Flying into Paro international airport is not the only way to enter Bhutan. If you want to drive into Bhutan, you can do so. There are three main entry points with the Southern town of Phuentsholing, Bhutan’s commercial capital, sharing borders with the district of Jalpaiguri, West Bengal, India, serving as the main point.
In the East, you can drive in through Samdrup Jongkhar that shares its border with the district of Daranga, Assam, India. Gelephu in central Bhutan is another entry point.
Phuentsholing is located approximately 170 km east of the Indian airport at Bagdogra, West Bengal. The journey from Phuentsholing to Thimphu, Bhutan’s capital meanders northward over hills and mountains. It takes approximately five hours.
From Gelephu to Thimphu, the distance is approximately 250 kms and takes travelers through sub-tropical regions before entering the alpine zone and then finally into Thimphu. The journey traverses across three districts in about 10 hours.
Samdrup Jongkhar, is approximately 150 kms from Guwahati, the capital city of Assam. The journey from Guwahati to Samdrup Jongkhar takes about two hours, and thereafter an additional six hours to Trashigang, Bhutan’s largest district. From Trashigang, the lateral highway takes travelers via Mongar, Bumthang, Trongsa, Wangudephodrang and then finally to Thimphu. The distance of about 700 kms takes a minimum of two days.
Bhutan is now connected by air to Bangkok, Singapore, Kathmandu, New Delhi, Dhaka, Kolkatta and Guwahati. Apart from Druk Air, the National Airlines, a new airline, Bhutan Airlines was launched in 2013. Bhutan Airlines currently flies only to Bangkok but has plans to operate from several other cities in the coming year.
Bhutan has only one international airport at Paro in western Bhutan, an hour’s drive from the capital city, Thimphu. The international airport at Paro is located at a height of 7300 ft above sea level and surrounded by mountains as high as 16,000 feet.
You will be endorsed by the immigration officers upon your arrival before you are issued with a permit. Make sure you go personally. You may have to carry your passport (also some passport photographs) or voter’s registration card. If you plan to travel by road, the endorsement is done at the entry points in Phuentsholing, Samdrup Jongkhar, or Gelephu. If by flight, it will be done at Paro Airport.
Traveling within Bhutan
Despite the major hurdle posed by the inaccessible terrain and the high mountain passes, all major towns and important places of visit are connected by a good road network.
However, you will have to bear the experience of travelling through innumerable curves and bends that one will have to negotiate. At some points, roads pass through steep ascents and descents that slow down the car travels.
An average speed for road travel rarely exceeds 40 kilometers an hour, with tourist buses making even slower progress. One is however generously rewarded for the long and tiring car journey by the spectacular views of the mountains, the lush green jungles, the ancient villages, the majestic temples and monasteries and the many road side restaurants and inns.
The roads are well sealed but the rides can still be bumpy as the lanes are single and narrow at most points. The advantage is that the Bhutanese are well accustomed to driving such lanes and know their land well and are careful drivers.
Tourists can travel in Bhutan with medium-sized buses (20-22 seats), small buses (8-12 seats) or hired cars. Road widths do not permit larger buses.
Bringing in your own vehicle
Tourists from India can bring in their own vehicles. But it has to be endorsed by the Road Safety and Transport Authority (RSTA) However, we strongly recommend that you use our cars and the services of the local drivers as the narrow and winding roads in Bhutan may pose a challenge for you.
The Royal Insurance Corporation of Bhutan has initiated a travel and medical plan solely for the visitors. You may visit the web site at www.ricb.com.bt.
Bhutan’s currency is the Ngultrum (Nu) that is at par with the Indian Rupee. It is recommended that you carry travelers’ cheque or cash, preferably American Express and US dollars instead, as the ATM facilities for foreign currency is limited to just few towns including the capital city Thimphu. Visa and American Express credit cards are also widely accepted.
Some of the banks that you can avail of services and facilities while in Bhutan are the Bank of Bhutan Limited, the Bhutan National Bank, the Druk PNB, Bhutan Development Bank Limited, and the Tashi Bank. Many of these banks provide you with SMS and internet banking facilities. Traveler’s cheque can be easily withdrawn and exchanged into local currency.
All major towns are well connected with electricity that runs on 220/240 volts with round hole two-pin and three-pin power outlets. Our energy is clean and green energy generated by hydropower.
The country has a good network of telecommunication facilities. Almost every town has an internet cafe and IDD calling booths from where you can log on to and send messages home and to your loved ones. Also most hotels have internet access. Mobile (cell) phone is also widely used with international roaming facilities.
Bhutan experiences a great variation in its climate. Summers are warm with average daily temperature ranging from 20 to 25 Celsius, while winters are cold, with temperatures falling below 15 degree Celsius. Based on your travelling dates, you are advised to bring a couple of warm clothes and comfortable shoes to go with the weather, the terrain and the program. You might want to consider ‘what to wear’ for hikes, trekking and sightseeing, as well as for dinners, appointments and functions that we have for you.
Others that would be useful are a pair of sunglasses, sun screen lotion and a hat; antiseptic cream, anti-histamine cream, anti-diarrhoea pills, altitude & car sickness medicine; insect repellent, flash light (w/spare batteries) umbrella, camera, films and accessories (including spare camera batteries)etc.
Bhutan is an ideal place and a frequent haunt for photographers offering immense opportunities for photography especially during outdoor sightseeing trips. However you may need to check with your guide for indoor photography as taking photographs inside Dzongs (Fortresses), temples, monasteries and religious institutions are restricted unless you have a special permission from the Department of Culture. One can however, capture images of the landscapes, the panoramic views of the mountain ranges, the rural folk life, the flora and fauna, the Bhutanese architecture and the Dzongs and Choetens in particular.
For people who love shopping and taking home gifts, Bhutan offers a variety of goods that revolve mainly round textiles. You may shop for items like hand-woven textiles that is either in raw silk or silk, carved masks of various animals, woven baskets of cane and bamboo, wooden bowls known as Dapas, handmade paper products or finely crafted gods of silver. You can also shop for thangka paintings and Bhutan’s exquisite postage stamp. One can come across these items in the many handicraft shops in and around Thimphu and also in major towns. Please remember that buying and selling of antiques is strictly forbidden in Bhutan.
Our standard time is 6 hours ahead of GMT and there is only one time zone throughout the country.
Office hours in Bhutan are divided into two – the summer timing and the winter timing. The summer timing begins at 9 AM, local time, and goes on till 5 PM in the evening. The summer timing is followed from March till the end of October. The winter timing that lasts for the months of November till the end of February begins at 9 AM in the morning till 4 PM in the evening. However, these timings are followed only by the civil servants. For those people employed in corporations and private organizations, the timings are usually from 9 AM till 5 PM irrespective of the season.
Before embarking on a trip to Bhutan, it is advisable to have tetanus, typhoid and hepatitis A inoculations.
We have a duty to protect Bhutan from Drugs and Tobacco Products. To do this we need your help and cooperation. If we stop you and ask you about your baggage please cooperate.
Please do not carry tobacco goods that are over the limits.
Most Bhutanese dishes are rich and spicy with a lot of cheese and chili. It is advisable that visitors stick to the Chinese, Continental or Indian cuisine that is served in most restaurants. Visitors can also choose among the various vegetarian and non-veg food. You can also try out momos, the Tibetan dumplings, and for those daring, you may try out the ema datshi dish served with cheese and chili and other typical Bhutanese dishes.
Weights and Measures
Bhutan has a standard system of weights and measurements in place and most weights are measured in gram and kilogram. With better and efficient measurement systems readily available, most of the shopkeepers in the capital city make use of electronic and weighing scale. However, as you travel further east, you will find the ordinary weighing scale in place.
While safety is not much of a concern, it is good to come prepared for any mishap. One needs to avoid walking alone or roaming the streets after 9 PM as you may never know of any mishap that may occur. Or else you may visit the town in groups or with your guides.
Also please ensure that your belongings especially your passports, route permits, cameras, wallets and purses are properly secured.
Apart from Indian, Bangladeshi and Maldivian nationals, all visitors to Bhutan require a visa; all visas are issued from Thimphu; visas are only issued to tourists booked with a local licensed tour operator, directly or through a foreign travel agent.
Applications for tourist visas are submitted by the tour operator. Visa clearance from Thimphu must be obtained before coming to Bhutan. Visa clearance takes at least 10 days to process.
Air tickets to Bhutan cannot be purchased without visa clearance. At your point of entry the visa will be stamped in your passport on payment of US$20; two passport photos will also be required. Visas are issued for a 15-day period; extensions can be obtained in Thimphu at a cost of Nu 1000.
There is no charge for delays in arrival and departure because of weather conditions disrupting flights or road blocks. The tourist must however bear the cost of food, accommodation, transportation, and other services required.
The following articles are exempt from duty:
(a) Personal effects and articles for day to day use by the visitor
(b) 1 litre of alcohol (spirits or wine)
(c) 800 cigarettes, on payment of import duty of 200% (if Imported from Third World countries and 100% if from India)
(d) Instruments, apparatus or appliances for professional use
(e) Photographic equipment, video cameras and other electronic goods for personal use.
You have to complete the passenger declaration form on your arrival before checking out. The articles mentioned under (d) & (e) must be declared on the declaration form. If any such items are disposed of in Bhutan by sale or gift, they are liable for customs duty.
On departure, visitors are required to surrender their forms to the customs authorities.Import/export restrictions of the following goods is strictly prohibited:(a) Arms, ammunitions and explosives (b) All narcotics and drugs except medically prescribed drugs (c) Wildlife products, especially those of endangered species (d) Antiques.
Imports of plants, soils etc. are subject to quarantine regulations. These items must be cleared on arrival. Visitors are advised to be cautious in purchasing old and used items, especially of religious or cultural significance, as such items may not be exported without a clearance certificate.