About Bhutan

Bhutan – The Land of Thunder Dragon has remained sequestered from the rest of the world in its pristine state, unspoiled by outside influences. Bordered by China (Tibet) in the North and by India in the south, the kingdom of the Lost Horizon opened its door to tourism only in 1974, since then the number of visitors to Bhutan has steadily increased. Bhutan is endowed with breathtaking natural beauty, surrounded by sacred mountains, virgin peaks and holy lakes. Its beautiful valleys and lush forests are teeming with flora and wildlife undisturbed in its natural environment. Bhutan is perhaps the last Eden, not just in part, but in its entirety. Its approximately 38,600 Square kilometer of area is covered with not less than 72% of dense forest and jungles. In less than 65 miles, Bhutan rises 25,000 feet from the subtropical jungles of the south to arctic cold of the high Himalayas. Bhutan is truly a haven for wildlife and is considered the most exclusive tourist destination in the world. The country manages to retain all the charm of the old world.

Travelers to Bhutan will experience the enchantment of the pure and exotic land, through its ancient fortresses, monasteries, and temples that dot the countryside. With its imposing architecture and superb art, for its delightful race of people in their traditional dress, time has stood still in this serene environment. Their unique customs, beliefs and life-style are magical and preserved in its ancient ways. As exemplified by the sacred mask dances performed during festivals in colorful costumes.

More than 85% of the populations of about 672,425 people are farmers who live in small villages spread over rugged mountain. Since 8th century the Mahayana Buddhist teachings and philosophy played vital role in shaping the country’s culture and their way of life. In fact it is the only surviving Mahayana Buddhist Kingdom in the world.

The documented history of the Kingdom begins in the 8th century with the legendary flight of Guru Padmasambhava from Tibet in 747 A.D, on the back of a tigress. The Guru who is also considered as second Buddha, alighted in Taktsang (Tiger’s Nest), in the valley of Paro and began the propagation of the Tantric strain of Mahayana Buddhism. In the ensuing centuries, many great masters preached the faith resulting in full bloom of Buddhism by the middle ages. Although sectarian at first, the country was eventually unified under the Drukpa Kagyupa sect of Mahayana Buddhism by the saint /administrator, Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, in the early 17th century. The Shabdrung codified a comprehensive system of laws and built a chain of Dzongs which guarded each valley during unsettled times and now serving as the religious and administrative centre of the region. In the next two centuries, the nation was once again caught up into regional fiefdoms with intermittent civil wars.

Towards the end of the 19th century, the Tongsa Penlop, Ugyen Wangchuck, who then controlled the central and eastern region, overcame all his rivals and united the nation once again. He was unanimously crowned as the first King of Bhutan in 1907. The country now has the system of democratic monarchy. Bhutan is the last Mahayana Buddhist Kingdom, and the teachings of this school of Buddhism are living faith among its people. The air of spirituality is pervasive even in urban centers where the spinning of prayer wheels, the murmur of mantras and glow of butter lamps are still important features of everyday life. Bhutan’s religious sites and institutions are not museums, but the daily home of its people.

Traditional Bhutanese arts and crafts, unlike in many other countries, are not remnants of a bygone era. Almost all of arts and crafts in Bhutan have religious, spiritual and cultural significance and each one reflects the Bhutanese way of life. What differentiates the Bhutanese arts and crafts from other countries is that it is a manifestation of a living culture in Bhutan.
The Zorig Chusom, 13 traditional crafts of Bhutan, is categorized as follows:
Thag-zo (The art of weaving)
Tsha-zo (The art of weaving canes & bamboos)
Shag-zo (Crafting wooden cups & bowls)
Lha-zo (Painting)
Shing-zo (The art of wood works)
Do-zo (Craft of masonry)
Par-zo (The art of carving)
Jim-zo (The art of clay works)
Lug-zo (The art of bronze casting)
Gar-zo (The art of Iron works)
Troe-ko (The art of making oranaments using precious stones and metals)
De-zo (The art of making paper)
Tshem-zo (The art of embroidery & Applique)

Although geographically quite small, Bhutan’s weather varies from north to south and valley to valley, mainly depending upon the elevation. In the North of Bhutan on the borders with Tibet it is perennially covered with snow. In the western, central and eastern Bhutan (Ha, Paro, Thimphu, Wandue, Trongsa, Bumthang, Trashi Yangtse, Lhuntse) you will mostly experience European-like weather. Winter lasts here from November to March. Punakha is an exception as it is in a lower valley and summer is hot and winter is pleasant. Southern Bhutan bordering with India is hot and humid with a sub-tropical climate. While the monsoon affects northern Indian it does not command the same influence in Bhutan. Summer months tend to be wetter with isolated showers predominately in the evenings only. Winter is by far the driest period while spring and autumn tend to be pleasant.
There are four distinct seasons similar in their divisions to those of Western Europe. Temperatures in the far south range from 15°C in winter (December to February) to 30°C in summer (June to August). In Thimphu the range is from -2.5°C in January to 25°C in August and with a rainfall of 100mm. In the high mountain regions the average temperature is 0°C in winter and may reach 10°C in summer, with an average of 350mm of rain. Precipitation varies significantly with the elevation. The average rainfall varies from region to region.

Source: Meteorology Unit, Department of Power, Ministry of Trade and Industries, Thimphu, Telephone: 00975-2-323703

Temperature Chart

When people think of Bhutan, the mighty Himalayan Mountains comes to most people’s mind. While Bhutan is in the Himalayan belt, the altitude ranges from over 7,500 Meters to as low as 150 Meters in the Southern Belt bordering India. With such a vast variation of altitude in a small country of just over 38,000 Sq Kms, Bhutan’s ecosystem is one of the most rich and diverse in the world. Bhutan pristine environment offers spectacular biodiversity, earning it a name as one of the world’s ten most important biodiversity hotspots.

The Bhutanese people and government consider environmental conservation as one of the most important aspects in its development philosophy. Environment conservation is one the four main pillars of its development philosophy of Gross National Happiness – i) Socio-economic development, ii) Environmental conservation, Cultural Preservation and iv) Good Governance. With the importance accorded to environmental conservation, the new Constitution of Bhutan 2008 states that forest cover in the country at any given time in the future must not fall below 60 % of the total land area. Currently, about 72 % of the total land area is under forest cover with 26 % of the land area falling under protected areas comprising of Four National Parks.

As a result of the effort the country puts in conserving its environment, Bhutan offers a wonderful raw and unexploited environment that is generally very much appreciated by international travelers

An ample variety of plants grow in Bhutan : over 5400 species, including 300 species of medicinal plants and over 50 species of rhododendrons. Of the more than 600 species of orchid, most are commonly found up to 2,100m, although some hardy species thrive even above 3,700m.
Tropical evergreen forests growing below 800m are repositories of unique bio-diversity. The next vegetation zone are the subtropical grasslands and forests found between 900m and 1,800m. The tree rhododendron is found in this zone, along with forest of oak, walnut and sal, and numerous variety of orchid.
Temperate zone is a region of great diversity, largely influenced by the elevation. The tropical vegetation of the lower zones gives way to dark forests of oak, birch, maple, magnolia and laurel. Above 2,400 altitude is the home of spruce, yew, and weeping cypress, and higher still, growing up to the tree line, is the east Himalayan fir. Between the tree line and the snow line at about 5,500m are low shrubs, rhododendrons, Himalayan grasses and flowering herbs.
Bhutan’s national flower, Blue Poppy grows above the tree line 3,500 – 4,500m elevation and can be found atop some high passes from the far eastern parts of the country all the way across to the west.

A wide range of rare and endangered animals can also be found because of its unique setting and relatively un-exploited environment, Bhutan probably possesses the greatest biological diversity of any country of its size in Asia. Due to the countries conservation efforts and its unspoilednatural environment Bhutan supports thriving populations of some of the rarest animals on earth and has thus been classified as one of the last biodiversity hotspots in the world.

Along its southern border, the narrow tropical and subtropical belt supports the Asiatic elephant, greater one-horned rhinoceros, gaur, wild water buffalo, hog deer, tiger, clouded leopard, hornbill, trogon and other mammals and birds characteristic of indomalayan species. Only 150 kilometers to the north, high Himalayan fauna include the blue sheep, takin, musk deer, snow leopard, wolf and other species characteristic of the Palearctic realm.

So far as 770 species of birds have been recorded in Bhutan which reflects the Kingdom’s wide range of agro-ecological environments – from subtropical to alpine and its location at the northern edge of the Zoogeographical oriental region and the permeable and fluid border with China. Also country is famous for its over wintering populations (about 350 birds) of the vulnerable black-necked crane in the valleys of Phobjikha, Bomdeling and Gyetsa.

Bhutan is also home to about 16 bird species that are endangered worldwide. These include the White bellied heron, Pallas Fish eagle and Blyth’s King fisher to name a few. Phobjikha valley in Wangdue Phodrang and Bomdeling in Trashi Yangtse are also two especially important locations of the endangered Black Necked Cranes.