Bhutan, nestling in the heart of the great Himalaya, has for centuries remained aloof from the rest of the world. Since its doors were cautiously opened in 1974, visitors have been mesmerized: the environment is pristine, the scenery and architecture awesome and the people hospitable and charming. The ideal time for trekking late-September to late-November when skies are generally clear and the high mountain peaks rise to a vivid blue sky. March-May is recognized as the second-best time to visit Bhutan for touring and trekking. Though there are more clouds and rain, the magnificent wildflowers are in bloom and birdlife is abundant. You're likely to get wet no matter what the season, but avoid the monsoon, June-August, when an average of 0.5m (1.5ft) of rain buckets down in Thimphu and up to 1m (3ft) saturates the eastern hills. Winter is a good time for touring in western Bhutan, bird watching in the subtropical jungles in the south, and white water rafting. The days are sunny and cool but it's quite cold once the sun sets. From December to February the road from Thimphu to Bumthang and the east may be closed because of snow for several days at a time. It would be best not to plan to visit these regions at this time. In recent years overcrowding has become an issue during the major tsechus (Buddhist festivals) at Thimphu and Paro, which coincide with the best seasons. You stand a much better chance of getting flights, accommodation and probably a more intimate and rewarding festival experience if you schedule your trip around one of the other cultural events.
Official languages: Dzongkha, English
Currency: Ngultrum (BTN)
Higher parts of Bhutan have pleasant months either side of the rainy season, which lasts from May to September. Days from March to April and October to November are generally warm with less rain, decent sunshine and temperatures between 25-30°C (77-86°F). Nights can get a bit fresh between November and March. Lower parts of the country experience heavier falls and warmer temperatures during the day across this time.
The northern region consists of an arc of glaciated mountain peaks with an extremely cold climate at the highest elevations. Most peaks in the north are over 23,000 feet (7,000 m) above sea level; the highest point is claimed to be the Kula Kangri, at 24,780 feet (7,553 m), but detailed topographic studies claim Kula Kangri is wholly in Tibet and modern Chinese measurements claim that Gangkhar Puensum, which has the distinction of being the highest unclimbed mountain in the world, is higher at 24,835 feet (7,570 m). Watered by snow-fed rivers, alpine valleys in this region provide pasture for livestock, tended by a sparse population of migratory shepherds.
The Black Mountains in central Bhutan form a watershed between two major river systems: the Mo Chhu and the Drangme Chhu. Peaks in the Black Mountains range between 4,900 feet and 8,900 feet (1,500 m and 2,700 m) above sea level, and fast-flowing rivers have carved out deep gorges in the lower mountain areas. Woodlands of the central region provide most of Bhutan's forest production. The Torsa, Raidak, Sankosh, and Manas are the main rivers of Bhutan, flowing through this region. Most of the population lives in the central highlands.
Jacaranda trees in Bhutan
Terraced farming in the Punakha valley. In the south, the Shiwalik Hills are covered with dense, deciduous forests, alluvial lowland river valleys, and mountains up to around 4,900 feet (1,500 m) above sea level. The foothills descend into the subtropical Duars plain. Most of the Duars is located in India, although a 6–9 mile (10–15 km) wide strip extends into Bhutan. The Bhutan Duars is divided into two parts: the northern and the southern Duars. The northern Duars, which abuts the Himalayan foothills, has rugged, sloping terrain and dry, porous soil with dense vegetation and abundant wildlife. The southern Duars has moderately fertile soil, heavy savannah grass, dense, mixed jungle, and freshwater springs. Mountain Rivers, fed by either the melting snow or the monsoon rains, empty into the Brahmaputra River in India. Data released by the Ministry of agriculture showed that the country had a forest cover of 64% as of October 2005.