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About Bhutan

Nestled in the Himalayan paths, Bhutan is a land of mystery that few Westerners have had the opportunity to experience. This country, which is like a bridge linking the past with the future, is not your ordinary walk in the park. While treading lightly in the modern world, the kingdom has maintained its traditional ancestral culture.

Buddhist monasteries (dzongs) perched at staggering heights, the snow capped mountains, verdant valleys that seem to be hanging from the sky and the tropical forest of the south will not fail to impress those inclined to sporting or with an affinity for nature.

A captivating and mysterious kingdom with a mountainous backdrop, a poetic language, the beauty of chants and traditional Bhutanese dances will enchant each and every voyager. Bhutan, one in a million!

This diminutive landlocked kingdom high up in the Himalayas is a peculiar tourist destination. One of the most expensive countries in the world to visit, travellers are required to pay a minimum of $200 per person per night. Bhutan’s fiercely guarded privacy and cultural heritage only add to its allure. The only country in the world to measure its Gross National Happiness, it has been rated one of the Happiest Countries many a times. With rolling Himalayan mountains, sprawling grasslands, one airport and airline, serene Buddhist monasteries, smoking bans and beaming faces, Bhutan is a land of enigma.

Nestled in the Himalayan paths, Bhutan is a land of mystery that few Westerners have had the opportunity to experience. This country, which is like a bridge linking the past with the future, is not your ordinary walk in the park. While treading lightly in the modern world, the kingdom has maintained its traditional ancestral culture.

Buddhist monasteries (dzongs) perched at staggering heights, the snow capped mountains, verdant valleys that seem to be hanging from the sky and the tropical forest of the south will not fail to impress those inclined to sporting or with an affinity for nature.

A captivating and mysterious kingdom with a mountainous backdrop, a poetic language, the beauty of chants and traditional Bhutanese dances will enchant each and every voyager. Bhutan, one in a million!

This diminutive landlocked kingdom high up in the Himalayas is a peculiar tourist destination. One of the most expensive countries in the world to visit, travellers are required to pay a minimum of $200 per person per night. Bhutan’s fiercely guarded privacy and cultural heritage only add to its allure. The only country in the world to measure its Gross National Happiness, it has been rated one of the Happiest Countries many a times. With rolling Himalayan mountains, sprawling grasslands, one airport and airline, serene Buddhist monasteries, smoking bans and beaming faces, Bhutan is a land of enigma.

Climate

Climate

Climate

Bhutan grows taller from the south to the north and the climate changes alongside too, from tropical in the south to temperate in the highlands to arctic in the north. The country experiences five distinct seasons.

Winter lasts from December to February. The sky is a dazzling blue and the mountain views are ethereal, but the temperatures are cool during the day and fall to below 0°C at night. It’s still a great time to visit the western and southern parts for rafting and bird-watching. The northern mountains receive year round snow with the winters being particularly gruesome.

Spring (March - May) and autumn (October - November) are teasingly short seasons yet unquestionably the best time to trek and travel in Bhutan. Especially autumn, when the skies are crystal clear, magnifying the glorious Himalayan views. A key attraction during this season is the Thimphu Tsechu (dance festival). Spring may not bestow views as lucid, but the blooming meadows and splendid rhododendrons under the sunny sky cast their own spells. Average temperatures generally hover around a pleasant 25°C.

In summer from April to June, the days are hot and maximum temperatures can reach up to 40°C in the south. Central and eastern Bhutan is more temperate while the west is warmer and wetter.

The monsoon unleashes itself from mid-June to late September, especially in the west. Temperatures remain warm and humid with almost daily rainfall. Not the best time to go trekking, owing to wet roads, landslides and cloudy views.

History

History

Bhutan’s ancient history is punctuated with folklore and fantastical events. It is believed that Buddhism was introduced in the country in the 7th century by Tibetan king Songtsen Gampo when he had two temples erected. Religion remained the pivotal influencer of political development and many sub-sects of Buddhism emerged. In the 17th century, Bhutan became a unified state, under the watch of a politician and monk, Ngawang amgyel. His reign adorned Bhutan with its numerous dzongs, which today act as important centres. His death was kept a secret for almost half a century to avoid internal conflict.

The following two centuries were marked by external attacks (Mongolian and Tibetan) and internal disputes. This era culminated with the unanimous nomination of Ogyen Wangchuck as the 1st king of Bhutan in 1907. The advent of monarchy brought about political stability and economic growth. At the same time, the country emerged from its isolated cocoon and blinked at the outside world. The government lifted the ban on television and the Internet in 1999, making Bhutan one of the last countries to introduce TV. The first democratic legislative elections in the country’s history were held in March 2008.

Bhutan is a unique country and is keeping a tight rein on economic development to preserve its nature, heritage and identity. The tourism industry is more liberated than ever before. As the only nation that measures its Gross National Happiness, it truly is one-of-a-kind.

Gastronomy

Gastronomy

Akin to other Asian countries, rice is the staple of Bhutanese cuisine, the heart of almost every dish. Buckwheat is also used extensively. An invariable feature on Bhutanese tables is ema-datsi, a spicy dish made from chillies (ema) and cheese (datsi). It might even be called the national dish for its ubiquity and the pride attached to it. Dasti can also include variations such as potatoes, meat, vegetables, and eggs. Dairy foods, especially butter and cheese from yaks and cows, are also popular owing to their high protein content. Various butter and cheese products are made from milk, such as Churpi, which are small cubes of dried yak cheese presented in a string.

Tea is commonly brewed in Bhutan, usually with sugar and milk or true to Tibetan tradition, churned with butter and salt, which is then called seuja. A heart warming (literally!) beverage to be had in the Himalayan winters. Other popular beverages include locally brewed Ara (rice wine) and beer.

Bhutan is the first country in the world to have banned the sale of tobacco. So while you’re there, you’ll need to lay off the stick. Talk about cleansing the soul! Despite Buddhism being so strongly entrenched in the society, Bhutan is not a vegetarian country. The local diet encompasses pork, beef, yak meat, chicken, and mutton. In order to preserve it well, meat is often dried by hanging it on windows or on clothes lines.

Population

Population

People

The genial Bhutanese population of more than 700,000 can be broadly distinguished into three ethnic groups. The society here is refreshingly devoid of a strict caste based system, although traditional etiquette is given high priority.

The Tshanglas or the Sharchops as they are commonly known are considered to be the aboriginal inhabitants of eastern Bhutan. The Ngalops primarily live in western Bhutan and are of Tibetan origin. Their main dialect is Ngalopkha while the Sharchops converse in Tshanglakha. Agriculture is the focal occupation of both clans. The Lhotshampas have settled in the southern foothills of the country and are mostly of Nepalese descent. Many other minority groups coexist in Bhutan comprising cultivators, animal breeders, weavers, nomads and tribes.

The Bhutanese are a gregarious lot armed with a bawdy sense of humour. The society conducts itself in public according to its traditional etiquette ‘Driglam Namzha’. Respecting elders, wearing scarves in a Dzong (ubiquitous Buddhist monasteries), and being polite are just some of the manners that bind the Bhutanese society.

Religion

Religion

Before the advent of Buddhism, Bhutanese used to worship all manifestations of nature, glimpses of which can still be seen in the interior villages. Buddhism was first introduced by the Indian Tantric master Guru Padmasambhava in the 8th century. Vajrayana Buddhism is today practised by 75 % of the population, while the remaining are patrons of Hinduism.

Buddhism is intimately married to almost every facet of Bhutanese life, whether its festivals, culture, food or architecture. Dzongs resounding in ritual chimes and gongs, multi-coloured prayer flags flapping in the wintry breeze, and vermillion robed monks bent in silent prayer – this concoction creates a heady ambience.

The dzong is a pivotal ingredient in the Bhutanese spiritual fare. Scattered across the country, they were formerly used as religious, military, administrative and social centres of the district that they commanded. Designed as veritable fortresses, their construction was not designed by science, but from the inspiration of lamas. If you happen to visit one (which you must) be respectful of the decorum and follow certain precautions, such as removing your footwear, observing silence, and not touching religious objects with your feet. The serenity that dzongs exude will leave you uplifted and tranquil.

Festivals

Festivals

Bhutan’s rich cultural heritage is augmented by the diverse festivals celebrated by its people. The country has numerous public holidays, most of which centre around seasonal, secular and religious festivals. They include the winter solstice (around January 1, depending on the lunar calendar), the lunar New Year (February or March), the King’s birthday and the anniversary of his coronation, the official end of monsoon season (September 22), National Day (December 17), and various Buddhist and Hindu celebrations.

The most popular festival across all villages of Bhutan is the Tshechu. The Tshechu is celebrated on the tenth day of a month to commemorate the birthday and life of Guru Padmasambhava, also known as the second Buddha. The month of Tshechu however, varies by temple and region. At the onset of the Tshechu, villagers don their finery and gather together in the dzongs and monasteries. The vivid and energetic mask dances are fabled to wash away all sins of the onlookers. People share their feast of red rice, pork and Ema Datsi and drown themselves in the revelry of their traditional wine known as Ara. Attendance at this festival should be a must-do on your itinerary. The revelry, colours and history will truly inundate all your senses.

Geography

Geography

Landlocked between Tibet and India, Bhutan is located on the southern slopes of the Himalayas. It is a mountainous country with three main geographical regions - the Himalayas in the north, the hills and valleys in the centre and the southern plains. The land is crossed by streams and rivers that provide important hydroelectric power and have shaped the terrain into myriad valleys. The wide altitudinal range coupled with varied climate has gifted Bhutan with an impressive range of rich biodiversity and ecosystems.

The alpine zone in the northern region of the country comprises glaciated mountain peaks, most of them reaching 7,000m and above. Polar shrubs and meadows are the only vegetation in this region. The highest point in Bhutan is Gangkhar Puensum at 7,570m, which is touted to be the highest unclimbed mountain in the world.

The midland temperate zone is the most populated region, owing to its generous forest cover and dulcet weather. This region is enriched with expansive broadleaf and conifer forests, along with arterial swift rivers that have carved out deep gorges.

The south is adorned with lush tropical and hardwood forests, river valleys and foothills. Vegetation in this region is plentiful and wildlife is abundant. You can encounter clouded leopards, the one horned rhinoceros, elephants, golden langur that is unique to Bhutan, the water buffaloes and the swamp deer.

Bhutan’s stunning biodiversity in its rugged mountains and valleys has placed it as one of the world’s ten most important biodiversity hotspots.

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