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Immersed in cultural folklores
The land of the thunder dragon kingdom is a trekker's paradise and an environmentalist's dream. With 72 percent of the country under forest cover, Bhutan's pristine ecology is home to rare and endangered flora and fauna.This spiritual land is the last bastion of the Vajrayana school of Mahayana Buddhism which provides the essence of a unique identity for the 750,000 people. Bhutan is a unique blend of the old and new. Here is a country that is slowly opening up to the modern world in a fine balance with its ancient traditions.Those fortunate enough to visit Bhutan describe it as a unique, deeply spiritual and mystical experience. This kingdom is an adventure like no other.
A land of unspoiled forest, cascading waterfalls, high snowcapped mountains, magnificent wildlife, Bhutan has no rivals on Earth. Located on the southern slopes of the Eastern Himalayas, protected by impenetrable jungle to the south and daunting ranges of snow capped mountains in the north, it is the only place on earth where habitats of the mystical snow leopard and mighty and beautiful Royal Bengal tiger intersect
An amazing 64 percent of Bhutan is under forest cover and the government is committed to keeping at least 60 percent of that forest intact all times to come.
Bhutan is often compared to Switzerland on its look and size but jealously guards its lifestyle and ancient tradition and culture, opening its doors only with caution and wisdom. The visitor who visits will discover its valley, mountains, natural forest, and its fortress and countryside an unending symphony of light, shapes and colours. The panoramic beauty of it cannot be described with the writing or with pictures. The travelers visiting will have chance to see by themselves the kindness, warmth and attentiveness of the humblest Bhutanese people, the houses with brightly decorated window frames and shingles roofs, patch works of green paddy fields, plots of tawny buckwheat, a woman weaving in their modest house, oak forest and covered bridges, shepherds, cowherds looking after Brown Swiss cows, horses, yaks browsing in a grove of beautiful rhododendrons. You will be seeing chortens, fluttering pray flags, prayer wheelers turned by the mountain stream, the monasteries, red robed monks, high lamas, religious men in the villages. Such scenes would remain intact in your memories forever, which is one of Asia’s deepest mysteries.
|Land area||:||38,394 square kilometres|
|Forest area||:||72.5 %|
|Altitude||:||between 240 metres and 7541 metres above sea level|
|Language||:||official language "Dzongkha", English widely spoken|
|Religion||:||Vajrayana stream of Mahayana Buddhism (Also known as Tantric Buddhism)|
|Currency||:||Ngultrum (equal to Indian Rupee)|
|National Flower||:||Blue Poppy|
Altitude: 2,250m / 7,382ft.
A trip to Bhutan normally begins and ends at Paro ..... and there can be few more charming valleys in the kingdom. As you disembark your Druk aircraft and take your first breath of Bhutanese air, you will be struck by the clean air and peaceful atmosphere.
The museum's collection includes ancient Bhutanese arts and artifacts, weapons and stamps, birds and animals, and an incredible collection of silver tea ware. This is typical of the eclectic beauty of Bhutan - its prized objects bear little relation to each other but as a whole stand together as a history of one of the world's most pristine people.
It is said that Guru Rinpoche (Precious Master), the father of the Bhutanese sect of Mahayana Buddhism, arrived in Paro Valley more than a millennium ago on the back of a legendary tigress. He meditated for three months in a cave where a monastery was later built and called Taktsang Lhakang or Tiger's Nest Visitors to Paro can take a closer look at the monastery by ascending either on foot or by pony for about three hours to Tiger's Nest. Walkers can enjoy a rest at the Taktsang Teahouse situated at a wonderful vantage point overlooking the monastery. On clear days you can get a clear view of mount Chomolhari the sacred peak of Bhutan.
Altitude: 2,350m / 7,710ft.
Thimphu is a small, charming capital city sandwiched in the heart of the Himalayas. It sits in its own valley fanning out from the river. The skyline hardly changes as new buildings are all constructed under zoning regulations. Thimphu's development is strictly monitored and buildings cannot exceed a certain height, nor can they be designed in anything but the traditional Bhutanese style. In fact, Thimphu's first and only traffic light was enshrined in a chorten ! (a small Buddhist temple). Not being suitable to the nature of Thimphu, the traffic light was removed on the King's orders.
Only a sprinkling of cars are found along the main street and the capital's population is not immediately visible. But, if you look inside the bank or the shop, you will find Thimphu's people and Bhutan's heart. Dressed in gho or kira (a wrap-around robe), Thimphu people go about their work methodically, quietly bringing their nation through the growing pains of development and into its own definition of the modern world.
Six kms from the city limits, is the kingdoms oldest dzong which is now used as the Dzongka language school of Bhutan. Bhutan's most stately and arguably most impressive building is Tashichhodzong, on the banks of the Wangchu (Thimphu River). The home of the National Assembly and the summer residence of the capital's venerated monastic community, Tashicchodzong is a palatial building overlooking the river on the South side and the city of Thimphu from the North. While foreign visitors are only allowed to enter Tashicchodzong during the annual festival, its presence and its exterior and grounds provide a delightful spectacle. The dzong is the impressive result of a redesign of the original medieval structure sanctioned by the Third King, HM Jigme Dorje Wangchuck, when he moved Bhutan's permanent capital to Thimphu.
One of the most enjoyable ways of passing time in Thimphu is wandering through the town. Full of wonderful restaurants and delighful shops stocked with items from all over Bhutan. Hand woven textiles, woodcarving, tailor made clothing, jewelry. Thimphu's weekend market is another chance to watch the way life in the kingdom. Here, every weekend, Thimphu's residents break from whatever it is that they are doing to stock vegetables, a copy of Kuensel (the weekly newspaper) and to exchange the week's gossip. For visitors who can't share in the gossip, a wander through the stalls reveals mountains of bright red chilies, eggplants and okra, asparagus in season and rice of many types. Traditional Bhutanese masks, incense, hand made knives, jewelery are also sold here. It's an incredible experience for the visitor.
Another of Bhutan's loveliest exports is its wide and diverse collection of stamps. These are best seen in commemorative books at Thimphu's central post office. Other places of interest in Thimphu include the traditional painting school where the age-old styles of Bhutanese painting, including thangka painting, are taught and the Memorial Chorten build in memory of His Majesty, the Third King of Bhutan. The National Library houses a vast collection of books and research documents of Buddhist studies.
Altitude: 1,310m / 4,300ft.
The first stop after leaving Thimphu on the journey east is Dochu La (la means pass) at 10.007ft. Only an hour's drive from Thimphu, it offers visitors their first glimpse of the Eastern Himalayan range. The best time to reach Dochu La is early morning when the mountain views are clear and one can enjoy a spectacular panoramic views of the Bhutanese Himalayas.
From the pass the road curls its way down into the relative lowlands of the Punakha Valley. Before Thimphu was made the permanent capital of Bhutan, Punakha was the Winter Capital because of its more temperate climate. The Je Khenpo (leader of Bhutan's religious order) and his council of monks still come to pass the Winter months here.
Punakha Dzong was strategically built at the confluence of the Pho Chu (male) and Mo Chu (female) rivers by the first Shabdrung of Bhutan, Ngawang Namgyel in 1637. It has been damaged by four fires and an earthquake in 1897 and has been devastated by flood water coming from the great northern glaciers. The Dzong has now been fully restored to its original splendor.
Altitude: 1,310m / 4,300ft.
Wangdue Phodrang is the last westerm town on the highway before central Bhutan. Wangdue Phodrang (or Wangdue) is a typical small Bhutanese town. It has a bustling market with well stocked shops and a pretty view of the valley and dzong.
Altitude: 2,900m / 9,510ft.
A few hours' drive from Wangdue Phodrang is Phobjika valley. Here also is Gangtey Gompa, a monastery dating back to the 17th century. This short journey south from the main East-West artery is well worth the detour for the dramatic change of scenery. The monastery is inhabited only in summer months.
Spotting black-necked cranes in the meadows of the valley floor is an ornithologist's dream come true. These rare birds migrate from the high plains of the Tibetan plateau in Winter to the milder climate of Phobjika.
Altitude: 300m / 985ft.
Popularly known as the 'Gateway to Bhutan', Phuentsholing is a vibrant town located adjacent to the Indian border town of Jalpaiguri, a district of the Indian state of West Bengal. The town is a bustling commercial centre providing a glimse of Indian merchants and Bhutanese dressed in traditional khos and kiras. The climate of Phuentsholing contrasts greatly with the higher land of Bhutan. It is tropical, hot and humid during the summer, and warm and pleasant in the winter. It is located 180 km from Thimphu and is about a six hours drive. Phuentsholing is the only other entry/exit point to Bhutan other than the airport at Paro. The closest Indian domestic airport is at Bagdogra, about 160 km from the Bhutanese boarder, which is connected by daily flights to Delhi and Calcutta.
The Black Mountains separate Western Bhutan from Central Bhutan. This region includes Trongsa and the rich broad valleys of Bumthang including Chumey, Choekar, Tang and Ura valleys. The passes crossed are Yotang La (3425m, 11,237ft.) and Thrumsing La (3780m, 12,402ft.). Central Bhutan is known for its buckwheat and apple production, its sturdy stone houses, and its plethora of monasteries. Its the ideal place for walking due to its broad valleys and sloping mountains. The beauty of the Bumthang valley is legendary. Below are described the main areas of Central Bhutan.
Altitude: 2,200m / 7,215ft.
Crossing the Black Mountains which separate western and central Bhutan, you'll enter a part of the country which until the l970's was only reached by mule and foot trails. The mountain road passes through deciduous forests and at the second pass, Pele La, the entire area is blanketed by high altitude dwarf bamboo. About five miles from Trongsa, the road winds around a cliff to a viewpoint looking down onto the settlement of Trongsa. The view is one of the most beautiful sights in all Bhutan and one from which you may remember for a long time. Sloping down the contours of a ridge stands the many-leveled Trongsa Dzong, built in 1648. It takes at least another 40 minutes from the look-out before you arrive in Trongsa proper. The dzong acts as a defensive fortress, and its bright golden yellow roof occupies most of the view from Trongsa. Trongsa is the ancestral home of the Royal Family. The Crown Prince of Bhutan traditionally becomes "Penlop" (Governor) of Trongsa before being crowned King.
Trongsa Dzong was built in 1648 and has been the traditional home of all four kings of Bhutan prior to their ascending the throne.
Trongsa's location in the geographic center of the kingdom has enabled a "Penlop" (Governor) to effectively control the entire East and West of the country from there. Ta Dzong, the watch tower, which once guarded the Dzong from internal rebellion, stands impressively above the Dzong and provides visitor with some insight into the historical significance of Trongsa in Bhutan's history.
Continuing past Trongsa you'll travel over two spectacular passes into the Bumthang Valley, often compared to Switzerland. The terrain changes quickly from rhododendron forests to conifers. The first valley, Chumey (2,700m / 8,860ft.) is a wide fertile valley where wheat, barley, potatoes and buckwheat are cultivated. It is also known for it's famous wool weaving called "Bumthang Yathra". Continuing we enter the Bumthang Valley consisting of the Choekar (West), Jakar and Tang (East) Valleys. With the main town of Jakar serving as its capital.
Altitude: 2,800m / 9,185ft.
The hills around Jakar are filled with monasteries dedicated to Guru Rinpoche (Padmasambhava) who is said to have cured an ailing ruler and introduced Buddhism to the valley. Bumthang is also home to one of the great Buddhist teachers, Pema Lingpa, to whose descendants the present dynasty traces its origins. Pema Lingpa was a blacksmith who was led by mystic forces to discover spiritual treasures (termas) placed by Guru Rinpoche at the bottom of Mebartsho or Flaming Lake. Not knowing how to impart the knowledge contained in the treasures he hid until one day the Dakinis, or female heavenly spirits, showed him the power of preaching. Legend explains that as he spoke, flowers dropped from the sky and vanished into rays of light. Jambay Lhakang Drub Monastery is host to one of the most spectacular festivals in October each year when on one evening of the festival, the monastery is lights up with a fire dance to bless infertile women with children. No where else in Bhutan will you see as many temples and monasteries in such a confined area.
Altitude: 3,100m / 10,170ft.
The easternmost valley, Ura, is also the highest in Bumthang. Wide open spaces characterizes the valley that sits in the shadow of the Thrumsing La pass, separating the East from the West of the kingdom. Ura village and its new monastery are a charming stop before the climb to the east. Cobbled streets and a medieval feel give Ura an unusual yet very attractive atmosphere. The old women of Ura still wear sheepskin shawls on their backs which double as a blanket and cushion.
This region comprises Mongar, Lhuentse, Trashigang and Trashi Yangste. Passes crossed are Rodang La and Narphung La both at much lower altitudes than passes in Western and Central. The forests dissipate and the altitude is lower. The warmer climate is suitable for growing corn, rice, wheat, potatoes and surprisingly lemon grass. Eastern Bhutan is known for its stunning hand-loomed textiles and the weavers are all masters of the "supplementary weft-weave" technique. Eastern Bhutan is the least travelled area of the country. Below are described the main areas of Eastern Bhutan.
Altitude: 1,700m / 5,580ft.
The differences between Eastern and Western Bhutan are far greater than the high pass that separates them. Perhaps like the Scots and the English, there are subtle but marked differences. History has played a significant role with the kingdom only being unified with the east at the end of the last century. Prior to that many wars separated each side.
The eastern dialect is so different from the western dialect that the two groups find it difficult to understand each other. Thrumsing La and a seven-hour drive separates Ura from Mongar in the East. The journey is one of the most beautiful in all the Himalayas. Rising out of Ura, the highway climbs steeply to the highest pass (3,800 meters, 12,800 ft.) along the West-East highway at Thrumsing La (during the Winter the pass can be closed for several days after snowfalls) where the mountains of east Bhutan can be seen during clear weather.
The descent from Thrumsing La to Lingmithang is astonishing for several reasons. The road drops from 3,800 meters to a mere 650 meters in only a few hours passing from pine forest through semi-tropical forest and orange groves. Carved out of the side of the mountain, here the road follows a sheer cliff face 1000 feet above the valley floor. Arriving at Mongar marks the beginning of your eastern Bhutan experience. Towns in eastern Bhutan are built on the sides of the hills which contrasts to valley floor settlements in the west. Mongar Dzong was built in 1953 on the orders of the Third King, Jigme Dorje Wangchuck. The Royal Guesthouse is located near the dzong enjoying a pleasant view from the garden over Mongar Valley. Some of the finest weaving villages in Bhutan are found in the Mongar area.
Altitude: 3,773m / 12,375ft.
Trashigang is the eastern-most point on the highway. Eastern residents use Trashigang to trade and the town itself is usually a hive of activity, especially around the bus station where buses are frequently leaving for Thimphu and Paro in the west and Samdrup Jongkhar and India, only a few hours to the southeast. A short distance is Radhi considered one of Bhutan's most renowned weaver villages. Trashigang is also a melting pot of hill tribe people who come to the town to trade. The villagers of the remote Merak and Sakteng areas come to Trashigang to trade yak's butter for the provisions that they need in the mountains. Merak and Sakteng are located about 50 miles east of Trashigang close to the border with India's Arunachal Pradesh.
Trashigang Dzong sits on a jagged piece of land jutting out from the town and is the first landmark that can be seen from the road winding up to Trashigang. The Dzong was built in 1659 and commands a spectacular view over the valley for which it is the administrative center. The Dzong is significant for the fact that it only has one courtyard.
Altitude: 1,850m / 6,070ft.
On the drive to Trashi Yangtse you pass the small town of Duxsum located on the Drangme Chhu and its tributary. It is a few kilometers past Gom Kora. A large boulder sits in the garden of Gom Kora (Gomphu Kora) Temple and it is said that if anyone can climb below the rock and emerge from its summit, he will be forgiven of his sins. Duxsum is a small weaver's town where you can find a fair amount of weavers producing some very nice work. The landmark of the town is a original iron chain suspension bridge built by Thangtong Gyalpo or Lama Hazampa (Lama Iron-bridge) in the 1600's. Duxsum is the main supply town for all the high mountain villages that surround it.
Trashi Yangtse is a small town and a lovely place from where the visitor can launch a hike into the surrounding countryside. Chorten Kora is one of the only two such stupas in Bhutan with styles similar to those found in Nepal and is host to a great festival every March which attracts all of eastern Bhutan's residents. The Chorten is entirely whitewashed and ideally situated next to a running brook. Trashi Yangste is also famous for its hand made wooden bowls and cups used all over the country. The finest are made from rhododendron burl.
The road from Trashigang to Samdrup Jongkhar was completed in the early 1960s and enables the eastern parts of the kingdom to access and benefit from trade with the south as well as across the border into India. It is possible to drive from Samdrup Jongkhar to Phuentsholing, the eastern border town, via Assam and West Bengal of India.
From Trashigang the road descends through thick jungle before arriving at the border town of Samdrup Jongkhar. The town is no more than a frontier post with a couple of hotels and restaurants. Visitors can exit Bhutan from Samdrup Jongkhar, instead to driving back all the way back to Paro or Phuentsholing. Guwahati airport in India is located about 100 km from the border and from there there are daily flights to Calcutta and Delhi.
The population of Bhutan is estimated at 700000 as of 1996. As in most developing countries, the proportion of the population under 15 is as high as 43%. As this age group enters the reproductive period, the population growth rate is likely to rise above the current 3.1% unless family planning is more widely practiced. With this in view, various family planning options with the latest techniques are made freely available, accompanied by a family planning information campaign.
Bhutan lies between 89 degree and 92 degrees E and 27 degrees nd 28 degrees N.
Bhutan is one of the least populated countries in South Asia. Most of the population is concentrated in the valleys, while large areas at higher altitudes in the north of the country are virtually empty except for nomadic herders.
Most Bhutanese still live in villages in a extended family system or maintain strong links with their rural families. The average size of the household or family is estimated to be 5.6. The number of houses per village varies from 2 to 100 with an average of 43. Thimpu in Western Bhutan is the capital with an estimated population of 30,000 - 40,000 people. The other main urban settlements are Gelephu, Phuntsholing and Samdrup Jongkhar, all of them in the south. Towns are developing in all the 20 dzongkhag (districts) headquarters.
The people of Bhutan are hardworking, simple, hospitable and straightforward. They can be categorized into three broad ethnic groups: the Sharchops, Ngalungs and those from Nepali origin. The Sharchops are believed to have been the earliest inhabitants of Bhutan. A majority of them have been living in the eastern parts of the Kingdom. The Nagalungs are the descendants of the Tibetan immigrants, who came to Bhutan from about the 9th century onward. They have been staying primarily in the western part. The people belonging to the Nepali origin are the third category of people. They have been living in the southern belt of Bhutan. When Bhutan was closed to the outside world and had no development, these Nepalese origin people were taken by the Bhutanese government to accelerate the developmental activities. However, it is pity to say that more than 100,000 Nepali origin Bhutanese were evicted from their own homeland by the Bhutanese government on charge of demonstrating for democracy and fundamental human rights. At present, they have been leading a pathetic life in the camps in eastern Nepal. The southern Bhutanese are the followers of Hinduism, while the Sharchops and Ngalungs follow Buddhism. The national language of Bhutan is Dhongkha and its national religion is Buddhism. More than 75 percent of the people in Bhutan have adopted agriculture as their main occupation. Until now, the culture and social life of Bhutan has remained unaffected by modernity.
The men's attire is called "Gho", while "Kira" is the attire of women. However, the Nepalese origin people wear "Gho" and "Kira" only when visiting offices. Jewelries are mostly made from pearls, corals turquoise, and agate set in well-crafted gold and silver.
Meat, cereals particularly rice, vegetables and herbs are the major food items in Bhutan. Meat dishes include mainly mutton, pork and beef, which are lavishly spiced with chilies. Salted butter tea is served to all the visitors as they enter any house. Other famous beverages include Chang, a local beer, and Arra, a type of sprite distilled from rice, maize, wheat or barley. As a customary greeting, "Doma" or betel nut is offered to every visitor.
Archery is the national game of Bhutan. So, it has gained popularity across the country. The Bhutanese people play it with zeal and enthusiasm throughout the year with the traditional bows and arrows. In Bhutan, the ancient and traditional art, music and dances of the different ethnic groups have been protected in an effective manner.
In this dragon kingdom, Tshechus are the main annual religious festivals of Bhutan that are celebrated to honour Guru Padmasambhava, also known as "Guru Rimpoche". Tshechus are considered as an occasion for reverence, feasting, socializing and blessing by the people. Staged at different times of the year in different parts of the Kingdom, Tshechu is a unique experience to the outsider. Apart from Tshechus, Dashain and Tihar are also celebrated in Bhutan. Primarily, Dashain and Tihar are celebrated by the Nepali origin Bhutanese.
The Bhutanese people have a strong sense of aesthetics, art, craft and architecture. Primarily, Bhutan's art and craft is broadly influenced by the Tibetan art and craft. Dzongs, chortens and monasteries can be seen everywhere. Some of the Lhakhangs and Gompas are even made on high peaks. Basically, chortens are constructed in memory of an eminent lama or to ward off evil spirit. These structures are beautifully decorated inside and outside with woodcarvings and paintings in a riot of colours and patterns.
The walls of temples and shrines are decorated with the paintings and carvings of Buddha and various deities. The "Tashi Tagye" or eight auspicious signs are found painted on buildings. Thankas are hung on the walls for attractions. They offer the Thankas as souvenir when tourists pay their visit. Articles for daily use are not touched by the influence of modernization and commercialization. Traditional craftsmanship has been handed down from generation to generation. Craftsmen of Bhutan are skilled in bronze and precious metals, wood and slate carving and clay sculpture.
Bhutan is best known for her richness in flora and fauna. The journey to Bhutan offers one the unique opportunity for being familiar with scenic beauty. There is no doubt that Bhutan is a storehouse of biodiversity. The Druk Kingdom is not only home to beautiful flowers and plants such as Rhododendron, Junipers, Magnolias, Orchids, Gentians, Daphne and the rear Blue Poppy and other some rare medicinal herbs and exotic mushrooms but also faunal diversity.
Bhutan boasts 500 species of birds. Some of them include Monal Pheasant, the Tragopan, wild Pigeons and doves, the rare Rufus-necked hornbill and the endangered Black-necked crane are the major fauna. The population of butterfly fauna is abundant in Bhutan. Bhutan holds a rich wildlife like- Snow leopard, Blue sheep, Musk deer, Takin, the Himalayan Black Bear, Tiger, Rhinoceros, Gaur, the Great Indian Water Buffalo, the Golden Langur and many more. Local fish and brown trout can be found in the northern rivers and the mountain lakes, while Mahseer can be found in the south-east rivers.
March - May and September - November
Early May : Kurjey Tsechu, Bumthang
Early June : Nemalung Tsechu, Bumthang
Early July : Wangdue Tsechu, Wangdue
Late September : Thimphu Dromchoe, Thimphu
Late September : Thimphu Tsechu, Thimphu
Early October : Tamsing Phala Choepa, Bumthang
Late Sept/ Early Oct : Thangbi Mani, Bumthan
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