The Kingdom of Bhutan is a small country in South Asia. The Bhutanese name for Bhutan is Druk Yul, which means ‘the Land of the Thunder Dragon’, and as the name suggests it is a Himalayan Kingdom steeped in myths and legends. It is a landlocked country located in the Eastern Himalayas. The country is surrounded on three of its sides by Indian states; Sikkim on the Western side, Arunachal Pradesh on the East border and Assam and West Bengal on the South. To the North of Bhutan lies the autonomous region of China of Tibet.
With such powerful neighbors Bhutan has had a colorful history and was almost completely cut off from the outside world for centuries. It was granted independence from India in 1949. It has only really opened up to visitors since the 1970’s when it joined the United Nations in 1971.
It has a population of less than 700,000 so is a small country by Asian standards. In terms of geographical size, it measures 110 miles from North to South, and 200 miles from East to West. It has a total area of 46,500 square kilometers. The main religion is Buddhism with Hinduism being the second most popular.
Politically Bhutan has undergone radical changes in the past century. The Wangchuck monarchy held power since 1907 until March 2008 when the country became a two party parliamentary democracy. The new regime states that they will protect Bhutan’s ancient Buddhist culture, which along with the stunning scenery, is what attracts visitors to the country. The local Drukpa people share very similar culture with the Tibetan people. The Bhutanese monarchy promote Gross National Happiness (GNP) as a national philosophy. It aims to strike a balance between spiritual and material happiness. Their philosophy seems to be working as Bhutan was voted the happiest country in Asia in 2006 and the eighth happiest in the entire world after a global survey was conducted.
National dress is compulsory and consists of an ankle-length dress called a ‘Kira’ for women, and a knee-length robe called a ‘gho’ for men.
The capital of Bhutan is a city called Thimphu, which lies at an incredible altitude of 7,000 ft. It is also the largest city in Bhutan and is located on the banks of the Wong Chu River and attracts extreme sports enthusiasts from all over the world. Thimphu is also home to the royal government offices.
The country is completely bordered by mountains which makes travel within the country, as well as to the country very challenging. There are very few navigable roads within the country, and much of it remains unspoiled.
Bhutan has sub-tropical plains in its Southern regions at an elevation of around 200m rising to the sub-alpine Himalayan heights in the North giving the country a wide range of ecosystems. Some peaks in the North exceed 7,000m.