Druk Executives

Tourism Policy in Bhutan

Bhutan is possibly one of the best examples of sustainable eco-tourism and one country that is committed to this concept, inspired by the Buddhist spiritual view of the interdependence between man and nature.

Tourism in Bhutan was privatized by the Royal Government of Bhutan in 1991. Today it is a vibrant business with nearly 200 private operators at the helm of affairs. The Royal Government of Bhutan adheres strongly to a policy of high value, low impact/volume tourism.

The tourism industry in Bhutan is founded on the principle of sustainability, meaning that tourism must be environmentally and ecologically friendly, socially and culturally acceptable and economically viable. The number of tourists visiting Bhutan is regulated to a manageable level because of the lack of infrastructure also.

The Royal Government of Bhutan recognizes that tourism is a world-wide phenomenon and an important means of achieving socioeconomic development particularly for a developing country like Bhutan. It also recognizes that tourism, in affording the opportunity to travel, can help in promoting understanding among people and building closer ties of friendship based on appreciation and respect for different cultures and lifestyles.

Since the inception of tourism in Bhutan in 1974, the government has imposed heavy tourism regulations to protect the sustainability of Bhutan’s pristine environment and traditional culture from potential hazards of uncontrolled and mass tourism. In line with this principle, following tourism policies has been adopted – a minimum daily tariff (an all-inclusive package); all travel must be escorted and arranged through a local licensed tour operator; and tourists may not or require special permits, to visit certain regions and holy sites.

Travel Arrangements
All tourist visiting Bhutan are required to arrange their tours through a local licensed tour operator. They must travel on a pre-planned, pre-paid package escorted tour, with a minimum daily tariff imposed by the government. All the logistical arrangements are done by the local agent during your stay in Bhutan.

Visa
Visa is required for visitors traveling to Bhutan. The local operator handles the visa procedure on behalf of the applicant. A clearance for the visa will be issued which will be sent to the applicant for their entry into Bhutan. Visas are then issued on arrival in the country, either at Paro airport or (if by road) at Phuntsholing. Bhutan’s foreign missions or embassies abroad do not grant tourist visa.

The way to Bhutan
Until the early sixties, the Kingdom of Bhutan was accessible only by foot through the high passes of Tibet and the plains of India. The construction of a road in the late sixties from Phuntsholing on the Indian border to Thimphu and Paro made travel by car and bus possible. In1983, the first international airport was opened in Paro, 65 km from the capital of Bhutan, Thimphu.

Travel by Air
Bhutan’s only international airport is located in Paro, which is located in a deep valley at an elevation of 7300 ft above sea level. The Paro Valley is surrounded by hills as high as 16,000 feet, whereby making the approach of Druk Air into the Paro International airport entirely by visual flight rules.

The national air carrier – Druk Air, Royal Bhutan Airlines has two A319 and operates in seven cities in six different countries.  It operates several times a week to Bangkok, Delhi, Kolkata, and Kathmandu.  The national airline carries passengers through one of the most spectacular flight paths in the world. A particular highlight is the stretch between Kathmandu and Bhutan, where one passes 4 of the 5 highest mountains in the world. Weather permitting; passengers will be treated to intimate views of Mt. Everest, Lhotse, Makalu und Kangchenjunga.

Current flight schedules for Druk Air are available at www.drukair.com.bt

Flights are booked through Tour Operators who also arrange the visas.

Travel by Land
The town of Phuntsholing in south-western Bhutan is currently the only land border access open for international tourists. Phuntsholing lies approximately 170 km east of the Indian national airport Bagdogra and nearby Darjeeling. From here begins a mountain journey of almost unbelievable beauty. The road leads from the northern Indian tea plantations through endless turns, hair-pin bends, and daring stretches carved into the mountain rock via Chhukha to Thimphu. The travel time for the 176 km stretch can be more than 6 hours.

A combination of overland and air travel is also possible. All overland travel requires an Indian visa.

Traveling within Bhutan
All major towns in the 20 districts of Bhutan are accessible by road. Despite high mountains, steep slopes, and the deepest of valleys, Bhutan has a relatively well developed network of roads. That said, rarely will one find a length of either straight or flat road. In some stretches one can encounter 6 to 7 bends per kilometre! Steep ascents and descents are characteristic of road travel in Bhutan and this can make travel much slower than one may be used to. Average speeds for road travel rarely exceed 40 km/h, with tourist buses making even slower progress. One is however handsomely rewarded for the long and sometimes tiring car journey, by the spectacular views of towering mountains, lush green jungle, ancient villages and majestic monasteries.
Majority of roads are sealed but can still be bumpy and are almost always single lane. Bhutan’s drivers know their land well and are cautious and careful drivers. The density of traffic is normally very low.

Tourist Buses
Tourists can travel in Bhutan with medium-sized buses (20-22 seats), small buses (8-12 seats) or hired cars. Road widths do not permit larger buses.

Distances and Travel Times within Bhutan

From/To Distance Travel Time
Thimphu – Paro 65 km 1 hr 30 min
Thimphu – Phuntsholing 176 km 6 hrs
Phuntsholing – Bagdogra (India) 170 km 4 hrs
Thimphu – Ha 115 km 3 hrs 30 min
Ha – Paro 60 km 2 hrs 30 min
Thimphu – Wangdue Phodrang 70 km 2 hrs
Thimphu – Punakha 77 km 2 hrs 15 min
Punakha – Wangdue Phodrang 21 km 30 min
Wangdue Phodrang – Trongsa 129 km 4 hrs
Trongsa – Bumthang 68 km 2 hrs 30 min
Bumthang – Mongar 129 km 4 hrs
Mongar – Trashigang 90 km 3 hrs
Trashigang – Trashi Yangtse 55 km 2 hrs