WOOCS 2.1.6

Bhutan.

The tenets and practices of Buddhism are palpable in Bhutan. It forms a spiritual and cultural legacy that Bhutanese people are proud to uphold. The monasteries, stupas, prayer flags and wheels ensure these beliefs are very much a part of everyday living here. Traditional woven garments and cultural festivals give visitors a taste of authentic Bhutan. It is a truly unique and special place to visit.  Two Bhutan tours are offered each year from Odyssey.

The need to know

Touring Bhutan

Getting around

Odyssey travels by coach and occasionally uses local transport, including trains and ferries. Specifics are always outlined in your tour itinerary. Bhutan has a limited domestic air service but no passenger rail. Bigger cities are serviced by taxis (though they do not operate to a metre). Bhutan’s one main road is the National Highway, and it is narrow and winding. But the best way to experience Bhutan is by road, because you can come so close to mountains and feel immersed in its rugged landscape.

Accommodation

In major cities, Odyssey stays in centrally located 4-5 star hotels, with access to public transport where available. In smaller towns or rural areas, we usually stay in family-run hotels or guesthouses. On our long stay tours, during which you spend the length of the tour in a single location, we use serviced apartments.

Tor Guides

Odyssey always engages local guides with regional knowledge to ensure an authentic experience during which you can learn as much as possible about the history and culture of places you visit.

Geography Weather & environment

Bhutan is nestled in the eastern Himalayas between China in the north and India to the south, east and west. The altitude varies from 180m (590ft) in the southern foothills to over 7,300m (23,950ft) in the north. Bhutan has three distinct climatic regions. Due to Bhutan’s location and unique geographical and climatic variations, it is one of the world’s last remaining biodiversity hotspots.

Bhutan’s pristine environment, with high rugged mountains and deep valleys, offers ecosystems that are both rich and diverse. Conservation of its rich biodiversity is one of the government’s development paradigms. The government has enacted a law that shall maintain at least 60% of its forest cover for all time.

World Heritage sites

As yet, no sites in Bhutan are officially inscribed on the World Heritage List. However, there are a number of Tentative sites that are well worth visiting. These include:
The Ancient Ruin of Drukgyel Dzon, which is situated on the ridge of the upper Paro valley. Constructed in 1649, it was originally a defense base. After being destroyed by fire in 1951, its’ ruin remains an integral symbol in Bhutan’s heritage
Tamzhing Monastery is known for its unique mural paintings and other cultural artifacts. The monastery is the principle seat of Pema Lingpa, who built it in 1501.
Royal Manas National Park is one of ten global biodiversity hotspots. Located in south central Bhutan, it includes tropical and subtropical ecosystems, grassland and river beds. Thus, it is home to a great variety of wildlife. It also has the world’s highest tiger density!

Festivals & events

The Thimphu Tshechu is one of Bhutan’s biggest festivals. It takes place over three days in September, which are designated national holidays. People wear their finest garments and pack into the courtyard of the Tashichho dzong (fortress). Mask dances are performed upon a specially installed dancing stage.

In March, in the spring, Paro Tshechu takes place. This popular festival sees monks and locals dress up in vibrant, brocade costumes. They reenact Buddhist legends, wearing masks that represent deities. The festival culminates with the viewing of the four storey high, 350 years old thangkha (Buddhist religious scroll), celebrating the deeds of Guru Rimpoche.

Jambay Lhakhang Drup occurs in October. Guru Rimpoche is celebrated with traditional dances, as people also mark the establishment of the Jambay Lhakhang Monastery. The highlight is the fire ceremony, or Mewang. Locals run beneath a large flaming gate made from dry grasses.

Another notable event within Jambay Lhakhang is the Tercham, or Dance of Treasure. Traditionally, masked dancers perform naked in the middle of the night. They believe this dance will bless infertile women so that they may bear children.

Reading lists

  1. The Dragon’s Voice: How Modern Media Found Bhutan by Bunty Avieson
  2. Samu-Shamu, The Sonam Stories: Narratives of Childhood in Bhutan by Suzie Sims-Fletcher
  3. The History of Bhutan by Karma Phuntsho
  4. A Splendid Isolation: Lessons on Happiness from the Kingdom of Bhutan by Madeline Drexler

Eating & Drinking

Bhutan’s unofficial national dish is Ema Datschi. This spicy stew is similar to a curry, and is often eaten daily accompanied by red rice. Ema Batschi is made of chillies and cheese from yak or cow’s milk. Taste with caution – Bhutanese chillies are hot!

Other classic stews include Jasha Maroo, which is a spicy, diced chicken with tomato, coriander and ginger, served bathed with a chicken broth; and Phaksha Paa, simmered pork shoulder and spices topped with dried pork and fresh chilli.

Momos are perhaps the most familiar choice for the Western palate. They are similar to Chinese dumplings: steamed buns typically filled with minced meat, cabbage and spices

Health & Safety

While much of Bhutan is usually safe to travel around, it’s important to stay alert to anything unusual. Also, you will often see signs warning of pickpockets in areas popular with tourists, so it’s important to keep a close eye on your belongings at all times.

Electrical supply

Whenever you travel overseas, it’s always wise to take an appropriate travel adaptor. The electricity supply runs at 230V, 50Hz. Bhutan accepts plugs of Types C, D, F, G and M.

Crafted Tours for mature World Travellers

Bhutan Tours

An unhurried ocean of calm in a crowded continent, Bhutan is scenically magnificent. Centuries of Buddhist tradition inherited from Tibet, have shaped this land with art, dance, music, and even medicine shaped by religion. The Bhutanese will welcome you to share their distinctive culture, unpolluted environment, and colourful festivals.

17 days
Asia and the Orient
Level 2 - Moderate
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Tour Reviews

The trip to the Tang valley and the Ogyencholing museum were a highlight. Beautiful scenery, wonderful people and one of the best museums I've seen. That night and all next day it snowed - what a buzz. Made everything look magical and improved the scenery for the next few days
Participant March 2017
Loved: National Institute of traditional medicine hike to Wanyditse Goemba Punakha festival – definitely a highlight Hanging the prayer flags at the pass! The outdoor picnics! Archery competition! Dumtse Lhakhang – went to heaven!!! Dzong Drak Kha (mini tigers nest) amazing views and climb Sanga Choekor Shedra (Bhuddist College) Drakpa and his team (Nima and Karma) were just amazing. Drakpa was very knowledgeable, friendly, caring and cheerful. He went out of his way to provide us with information and experiences to help our understanding of the culture and religion, he was funny and entertaining and very professional under pressure.Nima was a very competent driver, and I have never felt in safer hands in the difficult driving conditions we were in.
Participant March 2017
The local guide, Drukpa, was exceptional value. When I was ill for a couple of days his care for me, assisted by Len, was way beyond my expectation.
Participant March 2017
I wish to sincerely thank Len for his amazing care, good cheer and flexibility ! Len has that great combination of simultaneous organisation and flexibility, which is so very necessary on a small trip such as this. In his stride, he was able to re-design the program at short notice due to weather conditions (working closely with Drakpa) and the end result was better than the original plan in my opinion!!! It was clear from day one, that Len cared and payed attention to each and every one of us at every step of the way – going out of his way to assist those who needed it. The trust and camaraderie we developed with Len made the trip that much more special! I miss our laughs.
Participant March 2017

FAQs

Responsible Travel Tips for Bhutan

  • If sightseeing in rural areas, remember to be respectful of residents and locals. As well as being tourist attractions, these are peoples’ homes!
  • Learn at least the local greetings to break the ice. Although many locals speak English, the more you know of the native language, the greater your experience of the country will be.
  • Carry a business card in your wallet or purse from your local hotel, to assist you with the return journey if you do become lost.
  • Always ensure that you are covered by travel insurance. If you need advice on this feel free to contact Odyssey and we’ll be able to help.
  • When travelling independently, make sure you check the opening hours of shops and museums so that you don’t miss out! Museums and galleries are often closed on Mondays. Also be certain to check whether your trip coincides with any public holidays, so you can plan accordingly.
  • Consider contacting your bank to inform them that you may be making purchases overseas. Otherwise, they may flag any activity on your account as suspicious. Also, check which ATMs and banks are compatible with your cards, to ensure you can withdraw cash with minimal fees.
  • Before departing, make sure you have a number of euros in a range of denominations. You don’t want to be carrying around enormous amounts of cash, but take enough to make it easy to pay in locations that might not accept credit card. It will also help you avoid card transaction fees, and it makes tipping a breeze.

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