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Sunday, February 26, 2017

Bhutan tours


Introducing Bhutan
Bhutan, the Land of the Thunder Dragon, is no ordinary place. This is a country where buying cigarettes is illegal, where the rice is red and where chilies aren’t just a seasoning but the entire dish. It’s also a deeply Buddhist land, where men wear a tunic to work, where giant protective penises are painted on the walls of most houses, and where Gross National Happiness is deemed more important than Gross National Product. Tourism in Bhutan is also unique. Visitors famously have to pay a minimum of US$200 per day, making it one of the world’s most expensive countries to visit, but this fee is all-inclusive, you don’t have to travel in a group and you can arrange your own itinerary. What you won’t find in Bhutan is backpacker-style independent travel,.
First off there are the early Buddhist sites in the cultural heartland of Bumthang Dzongkhag and the undisturbed traditional Tibetan-style culture that sets Bhutan aside as the last remaining great Himalayan kingdom. Then there are the textiles, outrageous trekking as well as the stunning flora and fauna of Phobjikha Valley. Trashigang is an interesting town and also useful for launching into a trip in Eastern Bhutan.
It is also a country of surprises. This is not just a nation of saintly, other-worldly hermits. Bhutan is straddling the ancient and modern world and these days you’ll find monks transcribing ancient Buddhist texts into computers as traditionally dressed noblemen chat on their mobile phones.
If you do visit Bhutan, you will become one of the few who have experienced the charm and magic of one of the world’s most enigmatic countries – the ‘last Shangri La’ – and you’ll be playing your part in this medieval kingdom’s efforts to join the modern world, while steadfastly maintaining its distinct and amazing cultural identity. So why spend all your money to come here? Because most of all, Bhutan offers an opportunity to glimpse another way of living, an alternative vision of what is truly important in life. The Bhutan Village Tours and Treks will arrange Gross National Happiness Tour with Bhutan. Please log on to
Bhutan is at the same latitude as Miami and Cairo. The climate 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. 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.
Rain occurs primarily during the southwest monsoon season from June to September. Bhutan bears the brunt of the monsoon, receiving more rainfall than other Himalayan regions – up to 5.5m a year. During the monsoon, heavy rain falls almost every night; in the day there may be long periods without rain. Low clouds hang on the hills, obscuring views and, if they are too low, forcing the cancellation of flights at Paro airport. Precipitation varies significantly with the elevation. The average rainfall varies from region to region.
Himalayan regions Less than 500mm per year.
Inner central valley’s 500mm to 1000mm per year.
Southern foothills 2000mm to 3500mm per year.
Southern border area 3000mm to 5000mm per year.
When to go
Climate, and therefore season, is certainly a consideration when planning your trip to Bhutan, especially if you are trekking. However, Bhutan’s altitude range, from subtropical valleys to alpine peaks, and its busy festival calendar means you can pretty much visit Bhutan at any time of the year to explore its attractions and witness colorful festivals.
The ideal time for trekking and for travelling throughout 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. While the climate is best in autumn, in Bhutan an umbrella is usually never far from reach, and no matter when you go, there is likely to be rain periods. Autumn is also the time of the popular Thimphu tsechu (dance festival) and heralds the arrival of the black-necked cranes to their wintering grounds in central and eastern Bhutan. Not surprisingly, therefore, international visitors also peak in autumn, indeed about half of the total annual tourist numbers arrive between September and November. Avoiding the busiest tourist seasons can save you money and hassle.
The winter is a good time for touring in western Bhutan, bird-watching in the south’s subtropical jungles, and whitewater rafting. The days are usually sunny, cool and pleasant, but it’s quite cold once the sun sets and you will need to pack warm clothing. From December to February, there is often snow in the higher regions and occasional snow in Thimphu. The road from Thimphu to Bumthang and the east may be closed because of snow for several days at a time. It would be best not to plan to visit these regions at this time.
Spring, from March to May, is recognized as the second best time to visit Bhutan for touring and trekking. Though there are more clouds and rain than in the autumn, the magnificent rhododendrons, magnolias and other wildflowers are in bloom and birdlife is abundant. You can get occasional glimpses of the high peaks, but these are not the dramatic unobstructed views possible in autumn. Spring is also the time of the magnificent Paro tsechu.
Summer, from June to August, is the monsoon season. And what a monsoon! During these three months 500mm of rain falls in Thimphu and up to a metre falls in the eastern hills. The mountains are hidden, the valleys are shrouded in clouds, and roads disappear in heavy downpours and floods. Summer is still a great time to visit Paro, Thimphu and other parts of western Bhutan. In the mellow monsoon light, the vivid green rice paddies contrast with the dark hills and the stark white Dzongs to produce picture-perfect vistas. And the markets are bursting with fresh fruits and vegetables.
A major factor in choosing a time to visit Bhutan, and one that may override considerations of weather patterns is the festival schedule. These colorful events offer a first-hand glimpse of Bhutanese life and provide an opportunity to see the inside of the great Dzongs. It’s possible, and highly recommended, to work at least one festival into a tour or trek program. In recent years overcrowding has become an issue during the major tsechus at Thimphu and Paro, which coincide with the best seasons. At these times flights and accommodation are heavily booked and you may find you need to pay a premium for accommodation or settle for lower-standard accommodation. You stand a much better chance of getting flights, accommodation and probably a more intimate and rewarding festival experience if you schedule your trip around one of the other cultural events.
Money & costs 
Tourism in Bhutan is managed through partnership of government regulators and private travel agencies under a policy summed up by the mantra ‘high value, low impact’. There is no restriction on visitor numbers; however, there is a minimum daily tariff fixed by the government. Also your visit must be arranged through an officially approved tour operator, either directly or through an overseas agent. By dealing through an overseas agent you will avoid complicated payment procedures and also have a home-based contact in case of queries or special needs. On the other hand, if you deal directly with a Bhutanese tour operator you will have more scope to individualize your itinerary, though you’ll spend considerable time sending emails and faxes, and learn more than you want to about international bank transfers.
The daily tariff for tourists visiting in a group of three people or more is US$240 per day (whether you stay in hotels (a ‘cultural tour’) or go trekking.
To encourage trekkers to make longer treks, the (Himatrek) allows a discount.
The daily tariff includes all of your accommodation, food, land transport within Bhutan, services of guides and porters, supply of pack animals on treks, and cultural programs as appropriate. It also includes a US$65 tax/royalty, which is used by the government to fund infrastructure, education, health and other programs.The tour rate applies uniformly irrespective of location or the type of accommodation asked for or provided (with the exception of several premium hotels). This clause means that if things get busy you may get bumped from a better hotel to one of lesser quality, and you have no recourse.
Individual tourists and couples are subject to a surcharge, over and above the daily rate. The surcharge may also be applied if a member of a group arrives or departs on a separate flight from the rest of the party. The surcharge is US$40 per night for one person and US$30 per night per person for a group of two people. Visitors qualifying for any kind of discount still have to pay this small-group surcharge. Most tour operators expect you to pay separately for all drinks, including liquor, beer, mineral water and bottled soft drinks. You’ll also have to pay extra for laundry, riding horses, and cultural splurges such as a Bhutanese hot-stone bath. There are endless potential options that cost extra but provide a means to individualize your itinerary: expert guides, special permits, luxury vehicles, cultural shows and courses, special food and premium accommodation.
Tipping is officially discouraged in Bhutan, but it’s becoming a common practice and it’s OK to do so if you want to reward good service.You will usually be accompanied throughout your visit to Bhutan by the same tour guide and probably the same driver. Though it’s against the official DOT policy, these people expect a tip at the end of the trip. Many leaders on group tours take up a collection at the conclusion of the trip and hand it over in one packet. With a large group this can be a substantial amount and the practice has created high expectations on the part of Bhutanese guides. If you’ve been trekking, it’s appropriate to tip the guide, cook and waiter. Horsemen also expect tips, but this can be minimal if they are the owners of the horses or yaks and are making money by hiring out their animals. The stakes go up, however, if they have been especially helpful with camp chores and on the trail.
At the time of research, the few Bhutan National Bank ATMs could only be used by local customers. The bank does have plans, however, for extending the network and providing credit-card facilities.
If you plan to make a major purchase, for example textiles or art, consider bringing US dollars in cash. Most shops will accept this, and it can save you the hassle of exchanging a large quantity of money in advance and then attempting to change it back if you don’t find the exact piece you were looking for.
Credit cards
You should not count on using a credit card in Bhutan. Credit cards are accepted at the government-run Handicrafts Emporium, a few other handicraft shops and some of the larger hotels in Thimphu, but these transactions do take time. The credit-card companies charge high fees and the verification office is only open from 9am to 5pm. This precludes paying your hotel bill at night or when you check out early in the morning. The Bhutan National Bank has plans for rolling out point of sale credit-card facilities, so check with your tour agent for the latest news.
Before you go
Pack medications in their original, clearly labeled containers. A signed and dated letter from your physician describing your medical conditions and medications, including generic names, is also a good idea. If carrying syringes or needles be sure to have a physician’s letter documenting their medical necessity. If you have a heart condition, bring a copy of your ECG taken just prior to traveling.
If you take any regular medication, bring double your needs in case of loss or theft. You can’t rely on many medications being available from pharmacies in Bhutan.
Even if you are fit and healthy, don’t travel without health insurance – accidents do happen. Declare any existing medical conditions you have – the insurance company will check if your problem is pre-existing and will not cover you if it is undeclared. You may require extra cover for adventure activities such as rock climbing. If your health insurance doesn’t cover you for medical expenses abroad, consider getting extra insurance – check Lonely Planet’s website for more information. If you’re uninsured, emergency evacuation is expensive; bills of over US$100, 000 are not uncommon.
Find out in advance if your insurance plan will make payments directly to providers or reimburse you later for overseas health expenditures. (In many countries doctors expect payment in cash.) You may prefer a policy that pays doctors or hospitals directly rather than you having to pay on the spot and claim later. If you have to claim later, make sure you keep all documentation. Some policies ask you to call back (reverse charges) to a centre in your home country, where an immediate assessment of your problem is made.
Visa extensions
Except travelers from India, Bangladesh and Maldieves, all visitors to Bhutan require visa. Visa are issued only when a confirmed booking through a Bhutanese Your operator is made, at the entry port the visa is stamped on the passport. The visa application fee of US$20 will be collected by the tour operator while making your tour payment. The Bhutanese Embassies and missions abroad do not issue visa for entry to Bhutan
Permits to enter temples
Tourists are allowed to visit the courtyards of dzongs and, where feasible, the tshokhang (assembly hall) and one designated lhakhang in each dzong, but only when accompanied by a licensed Bhutanese guide. This provision is subject to certain restrictions, including visiting hours, dress standards and other rules that vary by district. Permits are issued by the National Commission for Cultural Affairs and all the necessary paperwork will be negotiated by your tour company. If you wish to know which dzongs and Goemba are included in your itinerary, or you wish to make specific requests, contact your tour company well in advance. If you are a practicing Buddhist, you may apply for a permit to visit certain dzongs and religious institutions usually off limits. The credibility of your application will be enhanced if you include a letter of reference from a recognized Buddhist organization in your home country.
During your trip to Bhutan you can learn Gross National Happiness of Bhutan. 
Finding the right hotel just got a whole lot easier -

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