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The lifestyle, manners and customs of the Bhutanese are in many respects unique to the area. The strongest influence on social conventions is the country's state religion, and everywhere one can see the reminders of Buddhism and the original religion of Tibet, Bonism. There are no rigid clan systems and equal rights exist between men and women. The majority of the Bhutanese live an agrarian lifestyle. In 1989, it was made compulsory for citizens to wear national dress in public; the men wear a gho, a robe resembling a dressing gown with upturned white silk cuffs and knee-high socks, whilst the women wear a kira, a sari-like garment that is furnished with ornate brooches and worn over a wrap-around skirt. Bhutan has outlawed the sale of tobacco products, and also banned smoking in public places. The political leaders of the country have also been religious leaders historically. For years the country has deliberately isolated itself from visitors, and has only recently opened up to the outside world, a policy which is now to some extent being reversed. But Bhutan continues to bear the hallmarks of seemingly peculiar customs borne from legacy and legend. Giant phalluses can often be seen painted onto walls, etc, in order to ward off evil spirits. Dogs are regarded as being the highest animal lifeform, with the best chance of being reborn as humans. They are treated with reverence and often run freely and noisily through villages. Climbing some of the Himalayan peaks is banned due to the belief that the mountains are the repository of the gods. Similarly, swimming, or even throwing stones into rivers, is forbidden: it is thought to disturb the souls of deities.
Getting There by Air
Druk Air (KB) (website: www.drukair.com.bt), the national airline of Bhutan, is the only airline serving Bhutan. It is compulsory for all visitors to Bhutan to travel at least one-way by Druk Air. Druk Air operates direct flights from Kolkata (Calcutta) and New Delhi (India), Dhaka (Bangladesh), and Khathmandu (Nepal), each about 1 hour away by air.
Paro (PBH), Bhutan's only airport, is located in a deep valley, some 2,190m (7,300ft) above sea level, surrounded by hills and high mountains. Operating conditions are fairly difficult and the approach into Paro airport is entirely by visual flight rules. To/from the airport: Buses and taxis are available to the city center (journey time - 1 hour 30 minutes). Facilities: The airport has a post office, bank, bureau de change, restaurants, VIP lounge, duty-free shop, gift shop, and two airport hotels.
Getting There by Rail
The nearest railhead is Siliguri (India).
Getting There by Road
The road from Bagdogra (West Bengal) enters Bhutan at the border town of Phuentsholing, which is 179km (111 miles) from Thimphu, and borders West Bengal, India. The border crossing at Samdrup Jongkhar in eastern Bhutan allows tour operators to take travelers across Bhutan on a single-lane road crossing into Assam, India.
The following goods may be imported into Bhutan by persons over 17 years of age or over without incurring customs duty:
400 cigarettes and 150g of pipe tobacco; 2l of spirits; personal effects for daily use, instruments or appliances for professional use and electronic equipment for personal use.
Firearms, narcotics, plants. The export of antiques, religious objects, manuscripts, images and anthropological materials is strictly prohibited (regarded as those 100 years or older) and closely monitored by the Bhutanese authorities.
Cameras, videos, mobile telephones and all other electronic equipment for personal use must be registered with the authorities on arrival and will be checked by customs on departure. Import of plants/soil is subject to quarantine. All tobacco will be subject to a custom tax on arrival.
Getting Around By Air
Druk Air operates an hour-long scenic mountain flight (the so-called ‘Kingdom of the Sky’), which offers visitors spectacular views of the mountains, lakes and waterfalls. However, there are no domestic airline routes within Bhutan.
Getting Around by Road
Traffic drives on the left. The country has a fairly good internal road network with 3,100km (1,926 miles) of surfaced road. The average speed is less than 40kph (25mph). The main routes run north from Phuentsholing to the western and central regions of Paro and Thimphu, and east?west, across the Pele La Pass linking the valleys of the eastern region. The northern regions of the High Himalayas have no roads. Tour operators will arrange all internal travel for tourists, which will usually be by road. Bus: Services which were formerly government-owned are now privately run, though yaks, ponies and mules are the chief forms of transportation. The main routes are from Phuentsholing to Thimphu, Thimphu to Bumthang, Bumthang to Tashigang, Tashigang to Samdrup Jongkar and from Tongsa to Gaylegphug.
The following chart gives approximate journey times (in hours and minutes) from Thimphu to other major towns in the country.