General Information Bhutan
Flora & Fauna
Among the Himalayan Nations, Bhutan has the richest diversity of flora and fauna. This is thanks to preservative government policies and an ecological sensitivity in the Bhutanese people. With forest covering over 70% of the country, and such rich bio-diversity, Bhutan has been declared one of the top environmental “hot spots” of the world.
The immense beauty of the Himalayas is displayed in Bhutan’s landscape. Cascading rivers, conifers, wild rhododendron and blue poppies, long sweeping valleys, fields of maize and tall, imposing white-capped peaks are all on show. In addition, the rare Blue Poppy, Bhutan‘s national flower, can be found at altitudes as high as 4000 meters.
In Bhutan, the vegetation profile falls into five general classes:
• Tropical [up to 1000 m]
• Sub-tropical [900 m-1800 m]
• Temperate [1800 m-3500 m]
• Sub-alpine [3500 m-4500 m]
• Alpine [4500 m-5500 m]
Spotting unusual fauna in Bhutan is almost unavoidable. There are over 500 species of birds to be seen in Bhutan, including the monal, pheasant, tragopan, the rare Rufus-necked hornbill and the endangered black necked crane. There are also abundant butterflies and mammals found throughout Bhutan. This reflects the kingdom’s wide range of agro-ecological environments, from subtropical to alpine.
The population of Bhutan is around 750,000 people (2014), and the government is keenly aware that an increasing population will strain the country’s scant resources. 90% of Bhutan’s population lead agrarian lifestyles and continue to live in isolated valleys, cut off from each other and the outside world. Bhutanese are traditionally rural dwellers, and their homes and villages reflect this history.
Bhutan‘s official religion is Drukpa Kagyu, school of Tantric Mahayana Buddhism, similar to the Buddhism of Tibet. Tantric religion emerged as the last phase in the long evolution of Buddhism. The word ‘Tantrism’ comes from Tantras, the name of a body of esoteric texts which appeared roughly between the third and the tenth century. These are divided into four groups: tantras of action, tantras of behaviour, tantras of yoga, and finally tantras without any superiors.
The traditional architecture of the kingdom of Bhutan is deeply rooted in Tibetan Buddhism. Majestic and strategically positioned fortress monasteries [dzong], dramatically located temples [lhakhang] and monasteries [gompa] dominate the landscape. Meanwhile picturesque clusters of village farm houses [gung chim], and various types of religious and votive structures such as Buddhists stupas [chorten], prayer walls [mani], and different types of spirit houses [lukhang and tsenkang] pepper the mountains and valleys.
Bhutanese people still favour their traditional Gho dress for daily wear. Tourists should be aware of how to dress respectfully in Bhutan, such as avoiding wearing skimpy or tight-fitting clothes. Singlets, shorts, tight jeans, and tank tops should all be avoided. Skirts, loose trousers, and shirts are preferable, and if wearing a hat be prepared to remove it at each religious site you visit.
Due to a wide range of temperature and climatic conditions, it is advisable to pack clothes that can be layered for warmth. From May to September, regular travelling clothes plus a light woollen sweater or jacket will be sufficient. From November til April though, you will need thick jackets, woollen underwear, heavy socks and boots.
Bhutan ‘s unit of currency is the Ngultrum (Nu), which equals 100 chetrums. It is on par with the Indian rupee, itself a legal tender in the kingdom. One US dollar is exchanged for roughly 44 Ngultrums. Tourists can exchange traveller’s cheques or cash at the Bank of Bhutan or at their hotels. American or Australian dollars, pound sterling, French and Swiss francs, German marks, Dutch gilders, Hongkong dollars, Singapore dollars, Thai baht or Japanese yen are all accepted currencies.
Photography and Filming
The photography opportunities on a trip to Bhutan are immense. Photography is permitted nearly everywhere in Bhutan and the local population has no aversion to being photographed as long as you ask. Photography inside the Dzongs and Monasteries are not permitted, but outside them is fine. Please follow your guide’s instructions carefully while visiting Dzongs, monasteries and religious institutions.
Food and Drinks
Bhutanese food is a tantalizing blend of hot Himalayan flavours. North Indian cuisine mixes with flavours of the Tibetan plateau and traditional home-cooking from Bhutan’s villages to create sizzling and memorable tastes. Bhutan’s valleys grow chanterelle mushrooms, apricots, asparagus, and a wide variety of chillis and spices.
These spices, fruits and vegetables are prepared with beef, chicken, pork, and dried yak to make dishes that resemble Tibetan and Indian cuisine. Bhutanese dishes are traditionally served with ample portions of indigenous red rice. The food prepared for tourists is tempered to western tastes.
Guests of the kingdom are required to have guide accompanying them throughout their stay in Bhutan. You will have a fluent English speaking guide and driver at your disposal at all times. This does not mean you’ll be restricted or have your hand held; our guides are accommodating and flexible.
Our guides have all been trained and licensed by the DOT (Department of Tourism). Our trekking guides and cooks undergo additional mountain training, including safety and first aid.