With a total land area of 38,394 square kilometer, Bhutan is strategically located between India and China at the eastern end of Himalayas and the landscape ranges from subtropical plains in the south to the sub-alpine Himalayan heights in the north, with some peaks exceeding 7,000 metres (23,000 ft). The capital and largest city is Thimphu. It’s a deeply Buddhist land that offers an opportunity to glimpse another way of living, an alternative vision of what is truly important in life. Bhutan is the last Shangri La where traditional culture is proudly cherished and natural heritage is equally treasured. While maintaining its distinct and amazing cultural identity, Bhutan now is straddling the ancient and modern world.
Climate and Best Time to Travel
The climate in Bhutan 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. Bhutan has moderate temperature climate having dry winters and hot/wet summers. Temperatures in the far south range from 15°C in winter (December to February) to 30°C in summer (June to August). In Paro the range is from -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 and may reach 10°C in summer, with an average of 350mm of rain.
The ideal time for visiting the country is autumn, from late September to late November, when skies are generally clear and the high mountain peaks rise to a vivid blue sky. Spring, from March to May, is recognized as the second best time to visit Bhutan for touring and trekking.
Nationalities of Indian, Bangladesh and Maldives can obtain a visa at the port of entry on producing a valid passport with a minimum of 6 month validity (Indian nationals may also use their Voters Identity Card (VIC). For other tourists, you will to need to acquire visa clearance in advance. Visas are processed through an online system by your licensed Bhutanese tour operator, directly or through a foreign travel agent. Tourists are also required to book their holiday through a Bhutanese tour operator or one of their international partners. The tour operator will take care of Visa arrangements for visitors.
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, and the visa will then be stamped into your passport.
Getting Into Bhutan
Bhutan, being landlocked between two Asian giants of China and India, it is accessible either through land or by air only.
You get direct international flights to Bhutan from Bangkok, Delhi, Kolkata, Bagdogra, Bodh Gaya, Dhaka, Kathmandu, Guwahati, Singapore and Mumbai. The flight between Paro and Kathmandu offers you incredible views of four of the five highest mountains on earth.
Phuentsholing, Gelephu and Samdrup Jongkhar are the only land border areas open to tourists. The town of Phuentsholing in south-west Bhutan is located approximately 170 km east of the Indian national airport at Bagdogra. After crossing Phuentsholing, it takes about 6 hours to reach Thimphu. Most tourists wishing to travel to Thimphu via Nepal by land choose the Phuentsholing route.
A travel insurance policy that covers medical expenses, evacuation, theft and loss is recommended. Make sure the insurance also covers all the adventure activities during your stay in Bhutan. Find out in advance if your insurance plan will make payment directly to providers or reimburse you later for overseas health expenditures.
The unit of Bhutanese currency is ngultrum (Nu), and is equivalent to one Indian rupee. USD 50 and USD100 notes are given a better exchange rate than USD 20 notes or lesser. The smaller USD notes fetch about 5% less. Tourists can exchange cash at the foreign exchange desk at Paro Airport and Bank of Bhutan branches in major towns of Paro and Thimphu. ATM and banking facilities almost does not exist when you travel remote in the countryside. You are suggested to take local currency from Paro or Thimpu to the countryside. Credit card payments are accepted only in few places and not all cards are accepted except Visa, Master and American Express card. Traveler cheque and US dollars can be convenient currency and are cashed by most banks.
Usually in Bhutan electricity supplied is between 220 and 240 volts AC. If you have an appliance that was built for 220-240 volt electrical input, or an appliance that is compatible with multiple voltages, then you will only need an adapter. If you are in Bhutan for tours in major towns, the better option would be to carry chargers and adapters with you as you will be able to use them. If you are into trekking, travelling light carrying enough batteries for your lightweight camera should be fine.