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  • A backpacker’s guide to Bhutan

    Bhutan

    Bhutan

    Nestled between two conspicuous and even notorious neighbors like the huge country of India and the autonomous region of Tibet, Bhutan seems hardly noticeable on the map. Not much is known of this country in general, and even less is heard about it, but adventurous tourists will probably know that this tiny mountain country is one of the best places to visit nowadays.

    The untouched beauty of Bhutan is very little affected by the globalizing powers of tourism, and its national and cultural identity set it far apart from any of its neighboring countries. Bhutan is a place waiting to be discovered, and the best way to see it (as well as the easiest) is through a backpacking trip, so here’s a short backpacker’s guide to Bhutan.

    Transport

    photo by Steve Evans

    Once you arrive in Bhutan (In Paro or Trashigang if you come by plane), you will have 6000 kilometes of roads available to you, but no railway. Until the 60s, most roads in Bhutan were unpaved, and people traveled on foot or on mule, but the situation is much improved now.

    Still, there are many unpaved roads throughout the country, and even some of the paved ones are narrow and winding. Renting a car is not an option for budget travelers, but there are irregular buses to larger settlements. In any case, if you’re on a budget, the best way to get around is hitchhiking, which is very common in Bhutan.

    Most drivers will not ask money for taking you, but it is customary to offer some compensation (the price of a bus ticket for the same distance at most) or to offer small gifts as thanks.

    Accommodation

    photo by Jean-Marie Hullot

    If a town is connected by a motorable roads to other towns, then it’s guaranteed you’ll find a hotel or a motel, but the level of comfort, as well as price, will vary widely.

    Some international hotel chains can be found in major tourist areas, as well as affordable hostels in major cities like Timphu, Trashigang or Mongar. However, keep in mind that hotel rates apply only to visitors who don’t require a visa (if you’re an Indian citizen), or who enter the country by invitation.

    Otherwise, a fixed (and rather steep) rate will apply regardless of where you’re staying, so if you have a Bhutanese friend, you should think about getting and invitation. Another option is to volunteer for a charitable organization – you’ll do some good and you’ll get enough free time for traveling.

    Food

    photo by Steve Evans

    Bhutan has many great national dishes, both meat based and vegetarian, but one common feature is that they are liberally flavored with great a mounts of chili. In major cities there are lots of restaurants to choose from, but for a cheap and filling meal, look for buffet-style eateries.

    A good budget option are the Imtrat canteens which are found throughout the country, and which served cheap and delicious Indian food.

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