Love winter? Head to Bhutan, experience snow-capped mountains, biodiversity hotspots and more

The biggest advantage for Indian tourists is that they can travel to Bhutan without a visa, though it is mandatory to obtain a permit. Photo: Representative image/iStock/Khoa Nguyen

Do you love the winter season? If so, head to Bhutan, India's neighbouring country with a unique culture and some of the happiest citizens in the world, next month. January isn't a time generally recommended to travel to Bhutan but if the cold climate is your thing, it's a great season to experience the country. The weather can be quite chilly, with even occasional snowfalls in higher elevations. But, clear skies, mountain views, lower prices, hardly any crowd, wildlife tours... January can offer its tempting version to Bhutan visitors.

Great winter spots in Bhutan
Royal Manas National Park in Gonphu, home to tigers, rhinos, elephants and leopards is in the eastern Himalayan region and is considered one of the 10 global biodiversity hotspots. November to April is the ideal time to be here as it brings migratory birds and various endemic animals to the park. Rinpung Dzong, one of the largest monasteries in the country can also be visited in January, though you should have enough woollen clothes even when you like winter chills. Chelela Pass, the highest motorable point in Bhutan, is also best visited in winter to check out snow-capped Himalayan ranges, embraced by freezing air. The most popular tourist attraction of Bhutan, the Taktsang Monastery, also known as the Tiger's Nest, has a different vibe in winter with you getting to experience snow showers, white trees and more on the trek there this season.

Free visa for Indians
Bhutan can be reached by air or road from India. The biggest advantage for Indian tourists is that they can travel to Bhutan without a visa, though it is mandatory to obtain a permit. A passport with a validity of at least six months is also mandatory. Once you reach Bhutan, you can also get a local SIM card.

Permit to enter Bhutan
The immigration offices at the border points will issue the permit which is valid for seven days. It has to be produced at all checkpoints for verification. For those wishing to stay beyond the initial seven-day limit, a permit must be acquired in the capital, Thimphu. Ensure that you have enough passport-size photographs for the application process. At times, more than one passport-size photo would be required as part of the permit application process.

While in Bhutan, obtaining a local SIM card from telecom operators such as Bhutan Telecom and Tashicell can enhance your journey, providing permission for calls, texting, and data services. To get a local SIM card, some documents are needed to be produced. A copy of the passport and passport-size photograph are required for registering the local SIM card in your name. While the urban areas have good network availability, the service is poor in remote areas. If you want to spend more than the specified time in Bhutan, get a permit in the capital Thimphu in advance to avoid unnecessary tension and complications.

Be mindful of customs
Bhutan is a photographer's paradise, but there are some things that visitors have to keep in mind. Photography enthusiasts should be mindful of local customs and regulations, respecting prohibitions on photography at some religious centres. Therefore, one should follow the instructions strictly and seek permissions where required. Ngultrum is the currency of Bhutan. One unit of the Bhutanese currency is equal to one Indian rupee. The Indian rupee is widely accepted here and therefore, there is no need to be worried even if one does not have local currency. However, it is better to carry local currency when travelling to remote places. In short, Bhutan is a foreign country that Indians will find easy and trouble-free to visit.

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