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Bhutan: Your gap year choice!
A land of majestic mountains, heavily-forested hills and valleys, and fortress-monasteries dangling on the sides of cliffs, the Kingdom of Bhutan is a magical place where snow leopards roam amid blue poppies and rhododendrons, and Buddhist prayer flags wave in the wind. A landlocked country located on the Indian Subcontinent, Bhutan has always been a popular tourist destination due to its remoteness, strong cultural and religious heritage, and undisturbed natural beauty. Increasingly, college-age students are choosing this heavenly destination as the place to spend their gap year.
The price of visiting Bhutan
The government of Bhutan used to impose strict limits on the number of travelers who could enter the country, but that is not the case any longer. Now, the government controls travel in Bhutan by imposing tariffs on visitors. These tariffs, as high as $250USD per day, cover the cost of accommodations, a guide and driver, and other tour accoutrements. Airline tickets, on the other hand, are decreasing in price, with plenty of cheap tickets currently being offered for flights to Bhutan via a number of major Indian cities.
The reasons for this tight control are simple: the infrastructure and development of the country are extremely limited, making it in the best interest of the indigenous population to keep the number of travelers visiting Bhutan low. Of course, Bhutan is also struggling to hold on to its traditional way of life as tourism increases, so controlling the number of visitors is a good thing in that respect as well.
Spending a gap year in Bhutan
There is much to see and do while spending a gap year in Bhutan and, with the assistance of one of the required tour guides, students can satisfy their appetite for good food, beautiful scenery, spiritual knowledge, excitement, and cultural discovery all in one fantastic country. Bhutan Majestic Travel is one of the best licensed tour companies in Bhutan, and a look at what is included in their most popular tours provides a glimpse at what Bhutan has to offer.
Food in Bhutan is always very fresh and prominently features vegetables, meat, and rice. Chili and cheese is a standard side dish; if spicy food is preferred, get the same chili and cheese the guide will probably be eating, as the food the locals eat is more heavily spiced than the dishes usually served to tourists.
Activity tours include cross-country mountain biking and whitewater rafting. Endangered bird-watching in the Tashithang area offers visitors a glimpse of nearly 600 different species of birds. A highlight of one of these bird-watching tours is the Festival of the Endangered Black Necked Crane which celebrates the return of these sacred birds to the wetlands of the monastery of Gangtey Gompa.
The Tshechu festivals are celebrated on a monthly basis throughout the year and are held in honor of the Guru Padma Sambhava. During the Tshechu, the people come together to honor their guru through dances.
Bhutan is also a center of Buddhism, and retreats are frequently held throughout the year. Courses are designed to match the needs of students and all the teachings are imparted by world-renowned spiritual teachers in the warmth and comfort of a luxury hotel with the grandeur of Bhutan as the backdrop.
Bhutan – the Land of the Thunder Dragon – one of the most sought after travel destinations today.
The land of the thunder dragon kingdom is a travelers paradise and an environmentalist’s dream. With 72 percent of the country under forest cover, Bhutan’s pristine ecology is home to rare and endangered flora and fauna.
This spiritual land is the last bastion of the Vajrayana school of Mahayana Buddhism which provides the essence of a unique identity for the 700,000 people.
Bhutan is a unique blend of the old and new. Here is a country that is slowly opening up to the modern world in a fine balance with its ancient traditions.
Those fortunate enough to visit Bhutan describe it as a unique, deeply spiritual and mystical experience. This kingdom is an adventure like no other.
|Age Composition (%) / Figure|
|Child dependency ratio:||48.2|
|Old age dependency ratio:||7.4|
|Population Density (person/sq.km):||17.8|
|Index of Aging:||15.4|
|Life Expectancy (2008-2009)|
|Total Fertility Rate:||5.6|
|Safe Drinking Water (%):||83.2|
|Health Coverage (%):||90|
|Lower Secondary Schools:||91|
|Middle Secondary Schools:||46|
|Higher Secondary Schools:||39|
|RNR Extension Centres:||136|
|Livestock Extension Centres:||42|
|Agriculture Extension Centres:||40|
|Agriculture Seed Production Farms:||11|
|Fram Mechanization Centres:||3|
|Production & Manufacturing:||1,389|
|Transport & Communications (2008-2009)|
|All Roads (km):||5,363|
|Electricity generated (MU):||6,564.2|
|Source: National Statstical Bureau (NSB)|
National Bird:Raven (Corvus Corax Tibetanus)
The tutelary god Mahakala took the form of a raven to guide the country unifier, Zhabdrung to Bhutan. Raven (local name Jarog) lent its name and features to the crown of the king of Bhutan.
National Tree:Cypress (Cupressess Corneyana)
Cypress has distinctive characteristic of slightly conical with a broad base and tapering top. When old, it is a tall impressive tree. It has green leaves all the year round. Compared to other trees, its leaves do not resemble needles. Its leaves are narrow, thick and leathery. Drooping leaves make tree look graceful. Trunk erect and ridge with grayish brown bark which flake of in short, thin strips. Life span of centuries. It grows naturally in Bhutan between 2500 — 3000 m but it is also planted at lower altitudes. It grows well on steep limestone areas and is occasionally found in our forests ( Pho Chhu valley north east of Punakha and on the west slopes of Pelela ) Plantations of Cyprus can also be seen between Dochula and wendeygang and at Taba. The timber is good for construction and is preferred for building of temples, monastery and dzongs. Wood and branches are of great value in and are burnt as incense. The history say that the Majestic Cypress tree at Kurjey, Bumthang is believed to have grown from Guru Padmasambhava walking stick when he came to Bhutan. The Bhutanese consider the cypress tree sacred and identify with it for its nature and ability to survive in difficult terrain. As the national tree, it is held in great reverence. It is often planted outside monasteries, Dzongs and religious places.
The national emblem, contained in a circle, is composed of a double diamond thunderbolt placed above a lotus, surmounted by a jewel and framed by two dragons. The double diamond thunderbolt represents the harmony between secular and religious power; which results from the Buddhist religion on its Vajrayana form. The lotus symbolizes purity; the jewel sovereign power; and the two dragons, male and female, stand for the name of the country-the thunder.
Bhutan has only one time zone, Bhutan Standard Time (BST). It is six hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT), 30 minutes ahead of India.
Bhutanese men wear gho, which are longish robes tied around the waist by a cloth belt, know as kira. The womens ankle-length dress is known as kira, which is made of bright colored fine woven textile with traditional patterns. The women of Bhutan are known for their dark good looks and graceful manner. Their beauty is only enhanced by the intricately woven kiras they wear. Kiras are the national dress for women in Bhutan. Its wrapped around the body covering it from neck to ankle. Women usually wear heavy silver and gold necklaces with coral, turquoise and other precious stones. Rings and earrings decorated with pearls and turquoise are also popular.
Festivals or Tshechus
One of the main attractions in the Kingdom are its annual religious festivals, also known as TSHECHUS, celebrated to honor Guru Padma Sambhava also known as “Guru Rimpoche”. For local people, Tshechus are an occasion for reverence and blessing, feasting and socializing. Two of the most popular Tshechus are held in Paro in the spring and Thimphu in the autumn, but there are various others all the year around at temples, Dzongs and monasteries throughout Bhutan. Staged at different places at different times of the year, the festivals provide an opportunity for an outsider to experience the extraordinary.
National Currency: Bhutan currency is Ngultrum (Nu) equivalent to Indian Rupee. There are no ATMs in Bhutan, and credit cards are accepted only at selected shops. One can exchange money at Paro International Airport on arrival or any other Govt. Banks like Bhutan National Bank and Bank of Bhutan and also at selected hotels.
National Animal: Takin (Budorcas Taxicolor)
Locally called Don Gyem Tsey is chosen as national animal because of its uniqueness and its strong association with the country religious history and mythology. It is a clumsy heavy animal similar to gnu and musk ox, it lives in flocks in places 4000m high and eats bamboo. Weighs as much as 250 kgs.
One of the most striking physical features of Bhutan is its architecture. The characteristic style and colors of every building and house in the Kingdom is a distinct source of aesthetic pleasure. The Dzongs -themselves, imposing 17th century structures built on a grand scale without the help of any drawing and nail are outstanding examples of the best in Bhutanese architecture. Patterns of rich colors adorn every wall, beam, pillar, door in traditional splendor.
Arts and Crafts:
Like its architecture, its art and painting are important aspects of Bhutanese culture and they depict the spiritual depth of Bhutanese life. Whether it is on a wall, or one of the renowned Thankas or murals, painters use vegetables dyes to give their work the subtle beauty and warmth seen nowhere else in the world.
Bhutan also boasts an unparalleled wealth in its cottage industry for a country its size. Its fine handicrafts of wood and bamboo, ornaments of gold and silver, and highly developed weaving skills represent an advanced art form.
National Game:Archery The national sport of Bhutan is archery. Other traditional sports include digor – a kind of shotput, darts and wrestling. Today, most international sports, such as soccer, basket ball, volleyball, tennis, and table tennis are becoming popular. In Bhutan a game of archery has always been a serious business. Tradition has it that if two villages or districts were to compete in a game of archery, elaborate preparations preceded the actual duel. Astrologers consulted the stars and their books of wisdom to divine the most auspicious day to play the game, including even the most favorable sequence of shooting for their players.
National Flag :
The National Flag of Kingdom of Bhutan is divided diagonally into equal yellow and orange halves. The division starts from the lower corner of the flag where it is hoisted and runs along the diagonally opposite corner. The yellow portion lies on the upper part of the diagonal division and it represents the yellow scarf worn by His Majesty, which in turn represents the being of His Majesty, the King. The orange portion lies on the lower part of the flag and it represents the orange scarf worn by the Je Khenpo, the religious head of the country.The National Flag has a white dragon which spreads equally along the diagonal division towards the upper end. The dragon holds norbu(jewel) by its claws.
Bhutan has four distinct seasons. Each has its advantages and disadvantages for the visitor. Notice should be taken for the predictable weather patterns before making decisions when to visit. Remember even predictable weather can vary dramatically in different areas and in 24-hour periods. The southern plains close to the Indian border are warmer and more tropical then higher central valleys.
Spring is arguably the most beautiful time of the year in the Kingdom. The fierce cold that characterizes the winter months tends to subside towards the end of February (around Bhutanese New Year). Rhododendron begins to bloom, first in the warmer East. At the height of spring, the end of March, the whole Kingdom comes to life with the spectacular flaming rate, pink and white of the Rhododendron blossom.
The annual Monsoon from the Bay of Bengal affects the South and Central regions. The North is inhabited in the summer months when nomads return to the higher plains to tend to their Yak herds. The end of the Monsoon, also a popular time to visit, marks the closing months of summer. The days are filled with glorious cobalt skies and warm weather.
The Autumn months of September to November bring shorter days and cooler evenings. The days remain lovely with crisp clear skies. Views over the high Himalayas are usually only possible from September to March. Come in the end of November and the weather takes on its winter coat. The days remain crisp and the nights turn cold. The Southern areas, began much lower, have a more temperate climate and considerably warmer winters. Clear skies in the winter months bring with them cold weather but its also the best time of the year to view the snow-crapped peaks of the High Himalayan Mountains.
National Flower: Blue Poppy (Meconopsis Grandsis)
Locally called Euitpel metog hoem, is a delicate blue or purple tinged bloom with a white filament. It grows at high altitude.
National Language: Dzongkha
National Day: (1st King Sir Ugyen Wangchuk enthroned 1907) is celebrated on December 17 in commemoration of the accession of Gongsar Ugyen Wangchuk. The 1st king of Bhutan to the throne in 1907 at Punakha Dzong.
Nowhere in the Himalayas the natural heritage is more rich and varied than in Bhutan. In historical records, the Kingdom was called the valley of Medicinal Herbs, a name that still applies to this day. The country’s rich flora and fauna is the result of its unique geographic location in the Eastern Himalayas, within an area that extends through both Indo-Himalayan (oriental) and the Pale-arctic biographic regions; its annual rainfall, which is significantly higher than in the central and western Himalayas, and its considerable attitudinal variation, from 200 meters in the south to over 7,000 meters in the north, which is accompanied by dramatic climatic changes.
Because of deep traditional reverence which the Bhutanese have for nature, the Kingdom is one of the leading countries in environmental preservation. More than 70% of the area is still under forest cover. Many parts of the country which have been declared as Wildlife reserves are the natural habitats of rare species of both flora and fauna.
The Tourism Policy of the Royal Government of Bhutan; HIGH VALUE AND LOW IMPACT The tourism industry in Bhutan is founded on the principle of sustainability, meaning that tourism must be environmentally and ecologically friendly, socially and culturally acceptable and economically viable. For this reason the number for tourists visiting Bhutan are kept to an environmentally manageable level through government regulated tourist tariff.
Tipping: Tipping is customary.
National Capital : Thimphu
Thimphu, Capital city of Bhutan
Night shot of Thimphu City