Bhutan's road network is patchy but improving. The daily tourist tariff includes the use of a car, driver and tour guide to ferry you around the mountains. The capital city, Thimphu, is the only Asian capital without traffic lights - when installed , the population complained they were too impersonal, and the traditional system of police directing the traffic (with almost dance-like manoeuvres) was swiftly re-established.
Bhutan's only airline, Druk Air (www.drukair.com.bt), has just two planes touching down in the pretty little airport in Paro (45 minutes' drive from the capital, Thimphu), from nearby destinations such as Bangkok, Delhi, Calcutta, Dacca, and Kathmandu.
Country code for Bhutan: 975.
Quirky, astute and surprising, Beyond the Sky and the Earth tells of Canadian Jamie Zeppa's relocation to Bhutan, and her nine years living as a teacher there. The first novel by a Bhutanese woman, Circle of Karma by Kunzang Choden, is a simple but evocative tale of growing up in the country, brimming with cultural detail.
Do go / Don't Go
Bhutan's nickname is 'land of the thunder dragon', a reference to the rumbling storms that can strike the country, particularly in July and August. December brings the clearest skies, October is a bumper month for festivals, March and April sees the flowers of spring blooming in the Himalayas.
While Bhutanese restaurants are unlikely to challenge Indian, Chinese or Thai for dominance of the international high street, the country has a few culinary flourishes worth sampling (including, for the bolder palate, smoked hornets). Bhutanese cuisine is simple, rustic food, powerfully flavoured with chillies and a hefty scattering of salt. The national dish is emadatse, a feisty-flavoured curry made with cheese and chilli peppers. Yak meat is a staple, whether in curries of dried and dipped in a chilli paste. Dried yak cheese is frequently eaten as a snack (be warned though: it is served rock hard and takes at least one to two hours of sucking to soften). Momos - steamed dumplings filled with cheese, pork or cabbage - are popular between-meal nibbles.
Given that Bhutan's government assigns every visitor a car, it's unlikely you'll need a cab. Nevertheless, taxis of all kinds - vans, minivans, jeeps and sedans - pootle along Bhutan's roads and passes, serving the local population.
Service charges are usually included in hotel and restaurant bills. However, tips of around 10 per cent are always very welcome.
The Ngultrum (Nu); US$1 is equivalent to roughly 48Nu.
Himalayan highlands are hell on the heels, so a pair ankle-bolstering walking shoes are a must. Parts of Bhutan enjoy subtropical heat, other areas are chillier; sunscreen and sunglasses should share suitcase space with cosy jumpers.
Bhutan's biggest cultural attractions are its manifold mountain monasteries, temples and forts (dzongs) Dotted across the country, these beautiful buildings are often up to 600 years old and many are still in use today. Travellers need permits, but your assigned guide should have no problem securing them. Housed in a former fortress, the country's National Museum (www.nationalmuseum.gov.bt) in Paro provides an essential insight into Bhutan's unique backstory, with a trove of religious and historical artefacts. The highlight is the Tshogshing lhakhang, ('tree of life'). This is a brightly hued,
Bhutan is the only country in the world to outlaw the sale of tobacco.
Thimphu has hordes of handicraft, jewellery, art and fabric stores. For astonishing woven fabrics - such as those used for the Bhutanese national costume - visit the traditional Gagyel Lhundrup Weaving Centre (+975 2 327534/325583) in Chamzamtog, or the slightly more touristy Kelzang Handicrafts (+975 2 321353). For a fine selection of old textiles, exquisite and often antique jewellery, visit Lungta Handicraft (+975 2 333855; lungtahandicraft.com). If you happen to make it all the way (east) to Punakha, visit the Bhutan Souvenir Production and Training Centre (+975 2 584664). Run by the country's Youth Development Fund (www.ydf.org.bt), this centre trains young women in making traditional handicrafts and then provides them with start-up capital to open their own businesses.
One of the most stunning views in the country is actually just a short drive - followed by a long walk - from Bhutan's airport. Taktsang Goemba, also known as the Tiger's Nest monastery perches dramatically on the pine-lined Paro cliff-side. Revered as one of the most important Buddhist sites in the country, it's the legendarily the spot where Guru Rimpoche - the man who brought Buddhism to Bhutan - parked his magic flying tiger.
Although it will certainly cost you a pretty penny to get into the country, once there, most activities are either free or covered by the rate you're already paying. Entry to monasteries and dzongs, and trekking, is free. Schedule your visit to coincide with one of the many festivals held at various temples across Bhutan from March through December (with most in October).
Bhutan's red-letter days are closely associated with the Buddhist lunar calendar and other events tend to happen on dates calculated as auspicious by the country's astrologers. Here's an approximate breakdown:
February/March The Punakha Dromche celebrates the defeat of Tibetan armies in the 17th Century. Mach/April The Paro tsechu is the nation's largest and most impressive, featuring dramatic masked dances performed by trained monks. Local townspeople set up the Bhutanese equivalent of a county fair. September/October Tsechus in Thimphu, Bumthang and Tangbi. Thimphu tsechu is held in the courtyard of the capital building, where the offices of the king and other government officials are housed. Bumthang's festival is perhaps the most authentic, as few tourists have set out to see it.