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About Bhutan

In Brief

Bhutan in Brief

Bhutan, nestled in the awe-inspiring Himalayas, is a landlocked Kingdom bounded by two of the world's largest nations, China and India,

A nation driven by strong environmental preservation policies, Bhutan is now one of the top 10 global hotspots, and home to many of the world's magnificent and endangered species of flora and fauna.

With one foot in its glorious past and another in the future, Bhutan is a Kingdom marching along the middle path, guided by a unique development philosophy of Gross National Happiness, where material wealth means little without the happiness and fulfillment of its people.

Population National Language Official Religion
672,425 Dzongkha Mahayana Buddhism
(Vajarayana form)
Country Size Time Currency
38,395 sq. km.
(approx. the size of Switzerland or 1/2
the size of Indiana)
Six hours ahead of GMT The Ngultrum
(at par with the Indian Rupee)
Capital & largest city Main Exports Country Code
Thimphu Electricity, timber, cement, agricultural products, handicrafts +975
Government Head of State Prime Minister
Parliamentary Democracy Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck Tshering Tobgay

Information provided by and property of the Department of Tourism, Royal Government of Bhutan

Historic Timeline

Useful and fun facts on Bhutan

1907 The Wangchuck dynasty begins! Sir Ugyen Wangchuck is chosen as the hereditary ruler and becomes Bhutan's first Druk Gyalpo or "Dragon King."
1910 A treaty was signed with Britain disallowing them to interfere in Bhutan's internal administration, though excellent relations were still maintained.
1926 Jigme Wangchuck, 24 years old, became the second King after his father Ugyen Wangchuck dies. Known for refining the taxation and administrative systems, he brings the entire country under his control.
1949 Treaty signed with the newly-independent India, addressing their relationship and maintaining Bhutan as a sovereign nation.
1952 At the demise of his father, Jigme Dorji Wangchuck became the third King. He emphasizes the importance of bringing in reform, while maintaining culture and tradition. Establishing the National Assembly, Royal Bhutan Army, Police force, and High Court, he also abolishes slavery.
1961 First paved road comes to Bhutan!
1967 The National Library was established.
1971 Bhutan joins the United Nations.
1972 The 3rd King dies and the throne turns over to Jigme Singye Wangchuck, age 17, who later leads the country forward with a cautious policy of modernization and later abdicates the throne to his son. Responsible for establishing the concept of GNH, or Gross National Happiness, he also is responsible for bringing democracy to Bhutan.
1974 Foreign tourists allowed to enter Bhutan for the first time.
1983 Bhutan's first airport, Paro International Airport, is constructed.
1985 The Royal Government of Bhutan invokes laws which strive to maintain the Bhutanese identity in the forms of mandated dress, language, and architectural style.
1986 The Kuensel, Bhutan's first newspaper began publishing.
1988 Many illegal settlers are found in southern Bhutan and asked to leave if they could not provide proper citizenship papers.
1989 The telephone is introduced to Bhutan.
1990 Ethnic unrest and violence begin as the illegal Bhutan People's Party wreak havoc in southern Bhutan, causing thousands of ethnic Nepalis to flee to Nepal.
1992 Leader of Bhutan's People's Party sentenced to life imprisonment.
1998 The Fourth King Jigme Singye Wangchuck establishes the four pillars of GNH - sustainable economic development, conservation of the environment, promotion of national culture, and of good governance.
1998 Taktsang Monastery or "Tiger's Nest" is severely damaged by fire.
1999 Television and Internet access are introduced to Bhutan!
2003 The Royal Government of Bhutan, led by His Majesty the Fourth King himself, flush out a camp of Indian military separatist rebels trying to establish ground in Bhutan.
2004 Bhutan becomes the first nation in the world to ban cigarettes and other tobacco products.
2005 Proposed constitution is unveiled proposing parliamentary democracy and the freedoms of thought and speech. His Majesty also announces his plan to abdicate in 2008 when the first elections are held.
2006 After more than 3 decades of service, His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo surprised the country by abdicating the throne early to his son, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, the Fifth King.
2007 Mock elections are staged to familiarize people with voting.
2008 The first parliamentary elections are held with Druk Phuensum Tshogpa winning by a landslide. His Majesty the Fifth King becomes Head of State and DPT's President Jigme Y. Thinley becomes the Prime Minister.

History

History of Bhutan

from monarchy to democracy

Bhutan has evolved from a feudal society that was sparsely scattered over the rugged mountain terrain, to a polity governed by the clergy and civil administration, to a progressive farming society in a relatively short time. The Land of the Thunder Dragon entered the new millennium with a modern bureaucracy trying to resist being completely overwhelmed by the forces of globalization.

Until the 20th century the leadership of the country was mostly mythological figures. The 8th century saint, Guru Rinpoche, introduced the Buddhist culture that still binds society today, and Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal established the notion of nationhood in the 17th century. The establishment of hereditary monarchy in 1907 established Bhutanese history as it is best known.

The first two kings, Sir Ugyen Wangchuck and King Jigme Wangchuck, consolidated the nation under an absolute monarchy with a traditional hierarchical culture of governance. The kings ruled the people directly from the royal court and the largely ruled society developed along the relationship between the king and the people, the king's responsibility being to look after the people and the people owing to him their reverence.

All this time, Bhutan felt the perceived threat of small countries and chose to remain in complete isolation with no contact with the world.

The third king introduced the concept of modernization in the 1950's and began the formal process of planned modernization in 1961. India became the main supporter and Bhutan gradually opened up to the world by establishing links with the United Nations in 1972 and eventually 21 other countries.

The fourth king of Bhutan, His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck, took over in 1972 and accelerated the development process. The country saw phenomenal achievements as it built roads and bridges, schools and hospitals, and telecommunication and power infrastructure. Although the traditional agricultural lifestyle is still promoted, modernization today also means that more Bhutanese are living in cities and towns.

In December 2006 the Fourth Druk Gyalpo abdicated the throne to his son, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, in preparing the country for the dramatic transition to democracy. And in March 2008, after 100 years of absolute monarchy, the country was transformed into a parliamentary democracy with its first democratic elections. By a large majority of popular vote, the Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT) or Bhutan Harmony Party, became the first elected government in Bhutan. Led by Prime Minister Jigme Y. Thinley, DPT promises to lead the country with integrity and justice as its foundation, and in keeping with the royal vision of GNH, or "Gross National Happiness."

Throughout this process of evolution, however, Bhutan is determined to be guided by the values and priorities that have helped it to remain a unique country in a rapidly changing world.

Location & Climate

Where is Bhutan?

discovering the Kingdom of Bhutan

Location

Bhutan is a small, completely landlocked nation nestled in the Himalayan mountain range. It is south of the Tibetan region of China, north of India, and to the east of Nepal.

Roughly the size of Switzerland or 1/2 the size of Indiana, Bhutan encompasses 46,500 sq. km. of varied terrain, with elevations up to 24,777 square feet. It features three distinct geographic regions... the high Himalayas of the north, the hills and the valleys of the center, and the foothills and plains of the south. Great and pristine rivers run throughout the country, sculpting its geography and providing water for the communities as well as a source for hydropower.

Climate

The climatic conditions in Bhutan vary dramatically due to the wide geographical variations and also result in the country experiencing four seasons. The southern parts experience sub-tropical and warmer conditions, the central part temperate conditions, and further north, cold, alpine temperatures resulting in snow covered peaks throughout the year. Winters span December to February, and the warm months of June through August experience frequent monsoon rains.

Average temperatures in Bhutan

°Celsius
 
PARO
THIMPHU
PUNAKHA
WANGDUE
TRONGSA
BUMTHANG
MONGAR
TRASHIGANG
 
Max
Min
Max
Min
Max
Min
Max
Min
Max
Min
Max
Min
Max
Min
Max
Min
JAN
9 -6 12 -3 16 4 17 4 13 0 11 -5 16 8 20 11
FEB
13 2 14 1 20 5 19 8 14 0 10 -1 16 8 22 12
MAR
15 1 16 4 21 9 23 10 17 4 16 4 20 12 25 14
APR
18 5 20 7 24 11 26 13 20 7 19 4 23 14 28 17
MAY
24 11 23 13 27 15 29 18 21 12 21 10 25 17 30 21
JUN
25 14 24 15 31 20 29 20 22 14 23 10 26 20 31 23
JUL
27 15 29 15 32 22 29 26 25 15 24 11 26 20 32 23
AUG
25 15 25 16 31 20 29 20 24 15 23 14 25 20 30 23
SEP
23 12 23 15 30 20 28 19 23 14 22 12 25 19 30 24
OCT
19 7 22 10 28 19 26 15 23 12 20 6 23 16 29 18
NOV
14 1 18 5 22 13 23 10 20 6 16 1 20 11 26 14
DEC
11 -2 15 -1 15 8 19 6 18 3 12 -2 16 10 23 12
                                 
°Fahrenheit
 
PARO
THIMPHU
PUNAKHA
WANGDUE
TRONGSA
BUMTHANG
MONGAR
TRASHIGANG
 
Max
Min
Max
Min
Max
Min
Max
Min
Max
Min
Max
Min
Max
Min
Max
Min
JAN 49 22 54 27 61 40 63 40 55 32 51 23 60 47 69 51
FEB 56 35 58 33 67 42 66 46 57 33 50 29 61 47 71 53
MAR 58 33 62 39 70 49 73 51 62 40 61 38 68 53 77 58
APR 64 40 68 45 76 52 79 55 68 44 66 39 73 57 83 63
MAY 74 51 73 56 81 59 84 64 70 53 70 49 77 63 86 69
JUN 78 57 76 59 88 67 85 68 72 56 73 49 79 67 87 73
JUL 80 59 84 60 90 71 85 79 78 60 75 52 79 68 89 74
AUG 78 58 77 60 89 68 84 68 75 59 73 57 78 67 86 73
SEP 74 53 74 59 86 69 82 66 73 58 71 54 76 67 86 75
OCT 66 45 71 51 82 66 79 58 73 53 67 43 73 60 84 64
NOV 57 35 64 41 72 55 73 49 68 44 61 33 68 52 79 56
DEC 52 29 58 30 59 46 66 43 65 37 54 28 60 49 73 53

Place of Interest

From the west to the wild east

Paro

Elevation 2,280m (7,480ft)
The home of the only airport in Bhutan, the Paro valley is large and lush. Most visitors spend at least one night here, so there are a fair number of hotels ranging from basic tourist standard to luxury 5-star accommodations.

  • Paro Dzong (Rinpung Dzong)
  • Ta Dzong - Home of the National Museum
  • Taktsang Monastery (Tiger's Nest)
  • Kichu Lhakhang
  • Drugyel Dzong

Thimphu

Elevation 2,320m (7,611ft)
Thimphu, the capital city of Bhutan is home to approximately 100,000 people and also the first and only four-lane expressway in the country. Thimphu offers the greatest number of choices for hotels, cuisine, and the largest vegetable market.

  • Textile Museum
  • Folk Heritage Museum
  • Semtokha Dzong
  • Trashichho Dzong
  • National Library
  • National Memorial Chorten
  • Dochula pass (on the way from Thimphu to Punakha)

Haa

Elevation 2,670m (8,760ft)
Just opened to tourists in 2001, Haa is another valley similar to Paro but higher in elevation. The Indian military is based here and yearly hosts the Haa Mila which celebrates the Indo-Bhutan friendship

  • Wangchuk Dzong
  • Lhagang Karpo
  • Lhagang Nagpo

Punakha

Elevation 1,300m (4,265ft)
Punakha, the ancient capital of Bhutan, boasts the second largest dzong which was built in 1637. Sitting at the fork of two rivers, the dzong showcases stunning Bhutanese architecture as well as one of the most picturesque sights in Bhutan.

The sub-tropical valley of Punakha produces an abundance of foods including grains, vegetables, and fruits such as bananas and oranges. In past times, the winter capital of Bhutan, Punakha enjoys pleasant winters.

  • Punakha Dzong
  • Khamsum Yulley Chorten
  • Druk Wangyal Chortens at Dochula (between Thimphu and Punakha)

Wangduephodrang (wangdue)

Elevation 1,350m (4,429ft)

  • Wangdue is located in the same valley as Punakha, yet is a separate district resting at nearly the same elevation. It is known primarily for its bamboo work and slate and stone carving.
Wangduephodrang Dzong

Phobjikha valley (gangtey)

Elevation 3,000m (9,842ft)
Although part of the Wangdue district, Phobjikha Valley is, in itself, its own world. Known for the Black-Necked Cranes it proudly receives each winter, Phobjikha is an amazingly beautiful and peaceful lush valley which should not be missed. Due to conservation measures for protecting the cranes, electricity is not allowed. The lodges, which do have a power source, depend upon solar power or generators which are used only when necessary; everything is switched off at night.

  • Gangtey Gompa Monastery

Trongsa

Elevation 2,316m (7,598ft)
Located in central Bhutan, Trongsa is the ancestral home of Bhutan's royal family and is where the first two kings ruled the Kingdom. The Trongsa Dzong is a magnificent Dzong perched on the hillside which you can see from miles away. Trongsa also serves as a convenient stopping point when traveling to or from the east.

  • Trongsa Dzong
  • Ta Dzong (watchtower of Trongsa Dzong) & new National Museum
  • Chendebji

Bumthang

Elevation 2,600m - 4,000m (8,530ft - 13,123ft)
Known as the spiritual heartland of the Kingdom, Bumthang hosts numerous monasteries and deeply revered spiritual sites. Many say that there is a strong sense of peace and tranquility that falls upon you when you enter the valley.

  • Kurjey Lhakhang
  • Jambey Lhakhang
  • Jakar Dzong
  • Tamshing Lhakhang
  • Mebar Tsho
  • Ura village

Mongar

Elevation 1,700m (5,575ft)
After Bumthang, Mongar is the beginning of eastern Bhutan and is built on the side of a hill, in contrast to most towns in western Bhutan, which are on the valley floor. The journey from Bumthang to Mongar takes you over the lovely Trumsingla pass at 3,800 meters, or 12,467 feet.

  • Mongar Dzong

Trashigang

Elevation 1,090m (5,575ft)
The largest district in Bhutan, Trashigang lies far east on the banks of the Gamri Chu river and is a 17-hour drive from the capital city of Thimphu. Once the center of a busy trade route with Tibet, it now holds the densest population of Bhutan, although having not become a major urban area. In the winter, you can see many of the nomadic people of Sakten and Merak here, who are known for their unique costumes and features.

  • Trashigang Dzong
  • Kanglung Lhakhang
  • Kanglung Zangtogpelri
  • Khaling Lhakhang
  • Radhi Lhakhang
  • Sakten and Merak Lhakhangs

Trashiyangtse

Elevation 1,829m (6,000ft)
Like Phobjikha, Trashiyangtse is also on the migration route of the Black Necked Crane. As the eastern most part of Bhutan, it borders Arunachal Pradesh in India.

  • Trashiyangtse Dzong
  • Chorten Kora

Phuentsholing

Elevation 1,829m (3,775ft)
The industrial town of Phuentsholing, part of the Chukha district, is the gateway to India as it rests at the border of India and Bhutan. If entering Bhutan by land, you will enter through Phuentsholing. Although the journey from here to Thimphu or Paro is long (approximately 6 hours), the trip is very picturesque as you travel from the tropical plains through the changing vegetation and up to the higher altitudes

  • Kharbandi Gompa
  • Zangtopelri Temple
  • Phuentsholing Lhakhang

Religion & Culture

buddhism, a fundamental part of Bhutanese culture

Culture in Bhutan...a living past

Bhutan is a unique blend of the old and the new. Here is a country that is slowly opening up its doors to the modern world in a fine balance with its ancient traditions. Bhutan is often described as a unique, deeply spiritual, and mystical kingdom. Religion and faith play a fundamental role and permeates in all aspects of the lives of the people.

Rituals and music

The religious dances, rituals, and folk music form integral parts of all celebrations and social activities. No functions begin without a ritual to seek blessings.

Festivals

The Buddhist festivals or tsechus are one of the prime examples of the living culture of Bhutan that many have come to admire and treasure. The tsechus are festivals in honor of Guru Rinpoche, the saint who first brought Buddhism to Bhutan and its Himalayan neighbors.

Tsechus are held in almost every district attracting hundreds of Bhutanese people in a spirit of festivity, celebration, and deep faith. Held on the tenth day of the Bhutanese month, the festivals last up to five days in which a series of highly stylized masked dance rituals are performed. Bhutanese come dressed in their best for the very special occasion. Tsechus take place throughout the country at different times of the year.

Religion

Bhutan is the only country in the world to retain the Tantric form of Mahayana Buddhism as its official religion. Historically and to this day, religion plays a fundamental role in the cultural, ethical, and sociological development of Bhutan and its people. Evident in all aspects of daily life, its religion promotes reverence for the land, its people and animals, and promotes well-being for everyone.

Religion is visually evident by the countless stupas, chortens, and prayer flags which color the valleys, mountainsides, and passes of Bhutan.

Some information provided by and property of the Department of Tourism, Royal Government of Bhutan

Hotels & Transportation

Hotels in Bhutan

A wide variety of accommodations are available throughout the country, from farmhouse stays, to budget hotels, to luxury resorts. Basic, clean, and comfortable government-approved hotels with adequate facilities such as en-suite toilets with hot and cold running water (not available in certain remote locations) are provided in the daily tariff, but accommodations in 4 and 5-star lodges are extra. Though the hotel industry is constantly improving, please note the facilities provided may be lower or less than what you are used to, especially the further east you venture into Bhutan.

For your trip: You choose the type of accommodations you'd like. Economy, mid-range, or luxury, or any combination thereof... it simply depends on your budget. We can provide further details as to exact hotel facilities, amenities, and cost to help better plan your trip. Even if you choose to stay in a basic hotel, we can arrange a trip to the more luxurious hotels so you can take advantage of 5-star dining or a day at the spa.

You can find more hotel details at www.hotels.bt

Transportation in Bhutan

Transportation within Bhutan is typically limited to travel by motor vehicles and trekking, as there are no domestic airlines or trains. However, for those visitors with a large budget, private helicopter transport is available with prior special arrangement. Please contact us if you would like further information on our helicopter tours.

For your trip: All overland transportation is included with your trip cost. Vehicles can vary depending upon group size and personal choice, but all are comfortable, clean, and well-maintained vehicles typically of SUV style. If you require luxury transport, please advise us and we'll happily make the necessary arrangements.

Food & Drinks

from ema datsi to arra

Food

A traditional Bhutanese meal includes rice and chillies, which are known for their heat. Hot chillies are a fundamental part of every meal and are consumed either wholly with salt, or in a chilli and cheese curry. Chilli peppers are consumed in large quantities and are treated as a vegetable, not simply as a spice.

The most typical Bhutanese curry is Ema Datsi, which means chilli and cheese. There are many variations of this with the addition of other vegetables including potatoes for Kewa Datsi and mushrooms for Shamu Datsi. Eaten in the traditional way these curries are all very hot, but can be adjusted according to your taste.

Another popular dish is the momo, similar to a dumpling, and is found at most restaurants with either minced meat or cheese and onions.

Indian fare is quite common throughout the country and is quite tasty with many options for vegetarians. A variety of international and Chinese cuisine are also common in tourist standard hotels and local restaurants.

When you use Bhutan "Your Way" Tours as your travel agent, your dining experiences will be at your discretion with options from eating at your hotel, a local restaurant, or even a farmhouse, 100% of the time. You will not be subject to buffet-style meals, unless you want to!

Drinks

Coffee and teas are readily available throughout the country; however, a traditional alternative is Suja, or salted butter tea. Although not for the diet-minded, it's a very tasty concoction which will give you energy to start your day, or warm you on a cold night.

Several types of locally consumed beers are also readily available which typically come in 750 ml bottles. A local specialty is Arra, a type of wine or whiskey, which can be served plain or with egg and butter although not always for the faint at heart. Other local wines can also be found depending upon your location.

Essential Services

BANKING, INTERNET, VOLTAGE, ETC

Banking services & facilities

Cash and traveler's check exchange is available for most of the main currencies including the U.S. dollar, Euro, Indian Rupee, Japanese Yen, Thai Baht, Pound Sterling, Swiss Franc, Hong Kong dollar, Canadian dollar, Australian dollar, Singapore dollar, Danish kroner, Norwegian kroner, and Swedish kroner. Exchange rates vary.

There are ATMs in Bhutan but only VISA and Master cards are accepted in few ATMs in the country. Please note that these ATMs do not function sometimes, so traveler's cheques are best if you plan on needing additional money.

It is also possible to have funds wired with the services of Western Union but funds cannot be accessed in all locations, and are limited in amounts and days of availability. If you run into a cash problem, we will be happy to assist as best we are able.

Telephone, fax, and mail facilities

All major towns and cities have basic communication facilities, including phone, fax, and mail service. Local and international calls can be made from most hotels and public phone booths for a fee. Cell phones with a Bhutanese SIM card can also be used in most urban places and some rural places, and can be used with a commonly available pre-paid mobile voucher.

Standard mail service in Bhutan is handled by Bhutan Post, and is commonly found throughout the country. However, now both DHL and Federal Express have offices in Thimphu which can be utilized for sending and receiving documents and packages.

Internet facilities

Internet facilities are continuously increasing in number and can be found in major cities and towns. Many of the Internet cafes have Hi-Speed broadband connection, which can be slower than what you are used to.

Voltage

Standard voltage in Bhutan is 220V and electrical outlets vary from location to location. We recommend that you bring your own adapters and converters for personal electronics; however, they are available for purchase or loan if you forget them.

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