of the country's total geographical area with the constitution requiring 60% of the country under forest coverage for all times to come. The array of flora and fauna available in Bhutan is unparalleled due to conservation and its wide altitudinal and climatic range. The national language is Dzongkha, the native language of the Ngalops of western Bhutan. Dzongkha literally means the language spoken in the Dzongs, massive fortresses that serve as the administrative centers and monasteries. Two other major languages are the Tshanglakha and the Lhotshamkha. The most distinctive characteristic of Bhutanese cuisine is its spiciness. Rice forms the main body of most Bhutanese meals. It is accompanied by one or two side dishes consisting of meat or vegetables.The Bhutanese Tourism Industry was first opened in 1974. Since then it has grown to become, a major contributing factor to the Bhutanese economy creating countless employment opportunities and generating additional revenue for the government.
The Kingdom of Bhutan remained largely cut off from the rest of the world up until the early 1960’s. Today the main roads entering the country are through Phuentsholing in the south, linking Bhutan with the Indian plains of West Bengal through the border towns of Gelephu, in the central region and Samdrup Jongkhar in the east, that link Bhutan with the Indian state of Assam. There are flights to destinations that include Bangkok, Delhi, Kolkata, Bagdogra, Bodh Gaya, Dhaka, Kathmandu, Guwahati, Singapore and Mumbai. Paro is situated at a height of 2,225 m (7300 ft) above sea level and is surrounded by mountains as high as 4,876 m (16,000 ft). At present two carriers operate to Bhutan, Drukair and Bhutan Airlines. There are also domestic airports in Yonphula in eastern Bhutan, Bumthang in central Bhutan, and Gelephu in south-central Bhutan. Flying into Bhutan’s Paro International Aiport is typically an exciting experience as the descent into Paro valley brings you closer to the mountain tops than most other flights in the world. The flight between Paro and Kathmandu is one of the most exciting ones as the aircraft passes over four of the five highest mountains in the world. In fine weather, as you soar higher up, you can enjoy the spectacular view of Mt. Everest, Lhotse, Makalu and Kangchenjunga at their best.
With the exception of visitors from India, Bangladesh and Maldives, all other visitors travelling to Bhutan need a visa. Indian, Bangladeshis and Maldivian nationals can obtain a permit at the port of entry on producing a valid passport with a minimum of 6 months validity (Indian nationals may also use their Voters Identity Card (VIC)). All other tourists must obtain a visa clearance prior the travel to Bhutan. Visas are processed through an online system by your licensed Bhutanese tour operator directly or through a foreign travel agent. You are required to send the photo-page of your passport to your tour operator who will then apply for your visa. The visa will be processed by the Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB) once the full payment of your holiday (including a USD $40 visa fee) has been wire transferred and received in the TCB bank account. Once received, the visa clearance will be processed within 72 working hours. At your point of entry you will be required to show your visa clearance letter, the visa will then be stamped into your passport. In order to streamline and facilitate smooth visitation by tourists from Bangladesh, India and Maldives, the Department of Immigration, Ministry of Home and Cultural Affairs and the Tourism Council of Bhutan have launched the Online Permit System. The system facilitates the online processing of permits for regional tourists through registered Bhutanese tour operators and TCB certified hotels. The facility is offered as an optional channel to process permits for visitors from the region and is applicable for entry from Paro and Phuntsholing. Visitors who use this facility will be able to obtain their permit clearances and route permits ahead of their arrival in Bhutan similar to international tourists.
Bhutan’s currency is the Ngultrum (Nu.) It is at par with the Indian rupee which is widely accepted in the country. ATMs are located within all main towns throughout Bhutan, where money can be withdrawn using a Visa or MasterCard. In addition, POS (Point of Sale) services are available nationwide, meaning visitors can pay by credit card at most hotels and handicrafts stores.
Nestled deep within the Himalayas, Bhutan is a treasure trove of biological diversity with an unparalleled richness of flora and fauna due to the varied altitudinal and climatic conditions present in the country. This fragile ecosystem has remained unspoiled due to the conservation efforts of the Bhutanese people and government. Today 60% of the kingdom’s total area has been designated as protected nature preserves.
Bhutan is the perfect destination for enthusiastic horticulturalists as it contains more than 60% of the common plant species found in the Eastern Himalayas. It also boasts of approximately 46 species of Rhododendrons and over 300 types of medicinal plants. Junipers, Magnolias, Orchids, Blue Poppies (the national flower), Edelweiss, Gentian, various medicinal herbs, Daphne, Giant Rhubarb, Pine and Oak trees are among the plants commonly found.
The kingdom is also home to a wide variety of animals. At higher altitudes you will come across snow leopards, blue sheep, red pandas, takin, marmots and musk deer. Leopards, gorals, gray langurs, Himalayan black bears, red pandas, sambars, wild pigs and barking deer are found in the temperate zones. The tropical forests in the south are a haven for clouded leopards, elephants, one horned Rhinoceros, water buffalos, golden langurs, gaurs, swamp deer, hog deer, horn bills and many other species. Bhutan is home to the highest altitude inhabiting Tigers in the world and they are commonly found throughout the country.
Visitors can experience the magnificent flora and fauna of Bhutan through sightseeing tours or by embarking on treks and hikes through beautiful virgin forests, pristine Himalayan Mountains and across sparkling crystal clear rivers fed by ancient mountain glaciers. Roads in Bhutan pass through the rich forests so travellers can experience the majestic natural environments of Bhutan.
Tshechu is a religious festival meaning "tenth day" held annually in various temples, monasteries and dzongs throughout the country. The Tshechu is a religious event celebrated on tenth day of a month of the lunar calendar corresponding to the birthday of Guru Rimpoche (Guru Padmasambhava). However the exact month of the Tshechu varies from place to place and temple to temple. Tshechus are grand events where entire communities come together to witness religious mask dances, receive blessings and socialize. In addition to the mask dances, tshechus also include colorful Bhutanese dances and other forms of entertainment.It is believed that everyone must attend a Tshechu and witness the mask dances at least once to in order to receive blessings and wash away their sins. Every mask dance performed during a Tshechu has a special meaning or a story behind it and many are based on stories and incidents from as long ago as the 8th century, during the life of Guru Padmasambhava. In monasteries, the mask dances are performed by monks and in remote villages, they are performed jointly by monks and village men. Two of the most popular Tshechus in the country are the Paro and Thimphu Tshechus in terms of participation and audience. Besides the locals, many tourists from across the world are attracted to these unique, colorful and exciting displays of traditional culture.