A holiday to Bhutan is a feast of colours, sights and sounds. Bhutan tourism is growing as international travellers discover more about this beautiful Asian gem…
Bhutan is a landlocked country in South Asia on the eastern side of the Himalayas. It is bordered to the north by China and to the south, east and west by India. Officially known as the Kingdom of Bhutan, it is one of the most isolated and least developed nations in the world. It is a land of monasteries, fortresses (dzongs) and dramatic landscapes ranging from subtropical plains to steep mountains and valleys.
Thimpu is the capital city of Bhutan and famous for being the only major city in the world that does not have traffic lights. Officials wearing white gloves direct the city’s traffic. Thimpu is also home to the royal residence; the magnificent Changangkha Lhakhang (Buddhist temple). The first dzong (fortress) ever built in Bhutan is situated close to the town centre. Simtokha Dzong – meaning ‘demon submerged in stone’ – held back an attack from fierce rivals. Today it is the Centre for Buddhist Studies.
The Bhutanese monarchy was founded in 1907. It held its first democratic elections in 2008 and its political system has changed from an absolute monarchy to a democratic and constitutional monarchy.
Foreign visitors were only allowed to visit for the first time less than 40 years ago. Tourism is still strictly monitored and the number of visitors is restricted to what the government deems the infrastructure and environment can sustain. Tourists may only travel with a recognised tour operator and pay a minimum fee of $250 per day. Backpacking is not allowed.
Bhutan maintains formal diplomatic relations with several Asian and European nations, Canada, and Brazil. Other countries, such as the United States and the United Kingdom, have no formal diplomatic relations with Bhutan, but maintain informal contact through their respective embassies in New Delhi and Bhutanese honorary consulate in Washington, D.C. The United Kingdom has an Honorary Consul resident in Thimphu.
The majority of the small population of Bhutan (800 thousand people) are Buddhists. Hinduism is the second-largest religion. Vajrayana Buddhism is the state’s spiritual heritage, but the law provides for freedom of religion. There are 24 languages spoken but Dzongka (Bhutanese) is the official language. Homosexuality is banned and penalties enforced by law.
For many years Bhutan has measured its prosperity by its Gross Happiness Index, not the GDP. The spiritual, physical, social and environment health of its citizens and natural environment are all taken into account to determine the ‘state of the nation’. Although its people are considered one of the ‘happiest in the world’, it is still one of the poorest nations on the planet. A quarter of its 800 000 people survive on less than $1.25 a day and the majority (70%) live without electricity. Despite the poverty, education and healthcare are free for Bhutanese citizens.
It is known as the “Land of the Thunder Dragon” because of the violent storms that sweep across the country. The climate in Bhutan varies from subtropical in the south to temperate in the highlands and polar-type climate, with year-round snow in the north. Western Bhutan experiences heavy monsoon rains.
The country is renowned for its rich biodiversity and unique animals, including rare species of the golden langur. Other exotic species include the Bengal tiger, clouded leopard and sloth bear. The Himalayan black bear, red panda, sambar, wild pig and barking deer thrive in areas rich in fruit-bearing trees and bamboo. Bhutan’s national animal, the takin (mix of a cow and goat), is found in the alpine habitat along with the snow leopard, blue sheep, marmot, Tibetan wold and Himalayan musk deer. The endangered wild water buffalo occurs in small numbers in southern Bhutan.
The government only lifted a ban on television and the internet in 1999, making it one of the last countries in the world to introduce these telecommunications. The King said at the time that television and the internet were a critical step to the modernisation of Bhutan but warned that the ‘misuse’ of them could erode traditional Bhutanese values. This was a gift to the people to celebrate his Silver Jubilee.
Environmental conservation is a priority for the Bhutanese government and enforced by strict laws. The Eastern Himalayas is a global biodiversity hotspot and one of the most spectacular ecoregions of the world. Bhutan is a model for proactive conservation initiatives where at least 60% of the land is under forest cover and 40% of its territory is designated as a national park, reserve or protected area. Plastic bags are banned in Bhutan; shopping bags are made of cotton.
Bhutan is the only country in the world to outlaw tobacco and ban smoking. It is illegal to smoke in public or sell tobacco. A fine equivalent of $232 is imposed which is more than two months’ salary in Bhutan.
Experience the sights and sounds of Bhutan. Lekker Adventures specialises in providing you with the complete travelling experience to Bhutan. Click here to find out more about travelling to Bhutan with the assistance of Lekker Adventures.