Bhutan is officially known as the Kingdom of Bhutan
Bhutan is located in the Eastern Himalayas, it is bordered by the Tibet Autonomous Region of China in the north, the Chumbi Valley of Tibet, China and the Indian states of Sikkim and West Bengal in the west, and the Indian states of Assam, West Bengal, and Arunachal Pradesh in the south and east.
Thimphu is its capital and largest city, while Phuntsholing is its financial center.
Official language: Dzongkha.
The national currency is called ngultrum: 1 BTN = 100 chhertum = 0,013 USD (2021).
Time zone in Bhutan: GMT+6
The government is a parliamentary democracy; the head of state is the King of Bhutan, known as the “Dragon King.”
Bhutan is also notable for pioneering the concept of gross national happiness.
Geography & Administrative division
Geography of Bhutan
Bhutan’s geography is dominated by the Himalayan mountain range, which runs from north to south through the country. The mountain peaks in Bhutan reach over 7,000 meters in height, and the country’s highest point is Gangkhar Puensum, which stands at 7,570 meters. The mountainous terrain makes up over 70% of Bhutan’s land area, with deep valleys and narrow ridges separating the peaks.
The country’s climate varies greatly depending on elevation, with the southern regions being subtropical and the northern regions experiencing a more alpine climate. Bhutan’s climate is also heavily influenced by the monsoon, which brings heavy rainfall between June and September.
Administrative Division of Bhutan
Bhutan is divided into 20 districts, known as Dzongkhags, each of which is further divided into Gewogs. The districts are named after the Dzongs, or fortified monasteries, that serve as administrative centers for each district. The Dzongs are also important cultural and religious sites in Bhutan.
The 20 districts of Bhutan are:
- Samdrup Jongkhar
- Trashi Yangtse
- Wangdue Phodrang
Each district is headed by a Dzongdag, who is responsible for the overall administration of the district. The Gewogs within each district is further divided into Chewogs, which are responsible for the day-to-day administration of local communities.
Nature & Wildlife
Bhutan is renowned for its stunning natural beauty and rich biodiversity. The country’s unique geography and climate have created a diverse range of ecosystems, from lush subtropical forests to high-altitude alpine meadows.
Nature of Bhutan
Bhutan’s geography is characterized by its rugged terrain, with steep mountains and deep valleys. The country is home to several major rivers, including the Paro Chhu, Wang Chhu, and Punatsang Chhu, which flow through the country’s lush valleys and provide essential water resources for local communities.
The forests of Bhutan cover over 70% of the country’s land area and are some of the most biodiverse in the world. These forests are home to a rich variety of plant and animal species, including over 5,400 species of vascular plants, 770 species of birds, and 165 species of mammals.
Wildlife of Bhutan
Bhutan is home to a wide range of wildlife, from small rodents to large mammals such as tigers and elephants. Some of the most iconic species found in Bhutan include the takin, a large and unique mammal found only in the Himalayas, and the black-necked crane, a rare bird that migrates to Bhutan each winter from Tibet.
Other notable species found in Bhutan include the snow leopard, the Bengal tiger, the clouded leopard, and the Himalayan black bear. The country’s forests are also home to a diverse range of bird species, including several species of pheasants and owls.
Bhutan has made significant efforts to protect its natural environment and wildlife, with over half of the country’s land area designated as protected areas, national parks, or wildlife sanctuaries. The country’s constitution also includes a provision that requires the government to maintain at least 60% of the country’s land area under forest cover at all times.
In addition to these legal protections, Bhutan has also adopted a philosophy known as Gross National Happiness, which places a strong emphasis on environmental sustainability and the well-being of both people and the natural environment.
Bhutan’s natural environment and wildlife are integral parts of the country’s cultural heritage and way of life. The country’s stunning landscapes, rich biodiversity, and commitment to environmental conservation make it a unique and inspiring destination for nature lovers and wildlife enthusiasts alike.
Demographics & Languages
There are two dozen languages of Bhutan, all members of the Tibeto-Burman language family except for Nepali, which is an Indo-Aryan language, and Bhutanese Sign Language.
Dzongkha, the national language, is the only language with a native literary tradition in Bhutan, though Lepcha and Nepali are literary languages in other countries.
Other non-Bhutanese minority languages are also spoken along Bhutan’s borders and among the primarily Nepali-speaking Lhotshampa community in South and East Bhutan.
Origin of the name & Local symbols
The precise etymology of “Bhutan” is unknown, although it is likely to derive from the Tibetan endonym “Böd” for Tibet. Traditionally, it is taken to be a transcription of the Sanskrit Bhoṭa-anta “end of Tibet”, a reference to Bhutan’s position as the southern extremity of the Tibetan plateau and culture.
Since the 17th century Bhutan’s official name has been Druk Yul (country of the Drukpa Lineage, the Dragon People, or the Land of the Thunder Dragon, a reference to the country’s dominant Buddhist sect); “Bhutan” appears only in English-language official correspondence.
Names similar to Bhutan—including Bohtan, Bhutan, Bottanthis, Bottan and Bottanter—began to appear in Europe around the 1580s. Jean-Baptiste Tavernier’s 1676 Six Voyages is the first to record the name Boutan. But these names seem to have referred not to modern Bhutan but to the Kingdom of Tibet.
The modern distinction between the two did not begin until well into the Scottish explorer George Bogle’s 1774 expedition. Realizing the differences between the two regions, cultures and states, his final report to the East India Company formally proposed calling the Druk Desi’s kingdom “Boutan” and the Panchen Lama’s “Tibet”.
The EIC’s surveyor general James Rennell first anglicized the French name as Bootan and then popularized the distinction between it and greater Tibet.
Locally, Bhutan has been known by many names. One of the earliest Western records of Bhutan, the 1627 Relação of the Portuguese Jesuits Estêvão Cacella and João Cabral, records its name variously as Cambirasi (among the Koch Biharis), Potente, and Mon (an endonym for southern Tibet).
The first time the separate Kingdom of Bhutan appeared on a western map, it did so under its local name “Broukpa”. Others include Lho Mon (“Dark Southland”), Lho Tsendenjong (“Southland of the Cypress”), Lhomen Khazhi (“Southland of the Four Approaches”) and Lho Menjong (“Southland of the Herbs”).
History & Timeline
Bhutan has a rich and fascinating history that spans centuries. Known for its unique cultural identity, pristine natural beauty, and the concept of Gross National Happiness, Bhutan’s history is a testament to the resilience and spirit of its people. Let’s explore the history of Bhutan through its major epochs.
The Early Years (8th – 17th century)
Bhutan’s early history is shrouded in legends and myths. According to Bhutanese tradition, Guru Rinpoche, also known as Padmasambhava, arrived in Bhutan in the 8th century and introduced Buddhism to the country. Over the centuries, Buddhism became the dominant religion in Bhutan, and the country developed a unique form of Mahayana Buddhism known as Drukpa Kagyu.
In the 17th century, Bhutan was unified under the leadership of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, a Tibetan lama who established the dual system of government that is still in place today. The Zhabdrung, as he is known, is considered the father of Bhutan and is revered by the Bhutanese people.
The Arrival of the Wangchuck Dynasty (1907 – 1952)
In the early 20th century, Bhutan was a patchwork of small fiefdoms ruled by warring factions. In 1907, Ugyen Wangchuck, a regional leader, was crowned as the first hereditary king of Bhutan. He established the Wangchuck dynasty, which has ruled Bhutan ever since.
Under Ugyen Wangchuck’s leadership, Bhutan entered into formal relations with the British government and adopted a policy of isolationism. During this time, the country remained largely closed off to the outside world and maintained its traditional way of life.
The Bhutanization Policy (1952 – 2006)
In 1952, Jigme Dorji Wangchuck became the third king of Bhutan and began a series of modernization reforms known as the “Bhutanization” policy. This policy aimed to preserve Bhutan’s cultural identity while modernizing the country and improving the standard of living for its people.
Under Jigme Dorji Wangchuck’s leadership, Bhutan introduced a number of reforms, including a new legal system, a national currency, and a national assembly. He also established the Royal Bhutan Army and opened up the country to foreign tourists.
The Concept of Gross National Happiness (1999 – present)
In 1999, Jigme Singye Wangchuck, the fourth king of Bhutan, introduced the concept of Gross National Happiness (GNH) as an alternative to Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as a measure of a country’s progress and well-being. GNH focuses on the four pillars of sustainable and equitable socio-economic development, preservation and promotion of culture, environmental conservation, and good governance.
Under Jigme Singye Wangchuck’s leadership, Bhutan continued to modernize while preserving its cultural identity.
In 2008, Bhutan adopted a new constitution and transitioned to a democratic constitutional monarchy. Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, the fifth king of Bhutan, continues to build on his father’s legacy and works to promote Bhutan’s unique cultural identity and sustainable development.
A brief timeline of Bhutan’s history
- 747 AD: According to Bhutanese tradition, the legendary figure of Guru Rinpoche, also known as Padmasambhava, arrives in Bhutan from India and introduces Buddhism to the country.
- 1616: Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, a Tibetan lama, unifies Bhutan under his leadership and establishes the Drukpa Kagyu school of Buddhism as the country’s official religion.
- 1907: Ugyen Wangchuck is crowned as the first hereditary king of Bhutan, ending a period of civil war and bringing about the beginning of the Wangchuck dynasty.
- 1949: India gains independence from British colonial rule and Bhutan becomes the first country to recognize India’s sovereignty.
- 1952: Jigme Dorji Wangchuck becomes the third king of Bhutan and begins a series of modernization reforms known as the “Bhutanization” policy.
- 1971: Bhutan becomes a member of the United Nations.
- 1999: Jigme Singye Wangchuck, the fourth king of Bhutan, introduces the concept of Gross National Happiness (GNH) as an alternative to Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as a measure of a country’s progress and well-being.
- 2006: Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck becomes the fifth king of Bhutan following his father’s abdication. He introduces further reforms and aims to transition Bhutan to a democratic constitutional monarchy.
- 2008: Bhutan holds its first democratic elections and adopts a new constitution, officially transitioning to a constitutional monarchy.
- 2019: Bhutan celebrates the birth of the first child of the current king and queen, the heir to the throne.
These are just a few of the major events in Bhutan’s history, which has been shaped by Buddhism, monarchy, and a unique cultural identity that distinguishes it from its neighbors.
Tourism & What to do in Bhutan?
All tourists need a Bhutanese visa to enter and exit Bhutan.
All visas are approved in the capital, Thimphu, and are only issued to tourists who have booked travel with a locally licensed tour operator, either directly or through a foreign travel agent.
Applications for tourist visas are submitted by the local tour operator. In 2014, Bhutan welcomed 133,480 foreign visitors. Seeking to become a high-value destination, it imposes a daily fee of 250 USD on every tourist that covers touring and hotel accommodation.
The country currently has no UNESCO World Heritage Sites, but it has had eight declared tentative sites for UNESCO inclusion since 2012:
- Ancient Ruin of Drukgyel Dzong
- Bumdelling Wildlife Sanctuary
- Dzongs: the center of temporal and religious authorities (Punakha Dzong, Wangdue Phodrang Dzong, Paro Dzong, Trongsa Dzong, and Dagana Dzong)
- Jigme Dorji National Park (JDNP)
- Royal Manas National Park (RMNP)
- Sacred Sites associated with Phajo Drugom Zhigpo and his descendants
- Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary (SWS)
- Tamzhing Monastery
Bhutan also has numerous tourist sites that are not included in its UNESCO tentative list. Bhutan has one element, the Mask dance of the drums from Drametse, registered in the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage List.
Bhutan is also well known for mountain adventure trekking and hiking. Jhomolhari Base Camp Trek, Snowman Trek, and Masagang trek are some of the popular treks in Bhutan.
Climate & Best time to visit Bhutan
Bhutan’s climate varies with elevation, from subtropical in the south to temperate in the highlands and polar-type climate with year-round snow in the north.
Bhutan experiences five distinct seasons: summer, monsoon, autumn, winter and spring. Western Bhutan has heavier monsoon rains; southern Bhutan has hot humid summers and cool winters; central and eastern Bhutan are temperate and drier than the west with warm summers and cool winters.