Bhutan is Country #55: Overview
Why Bhutan? Bhutan is a country whose name immediately brought an aura of mystery and intrigue whenever I heard it. People talked about it in such reverential tones – the last remaining ‘Shangri-La’ in the world, the country with the happiest people, one which has never been colonised in its history; a land where decisions are made primarily by impact on Gross National Happiness, where inheritance passes through the female rather than the male line, and most astonishingly, the only carbon-negative country on the planet. And when it came to the point where I was earnestly looking for a country to go off-radar and disappear for a few weeks on a solo trip, the answer was immediately clear.
- Flights and Visas: The two Bhutanese carriers (Druk Air and Bhutan Airlines) have a duopoly on the few existing air routes to Bhutan. The easiest international air hubs you can use to connect onto one of these flights would either be New Delhi or Bangkok. All international travellers (except Indian nationals) are required to obtain a visa before entering Bhutan – a process that a Bhutanese tour operator can help you with. Bhutan requires you to have prearranged an itinerary, with a local tour guide and driver accompanying you at all times. The daily spend cap imposed by the government on tourists is US$250 per day (as of Jan 2018) – once again, Indians are exempt from this. To be clear, this isn’t a daily tax but rather a total amount that covers the cost of your food, accommodation, transfers, driver, tour guide and entry to attractions per day of your stay. Everyone who pays for a tour itinerary is essentially guaranteed a visa (which has a separate fee). It’s helpful to plan at least 6-8 weeks before departure to ensure you have enough time to sort out all of your documentation and visas.
- Travelling around Bhutan: You’ll have your tour guide and driver accompanying you at all times, and so never really have the need to book any sort of transportation, which definitely lightens the load! Bear in mind that roads outside the main cities (Paro, Thimphu) tend to be very rocky and bumpy – so it takes a considerable amount of time to travel what might appear to be relatively modest distances. Be armed with carsickness tablets if you’re prone to feeling ill on a long and bumpy journey! But the scenery as you drive is mesmerising.
- Culture: The Bhutanese are a very simple, humble people. They’re very content with what they have and I never saw a single Bhutanese person angry or stressed. They’re well-mannered and quiet (a stark difference to their Indian neighbours), very respectful, prefer not to talk while eating, take great pride in their environment and feel a strong sense of responsibility in protecting it for generations to come. Respect what they respect and you’ll fit in just fine. The official language of instruction in schools is English, so communication was never an issue.
Next blog post: Thimphu, Bhutan