Travel Guide to Bhutan

Travel Guide to Bhutan

Mysterious, breathtakingly beautiful, and totally unspoilt, stepping into Bhutan is like stepping back in time. Its charming capital Thimbu is the only city in the world with no traffic lights. This remote mountain kingdom has an extraordinary diversity of scenery; from its lush valleys crisscrossed by streams and rivers to the highest point in Bhutan, Gangkhar Puensum at 7,570 the highest unclimbed mountain in the world. The landscape is rich in wildlife, with such rare creatures as the Bengal tiger, Greater One-horned Rhinoceros, golden langur, clouded leopard, and the sloth bear live in the lush tropical lowland, while the alpine habitats of the great Himalayan range in the north are home to the snow leopard, blue sheep, marmot, Tibetan wolf, antelope and Himalayan musk deer. Along with providing outstanding trekking, Bhutan offers the chance to explore its ancient culture. The breathtaking Paro valley was one of the major TRADE routes into Tibet, home of one of the oldest temples in Bhutan, the 7th century Kyichu Lhakhang. Throughout the year there are festivals and colourful ceremonies. Bhutan is known for the happiness and warmth of its people and a trip to this enthralling destination is an unforgettable experience.

Know before you go

The climate varies with altitude, with the highest temperatures and rainfall occurring in the south, which bears the brunt of the monsoon between June and September.

Temperatures drop dramatically with increases in altitude though days are usually very pleasant with clear skies and sunshine. Nights are cold and require heavy woollen clothing, particularly in winter. Generally, October, November and April, May and 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.

1 Ngultrum (BTN; symbol Nu) The Ngultrum is pegged to the Indian Rupee which is also acccepted as legal tender. Be warned: ATMs only accept Bhutanese bank cards. Travellers cheques are recommended and can be exchanged in any branch of the Bank of Bhutan or at all BTCL HOTELS. Travellers are advised to take traveller's cheques in US Dollars.

It is illegal to sell tobacco. Offenders will be charged with smuggling and can expect to be fined. Imported tobacco products demonstrably for personal use are subject to a 100 percent tax. Smoking is forbidden inside public spaces. Personal computers, cellular telephones, cameras, or any other electronic device must be REGISTERED with Bhutanese customs upon arrival. These items will also be checked upon departure. The export of all antiques is strictly monitored. Be respectful of local monasteries and temples, removing shoes is often required and appropriate dress appreciated.

The people of Bhutan love to eat and every region has its own specialty. Bhutanese fondness for Yak meat is well known, but they also relish a vegetarian dish made of cheese and chilli called 'Ema Datshi'. Bhutanese also love the dumplings called 'Momos'. Though a Tibetan specialty, Momos have been popular for centuries. Chicken, Cheese or Pork Momos are favourites. The locals love hot spicy dishes and chillis feature in many recipies. Two categories of rice are used in Bhutan. The urban areas including Thimpu, Paro and Phuntsholing use the white rice while the rural population use the red rice. Rice based delicacies include 'Desi', a tasty mixture of white rice, butter, sugar, golden raisins and saffron and 'Zow' or fried rice mixed with sugar, butter and sometimes oilseeds. Both these are the favorite of His Majesty King Jigme Wangchuk and are served on special occasions.

Voltage: 220-240 Volts (U.S./Canada are 110-120 Volts). Primary Socket Types: Euro, British, Indian.

You should familiarise yourself with the dangers of Acute Mountain Sickness especially if you are trekking in remote areas. Road travel is on winding mountain roads, and those prone to travel sickness are advised to bring suitable medication.

GMT + 5 hours

Adventure

It's a little- known fact that India is an adrenaline rush of outdoor adventure.

Whether it's hot-air ballooning above the Taj Mahal, white water rafting on the Indus river or heli-skiing from a Himalayan mountaintop, if you're looking for adventure, you'll find it in India. Go diving in the tropical paradise of the Andaman Islands, a dream destination of crystalline waters with 80-foot visibility and coral reefs teeming with exotic fish. Discover the pristine wilderness and ancient monasteries of Ladakh, tucked high in the mountains bordering Tibet. Cruise Kerala's beautiful backwaters, home to hundreds of bird species. Get off the beaten path for an intrepid camel safari across Rajasthan's Thar Desert, or explore the famed limestone caves and dramatic waterfalls of Meghalaya in the Northeast. Camp out under the stars in a wildlife sanctuary. Stay in local villages far from the tourist trail. Go bungee jumping off a bridge or trek along glaciers to the source of the Ganges, or enjoy snowboarding in Kashmir. For those with a sense of adventure, India is full of surprises.

Culture & Heritage

India is a cultural treasure trove. Few countries in the world have such an ancient and diverse culture as India's. Stretching back in an unbroken sweep over 5000 years, India's culture has been enriched by successive waves of migration like the great Moghul Emperors and the British Raj, which influenced and were absorbed into the Indian way of life. It is this variety which is a special hallmark of India. Its art, architecture, monuments, costumes, music and dance, language and literature are not gathering dust in museums but thrillingly alive and everywhere you look. Come and discover the richness of India's culture.

Luxury Train

We love a challenge: give us an offbeat brief and we deliver.

Why choose to see India by train?

It's the most convenient way to visit multiple destinations in India. Touring in India can be confusing, chaotic and complicated. Travelling by road or by air to get to your next destination takes time better spent enjoying the sights themselves. Imagine travelling thousands of miles without the hassle of airport security checks and HOTEL check-in queues, transfers, packing and unpacking-in short not having to deal with all the things that take the fun out of travel.

The romance of travel by train is at its best in India thanks to its exciting new class of luxury trains, OFFERING the style and service of the royal trains of the past, with 21st -century comforts. It's virtually hassle-free. Wake up to a new destination each day, knowing meals, itineraries and guided tours are all included.

Travel on a luxury train is supremely comfortable. Guests can enjoy a variety of dining experiences in the restaurant cars, sleep in private air-conditioned cabins featuring full sized twin or double beds, picture windows, closets, en-suite bathrooms with a complete array of amenities, laundry service, daily housekeeping, and butler service. Everything is taken care of from the moment you get on board, so you can just relax and enjoy the journey in princely style following a variety of cultural itineraries.

Tappas Voyages has a variety of luxury train options including the Maharaja's Express, Golden Chariot, Palace on Wheels and Deccan Odyssey. Each has its own special itinerary.

Vintage train buffs will love the historic small-gauge steam engines of the Darjeeling Hill Railways which transport you back in time along the historic 86 km route past tea plantations and snow-capped Himalayan peaks. In the quaint hill station of SHIMLA you can ride the Toy Train. This is one of the most unique rail journeys in the world, with 20 stations, 102 tunnels and 864 bridges on its 96km track through the mountains.

Spa & Wellness

India has emerged as a leading spa destination, OFFERING holistic therapies from the arts of ancient Ayurveda to the latest facial. Leading hoteliers like Taj and Oberoi have dedicated huge resources to creating unique and authentic Indian spa experiences to rival the best anywhere. Let the healing touch of India's renowned therapists soothe all cares away.

The holistic approach to wellness has always been part of Indian culture. One of the most popular ways of keeping healthy and enjoying a positive lifestyle is through Ayurveda, whose origins can be traced back 5,000 years through ancient Vedic texts.

Ayurveda has taken the stressed West by storm, with fans as diverse as Prince Charles and Madonna praising its benefits. By working with your body's individual constitution or 'dosha', Ayurvedic practitioners can help you achieve long term health benefits through stress reduction, detoxing, building the immune system and an overall feeling of wellbeing. Even serious conditions like arthritis, migraines, insomnia and digestive disorders can be successfully treated. Spa tourism to India has been steadily increasing thanks to the increased awareness of Ayurveda.

The southern state of Kerala is renowned for its Ayurvedic heritage and one of the best places to enjoy a spa retreat, thanks to its combination of unspoilt palm-fringed beaches, lyrical waterways known as 'backwaters', cool hilltop spice plantations and rich cultural heritage. Across India however there are HOTEL and destination spas which OFFER traditional Ayurvedic treatments. Sri Lanka is also a popular destination for Ayurveda.

Yoga is another Indian export that has become popular worldwide, with many visitors looking for the chance to experience the benefits of yoga, whether as part of a hotel stay, or on a specific yoga holiday.

Wherever you go to relax, revive, rethink or retreat, whether it's a yoga escape in the Himalayas, a sybaritic spa in a royal palace, or an Ayurvedic detox in the green lushness of Kerala during the Monsoon season, you'll find India is all about nurturing the mind, body and soul.

Special Interest

We love a challenge: give us an offbeat brief and we deliver.

The Indian Subcontinent's remarkable diversity makes it an ideal destination for special interests. Tappas Voyages works very closely with universities, museums, galleries, alumni associations and other cultural organizations to create specialised itineraries. An exclusive panel of guest speakers, experienced tour managers, informative and engaging guides, all help provide a vast and in-depth knowledge of our archaeology, architecture, art, culture, cuisine, design, crafts, festivals and wildlife.

So whether your clients want to ride the passes of the Himalayas on vintage Royal Enfield motorbikes , see the Taj Mahal through the eyes of a scholar, learn to cook a curry like a local or explore Bhutanese temples by horseback...whatever your travel passion, Tappas Voyages works to make it happen. Unlike many destination management and travel companies who operate a set formula, we are flexible, willing and able to create new experiences rather than give you the same old itineraries year in and out.

The southern state of Kerala is renowned for its Ayurvedic heritage and one of the best places to enjoy a spa retreat, thanks to its combination of unspoilt palm-fringed beaches, lyrical waterways known as 'backwaters', cool hilltop spice plantations and rich cultural heritage. Across India however there are HOTEL and destination spas which OFFER traditional Ayurvedic treatments. Sri Lanka is also a popular destination for Ayurveda.

Spiritual

In a material world it's easy to forget the beauty found in spiritual places. The serenity of Buddhist monks at dawn in a mountaintop Bhutanese monastery, the excitement and pageantry of a great pilgrimage like the renowned Khumb Mela, one of the greatest spiritual journeys on earth involving hundreds of thousands, the haunting magic of the Ghats at Varanasi, sacred to the Hindus for centuries, the majestic temples of Hampi, bright prayer flags fluttering high above the valleys of Nepal, the blissful evening aarti ritual on the banks of the Ganges at Rishikish or the tranquil simplicity of an ashram-wherever you travel in the Indian Subcontinent you'll find places of great spiritual inspiration.

wildlife

India's wildlife is extraordinary. Where else can you find dancing peacocks, flying monkeys, bathing elephants, striking cobras, swooping kingfishers, lounging lions and legendary tigers? With the steady growth in conservation and wildlife preserves, India is hoping to safeguard its rare and wonderful creatures for future generations.

Ranthambore National Park in Rajasthan is one of India's biggest and most successful tiger reserves. The setting is spectacular, with the ruins of ancient temples adding a romantic touch to the dense woods, rugged ravines, and lakes that were part of the royal hunting grounds of the Maharajas of Jaipur.

Corbett Tiger Reserve in Uttarakhand, founded in 1936, is India's oldest and known for its safaris on horseback. Further afield, in Madhya Pradesh, you can escape from the crowds at excellent tiger reserves like Pench National Park, immortalised in Kipling's The Jungle Book and popular for its dramatic scenery. As well as tigers, Bandavgargh National Park's abundant wildlife includes leopard, wild boar, and sloth bears. Kanha National Park is one of the largest in India, while Satpura National Park features guided safaris on foot, by jeep or on elephant back. Exceptional new safari lodges are setting new standards for luxurious yet environmentally responsible tourism.

Birdwatchers will love Keoladeo Ghana National Park in Bharatpur near Agra, a wetland home to thousands of migrating birds like the rare Siberian Crane. Kolkata's famed Sunderbans National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site whose marshlands are teeming with exotic wildlife like crocodiles and tigers. In Kerala, at the Periyer Wildlife Sanctuary, visitors cruise along the lake watching families of elephants at play.

Far from city crowds and tourist centres, a world of beauty awaits those willing to explore India's countryside. Trekking, mountain climbing, river rafting, birdwatching, backpacking and camping - whether on foot, by jeep, on horseback, on a camel, astride an elephant or even on a homestay with a local family- all are eco-friendly ways to discover rural India and its wildlife.