Best in Travel 2020: Planning a trip to Bhutan

A monk walks among ornate carvings in a Punakha temple
Image courtesy: ©narvikk/Getty Images

A dozen nations vie for the title of real-life Shangri-La, but Bhutan’s claim has more clout than most. This tiny piece of Himalayan paradise operates a strict ‘high-value, low-impact’ tourism policy, compelling travellers to pay a high daily fee just to set foot in its pine-scented, monastery-crowned hills. The pay-off for visitors is a chance to walk along mountain trails unsullied by litter, in the company of people whose Buddhist beliefs put them uniquely in tune with their environment. Bhutan punches well above its weight when it comes to sustainability.

It is already the world’s only carbon-negative country, and the kingdom is set to become the first fully organic nation by 2020, so it’s only going to get more beautiful.

The country has unique tourist rules, but for Indian tourists arranging a trip to Bhutan is not very difficult.

Also Read: Top 10 countries to visit in 2020

Also Read: The best of Bhutan: Thimphu, Punakha and Paro

 

Punakha Dzong- a fortress of Bhutan overlooking a river
Punakha Dzong- a fortress of Bhutan overlooking a river
Image courtesy: ©Srijan Roy Choudhury/500px

Bhutan’s tourism mantra is ‘high value, low impact’ and its aim is simple: to maximize the financial benefits of tourism, while minimizing its environmental and cultural impact. It’s a perfect example of the country’s guiding policy of ‘Gross National Happiness’.

What this means for foreign tourists is they will have to pay a minimum of US$250 per day for an organized trip in order to get a visa. But main exception to the tariff rule is Indian tourists, who face no daily minimum rate.

Plan Your Itinerary

Most people use an agency’s itinerary as a starting point and then modify it to their interests. To help, here’s your guide to arranging a Bhutan itinerary. It’s always worth throwing in a couple of lesser-visited temples and day hikes to get you off the tourist circuit. Try also to arrange your itinerary around one of Bhutan’s fabulous festivals.

Monks prepare for a traditional dance at a Buddhist festival
Monks prepare for a traditional dance at a Buddhist festival
Image courtesy: ©Wout Kok/Shutterstock

As you hammer out things to do in Bhutan, this is the time to mention any extras, such as a hot-stone bath, a homestay or a day’s mountain biking, to determine if any extra fee is involved. Normally your agency chooses your accommodation for you, but if you have a particular place in mind you can request this.

If you are flying into Bhutan (most commonly from Delhi, Bangkok or Kathmandu) your agency will offer to buy your ticket for you, which is convenient, though you can also buy tickets online through the website of the national airline Druk Air.

Getting a Bhutan Visa

Indian citizens don’t need a visa to visit Bhutan. However, they need to obtain a seven-day entry-cum-stay permit from the border offices. This permit is only valid for Phuentsholing, Paro and Thimpu. To travel beyond these three destinations, one has to extend their permit from the immigration office in Thimpu.

Any further details can be checked with the Embassy of India in Bhutan.