Bhutan, a tiny country nestling in the Himalayas, is deeply entrenched in its own culture. The country is in harmony with nature. Dense forests, steep mountains, cultivated valleys, grasslands and bamboo jungles are all packed into the tiny kingdom. The surroundings are pristine, the air exhilarating, and the silence - awesome.
You can get to this charming locale either by road or by air. Druk Air, the Royal Bhutan Airlines operates between Delhi/Kolkata/Dhaka/Katmandu and Paru. Paru, though not the capital of Bhutan, is the only place that has a valley wide enough to facilitate the aircraft`s landing and take off! Druk Air operations are very dependent on weather conditions. Unfavourable conditions often result in delayed flights. It is prudent therefore not to have connecting flights timed closely together. Since the aircraft is small, visitors are warned against bringing bulky luggage.
Anybody who is not Bhutanese is considered a foreigner and must adhere to the visitors` restrictions. They are also not allowed inside sacred places, or will require special permission to enter.
Visas are required to enter Bhutan. Two passport photos are required along with passport details. Processing of visa takes 5 days. The fees are USD 20 to be paid in cash on arrival.
The Bhutanese currency is called ngultrum (Nu.). It has the same value of the Indian rupee. Incidentally Indian currency is also considered legal tender.
The mode of transport within Bhutan is only by road. There is no domestic airline and no railways. The main highway connects the major towns. Visitors looking for adventure can go biking and trekking on the steep mountain slopes. The period between March and July is ideal for such activities. Heavy monsoon and then snow later on in the year, put a natural end to this sort of activity.
You can also try your prowess at archery, the chief sport of Bhutan. The other traditional sports are wrestling, shot put, and a kind of javelin throw. It is evident that hunting skills were made a competitive sport with prizes for excellence.
Bhutanese cuisine is ruled by the use of red chillies. Chillies are treated more like vegetables rather than as a spice. Dried meat, potatoes and cheese are also used in various dishes. Kewa datse - a dish made with potatoes and cheese is recommended, and is very popular with visitors. However, North Indian food is also available.
The men wear a long robe called kho and women wear ankle length dresses known as kira. Women are well respected and play a large role in Bhutan. All the shops are managed by women. Women even take on the roles of waiters and bellboys in hotels and are as capable of hard work as the men are.
Mahayana Buddhism is the main religion of the land. Chortens, prayer beads and twirling prayer wheels are common sight. Houses have a prayer room called chosum. The Buddhist monasteries are austere and awesome. The only sound one can hear is the chanting during the prayer time.
Bhutan has a rich musical legacy. One can come across people singing folk songs. The mountains echo with the chanting of the monks, and the blowing of the long horns. The streets come alive with sacred dances and drama. Children yodelling along the mountain paths as they walk down to the schools in the valley below often fascinate visitors.
The handicrafts of Bhutan are attractive. The art of vegetable dyeing, intricate weaving, silver jewellery, wooden and bamboo products and clay sculptures fascinate visitors. However, these products don`t come cheap.
Some of the places visitors can choose to stay in:
WangChuk Hotel. Post Box 507, Changlam # 17. Thimpu, Bhutan.
Tel (00975) (2) 323532, 325484. Fax: (00975) (2) 326232
Bhutan Resort. Paro, Bhutan.
Tel: 271609, 271989. Fax: 271728