Bhutan

History

The recorded history of Bhutan prior to the 7th century remains obscure. The 9th century turmoil in Tibet forced many monks to flee to Bhutan. In the 12th century, the Drukpa Kagyupa School was established and remains the dominant form of Buddhism in Bhutan today.

Bhutan is one of the few countries that have been independent throughout its history although there has been speculation that it was under the Tibetan Empire in the 7th to 9th centuries. In 1616 when Ngawang Namgyal, a monk from western Tibet known as the Shabdrung Rinpoche, defeated three Tibetan invasions and united the independent principalities into one state. After his death, the theocracy disintegrated and civil war erupted as the provincial lords fought to gain control over the central power.

Only the establishment of the monarchy in 1907 brought peace again. Ugyen Wangchuck was elected as the hereditary ruler of Bhutan; crowned on December 17th 1907, and installed as the 'Dragon King' - the head of state Druk Gyalpo. Later, his grandson His Majesty King Jigme Singye Wangchuck, abdicated all of his powers  to his son, Prince Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, with a specific intention to prepare the young King for the country’s transformation to a full-fledged, democratic form of government in 2008.

Geography

Bhutan is a small kingdom. Bhutan lies in the eastern Himalayas sandwiched between India and China. The country is divided into three major regions: plains and river valleys in the south; mid-Himalayan range in the center and the major peaks of the Himalayas ranging from 14,000 to 24,000 ft. above sea level in the north. Thus, Bhutan is a landlocked country with no viable access to the sea.

Whilst the peaks are covered with snow throughout the year, and have a sub-arctic climate, the valleys in the southern and central regions enjoy a temperate climate. The southern plains are humid and subtropical.

The forests are rich with a diverse wildlife ranging from endangered elephants and tigers to blue sheep, leopards and cranes. They are also home to rare medicinal plants and orchids. These sectors provide a source of livelihood for 90 percent of the population. Rice, maize and millet are the main agricultural produce. The country’s rugged terrain has led to a high density of population in few areas.

Thimphu, the capital of the country and Phuntsholing are the two largest cities. Phuntsholing in the south is the gateway into Bhutan for travellers over land from India.

Weather

Bhutan’s climate is as varied as its altitudes and, like most of Asia, is affected by monsoons. Western Bhutan is particularly affected by monsoons that bring between 60 and 90 percent of the region’s rainfall. The climate is humid and subtropical in the southern plains and foothills, temperate in the inner Himalayan valleys of the southern and central regions, and cold in the north, with year-round snow on the main Himalayan summits.

Bhutan’s generally dry spring starts in early March and lasts until mid-April. Summer weather commences in mid-April with occasional showers and continues through the pre monsoon rains of late June. The summer monsoon lasts from late June through late September with heavy rains from the southwest. It is characterized by bright, sunny days and some early snowfalls at higher elevations. From late November until March, winter sets in, with frost throughout much of the country and snowfall common above elevations of 3,000 meters. The winter northeast monsoon brings gale-force winds down through High Mountain passes, giving Bhutan its name– Drukyul, which in the Dzongkha language mean Land of the Thunder Dragon.

During the daytime, the weather is normally warm. Nightime weather can be very cool especially during the winter where it can reach  below freezing temperatures. Monsoon showers occur in summer (Heaviest in July and August), and sometimes even in spring and autumn. The most visited months are March, April, May, September October and November. During these months one may expect mostly warm sunny days and cool/cold nights. Whereas rain or snow might occur at times but  is not habitual.


Seasons:
•    January-February-March – Spring
•    April-May-June – Summer
•    July-August-September – Autumn
•    October-November-December – Winter

Temperatures while trekking:
Daytime temperatures will be in the high 20s falling to 5°C at night between 1000 m and 3500 m. At higher altitudes temperatures range from about 20°C during the day down to -10°C at night.

Rainfall:

As a guide, rainfall in Thimphu and Paro are  about 25 mm a month in January to March, rising to 50 mm in April and May, 75 mm in June, and then a whopping 350 mm in July, 300 mm in August, 125 mm in September, back down to 75 mm in October, 25 mm in November and 0 in December.

Religion & Culture

The Buddhist faith has played a fundamental role in the cultural, ethical and sociological development of Bhutan and its people. Annual festivals (Tsechus and Dromchoes) are spiritual occasions in each district. The Dzongs built in every district in the Middle Ages as fortresses function as the centre of both religious and secular activities nowadays.
Religious beliefs are evident in all aspects of life. Prayer flags flutter on hillsides offering up prayers to benefit all sentient beings. Each house has a small white flag on the roof indicating the owner has made his offerings to appease the local god.

People

The people of Bhutan consists of four major ethnicities : Bhutia, Sharchops, Nepali ( also called 'Lhotshampa')  and a cluster of indigenous groups. Each group can be distinguished by their particular language,religion, and socio-economic situation. The majority of the population are the Bhutias who have very close cultural similarities with the Tibetan culture. They mainly live in northern and central Bhutan. They, like most Bhutanese, speak languages from the Tibeto-Burman language and practice a form of Tibetan Buddhism.

Clothing & Packing

Please see the temperature guide showing the highs and lows in temperature. It is advised that you take a practical selection of clothes for both warm and cool climates to suit the season. However please remember that this is just a guide and you may encounter a wide variety of temperatures en route due to altitude and unforeseen weather conditions – so it’s best to be prepared!

Clothing should be simple and consist of layers, which can be added or removed as the temperature varies during the day. During autumn the night temperatures in the mountains often dip below freezing, making warm gear essential. In summer the days can be hot, requiring light cotton clothing. Good wet-weather gear is recommended during the rainy summer months. A warm windcheater and stout comfortable shoes are especially recommended.

Daypack

Your daypack needs to be large enough for a 1-litre water bottle and all other items you will need during the day. Carry this piece with you. In it you should have:
•    Necessary medication
•    Camera, sunglasses, a hat
•    Hand Sanitizer
•    Any other item you require for the day.

Some essentials you need to bring with you:
•    Long-sleeved shirt, long pants, and a hat to wear whenever possible while outside, to prevent illnesses carried by        insects (e.g., malaria, dengue, filariasis, leishmaniasis, and onchocerciasis).
•    Insect repellent containing DEET.
•    Iodine tablets and portable water filters to purify water if bottled water is not available.
•    Sunblock, sunglasses, and a hat for protection from harmful effects of UV sun rays.
•    A folding umbrella especially if you are traveling during the monsoons of mid June to late September. Rain is              possible any time, and is almost certain from June through August.
•    Be sure to carry earplugs (and spares) for when you sleep.
•    There are occasional electric outages throughout the country; so you should always keep a torch (flashlight)                beside your bed.
•    A Swiss style army knife is a good thing to bring, but with the recent concerns over air travel you may want to            bring a folding utility tool such as a Leatherman and make sure to put it in your check-in luggage.
•    Bring a small alarm clock if you need help waking up after all those barking dogs. Not all hotel rooms have              telephones or wake-up service.

Note: Our guides will definitely make sure you are not late for anything.

Hiking Boots

This is an important item on your list if your program includes hiking. Make sure your boots are well broken -in. Ill-fitting boots can make your trek miserable. If you’re buying a new pair, look for medium weight boots of fabric or a fabric/leather combination with a waterproof breathable membrane such as Gore-Tex. They should provide adequate ankle support but be comfortable in the Achilles area (a notch in the top of the rear ankle helps). Bring your thick woollen socks when you are trying on boots so you get the correct size. Short boots can jam your toes painfully during long steep descent. Makes sure you walk up and down an incline in the store.

Footwear

We recommend walking shoes/boots, as comfortable shoes with good ankle support will make all walking more enjoyable. If your trip does not involve hiking/trekking and you do not own a pair of hiking boots, then trainers/sneakers will suffice.

Toiletries

Everything you normally use for your days in the city and do not forget sun lotions.

Considerations for Women
•    Hand wipes: The kind that are in a roll that comes in a plastic container with a flip-top. Take them out of the container and put them in a Ziploc®.
•    Tampons and extra Ziploc bags for disposal and carryout.

Baggage Allowance

On Druk Air flight you will be allowed to check in a total of 44 pounds or 20 kgs per person. So we encourage you to travel light, packing only one duffel bag or a suitcase. The hotels you will be staying in are well equipped with all basic essentials. Pack an extra duffel bag to bring back purchases if you want.

Physical Fitness

Any person in reasonably good health is able to travel in Bhutan. Those in good physical shape will no doubt enjoy the trip more. Please start to get in shape NOW! A good 30 minutes walk, jogging daily, stretching and regular exercise should put you in the right shape (concentrate on your heart and legs – Aerobics). During the hike it is recommended that you bring a good day pack and are fit enough to carry your day pack that would probably have filled water bottle/canteen, food/snacks, camera, film, map, fleece, sun hat, first aid kit, lightweight rain gear, etc. To ascertain your level of physical fitness take the Harvard Step Test online at http://www.brianmac.demon.co.uk/eval.htm 

Accommodation

The hotels used in Bhutan range from the usual tourist class hotels to luxury hotels. All are modern, clean and comfortable and offer friendly service. All rooms have basic facilities and are booked on a twin share basis; almost all have heating facilities.

Food & Drink

In Bhutan, the range of restaurants is limited apart from the ones in the hotel itself. The restaurants outside usually provide a local menu. Unboiled water is NOT safe to drink anywhere in Bhutan. Always stick to bottled water. Uncooked vegetables are also not safe to consume, unless properly treated by soaking in a solution of iodine. Always peel your fruit.

Medical Examination

We strongly recommend a medical examination. Discuss the extent of your adventure with your physician. The physical exam should be conducted more thoroughly than a routine checkup. Be sure any abnormalities, chronic problems or special medications are noted. This may be helpful to your trip leader/guide if you begin to exhibit any symptoms during the trip.

Immunization

It is not necessary to take vaccination of any kind to enter the Kingdom of Bhutan. However, for your own concern, you may take immunization against certain preventable diseases such as typhoid, tetanus, Hepatitis, Malaria etc. For further information please check with your doctor or Travellers Medical Centre for current information.

Please make sure you have enough medicines to last during your trip, as well as a copy of the prescription(s) or letter from your health-care provider on office stationery explaining that the medication has been prescribed for you.  Always carry medications in their original containers, in your carry-on luggage.  Make sure to bring along over-the-counter anti-diarrhea medication (e.g., bismuth subsalicylate, loperamide) and an antibiotic prescribed by your doctor to self-treat moderate to severe diarrhea.

Prevention the Best Cure

Stomach upsets are the most likely travel health problem but the majority of these cases are minor problems. Thoroughly cooked food is the safest but not if it has been left to cool. One should be careful about what one eats and drinks. The number one rule is not to drink tap water or other water from open sources. Reputable brands of bottled water or soft drinks are available. While drinking and eating it is important to make sure that water which may be unsafe has not been added.

Do not drink unpasteurized milk. Boiled milk is fine if it is kept hygienically and yogurt is usually good. Tea or coffee should also be all right since the water would have been boiled. Salads and fruit should be washed with purified water or peeled where possible. Food, drink and snack from reputable sources are usually safe. However beware of food that has been kept out in the open for long.

Wash your hands frequently, as it is quite easy to contaminate your own food. You should clean your teeth with purified water rather than straight from the tap. Avoid climatic extremes: keep out of the sun when it is hot, dress warmly when it is cold. Avoid potential diseases by dressing sensibly. Do not walk bare feet, as it is easy to get worm infections through bare feet. Try to avoid insect bites by covering bare skin when insects are around, by screening windows or by using, insect repellents.

Additional medical information can be found online: The Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta at www.cdc.gov

and The CIWEC Travel & Medical Center in Kathmandu athttp://www.ciwec-clinic.com

Travel Insurance

Dharma Adventures asks, as a condition of accepting your booking, which you take out a comprehensive personal insurance policy, which covers you for sickness, accident, loss of baggage and trip cancellation (this may mean an extra premium). For trekking clients, it’s important that the policy covers you for the unlikely event of evacuation by plane or helicopter. If you have optioned rafting, the policy must cover this as well. We will provide you with a certificate, which should be accepted by your insurance company, if you need to claim.

When you are away, things might go wrong!
We do provide evacuation specialists and assistance specialists. Insured clients have 24 hours access to our doctors and nurses in the cities and towns, but can be organized at the earliest time in the mountain if paid for.

Existing Medical Conditions

Existing medical conditions must be declared and will probably incur an additional premium. If you do not declare, claims will be refused.

Important Information
Travel insurance is compulsory.

Money & Exchange

The unit of currency is the Ngultrum, which is equal in value to the Indian Rupee. Major convertible currencies and traveller’s cheques can be exchanged at banks in all major towns. Certain credit cards (MasterCard, Visa & American Express) are accepted at a few large hotels and shops. Current exchange rate is US$ 1.00 = Nu 55.00 (subject to change on daily basis)

Security

Whilst the vast majority of travellers never experience anything untoward it is worth taking precautions particularly in urban areas. You should take sensible precautions in crowded areas such as street markets and airports, where pick-pocketing is a possibility, and keep clear of any street disturbances. Don’t wear jewelry, never leave your bags unattended, keep large amounts of money, cameras and cell phones out of sight when walking in town centers, and avoid venturing into quiet alleys and lanes after dark. Keep copies of important documents, including passports, in a separate place to the documents themselves, together with details of credit cards. Leave copies at home with a friend too. Safeguard valuables, important documents and cash and deposit them in hotel safes, where practicable.

Tipping

Tipping is a recognized part of life and although at your discretion you will be expected to reward good service. Please remember that tipping should be a way for individuals to thank staff for good service. The amount is entirely a personal preference; you are free to tip more or less as you see fit, depending on your perception of service quality and the length of your trip.

Electricity Voltage

Electrical sockets (outlets) in Asia usually supply electricity at between 220 and 240 volts AC. If you’re plugging in an appliance that was built for 220-240 volt electrical input, or an appliance that is compatible with multiple voltages, then an adapter is all you need. If you are using an appliance with 110 and 120 volts then you need a voltage converter.

Battery Adaptor

Charging your electronics such as mobile phones, cameras, music devices might not be frequently available during the tour. When camping it is often difficult to find a safe and secure wall outlet to recharge these devices, therefore we recommend that you bring extra batteries. When you are staying in hotels, your room will have an electrical outlet (just remember your international adaptor!

Keeping in Touch

Some restaurants and hotels offer free WiFi while some require a paid password protected system. The connection however may be slower than expected. While going to remote areas outside the main cities, WiFi may not be available.

making Offerings

It is considered auspicious to make donations at sacred sites like the monasteries and temples. However, the donations and the amount to be donated are not obligatory.

Offerings to Beggars

Begging is a normal practice. While giving to the needy and the physically handicapped is a good practice, we do not encourage begging. There is no need to feel pressured to give, even if crowds of beggars approach you and struggle to get your attention.

Bargaining

You will be surprised by the power of bargaining. Bargaining is a way of life throughout Asia. It is important that you do not over pay for anything. Your guides can make recommendations about what a fair price is. Never suggest the price for yourself in the beginning. Wait for the storeowner to quote a price before you start bargaining.

Language

The language in Bhutan is Dzongkha, but English is widely spoken in the tourist areas.

Altitude 

The effects of altitude can be felt by anyone at anytime above a height of 8000 ft. Statistically two-thirds to three-fourths of those going to high altitudes (above 14,000ft.) will have mild symptoms of A.M.S. (Acute Mountain Sickness) but less than 2% will develop serious illness. Fitness does not affect acclimatization. Generally older people acclimatize better and teenagers are at the most risk and need to be extra cautious. This may be because older people are often slower and going slower helps your body have a chance to adjust.

The best precaution to altitude sickness is drinking a lot of water. Avoid being dehydrated; you need to drink slowly and often. Be sure you are eating enough in small amounts throughout the day.

Also it is very important to take time to acclimatize. Altitude sickness starts from mild symptoms such as; headache, nausea, loss of appetite, mild shortness of breath with exertion, sleep disturbance, breathing irregularity, dizziness or light-headedness, mild weakness, slight swelling of hands and face, lethargy, malaise etc. Any symptoms should not be ignored and must be reported to your group leader.

We do not expect any problems in the trip but it is better to take precaution. AMS is only applicable for those trekking in higher altitude.

Cultural Considerations

There are many important customs in the Buddhist tradition. Any Buddhist temple or stupa should be circumambulated clockwise. It is customary to eat, handle food, gifts money, etc. with your right hand.
It is considered impolite to point the soles of ones feet at any one or towards alters, holy objects, people or a family’s fire. It is considered impolite to be physically demonstrative in public-especially between people of the opposite sex. It is okay to be affectionate (but not demonstrative) with a same-sex friend.

It is important to dress appropriately while visiting monasteries and temples. Full sleeves shirts and trousers are a must.

Please do not take photographs of people without asking permission. It is also important to ask permission before taking photographs in a monastery. Some monasteries may ask you not to use the flash on your camera. This is important for the preservation of the wall paintings.

Following local customs to a certain extent just shows good manners and your consideration is much appreciated.

Common Phrases

I love you – Nga gi che lu ga.
You’re so beautiful! – Che namay samay jarim dhu!
Hello. (formal) – Kuzu zangpo la.
Hello. (informal) – Kuzu zangpo.
How are you? – Gaday bay Zhu Ga?
I’m fine. – Legshom. (Layshom)
Goodbye (person leaving) – Lazhimbe jon
Goodbye (person staying) – Lazhimbe zhu
Good luck – Trashi dele
Yes – ing/yo
No – me
Maybe – im ong
What is your name? – Chhoe gi ming ga chi mo?
My name is _____. – Nge gi ming _____ in.
I am from ____.  – Nga ____ lay in.
Thank you. – Kadrin chhe.
See you later! (informal) – Shu lay log jay ge!
Where? – Gathey?
How much? – Gademchi?
What is this? – Di gaci mo?
I don’t know – Nga mi she
I know – Nga she
That’s ok – Di tupba

Last Minute Checklist

The following checklist is to be used to double check right before you depart for the field.
•    Passport
•    Copy of passport
•    2 passport-sized photos (just in case)
•    Final documents – air tickets, hotel vouchers etc.
•    Credit cards, Traveler’s checks, Cash ($1, $5, $10 & $20 bills)
•    Necessary items from Clothing section
•    And lots and lots of Spirit for Adventure, an appetite for learning and patience & flexibility!!!