Photos by Lincoln Potter

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Travellers Information

Bhutan’s Policy on Tourism

“low volume, high value” enables Bhutan to maintain its unique culture and protect its environment despite modernization.

The Kingdom of Bhutan opened its doors to tourism only in 1974 under a regulated program. And in 1991, the Royal Government of Bhutan privatized the tourism industry to encourage increased private sector participation. Today, the number of tourists visiting the country continues to increase each year as Bhutan becomes better known globally.

The Royal Government of Bhutan has been always aware that an unrestricted flow of tourists can have adverse impacts on Bhutan’s unique culture and traditions and its pristine environment. Bhutan therefore adopted a policy of “Low Volume and High Value” tourism on the principle of sustainability, meaning that tourism must be environmentally and ecologically friendly, socially and culturally acceptable, and economically viable. Hence, tourists must arrange travel through a licensed Bhutanese travel agency and cannot travel independently.

Having restricted the flow of tourism right from the beginning, Bhutan is now a living museum, rich in culture, tradition, religion, history, and has successfully preserved its environment in its pristine form. Though there is no quota or limit on the number of tourists allowed to visit Bhutan, the volume of tourists visiting to Bhutan is regulated to a manageable level by the constraints of tourism infrastructure and the high tourist tariff set by the Royal Government of Bhutan.

Kindly note, in keeping with Bhutan’s GNH (“Gross National Happiness”) policy, a portion of the nightly tariff goes to the government which in turn is used to fund free medical care, free education, and other welfare schemes throughout the Kingdom. Essentially, each visitor contributes to the betterment of the lives of the Bhutanese people.

When to visit Bhutan?

The busiest months of the year when maximum tourists visit Bhutan are during March, April and May in spring and September, October and November in autumn. During this period maximum and biggest festivals occurs and the weather is milder. In spring, although there will be more rains and clouds, lot of wildlife and flowers are at their most vivid.

Eight weeks advance booking is recommended if your tour dates overlaps with important festivals as it can be difficult to confirm flights and hotels during these times without early reservations.

Winter can be very cold, but the skies are at their clearest and mountain views at their most stunning

Summer June, July, and August is the monsoon season and it becomes a paradise for the botanical tours.

Trip to Bhutan can be planned throughout the year .Winter in Bhutan is from mid November to mid March and at this time of the year, climate is dry and sunny for the most parts with perfect blue sky, temperatures peaking at around 15c in the daytime and falling below zero at night. The monsoon usually arrives in mid-June, with light rain falling mainly in the afternoons and evenings. These are ideal times for travelers who prefer quiet and less crowd.

Getting to Bhutan

Until the early sixties, the Kingdom of Bhutan was accessible only by foot through the high passes of Tibet and the plains of India. The construction of a road in the late sixties from Phuntsholing on the Indian border to Thimphu and Paro made travel by car and bus possible. In1983, the first international airport was opened in Paro, 65 km from the capital of Bhutan, Thimphu.

Travel by Air

Bhutan’s only international airport is located in Paro, which is located in a deep valley at an elevation of 7300 ft/2225m above sea level. The Paro Valley is surrounded by hills as high as 16,000 feet, whereby making the approach of Druk Air into the Paro International airport entirely by visual flight rules.

The national air carrier – Druk Air, Royal Bhutan Airlines has two A319 and operates in seven cities in six different countries.  It operates several times a week to Bangkok, Delhi, Kolkata, and Kathmandu.  The national airline carries passengers through one of the most spectacular flight paths in the world. A particular highlight is the stretch between Kathmandu and Bhutan, where one passes 4 of the 5 highest mountains in the world. Weather permitting; passengers will be treated to intimate views of Mt. Everest, Lhotse, Makalu und Kangchenjunga.

Current flight schedules for Druk Air are available at www.drukair.com.bt

Travel by Land

The town of Phuntsholing in south-western Bhutan is currently the only land border access open for international tourists. Phuntsholing lies approximately 170 km east of the Indian national airport Bagdogra and nearby Darjeeling. From here begins a mountain journey of almost unbelievable beauty. The road leads from the northern Indian tea plantations through endless turns, hair-pin bends and daring stretches carved into the mountain rock via Chhukha to Thimphu. The travel time for the 176 km stretch can be more than 6 hours.

A combination of overland and air travel is also possible. All overland travel requires an Indian visa.

Traveling within Bhutan

All major towns in the 20 districts of Bhutan are accessible by road. Despite high mountains, steep slopes, and the deepest of valleys, Bhutan has a relatively well developed network of roads. That said, rarely will one find a length of either straight or flat road. In some stretches one can encounter 6 to 7 bends per kilometer! Steep ascents and descents are characteristic of road travel in Bhutan and this can make travel much slower than one may be used to. Average speeds for road travel rarely exceed 40 km/h, with tourist buses making even slower progress. One is however handsomely rewarded for the long and sometimes tiring car journey, by the spectacular views of towering mountains, lush green jungle, ancient villages and majestic monasteries.

Majority of roads are sealed but can still be bumpy and are almost always single lane. Bhutan’s drivers know their land well and are cautious and careful drivers. The density of traffic is normally very low.

Distances and Travel Times within Bhutan

From/To Distance Travel Time
Thimphu – Paro 65 km 1 hr 30 min
Thimphu – Phuntsholing 176 km 6 hrs
Phuntsholing – Bagdogra (India) 170 km 4 hrs
Thimphu – Haa 115 km 3 hrs 30 min
Haa – Paro 60 km 2 hrs 30 min
Thimphu – Wangdue Phodrang 70 km 2 hrs
Thimphu – Punakha 77 km 2 hrs 15 min
Punakha – Wangdue Phodrang 21 km 30 min
Wangdue Phodrang – Trongsa 129 km 4 hrs
Trongsa – Bumthang 68 km 2 hrs 30 min
Bumthang – Mongar 129 km 4 hrs
Mongar – Trashigang 90 km 3 hrs
Trashigang – Trashi Yangtse 55 km 2 hrs