Bhutan, or as they call the country “The land of the thundering dragon”, is a small kingdom in South Asia. It covers an area of 46,500 square kilometers between China and India. The country lies on the southern slopes of the Himalayas, the highest mountain range in the world, hundreds of miles away from the shore of the Indian Ocean. Today, in the 21 century, Bhutan is still one of the most isolated and unknown to the world countries. For example, the first car appeared in the country in 1962, television was banned until 1999, and the modern means of communication are now making first uncertain steps.
Bhutan is a mountainous country, dominated by the jagged silhouette of the Himalayas. There are many mountain peaks in the north that are over 7000 m.
The highest peak in the country, Gangkhar Puensum, rises to 7,570 meters in the clouds. Most of the mountains in the north of Bhutan are covered with eternal snow and ice.
The combination of height and harsh natural conditions makes this part of the country almost inaccessible.
Between thousands of meters high mountains meander deeply incised river canyons and secluded shady valleys. Dark gorges remain away from the sun’s rays even at noon.
In low-lying areas at the foot of mountains can be seen emerald farmlands and tea plantations. Only in the southern part of the country, along the border with India, there is a narrow, green and fertile plain, diversified by rolling hills and low mountains. Here is where the main rice paddies of Bhutan are.
With a large number of amazing national parks, the country’s nature is still very well preserved and truly unspoiled.
Approximately 42% of the total territory is covered by protected areas (national parks, natural reserves, wildlife sanctuaries).
Here you can find untouched and secluded places, home to tigers, Asian elephants, leopards, snow leopards, buffaloes, rhinos, mountain goats, black bears, and the symbol of Bhutan – the red panda.
Practically every area of Bhutan’s public and social life has been influenced by the long decades of isolation.
If you are interested in the culture of the Far East of Asia, there is no better place to experience it from the mountainous kingdom. It seems like time has stopped very long ago.
Although among the poorest in Asia, the country is known as one of the happiest places in the world.
The population of Bhutan leads a quiet and modest way of life that is completely devoted to Lamaism (a branch of Buddhism), old traditions and timeless family values.
Major cities are missing, and practically more than 90% of the population lives in provincial rural areas and is engaged in agriculture and livestock breeding. Traditionally, the main crop grown in Bhutan is rice.
An important source of income for the local people is the producing of copra and rapidly growing tourism industry.
Ironically, the isolation of Bhutan is the main reason why so many tourists want to explore this forgotten and out of this world mountain paradise.
One of the typical features of Bhutan, a feature which prevents uncontrolled tourism development, is the limited number of visas issued to foreign tourists.
Climat. Bhutan falls within the tropical climate zone. However, the climate in the country is very diverse and is strongly influenced by the altitude that increases toward the north. Few countries in the world can boast such a huge climate diversity.
For example, the southernmost part of the country, located in the foothills of the Himalayas, along the border with India, enjoys year-round warm weather and high humidity with daytime temperatures ranging between 18 and 23°C in January and reaching to over 30°C in July.
To the north temperatures decrease with increasing altitude, and the climate gets temperate features. In the capital Thimphu the daytime temperature varies between 12°C in January and 25°C in July.
The northern mountainous part of Bhutan experiences cold weather and year round low temperatures. The high mountains in the north near the border with China are covered by eternal ice, and the temperature is negative no matter the season.
The precipitations that fall over Bhutan are very abundant during the monsoon season, which lasts from June to September. The rest of the year is much dryer, but heavy rains are possible all year round.
Meals. Traditional Bhutanese food brings the flavor of the Himalayas. As a typical mountain cuisine, it is quite simple and yet extremely fragrant and spicy.
Most specialities are traditionally flavoured with a lot of spices, especially chilli and saffron. If you want to get to know the cuisine of Bhutan, it is recommended to try different types of white and red rice dishes.
As Bhutan is a typical mountain country, cheese is an integral part of the daily menu of most people.
Since the locals are Buddhists, most dishes prepared according to traditional recipes are without meat, although some local meat specialties are well-known and loved, especially among tourists.
Be sure to try yak meat, which is a traditional local delicacy, and dried beef.
While in the country, it is recommended to try “Ema Datshi” – a kind of traditional dish with rice, cheese, peppers and sauce.
Do not miss to drink also a cup of warm herbal yak butter tea (cow butter tea is also available). This kind of authentic Bhutanese drink has a typical salty taste and is much different from the tea that most people are used to drink in Europe or America.
When to visit Bhutan? April, May, September and October offer the optimal combination of rainfall and temperatures. This is probably the best time to visit Bhutan and the capital Thimphu.
June, July and August, the height of monsoon season, bring lovely temperatures but also plenty of rainfall. The winter months from November till March are dry and very sunny but relatively cool.
What not to miss? Be sure to visit Paro Taktsang Monastery, better known as “The Tiger’s Nest”, located on the steep slopes of the Himalayas. Because of its architecture and scenic location, it is considered the top tourist attraction in Bhutan.
Explore the city of Thimphu and its numerous attractions – the temple of Changangkha Lhakhang and its prayer wheels, the fortress-monastery Trashi Chhoe Dzong built in the 13th century, the giant statue of Buddha, the National Memorial Chorten and The Folk Heritage Museum.
Visit the town of Punakha well-known for its fortress-monastery Punakha Dzong. The magnificent building is a typical example of the architectural style “Dzong” that is so characteristic of the Buddhist countries in the region.
Take the time to visit Trongsa, the main town in central Bhutan. Situated among the silence and timelessness of the wild Himalayan landscape, it is famous for the largest fortress in the country, Trongsa Dzong.
Be sure to include in your holiday itinerary the town of Jakar, steeped in tranquility and Buddhist traditions.
The town with a population of about 16,000 people is located in the middle of a lovely valley nestled amidst the fresh and green mountainous landscape.
It is recommended to take the time to enjoy the natural beauty of Bhutan. And the best way to do this is to visit some of the national parks and other protected areas.
Among the most interesting places are the Bumdeling Wildlife Sanctuary that is known for its vast biodiversity, the Jigme Dorji National Park, established in 1975, the Royal Manas National Park, the first protected area in the country, and the Wangchuck Centennial Park, the largest national park in the country, established in 2008.
Risks and inconveniences. Butane is a quiet country with low crime, even in the big cities. The risk of being attacked and robbed here is negligible. The main disadvantage of the country is the weakly developed infrastructure.
For the most part, the roads are not in very good condition, and in some places they are completely missing.
Practically, in most of the country your mobile phone will be probably out of coverage, and internet access is still a rare luxury.
One or two months before you travel, visit your doctor and tell him that you are planning to travel to Bhutan.
Learn more about how to take care of your health while in the country and ask for additional information about the most common diseases in the region – malaria and altitude sickness.
It is necessary to be cautious and prudent when in the wild, especially in areas inhabited by predators!
Some of them, such as tigers, though extremely beautiful can be very dangerous in close encounters with humans!