Bhutan

Bhutan, a landlocked country, is located in South Asia and is nestled on the eastern edge of the Himalayas. Because of its geographical location, Bhutan was at one time, one of the most difficult countries to reach by outsiders. Increased modernization with the Internet, telephones, and television have allowed Bhutan to balance modern culture with ancient culture. Since the changes to Bhutan are recent, many of the Bhutanese people live as they have been for thousands of years.

Haa Valley

Haa Valley

Bhutan is known for its beautiful natural scenery and unspoiled environment. Due to this and the fact that Bhutan is the only Vajrayana Buddhist country in the entire world, many call Bhutan “the last Shangri-La.” Many tourists in Bhutan enjoy hiking and trekking in the Himalayas, cultural tours, and viewing wildlife. Because of how closed off Bhutan has been to the outside world, the country has only recently seen a tourist industry. The country’s national parks and wildlife sanctuaries have recently started drawing crowds due to the rare and beautiful wildlife that live in this region. Birds of paradise, takin, tigers, leopards, hares, and bears are all indigenous to the area. Many of these animals can be viewed in the wildlife preserves that dot the country as well as actually in the wild!

Gangkhar Puensum from Ura La

Gangkhar Puensum from Ura La

Bhutan is considered a very poor country, but because of Bhutan’s small population of only about 697,000, poverty is not a major issue here. Since the country offers a lot of land relative to the size of the country’s population, there are literally no homeless people. The land is fertile so the crops grown here are sufficient enough in number to feed the entire population so it is almost impossible for someone here to go hungry. The sales of tobacco in Bhutan are banned for the health of the Bhutanese people. Also, Bhutan offers its citizens free education and free medical care. In another show of Bhutan’s uniqueness, the country does not measure how well it is doing with only economic achievements, but also places importance on the level of environmental protection and cultural preservation. The high importance that the Bhutanese government places on the environment have even caused things such as plastic bags to actually be illegal. Bhutan’s high environmental standards and well as the humane government have come in line with the country’s strong belief in Buddhist traditions. Hydroelectric power, tourism, and farming are Bhutan’s largest sources of income. However progressive many may paint Bhutan to be, the people here are still very poor. The life expectancy here is only 66, but has been steadily increasing since many of these major governmental changes have come into place.

The Taktshang Monastery, also known as the Tiger's Nest

The Taktshang Monastery, also known as the Tiger's Nest

Although Bhutan is a fairly small country, the weather here varies greatly. Where Bhutan borders Tibet, there is snow almost year round. In the mountainous In western, eastern, and some parts of central Bhutan, the weather can be quite cold with very mild summers. The southern part of Bhutan experiences much of India’s hot subtropical environment. The best time of year to visit Bhutan is either in the Spring or the Fall. Dates ranging between June and August are unfavorable because of monsoon season when wet weather can easily ruin a hiking trip. Monsoon season here is also known for closing roads due to many poor built roads and falling rocks & landslides. Winter in Bhutan is also nice in some areas such as the foothills.

Changlimithang Stadium, during a parade

Changlimithang Stadium, during a parade

The capital city of Thimphu is fairly small for a country’s capital with just under 100,000 inhabitants. However, the small size of the capital city allows travelers to enjoy a deep and rich culture as well as meet friendly faces. Beautifully made handicrafts can be purchased in Thimphu for great prices and the range of crafts is wide with woven crafts, clothing, and jewelery as top crafts in Bhutan. Thimphu also draws nearly 30,000 tourists in the late summer/early fall for Thimphu Tshechu which is the largest religious festival in Bhutan. Here festival goers can see the dancing masked monks which is an experience to remember. This is an ancient dance which is said to imbue ancient symbolism into the watcher so the dance is done carefully by each monk.