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WINGS Birding Tours – Information

Bhutan

Tour Information

Note: The information presented below has been extracted from our formal General Information for this tour. It covers topics we feel potential registrants may wish to consider before booking space. The complete General Information for this tour will be sent to all tour registrants and of course supplemental information, if needed, is available from the WINGS office.

ENTERING INDIA:  All U.S. citizens need a passport, valid at the date of entry and with at least one blank page for a visa, and valid multiple entry Indian visa. U.S. citizens seeking to enter India solely for tourist purposes, and who plan to stay no longer than 30 days, may apply for an electronic travel authorization at least four days prior to their arrival in lieu of applying for a tourist visa at an Indian embassy or consulate.  Please visit the https://www.indianembassy.org/pages.php?id=120 for additional information regarding the eligibilities and requirements for this type of visa.  Without the electronic travel authorization, which must be obtained at least four days prior to arrival, visas are not available upon arrival for U.S. citizens. 

Visitors expecting to stay in India for more than 30 days need to route their visa request through Cox and King, a company which has been contracted to provide Indian visas.  Their website is: http://www.in.ckgs.us/

U.S. citizens of Pakistani origin or descent are subject to administrative processing and should expect additional delays when applying for Indian visas. 

For the most current information on entry and exit requirements, please contact the Embassy of India at 2536 Massachusetts Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20008, telephone (202) 939-9806 - https://www.indianembassy.org/index.php - or the Indian Consulates in ChicagoNew YorkSan Francisco, Atlanta, or Houston. Outside the United States, inquiries should be made at the nearest Indian embassy or consulate. 

Evidence of a Yellow Fever vaccination must be shown only if you are arriving within six days after leaving or transiting endemic areas.  

ENTERING BHUTAN: The Kingdom of Bhutan requires a passport valid for a minimum of six months beyond the intended date of departure from Bhutan and a tourist visa to enter Bhutan. Our Bhutanese agent will apply for a visa on your behalf and it will be issued on our arrival at Paro international airport. The cost of the Bhutan visa is included in the tour price. The Government of Bhutan has introduced a Biometric System at Paro airport which means that each client entering Bhutan will be photographed and have their fingerprints taken at the entry check post.

BHUTAN AND INDIA COUNTRY INFORMATION: You can review the U.S. Department of State Country Specific Travel Information for India at http://travel.state.gov/content/passports/english/country/india.html and for Bhutan at http://travel.state.gov/content/passports/english/country/bhutan.html. The CIA World Factbook background notes for India and Bhutan are at https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/in.html and at https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/bt.html, respectively. 

PACE OF TOUR: We’ll experience a series of lengthy days and frequent hotel changes, and the tour can be tiring. In several places the best areas of forest will be some distance away from our hotels, and we’ll need to leave our hotels as early as 4:00 or 5:00 am. 

We’ll have breakfast in the field most days, and our ground crew will go ahead of us and set up their cooking equipment. We’ll often bird watch before joining the crew for breakfast. Tables, chairs, plates and cutlery, etc., are all provided for these excellent and enjoyable meals. We’ll usually have lunch in the field, and once again the crew will normally go ahead of us and set up the tables and chairs at a suitably scenic spot.

Most of the birdwatching will be from the road. Away from Paro, the capital, Thimpu, and Punakha, the second capital, there is relatively little traffic, and in any case, the forests are often so dense that it would be impractical to try venturing into them. 

There will probably only be a couple of occasions where we’ll venture onto forest trails - one of these trails is fairly steep and our walk on it typically covers for about one and a half miles. Our coach will drop us at the start of the trail and drive around to re-join us at the bottom. The second forest trail is also about one-and-a-half miles, and is again downhill all the way with the coach again waiting for us at the bottom. The leader will explain more about these trails and the other day’s events during the course of the tour.    

We spend one night at most of our hotels, thus moving on most days. We’ll remain out all day and aim to arrive at our next hotel in the late afternoon/early evening. On many days there will be a break of an hour before dinner. We’ll compile a checklist of the birds we’ve seen just before or just after dinner and then retire early to bed (especially when we’re making an early start the next day).       

As much of the tour is at medium temperatures, bird activity continues throughout the day and conditions remain pleasant, so we won’t schedule long mid-day breaks. If anyone wishes to have a longer break during the day, the bus is available. Our bus will be with us throughout the tour, and anyone taking a break can re-join the group when they wish. As we’re moving on most days, it’s rarely possible to take an entire day off unless you’re willing to rest in the bus. 

We anticipate having at least two vehicles with us throughout the tour - one for us and at least one for our Bhutanese ground crew. In this situation, we have more flexibility and can sometimes offer the option of an early arrival at our hotel. On a couple of days there will be some optional pre-breakfast bird watching. There will also be a couple of occasions where we’ll take an optional after dinner owl walk. 

HEALTH: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that all travelers be up to date on routine vaccinations. These include measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine, diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis vaccine, varicella (chickenpox) vaccine, polio vaccine, and your yearly flu shot. 

They further recommend that most travelers have protection against Hepatitis A and Typhoid. The Typhoid vaccination is particularly important because of the presence of S. typhi strains resistant to multiple antibiotics in this region. 

Please contact your doctor well in advance of your tour’s departure as some medications must be initiated weeks before the period of possible exposure. 

The most current information about travelers’ health recommendations can be found on the CDC’s  Travel Health website at http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/destinations/traveler/none/bhutan

Malaria:  Malaria occurs in some of the areas we’ll visit but the CDC considers the risk to be very low.  Please consult your travel health professional. Please note that Chloroquine (brand name Aralen) is not an effective antimalarial drug in the Indian Subcontinent and should not be taken to prevent malaria in this region.

Elevation:  On the second day of the tour we will fly from Delhi into Paro airport (2280 metres or about 7400 feet). From there we’ll drive to Thimpu, which at 2310 metres (approx. 7550 feet) is only marginally higher. After that we will drive up to the summit of the Dochu La (3112 metres or about 10,050 feet), one of Bhutan’s five major roads passes. We’ll spend a short while at this altitude and, as throughout the tour, we will try to avoid walking up hill and will move at a slow pace so as to avoid altitudinal headaches and breathlessness. Our next two nights will be spent near Punakha (1435 metres, 4,500 feet), and the intervening day’s activities will be at or near this altitude. 

From Punakha we’ll move on spending the night at Gangtey in the Phobjika Valley. At 3120 metres (or about 10,800 feet) this will be our highest overnight stay.  From Gangtey we will continue east crossing a couple of fairly high road passes - the Pele La at 3300 metres (11,132 feet) and the Thrumsing La (Bhutan’s highest road pass) at about 3500 metres (12,200 feet). We will not spend much time bird watching at the latter and will keep physical exertions at these altitudes to a minimum. 

In any case, we will do virtually all our bird watching from the road, usually walking down hill, and our vehicle will always be close at hand so that anyone wishing to take a longer break can easily do so.

Miscellaneous: Biting insects are not numerous, but biting Black Flies do occur locally: insect repellent will provide adequate protection.  We recommend using insect repellents with a high concentration of DEET. Care must be taken, however, to avoid getting the DEET repellent on optical equipment as DEET dissolves rubber and plastic and can damage coated lenses. 

Tap water is not safe to drink, but bottled water, soft drinks and beer are widely available. Bottled water is provided in our tour vehicles during the day. 

On some of the lowland trails, particularly the ones down the Zhemgang road,, we may encounter a few small terrestrial leeches. These are well known to travellers in South East Asia and are not harmful. They are found on the forest floor, are typically quite scarce at this time of year but can be more common after it has rained. The best way to prevent these leeches from getting onto your ankles is to spray your boots with insect repellent. 

Intestinal disorders are not uncommon in both India and Bhutan. We suggest bringing anti-diarrhoea medicine such as Imodium. Gatorade or other electrolyte-replacement drinks in powder form are also worth bringing as they replace the vital salts and minerals lost during a bout of diarrhea.

Smoking: Smoking is prohibited in the vehicles or when the group is gathered for meals, checklists, etc. If you are sharing a room with a nonsmoker, please do not smoke in the room. If you smoke in the field, do so well away and downwind from the group. If any location where the group is gathered has a stricter policy than the WINGS policy, that stricter policy will prevail. 

Note: Smoking became illegal in Bhutan in early 2005. After that date cigarettes could not be bought in or brought in to Bhutan but the law was relaxed slightly in 2011. Visitors can now bring 200 cigarettes in to Bhutan providing that they are for their own use only. This law is enforced in all public places and applies to both foreign tourists and Bhutanese citizens; smoking cigarettes is considered a serious offense in Bhutan with penalties including a modest fine and between three and five year in jail! 

CLIMATE: Delhi will be very hot, with mid-day temperatures in mid-late April perhaps approaching 40°C (104°F). Lowland Bhutan, i.e. the areas south of Zhemgang and near Geylegphug, will also be warm, perhaps 30-32°C (86-90°F) if the weather is clear. 

It will be noticeably cooler for the bulk of our trip. Temperatures on the higher passes may drop to just below freezing, and there may be a few patches of snow or ice lingering in shaded roadside gullies. It is unlikely to snow during the tour. Rainfall is possible anywhere and is perhaps more likely around Paro, Thimpu and Punakha in western Bhutan. 

Note: Temperatures in mountainous regions such as Bhutan can vary enormously from year to year and often dramatically throughout the day and could range from 0-32°C (32-90°F). 

ACCOMMODATION: During most of the tour we’ll be staying in moderate or good quality accommodation. Our hotels or guesthouses will always be among the best that are available, and although the rooms will always be clean and fairly well maintained, it must be remembered that Bhutan is a third-world country and that hotel facilities are below what we are used to in the West. You should also be aware that very few tourists visit sites away from western Bhutan and that the tourist infrastructure in the east is still in its infancy. 

In Paro and near Punakha we’ll be staying in good quality hotels. All the rooms will have private bathrooms with showers, baths and a western toilet. There will be ample supplies of hot water and constant electricity.

Once east of Punakha the number of foreign tourists drops off dramatically, and the standard of the accommodation drops slightly. At both Trongsa and Jakar we will again stay in clean, reasonably equipped, family run guest houses and both are the best accommodation that is available. Both have private bathroom facilities with showers and western toilets. 

At Gangtey we’ll stay in a fairly new guesthouse in the Phobjika Valley, about a twenty-minute drive from the spectacular Gangtey Gompa. The Phobjika Valley is connected to the main electricity grid, but there are occasional power cuts here. While our guest-house has its own generator, it usually takes the staff a few minutes to get this up-and-running in the event of a power cut. Each room has a private bathroom with a Western toilet and a shower. 

Camping: Partly because the accommodation in eastern Bhutan is basic, and partly in order to avoid long drives and to be near the best bird watching in active morning hours, we’ll camp at three or four sites. We’ll spend a total of either four or seven nights under canvas - one at Sengor about one-third of the way down the Limithang road, three more near Yongkola further down the Limithang road, and three more at two different sites on the Zhemgang road. A new guest house has been built recently at Yongkola and we hope to be able to stay there, but during peak times such as early April they don’t take reservations and operate on a first come, first served basis.  If another group arrives ahead of ours we will have to camp. 

We will use modern, two-man tents. These are spacious, decent quality walk-in tents, each with sown-in ground-sheets, a fly-sheet and a door at either end. They measure about 10’ long and 8’ wide and are about 7’ high down the central ridge. Our ground agents will erect the tents for us. Each double tent will be provided with two comfortable camp beds, each with a mattress and a couple of thick blankets or quilts. Single tents are almost exactly the same except that only one bed will be provided. One, or usually two, latrine tents are also provided. We will have a separate ‘mess tent’ complete with tables and chairs for our meals. All of our camps will also have an enclosed ‘shower tent’ that is approximately 7’ tall and 4’ square. Our camp staff will provide large buckets of hot water and a ladle for showering. This ‘shower tent’ might not be available for our one night at Sengor (we’ve found that it’s a little too cold there for most people to be interested in having a shower) and instead bowls of hot water for washing will be provided. 

People who are sharing rooms will also share a tent - there is plenty of space and those who have requested single rooms will have a tent to themselves. 

We are unable to guarantee single rooms at all our hotels, but if you have requested a single room and you do have to share occasionally, we will refund the appropriate single room supplement for those nights. 

Internet:  The hotel that we use (briefly) in Delhi at the start and end of the tour has free wireless internet. The only other hotels on the tour loop that offer wireless internet access are the ones in Punakha, Trongsa, Jakar (Bumthang), Gelephu and. Gauhati. Note however that the service in many of these places is occasionally, perhaps even frequently, not working and that even when it is up and running connection speeds are usually slower than what many of us a used to at home.

FOOD: The food on the tour will for the most part be very good. We’ll have a few hotel breakfasts but most of them will be cooked in the field by our ground staff. The breakfasts that our ground crew provide when we are camping are amazing and usually the tastiest of the entire tour; porridge or cornflakes, followed by either scrambled, fried or poached eggs or omelettes, often with baked beans or sausages. There are also ample supplies of toast and jam and tea and coffee. As always in Bhutan, the quantities of food provided will be vast. 

Lunches will usually be eaten in the field and will frequently be a meal cooked for us on site. These are often lighter than our breakfast with a wide variety of soups, biscuits, bread and cheeses being offered over the course of the tour. 

All evening meals will be in our hotels (usually hot buffets) except when camping, where our camp staff will cook for us. Up to ten different dishes have been provided at dinner, and there’s always more than enough! 

Food Allergies/Requirements: We cannot guarantee that all food allergies can be accommodated at every destination. Participants with significant food allergies or special dietary requirements should bring appropriate foods with them for those times when their needs cannot be met. Announced meal times are always approximate depending on how the day unfolds. Participants who need to eat according to a fixed schedule should bring supplemental food. Please contact the WINGS office if you have any questions.

Drinks:Bottled water and/or a soft drink or a beer is provided at lunch and dinner, as is coffee or tea. Bottled water is provided in our coach for daytime use. All other drinks or ‘personal’ drinking water for use in your room at night are the responsibility of the individual. 

TRANSPORTATION: Transportation between sites is by coach in both Delhi and in Bhutan. The leader will arrange a seating rotation. Participants should be able to ride in any seat in tour vehicles.
Our internal flights from Delhi to Paro are with Druk Air, Bhutan’s national airline, while our flight back to Delhi from Gauhati in Assam is with a good quality Indian airline. Both of these carriers’ planes are very modern, and their safety record is excellent. 

Updated: July 2015