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General Information - Bhutan

Location

Bhutan is a landlocked country. It is about 47,000 kilometres - roughly the size of Switzerland. It is located between Tibet in the north, Indian states of West Bengal and Assam in the south, and Arunachal Pradesh in the east. Bhutan has three major land regions. The Great Himalayan region in the north rises more than 4300 m (14,000 ft) along the Tibetan border. This area is uninhabited except for a few scattered settlements in the high valleys. The Great Himalayas radiate southward into central Bhutan, creating the Middle Himalayan zone.The capital of Bhutan is Thimphu

Climate

The southern part of Bhutan is tropical, and in general, the east of Bhutan is warmer than the west of the country. The central valley of Punakha, Wangdiphodrang, Mongar, Tashigang and Lhuntshi enjoy a semi tropical climate with very cool winters, while Thimphu, Tongsa and Bumthang have a much harsher climate, with heavy monsoon rains in the summer and heavy snow fall in winter. Winter in Bhutan starts from mid-November till the mid-March, and at this time of the year the climate is dry with daytime temperature of 16-18° C and nighttime temperature falling below zero. The monsoon usually arrives in mid-June, with the rain falling mainly in the afternoons and evenings. Autumn starts from the end of September, after the last of the big rains, and it is a magnificent season for trekking-lasting till mid-November.

Religion

Buddhism has been part of Bhutanese history since Guru Padma Sambhava introduced Buddhism in the 7th century and the importance of religion is seen everywhere in even the most mundane everyday experiences. The importance of religious institutions is evident by the large number of state supported monks as well as many monks who are not state sponsored. His Holiness the Je Kherpo is the elected Head of the Central Monk Body and the present je Kherpo is the 70th incumbent.

Language

Dzongkha is official language of Bhutan, but English is widely spoken

Population

The population is 725,990 and is averaging a 3.1% growth each year

Money, Currency & Exchange

Bhutan's unit of currency is the ngultrum (Nu), which equals 100 chetrums. It is at par with the Indian rupee, itself a legal tender in the kingdom. One US dollar is exchanged for roughly 44 Ngultrums. Tourists can exchange traveller's cheques or cash at the Bank of Bhutan or at their hotels. American or Australian dollars, pound sterling, French and Swiss francs, German marks, Dutch gilders, Hongkong dollars, Singapore dollars, Thai bath or Japanese yen are all accepted currencies. There are A.T.M.s in Thimphu but outside of the capital cities there are very few ATMs and are not reliable.

Visas

Other than Indian nationals, all visitors to Bhutan require a visa; all visas are issued from Thimphu; visas are only issued to tourists booked with a local licensed tour operator, directly or through a foreign travel agent. Applications for tourist visas are submitted by the tour operator. Visa clearance from Thimphu must be obtained before coming to Bhutan. Visa clearance takes at least 10 days to process. Air tickets to Bhutan cannot be purchased without visa clearance. At your point of entry the visa will be stamped in your passport on payment of US$20, two passport photos will also be required. Visas are issued for a 15day period; extensions can be obtained in Thimphu at a cost of Nu.510.

Entry points into Bhutan are by road through Phuentsholing in the South, or by air into Paro.  Druk Air, the national carrier is linked to five cities in four countries. The flight from Kathmandu to Paro provides the most spectacular view of Himalayan vistas of any scheduled flight. Druk Air does not issue tickets until they have received the visa clearance. Paro airport is less than two hours from Thimphu. The best way to journey by road is to start at Kathmandu.

Insurance

The purchase of unlimited medical insurance is compulsory, which should also cover the cost of rescue operations by helicopter in the event of an emergency evacuation, baggage and trip cancellation insurance is strongly recommended.

Health & Safety

Pack medications in their original, clearly labelled containers and make sure you bring a letter from your doctor explaining the necessity for your medication and usage. It is advisable to bring double your ordinary needs of medication just in case of loss or theft. Do not rely on being able to purchase your regular medication from a pharmacy in Bhutan.

Time

Bhutan is 6 hours ahead of GMT there is no daylight saving time in Bhutan

Additional Facts for the visitor

  • Prices are established by the Royal Government of Bhutan.
  • The Royal Government’s policy is to preserve its culture and traditional values. Your cooperation is sought in this and the Government requests that you do not  buy antiques.
  • Royal Government of Bhutan has set a limit of no more than 4000 tourists per year to visit Bhutan.
  • Bhutanese people are friendly and welcoming to visitors. They generally enjoy you taking their photo.