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Holidays in Bhutan

Understanding Bhutan

In terms of average wage, Bhutan is a poor country, however the land is fertile and the population small, so the people are well fed, and beggars and homeless are nonexistent In addition, the current generation receives free education, and all citizens have access to free medical care If a patient's ailment cannot be treated in the country, then the government refers the patients to reputable hospitals abroadThe sale of tobacco products is banned foreign tourists and NGOs are exempt, though it is illegal for them to sell tobacco to locals, and smoking in public areas is a fineable offense

A unique aspect of Bhutan is that progress is not purely defined by economic achievements as in most countries, but also based on the level of cultural and environmental preservation and development This ideology was the brain child of King Jigme Singye Wangchuck who, having gained a modern education in India and the UK, realized that mere economic success did not necessarily translate into a content and happy society Consequently, soon after his coronation in 1974, the young king began to float the idea of developing a new set of guidelines by which to govern the country Slowly these ideas took shape, and in 1998 the GNH indicator was established GNH stands for "Gross National Happiness" and is defined by the following four objectives: to increase economic growth and development, preserve and promote the cultural heritage, encourage sustainable use of the environment, and establish good governance Currently, work is in progress on converting the GNH from being a mere guiding principle for the country's development into a workable set of standard indicators As a result of this more humane style of governance, Bhutan has developed high environmental protection standards the use of plastic bags, for example, is completely banned and a peaceful and harmonious society that actively protects its rich culture and profound Buddhist traditions Major sources of income for the kingdom are agriculture, tourism and hydroelectric power

Still, while Bhutan is often painted as a modern-day Shangri-La in the Western press, the country remains poor, with average life expectancy around 66 and a 72 per mil infant mortality rate The kingdom became a parliamentary democracy in March 2008 upon the command of the Fourth King

Culturally, Bhutan is predominantly Buddhist with a national language although there are regional variations - such as Sharchopkha, the predominant language in Eastern Bhutan, and a common dress code and architectural style

The official name for the country is Druk Yul - Land of the Thunder Dragon - but due to the harmonious nature of the society, it has acquired the additional nickname of Deki Druk Yul - Land of the Peaceful Thunder Dragon


History

The first humans probably arrived sometime after the Ice Age, and little is known about Bhutan's prehistory Historical records began with the arrival of Buddhism in the 7th century, when Guru Rinpoche Padmasambhava visited Bhutan and established monasteries

In 1865, Britain and Bhutan signed the Treaty of Sinchulu, under which Bhutan would receive an annual subsidy in exchange for ceding some border land Under British influence, a monarchy was set up in 1907; three years later, a treaty was signed whereby the British agreed not to interfere in Bhutanese internal affairs and Bhutan allowed Britain to direct its foreign affairs This role was assumed by independent India after 1947 Two years later, a formal Indo-Bhutanese accord returned the areas of Bhutan annexed by the British, formalized the annual subsidies the country received, and defined India's responsibilities in defense and foreign relations

In December 2006, King Jigme Singye Wangchuck transferred power to his oldest son, the Crown Prince Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, bestowing upon him the title of the fifth Druk Gyalpo The official coronation took place in November 2008 The fifth King is Boston and Oxford educated

Guru Rinpoche

It is not possible to travel far in Bhutan without seeing images of a man wearing a tall elaborate hat and with eyes that are open wide and staring forward into space This is the great 8th century sage of Vajrayana Buddhism, Padmasambhava or Guru Rinpoche as he often called According to legend, Padmasambhava was reincarnated into a lotus blossom as an eight year old child, and from very young he possessed great wisdom and insight Furthermore, he had mastery of the elements and so like a potter manipulating basic clay and turning it into beautiful pots, he was was able to transform harmful action and substances into something positive and beneficial

Guru Rinpoche's special association with Bhutan began when he traveled to the town now known as Jakar at the invitation of a local king to subjugate negative forces The mission was a success, and from this encounter Buddhism spread throughout the land A body print of the great sage exists to this day at Kurjey Lhakhang in Jakar, and he is also associated with many other sacred sites in Bhutan, with perhaps the most notable being the cliff-hanging Taktshang Monastery in Paro

Weather

Although the country expanse is quite small Bhutanese weather varies from location to location mainly depending upon the elevation In the North of Bhutan on the borders with Tibet it is perennially covered with snow In the western, central and eastern Bhutan Ha, Paro, Thimphu, Wandue, Trongsa, Bumthang, Trashi Yangtse, Lhuntse you will mostly experience cold European-like weather Winter lasts here from November to March Punakha is an exception as it is in a lower valley and summer is pretty hot but winter is pleasant Southern Bhutan bordering with India is hot and humid with a sub-tropical climate The monsoon is the determining factor for rain here Spring and autumn are the best season to visit Bhutan There are four distinct seasons similar in their divisions to those of Western Europe The Monsoon occurs between June and August when the temperature is normally between 8° and 21°C 46°-70°F Temperatures drop dramatically with increases in altitude Days are usually very pleasant average about 10°C/50°F with clear skies and sunshine Nights are cold and require heavy woolen clothing, particularly in winter Generally, October, November and April to mid-June are the best times to visit – rainfall is at a minimum and temperatures are conducive to active days of sightseeing The foothills are also very pleasant during the winter

National Holidays

2010:

  • January 2 not fixed - Winter Solstice Western Bhutan only
  • January 16 not fixed - Traditional Day of Offerings a day to offer food to hungry creatures - celebrated as new year in Eastern Bhutan
  • February 21-23 every year - Birth Anniversary of HM the Fifth King Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuck
  • February 14-15 - not fixed - New Year losar
  • May 2 every year - Birth Anniversary of Third king Jigme Dorji Wangchuck
  • May 4 not fixed - Shabdrung Kuchoe commemorates the passing of Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal in 1651 CE
  • May 27 not fixed - Commemoration of Lord Buddha's Parnirvana
  • June 21 not fixed - Anniversary of the Birth of Guru Rinpoche
  • July 15 not fixed - The first sermon of Lord Buddha
  • September 13 not fixed - Thimphu Drubchen Thimphu Only
  • September 17-19 not fixed - Thimphu TshechuThimphu Only
  • October 17 not fixed - Hindu ceremony of Dashain
  • October 29 not fixed - Descending Day of Lord Buddha
  • November 11 every year - Birth Anniversary of HM the fourth King Jigme Singye Wangchuck
  • December 17 every year - National day, commemorating the 1907 coronation of the first hereditary king of Bhutan, Ugyen Wangchuck

In addition to the above national holidays, there are also Tshechu holidays which are celebrated regionally

Recommended reading/viewing

  • Travellers and Magicians 2, Bhutan's first internationally acclaimed feature film was made in 2003 and showcases life in Bhutan
  • Beyond the Sky and the Earth buy - a novel by Jamie Zeppa telling the true story of a young Canadian's Jamie experiences teaching at schools in Bhutan - very entertaining and informative
  • The Raven Crown buy A book by Michael Aris about the origins of the Buddhist monarchy in Bhutan

Media

  • Kuenselonline 3 Partially government owned - a newspaper with a forty year history
  • BBS 4 The official TV broadcasting station
  • The Bhutan Times 5 An independent source of news on Bhutan - commercial and somewhat tabloid in nature
  • The Bhutan Observer 6 An independent source of news on Bhutan - a social leaning paper with in-depth stories
  • Radio Valley 7 Bhutan's first Private FM Radio Station A program called "With Love From Home" can be listened online
  • Kuzoo FM 8 An English language radio channel - mixture of youth orientated music and discussion programs - FM 105
  • Centennial Radio An English and Dzongkha National Language program

Talking in Bhutan

Common Languages

  • Dzongkha The mother tongue of most people residing in Western Bhutan, and the kingdom's official language
  • Sharchopkha The major regional language spoken in Eastern Bhutan
  • Bumthangkha Similar to Sharchopkha - spoken in the Bumthang region
  • English and Hindi Both languages are understood by most people in urban areas

Usage

  • La The suffix 'la' is an honorific, and many Bhutanese feel that their remarks sound too harsh if it is not used, and this carries over even into English So, don't be surprised if you hear expressions such as "Yes-la" or "I'm not sure-la" It just implies respect
  • Reach In Bhutan, the verb 'reach' means to 'take' or 'accompany' a person For example: "I'll reach you to the bus station" means "I'll take/accompany you to the bus station"
  • Cousin-brother, Cousin-sister Extended families living under one roof are common in Bhutan As a result, the dividing line between siblings and cousins is blurred, and so it is not uncommon to be introduced to a "cousin-brother" or "cousin-sister" Although these people are just cousins, the English word implies a more distant relationship than is the fact in Bhutan

What to see in Bhutan

Permits are required to visit all monasteries, dzongs and sacred sites deemed of special significance These permits are issued by the Cultural Affairs Office in Thimphu

  • Scenery As most of Bhutan is in the Himalayas and foothills, scenery is mostly characterized by high mountains and towns precariously perched on ridges The Paro and Bumthang valleys are especially impressive
  • The dzongs are ancient fortresses that now serve as the civil and monastic administration headquarters of each district Apart from the architecture, which in itself makes a dzong worth visiting, they also hold many art treasures

Sacred sites

  • Kurje Lhakhang, Jakar A temple built around a cave with a body print of Guru Rinpoche embedded in the wall Guru Rinpoche practiced meditation here on his first visit to Bhutan and as such it is the earliest Buddhist relic in the country
  • Taktsang Monastery Tiger's Nest, Paro This is one of the most important Buddhist sites in the world, and Guru Rinpoche visited here on his second visit to Bhutan The temple is built on a 1,200 meter cliff and is Bhutan's most well known sacred site
  • Singye Dzong , Lhuentse This is is a sacred valley located near the Tibetan border The main temple in the valley was founded by Yeshi Tsogyal, and Guru Rinpoche visited the region on his second visit to Bhutan However, partly due to the fact that the valley is in a sensitive area near the border and also partly due to Bhutan wishing to preserve the sanctity of its sacred sites, the valley is not open for tourists

See also: Sacred sites of the Indian sub-continent

What to do in Bhutan

  • Trekking: Bhutan is a popular place for trekking, though the walks are generally quite tough as there are no places to stay or eat in the higher regions, and so all food and camping equipment must be carried in The Fall and Spring are the best seasons for undertaking a trek In the Summer, the paths are too muddy, while in Winter they are snow covered However, despite the difficulties of the treks, all efforts and discomforts are more than compensated for by the stunning scenery and extremely friendly, gentle and hospitable people that are met along the way See: Wilderness backpacking
  • Festivals: Tshechu is the largest religious festival in Bhutan and is celebrated in the late Summer and Fall throughout the country see city articles for local information, though Thimphu Tshechu is the most famous and attracts around 30,000 people The highlight of the tshechu ceremonies is the the masked dances by monks, which were developed according to precise instructions given by past Buddhist masters According to Buddhist philosophy, all experiences leave an imprint in the mind stream that produces a corresponding result in the future, and so viewing these dances, which are imbued with sacred symbolism, is considered to be a very auspicious and sanctifying experience While the event is not held in a solemn atmosphere and there is much merriment, visitors are reminded that it is still a religious festival that is of great importance to Bhutanese people, and so appropriate behavior is expected
  • Archery: This is the national sport of Bhutan and competitions are held throughout the country at most weekends Visitors are very welcome to watch and also to add voice to the boisterous cheering that accompanies these events

Buying stuff in Bhutan

  • Woven cloth Bhutanese handwoven fabric is prized around the world, and is available stitched into clothing, wall hangings, table mats and rugs
  • Yathra A brightly colored woven material made from wool and dyed with natural colors It is sold in pieces or sewn into jackets, bags, rugs and wall hangings Yathra is available in Thimphu and other cold areas, but is a specialty of the Jakar area
  • Dappa Hand made wooden bowls The halves of the bowl fit tightly together so they can be used to carry cooked food, which is their function in Bhutan However, they also make excellent salad or cookie bowls Dappa are a specialty of the Trashi Yangtse region, but can be purchased throughout the country
  • Bangchung Small bamboo woven baskets with two tightly fitting halves They are a specialty of the southern Bhutan, but available throughout the country

Food and eating in Bhutan

Rice is a staple with every meal Vegetable or meat dishes cooked with chili and/or cheese comprise the accompanying cuisine

Bhutanese food has one predominant flavor - chili This small red condiment is not only added to every dish but is also often eaten raw So, if you don't like spicy-hot food, make this abundantly clear before ordering a meal Otherwise, you'll be spending the next hour dousing your mouth with cold yogurt or milk

Vegetarian dishes

  • Ema-datsi Ema means chili and datsi is a kind of cottage cheese, so ema-datsi is a kind of spiced-up Welsh rarebit
  • Kewa-datsi A potato, cheese and chili dish
  • Shamu-datsi A mushroom, cheese and chili dish

Kewa-datsi and shamu-datsi tend to be less hot that ema-datsi; all three dishes are generally served with rice

  • Mutter paneer Though not a Bhutanese dish, this Indian staple of curried peas and cheese is readily available throughout Bhutan and is therefore an additional choice for vegetarians
  • Cheese momo A small steamed bun that traditionally contained cheese, cabbage and sometimes onion However, these days other vegetables, including green papaya, may be substituted for cabbage
  • Khuli Buckwheat pancakes - a specialty of Bumthang They are often served with ema-datsi as an alternative to rice
  • Puta A dish of buckwheat noodles usually served with curd - a specialty of Bumthang

Imtrat run canteens that sell excellent Indian dishes along with tea from 930AM to 430PM The quality of the food is very good, while the price is low The canteens are located throughout the country, especially along main highways

Drinking in Bhutan

  • Ara A local spirit brewed from rice or corn It is popular in rural areas
  • Tea Located next to the tea growing regions of Assam and Darjeeling, a steaming cuppa remains the popular drink in Bhutan, with both the butter variety suja and sweet milk kind cha readily available throughout the country
  • Coffee The coffee culture that has swept most of the planet is just beginning to creep into the country However, for the most part, coffee in Bhutan means the instant variety and it is served simply white or black

Accommodation in Bhutan

All towns connected by motorable roads have hotels, though the standard varies considerably International standard hotels are mostly found in tourist areas or major towns, while five star accommodation is only available in Paro, Jakar, Punakha, Gangtey and Thimphu

It is important to note that the hotel rates shown on the city articles are only relevant to people who have residency, visa exemption generally this only applies to Indian nationals or who are visiting the country as an invited guest Other visitors can only enter the country as part of a tour, for which the daily rates are set by the Bhutanese authorities at around $250 per person per night irrespective of the hotel rates except for very expensive hotels where a surcharge is added

Working in Bhutan

There are a few NGOs based in Bhutan, so it is possible to arrange volunteer work However, Bhutan is very selective about who it engages in this field In addition, it is highly unlikely that a position can be found while visiting Bhutan, so those interested in undertaking volunteer work here should first seek employment with NGOs overseas and then express a preference to be located in Bhutan

Cities in Bhutan

chhukha  damphu  gasa  geylegphug  ha  jakar  lhuntshi  mongar  paro  pemagatsel  phuntsholing  punakha  samdrup jongkhar  shemgang  taga dzong  tashigang  tongsa  wangdiphodrang  

What do you think about Bhutan?

How expensive is Bhutan?
(1 INR = 0.02 USD)
Meal in inexpensive restaurant285 INR
3-course meal in restaurant (for 2)588 INR
McDonalds meal165.6 INR
Local beer (0.5 draft)63.65 INR
Foreign beer (0.33 bottle) 124.8 INR
Cappuccino95.77 INR
Pepsi/Coke (0.33 bottle)25.03 INR
Water (0.33 bottle)17.5 INR
Milk (1l)48.3 INR
Fresh bread (500g)19.27 INR
White Rice (1kg)35.63 INR
Eggs (12) 121.22 INR
Local Cheese (1kg) 379.15 INR
Chicken Breast (1kg) 225 INR
Apples (1kg) 39 INR
Oranges (1kg) 49.67 INR
Tomato (1kg) 38.28 INR
Potato (1kg) 56.89 INR
Lettuce (1 head) 10 INR
Water (1.5l)23.16 INR
Bottle of Wine (Mid-Range) 255.9 INR
Domestic Beer (0.5 bottle)57.88 INR
Foreign beer (0.33 bottle) 142 INR
Cigarettes221 INR
Taxi start331.2 INR
Taxi 1km18.73 INR
Gasoline (1 liter) 70.98 INR
Apartment (3 bedrooms) in City Centre 13.22 INR
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