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Report 1790: Bhutan - Land of the Dragon

By Eleanor from UK, Fall 2009

Trip Description: A report of a magical three weeks spent traveling through Bhutan in October/November 2009.

Destinations: Countries - Other Countries

Categories: Hotels/B&Bs; Day Tours; Sightseeing; Walking/Hiking; Independent Travel; 2 People

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Page 1 of 24: Background to the Trip

photo by Michael

Our first view of Bhutan coming in to land at Paro

Bhutan is a tiny mountain kingdom in the foothills of the Himalayas between India and China to the west of Nepal. It was an absolute monarchy until 2008 when the King decided it was time it became a democracy. It has only been open to tourists for a few years and is still very much a medieval society - although that is beginning to change. We think we got there just in time as in a few years it will have changed forever.

Iíll start with the boring details as booking a holiday in Bhutan is very different. Tourism is carefully controlled by the Government so as not to have a negative impact on the culture and life of the Bhutanese.

Unless you are an Indian national, you are only allowed to enter if you have a prepaid and pre planned itinerary with a Bhutanese Tour Company. A driver and guide accompany you throughout your time in Bhutan. You pay a set tariff per day, which covers cost of car, driver, guide, accommodation and all meals. If you are trekking it also includes horses, porters, camping equipment and cooks. As we were a group of two this was $230 per person per day.

Prices will be going up by $50 per person from 2011.

You have to fly at least one way - a way of controlling tourist numbers. The main airport is at Paro, in the west of Bhutan, although there are plans to open smaller regional airstrips.

By road, you can enter or leave at Phuentsholing in the south or at Samdrup Jonkar in the far east.

It is possible to book direct with a local agent in Bhutan. However many of these are small and email contact can be slow if they are out guiding, or if there is a local festival when all work stops.

We booked through Audley Travel in UK who we use for all our tailor made trips. They use Druk Executive Travel in Thimphu.

You need visas to enter Bhutan. Local agents arrange these and sent to you a few days before you are due to travel.

We decided to fly into Bhutan from Delhi, drive across Bhutan and then drive out at Samdrup Jonkar into India to Guwahati where we would catch the train back to Delhi.

There is only one road across Bhutan so the itinerary is fairly fixed.

We did travel along some of the side roads off the main road and found them very rewarding. The main road is narrow with many bends and often cut on a ledge across the side of the mountain with a steep drop into the valley below. Journey times are long.

We welcomed the opportunity to get out and walk along the road to see what was growing in the fields, enjoy the views and explore some of the tiny settlements off the road.

We wanted to travel slowly and allow ourselves plenty of time to see the countryside and the spectacular sights spending up to four nights in some places.

Stops included Paro, Thimphu, Punaka, Phobjikha, Trongsa, Jakar, Mongar and Trashigang.

Accommodation is more basic than in other countries unless you pay extra (and I mean serious money) to stop in 5-star resorts like Aman Kora.

The Bhutanese are delightful people and went out of their way to make us feel welcome. Once or twice we did blink when we saw our room but apart from the hotel we stopped in at Mongar we enjoyed all our accommodations. They always had great character. We had en suite bathrooms (some very basic in the east) and all accommodations were very clean and beds were comfortable.

Photography is not allowed in temples or of religious objects.

You can read about our time in India in Trip Report 1791 (in Resources at the end of this report).

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