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Seasons & Time in Bhutan

SEASONS IN BHUTAN

Bhutan experiences all the four seasons.

Spring falls from early March to May and is the time when the landscape transforms into a fresh riot of colours with the bloom of rhododendrons, wild azaleas, edelweiss and other wild flowers that carpet the meadows.

Pear and apple blossoms add a dainty touch to the valleys with their pink and white blooms. The skies are clear and temperatures just right to go on hikes and treks.

In the summer months, daytime temperatures can go upto 30 degrees centigrade particularly in the lower valleys of Punakha and Wangduephodrang. In the southern foothills it gets very hot and humid like the Indian plains.

It is also the season when the country experiences heavy rains from the Indian monsoons leading to landslides and road blocks. It’s a beautiful time to be in the country with the landscape lush and green and mountains streams gurgling with life.

Weeping willows sweep the banks of many of the rivers and the pine cones glisten in sun, so full with resin they are ready to plummet to the ground.

Autumn in Bhutan casts a bright golden glow on the vast landscape and is one of the more crowded times of the year for Bhutan tourism. In fall, rice fields ripen to a golden brown under crisp blue skies. The merry pink and white of cosmos flowers dot the countryside.

Winter in Bhutan has its moments. The days are full of sunshine while evenings can turn chilly. The winter landscape lays bare the majesty of the mountain and the sweeping valleys.

BHUTAN TIME

Bhutan Standard Time is six hours ahead of GMT (Greenwich Mean Time) and one time zone is followed for the whole country. Bhutan is 30 minutes ahead of India, 1 hour behind Thailand, and 15 minutes ahead of Nepal.

Bhutanese Food

Bhutan is a rice-eating nation and Bhutanese consume large quantities of the grain.

It is generally consumed with a side dish of vegetables such as spinach, chili, potato and meat such as chicken, beef, pork and fish.

Bhutanese also consume a good amount of dairy products such as cheese, which is usually added to vegetables to make a side dish or to make a green salad of fresh chili, onion and tomato or of cucumber with chili powder.

Bhutan could also be called a chili-eating nation because chili is added or consumed, in some form or the other, with almost every Bhutanese meal. Ema Datshi, which means chili and cheese, is Bhutan’s most famous dish that tourists travelling to Bhutan should try out at least one. It is known to lead to secretions starting from the scalp, nostrils and pores on the face.

Hotels and restaurants prepare a much milder version of the dish for first time tryouts.

Another common and popular food is Momo (steamed dumplings). The stuffing comes in beef, pork and chicken. The vegetarian version is stuffed with cheese mixed onion and cabbage. In some eateries it is served with a steaming bowl of bone marrow soup that is on boil throughout the day.

Bhutan also has a unique salted butter tea called suja, which some visitors have described as a hot soup, and the local alcohol brew called ara that can loosen and fire up the senses at the same time.

The central regions offer buckwheat delicacies such as puta (noodles) and Kule (pancakes).

Hotels and restaurants also serve a variety of Indian, Chinese and Continental dishes. In recent years a number of restaurants have opened up in the capital serving Thai, Korean, Indian and traditional Bhutanese meals.

As a landlocked country seafood is generally not common but tourist hotels and restaurants do keep an imported stock that feature on their menu.

On treks and camping tours, seasoned and trained cooks usually come up with delicious servings using packaged and local available food items.

Language & Communication

LANGUAGE

At least 19 languages are spoken in Bhutan. Dzongkha, which means language of the fort, and the mother tongue of the Ngalongs who inhabit the western districts, is the national language.

It is one of the few languages in Bhutan that has a written script derived from Choeked or Classical Tibetan script.

The other widely spoken non-native language is English. This is because English is the medium of instruction in schools and widely used in official communication.

Most Bhutanese also speak a smattering of Hindustani because of the exposure to Bollywood movies from India for the past half a century.

COMMUNICATION

All major towns have basic communication facilities such as Internet cafes, telephone, fax, telegraph and postal services. Cable television is also available in most urban towns.

Bhutan has two cellular service operators with the network coverage in most parts of the country.

If you have international roaming mobile coverage, you should check with their coverage provider if Bhutan is included. If not, identify this before arrival. SIM card and recharge card (Voucher) is easily available in most towns.

On trekking tours most operators are equipped with satellite phones that allow connectivity from any point in Bhutan.

Bhutan Currency & Shopping in Bhutan

CURRENCY IN BHUTAN

The Bhutanese currency is the Ngultrum (Nu). It is pegged at parity with the Indian Rupee (INR).

The US Dollar and the Indian Rupee is widely accepted in Bhutan. The exchange rates of the USD to the Ngultrum are published in local newspapers by Bhutan’s central bank.

Tourist hotels, restaurants and souvenir shops accept Visa and Master credit cards for payments. Traveler cheques can be cashed at banks.

Other currencies accepted as foreign exchange by the country’s four commercial banks are:

The five commercial banks are :

Other currencies accepted as foreign exchange by the country’s four commercial banks are:

  • US Dollar
  • Pound Sterling
  • Euro
  • Japanese Yen
  • Swiss Franc
  • Hong Kong Dollar
  • Canadian Dollar
  • Singapore Dollar
  • Danish Kroner
  • Swedish Kroner
  • Norwegian Kroner

SHOPPING IN BHUTAN

While in Bhutan you could shop for Himalayan antiques from Tibet, Nepal, and northern India and Bhutanese crafts:

  • weaving products made from silk, cotton, yak hair, & wool
  • wood bowls, cups, masks, & carvings
  • religious paintings called thangkas
  • jewellery
  • paper making or desho (coming from the word “de” referring to the Daphne plant)

Bhutanese products worth a buy include Tsheringma herbal tea, honey, apple products, etc. Shops on the street will accept Ngultrum, the Indian Rupee and the US Dollar.

There are ATM machines available for international transactions.

It is illegal to export or remove Bhutanese antiques from Bhutan. If uncertain, certificates are available from the Department of Antiquities to determine if the item is an antique and its origins. An antique is defined as a religious item 70 years old or more.

Guides & Photography in Bhutan

BHUTAN TOUR GUIDES

Our tour guides are seasoned professionals certified by the Tourism Authority of Bhutan. They are well versed with the country’s history and culture, government rules and regulations and trekking routes. The main language of communication our guides use is English but we also have guides who speak French, Japanese, Chinese and German.

PHOTOGRAPHY

Everything about Bhutan inspires photography. From the beautiful architectural expressions, the rugged landscape to the ancient customs and traditions. Photography in general is not restricted in Bhutan but if you are photographing people it would be advisable to ask first. In some monasteries, temples and Dzongs photography inside the structures is not permitted.

Driving Distance & Electricity in Bhutan

DRIVING DISTANCE IN BHUTAN

Blacktopped roads that wind over mountain passes and deep valleys connect all major urban centres and interior district towns.

Steep ascents and descents with endless hairpin bends are characteristic of road travel in Bhutan. This makes travel much longer than it might be elsewhere.

The permissible driving speed in 50 km an hour in Bhutan primarily because high speed driving on winding mountain roads is very risky.

Driving is one of the best ways to see the beauty of the country as it passes through traditional village settings, lush forests and high mountain passes.

FromToApprox. Distance (Km)Approx. Driving Time
ParoThimphu65 kms01 hour
ParoHaa65 kms1.5 – 02 hours
ThmphuHaa115 kms03 – 04 hours
ThimphuPhuentsholing176 kms07 – 08 hours
ThimphuWangduephodrang70 kms03 hours
ThimphuPunakha77 kms03 hours
ThimphuPhobjhika (Gangtey)135 kms5.5 – 06 hours
PunakhaWangduephodrang13 kms45 minutes
PunakhaGangtey (Phobjikha)78 kms03 hours
PunakhaBumthang212 kms08 hours
BumthangGangtey (Phobjikha)188 kms05 – 06 hours
Gangtey (Phobjikha)Trongsa120 kms4.1/2 – 05 hours
GangteyWangduephodrang65 kms2.5 – 03 hours
TrongsaWangduephodrang129 kms4.5 – 05 hours
TrongsaPunakha142 kms06 hours
TrongsaBumthang68 kms02 hours
BumthangMongar198 kms07 – 08 hours
MongarLhuentse76 kms03 hours
MongarTrashigang91 kms03 – 04 hours
TrashigangChorten Kora52 kms02 hours
TrashigangSamdrup Jongkhar180 kms07 hours
TrashigangTrashiyangtshe55 kms02 hours
Samdrup JongkharGuwahati (Assam, India)110 kms03 hours
Samdrup JongkharPhuentsholing400 kms10 hours
PhuentsholingBagdogra (West Benal, India)165 kms4.1/2 hours
PhuentsholingSiliguri (West Bengal, India)155 kms04 hours
PhuentsholingDarjeeling (West Bengal, India)200 kms06 hours
PhuentsholingKalimpong (West Bangal, India)185 kms05 hours
PhuentsholingGangtok (Sikkim, India)220 kms07 hours
PhuentsholingDooars (Chalsa) (West Bengal, India)110 kms2.1/2 hours

ELECTRICITY IN BHUTAN

Electricity supply in Bhutan has become more stable in recent decades because of increases in its hydropower generation.

Most urban towns and rural villages have access to electricity. Isolated rural pockets have been provided with home solar systems.

The voltage supply system used in Bhutan is 220/240 volts with two-pin and three-pin round hole power outlets.

Tourists are advised to bring flat to round pin converters. Such converters are available in the urban centres. Most tourist hotels have multiplug facilities.

Trekking tours take you away from locations that have electric supply.

Accommodation & Clothing in Bhutan

ACCOMMODATION IN BHUTAN

 Hotel and lodge facilities have improved drastically in recent years with the growth in the local travel industry.

Tourism regulations require hotels and lodges catering to tourists to provide facilities of a minimum three star (local) rating. This ensures a comfortable, clean and safe place to stay when halting for the night in the interior townships.

For a more authentic experience, tourists can opt for ‘farm stay’ where accommodation is provided within a traditional village house setting. Facilities are basic but clean.

More luxurious accommodation can be arranged at the high-end establishments such as the Aman, Uma, Taj, Zhiwaling and Meridian. Tourists will be required to pay for the high-end services above and beyond the daily tourist tariff.

On treks and camping tours, accommodation is in tents and pack animals carry trekking gear. An advance team sets up camp for the night halt and seasoned cooks prepare nutritious and delicious meals using locally available organic food items.

CLOTHING IN BHUTAN

Bhutan experiences all four seasons. Spring and autumn are pleasant with daytime temperatures around 20 degrees centigrade in the temperate regions where most of the people live.

Summers can get hot, stuffy and humid particularly in the lower valleys of Punakha and Wangdue and in the southern foothills bordering the Indian plains.

Winters are cold, dry and dusty with temperatures dropping to zero and below at night in the temperate valleys of Thimphu, Paro, Punakha, Bumthang and Haa.

While suitable clothing would depend on the season you visit it is advisable to bring both light and warm wear.

This is because temperatures change drastically because of the altitude variation. Bhutan’s altitude range is from 300 metres at the southern borders to more than 7,000 metres at its northern frontiers.

Visitors are advised to refrain from wearing skimpy or tight fitting clothes to keep in mind the sensitivities of a reserved traditional culture that is gently opening up to the modern world.

For visits to monasteries, dzongs and other religious institutions dress modestly and respectfully, and refrain from smoking while on the premises. Hats, caps, shoes etc. should be removed before entering the premises.

Pack clothes as per season and include sunglasses/spare glasses, pair of casual shoes, knife, hat, umbrella, insect repellent, hand cream, small sewing kit & safety pins, torch or flash light with spare batteries, mirror, scissors, sun cream, lip salve, soluble aspirin, antiseptic cream, anti-histamine cream, anti-diarrhea pills, a preparation for the relief of sunburn, and any medication you take regularly, or might need to take for a periodically.

Medical in Bhutan

MEDICAL ADVICE

The government of Bhutan does not check for vaccinations on entry. Visitors are therefore advised to be up to date with the standard vaccinations when visiting Asia.

Travellers to Bhutan should visit their doctor or a travel medical clinic at least two months prior to their departure. If going on a trek, travellers should seek advice on vaccinations and medications to prevent and treat altitude sickness and other related infections such as diarrhea and vomiting.

Hospitals and health centres across the country provide basic medical care. Severe cases are evacuated to India or Thailand by air.

The BAFRA (Bhutan Agriculture and Food Regulatory Authority) enforces strict hygiene standards for food that is commercially sold. Still, visitors need to be cautious of what they consume for water borne diseases.

Travellers must get a comprehensive Travel insurance to cover medical and evacuation expenses. Please inform us of any pre-existing medical condition.

Bhutan Trekking Check List

Trekking in BhutanEven during the ideal trekking seasons, temperatures can drop below zero at night. Layering of clothing is the best way for trekkers to allow for these temperature fluctuations. The following items are recommended:

  • Underwear
  • Base layer clothing – a long-sleeved thermal vest and leggings
  • Middle layer clothing – short and long-sleeved t-shirts or blouses
  • Sleeping bag

Ideally the base and middle layers should be made of wool for their warmth, breathability, non-odour, quick-drying and low bulk and weight.

  • Top layer clothing – jumper or zip-through jacket +/- sleeveless zip-through vest
  • Waterproof jacket and trousers
  • Hiking trousers, shorts or skirt
  • Socks (wool or polypropylene to reduce risk of blisters)
  • Properly broken-in trekking boots
  • Sun hat

If trekking above 4000m or outside the ideal trekking season, be prepared for sub-zero temperatures or snow. The following additional items are recommended:

  • Alpine jacket
  • Insulated trousers
  • Woollen hat or balaclava
  • Scarf
  • Gloves
  • Liner socks
  • Gaiters

OTHER EQUIPMENT

  • Backpack or soft duffel bag with some stuff bags and assorted sizes of zip-lock plastic bags
  • Down-filled sleeping bag suitable for high-altitude treks
  • Day backpack
  • Metal water bottle
  • Head torch or small hand-held torch with extra batteries and bulb
  • General toiletries plus pre-moistened towelettes and hand sanitizer
  • Body chamois or fast-drying towel
  • SPF 30+ sunscreen for body and lips
  • Insect repellant
  • First-aid kit
  • Adequate supply of regular medications, plus some spares
  • Sunglasses
  • Laundry soap for longer treks
  • Trekking pole or walking stick
  • Binoculars
  • Sewing kit (optional)
  • Reference books, pen and notebook
  • Photography equipment with extra memory cards and a spare battery
  • Extra duffel bag or suitcase to leave town clothes with tour operator while trekking

Trekking in the Bhutan Himalaya is a unique and rewarding travel experience. If well prepared with gear suitable for Bhutan’s variable weather, then trekkers shouldn’t have to worry about comfort. Instead, you can focus on the impressive Himalayan views, cultural and unique flora and fauna found in Bhutan.

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