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Known by the Bhutanese as Druk Yul, ‘Land of the Thunder Dragon’, Bhutan is an ethereal Himalayan Kingdom steeped in ancient mysticism and remote mountain vistas. Vajrayana is the state religion, also known as Tantric Buddhism, an ancient science of consciousness brought to Bhutan by the wandering guru, Rinpoche. Today, mist-swathed temples, monasteries, stupas, and colourful prayer flags punctuate the Bhutanese landscape, echoing its neighbour, Tibet. Bhutan remains largely unexplored due to the high cost of visas and daily tariffs, an estimated US$250 per day.
Historically, until the 17th century, Bhutan was a feudal society, largely fragmented across the disparate mountains and valleys. A Lama and military leader, Ngawang Namgyal, brought unity to the kingdom whilst fleeing the Gelugpa sect led by the Dalai Lama in Lhasa. His legacies include a network of elaborate fortresses called dzong, which are still used for religious and administrative purposes today. Elsewhere, life continues to revolve around agrarian pursuits, especially animal husbandry. Traditional dress continues to be widely worn, including knee-length robes called gho for men, and ankle-length dresses called kira for women. Festivals tied to the moon, the monsoon season, or the whims of deities continue to play a major role in cultural life.Read more
Traditions and conservatism tend to dominate life in Bhutan, but it is also a famously progressive state. The sale of cigarettes has been banned entirely, whilst the concept of Gross National Happiness – an idea formulated by King Jigme Singye Wangchuck – is an attempt to quantify well-being that goes beyond the mundane western formula of material prosperity equals happiness. Seeking a more holistic approach to development, the Bhutanese hope their alternative economic model will be adopted all over the world.
Bhutan is bordered to the north by the Tibet Autonomous Region and by various Indian states to the south and west. In the lowlands close to the Indian border, the land is dominated by hills and subtropical plains which rise to the rugged Black Mountains with their deep gorges and valleys all swathed in conifer and broadleaf forests, and criss-crossed by a network of fast-flowing rivers. In the north, wiry meadows and desolate scrubland sprawl beneath a harsh line of glaciated peaks, including Gangkhar Puensum at 7570m, said to be the highest unclimbed mountain in the world.
As one of the most biodiverse places on earth, Bhutan is home more than 770 species of birds and a formidable array of large mammals, including tigers, rhinos, bear, langurs, pandas, water buffalos, and takins. More than a third of the national territory is protected by the national park system with numerous options for trekking. The country’s far-flung peaks, caves, lakes, rivers, and forests are still deemed sacred by many Bhutanese, who have sanctified the landscape with shrines
Places of interest in Bhutan
Enclosed by blue pine forests and understated farmhouses that only accent the vigorous natural beauty of the...
The Punakha region of Bhutan, much like the rest of the country, is fairly remote. Its landscapes are dominated by...
Thimpu – literally, the ‘Uplands of Thim’ – is the capital city of Bhutan, but don’t let that fool you....