Among the Himalayan Nations, Bhutan has the richest diversity of flora and fauna made possible by the ecological sensitivity of the Bhutanese People and preserved by the policies of a concerned government. With over 70 percent of the country under forest cover and its rich bio-diversity, Bhutan has been declared one of the “top 10 environmental hot-spots” in the world.
The immense beauty of the Himalayas is contained in its diverse landscape. Cascading rivers, conifers, wild rhododendron, and blue poppies, long sweeping valleys, fields of maize, and tall, imposing white-capped peaks: these are only a few poetic references. The wealth of the floral variety includes Junipers, Magnolias, Orchids, Edelweiss, Gentians, and Daphne. In addition, the rare Blue Poppy, Bhutan’s national flower, can be found at altitudes as high as 4000 meters. Along with these, grow rare medicinal herbs and exotic mushrooms.
In Bhutan the vegetation profile falls into five general classes:
- Tropical [up to 1000 m]
- Sub-tropical [900 m-1800 m]
- Temperate [1800 m-3500 m]
- Sub-alpine [3500 m-4500 m]
- Alpine [4500 m-550
Spotting unusual fauna in Bhutan is almost obligatory. There are over 500 species of birds to be seen in Bhutan. The rich birdlife includes the Monal, Pheasant, the Tragopan, many different types of wild pigeons and Doves, the rare Rufus-necked Hornbill, and the endangered Black Necked Crane. There is also an abundant butterfly fauna. This reflects the kingdom’s wide range of agro-ecological environments, from subtropical to alpine, and its zoo-geographical Indomalayan (oriental) region and the permeable and fluid (for birds) border with China.
People The population of Bhutan in the year 1994 was 600,000 with 43 percent of the population aged under 15 years. The government is keenly aware that an increased population will strain the country’s resources. Bhutan’s 90 percent lead an agrarian lifestyle and continue to live in the valleys isolated from one another and the outside world by formidable mountain passes. Bhutanese are traditionally rural dwellers and their homes and villages reflect their rich history.
Religion Bhutan’s official religion is Drukpa Kagyu, a school of Tantric Mahayana Buddhism, similar to the Buddhism of Tibet. The tantric form of religion emerged as the last phase in the long evolution of Buddhism. The word ‘Tarantism’ comes from Tantras, the name of a body of esoteric texts which appeared roughly between the third and the tenth century. These are divided into four groups: tantras of action, tantras of behavior, tantras of yoga, and finally tantras without any superiors. If we place Bhutan’s religion in the full context of Buddhism, it is necessary to go back nearly 2500 years and trace the points at which the Drukpa Kagyu lineage and its antecedents diverged from other schools of Buddhism.
Arts and Crafts The Himalayan Mountains are a fragile environment the actions of wind, water, earthquakes, and fire have made serious changes in the topography. The intervention of people in this environment has, to date, been without major effect. However, that influence is changing and, unless checked, could be disastrous to the Himalayan states and their neighbors.
The Himalayas posses an unforgettable aura and magnetism, a personality at once diverse and distant but also familiar and friendly; there are high mountain peaks, rushing streams and delicate waterfalls, narrow fertile valleys and mountain slopes carpeted with rich colors of autumn leaves or spring rhododendrons, of tall pine forests, green and glistening in the monsoon rains, or ghostly and reflective in winter.
Architecture The traditional architecture of the kingdom of Bhutan is associated with a number of clear-cut architectural concepts and building types that are deeply rooted in Tibetan Buddhism: majestic and strategically positioned fortress monasteries [dzong], dramatically located temples [lhakhang] and monasteries [gompa], picturesque clusters of village farmhouses (gung chim), and various types of religious and votive structures such as Buddhists stupas [chorten], prayer walls mani, different types of spirit houses [lukhang and Tsenkang] and the technical genius of its cantilever and chain bridges [zam].
Anyone who has had the opportunity to experience Bhutan’s unique built landscape will have marveled at its strikingly beautiful traditional architecture. Most publications that mention Bhutanese architecture tend to emphasize its monumental character and aesthetic intent. It is possible that such object-oriented descriptions of architecture contribute – albeit unconsciously – to what may be called ‘monumentalizations’, ‘objectification’, and ‘concretization’ of Bhutan ‘s ‘living architectural tradition’. In terms of western values and approaches to issues of cultural preservation and conservation, each and every traditional architectural landscape in Bhutan, each and every building and structure, would seem entitled to conservation.
Clothing Due to a wide range of temperature and climatic conditions, it is advisable to bring appropriate clothing. From May to September normal traveling clothes plus a light woolen sweater or a light jacket and light walking boots are sufficient. From November to the end of April on the other hand, you will need very warm clothes including underwear or woolen tights to wear under trousers, thick socks, strong boots, and a down jacket.
You will be offending people if you walk around in skimpy or tight-fitting clothes. Although there are normally opportunities to wear skirts or loose trousers, men should not wear singlets. During the visit to monasteries, dzongs, and other religious sites, you should not wear shorts and hats.
The following is a fairly exhaustive list of what you should pack for the trip: Clothes as per season, sunglasses/spare glasses or contact lenses, pair of casual shoes, washing kit, shaving kit, towel, hat umbrella, camera, film and accessories, maps, insect repellent, hand cream, small sewing kit & safety pins, torch or flashlight with spare batteries, mirror, sunscreen cream, lip salve or soluble aspirin, antiseptic cream, preparation for the relief of sunburn. You may not be tuned to the Asian drugs so it is always better to bring your own brand.
Currency 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 traveler’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.
Customs and Regulations: Custom Regulation: The Bhutanese authorities strictly prohibit the export of any religious Antiquity or antiques of any type. All personal electronics, Cameras, Video Cameras, Computers, and personal electronic equipment may be brought into the country but they must be listed on the customs form provided on arrival at Paro and will be checked on departure. Two liters of Alcohol and a reasonable quantity of cigarettes may be brought in to the country without duty.
Post and Communications The Bhutanese postal system is reliable, you can send mails from hotels and post offices and no special procedures are necessary. If you mail cards or letters from the Thimphu post office, you can buy exotic Bhutan postage stamps from the philatelic bureau and use them on your letters and postcards. Bhutan Post offers outgoing EMS [expedited mail service], which is a reliable and fast international mail delivery facility that is cheaper than courier services. It also has a LUM [local urgent mail] service for delivery within Bhutan. DHL is the only international courier to operate from Bhutan.
Most of the country’s major towns have both domestic and international direct dial facilities. Nearly all hotels and some PCO’s have facilities to send and receive faxes. Bhutan has its own Internet and email services.
Photography and Filming: The photography opportunities on a trip are immense. Photography is permitted nearly everywhere in Bhutan and the local population has no aversion to being photographed. If you wish to record the local population, their houses, shops, etc, always ask by gestures if it is okay to do so. Photography inside the Dzongs and Monasteries are not permitted. Please follow your guide’s instructions carefully while visiting Dzongs, monasteries, and religious institutions. Of late, the Royal Government encourages the filming groups. Any commercial Filming must pay a royalty to obtain the permit from the Royal Government of Bhutan. We will assist you to get the permit.
Food and Drinks Bhutanese food is a tantalizing blend of hot Himalayan flavors. Northern Indian cuisine mixes with the chilies of the Tibetan plateau and traditional recipes from Bhutan’s villages to create sizzling and memorable tastes. Chanterelle mushrooms, apricots, asparagus, a wide variety of chilies, and a host of spices grow in abundance in Bhutan’s valleys.
These spices, fruits, and vegetables are prepared with beef, chicken, pork, and dried yak or with each other to make dishes that resemble elements of both Chinese and Indian cuisine. Bhutanese dishes are traditionally served with ample portions of indigenous red rice. The food prepared for tourists is tempered to western taste. The tourism authority imported the knowledge of selected European hotel experts to improve the quality of food and beverage