The Kingdom of Bhutan is the smallest country located in the Himalayan mountain range. Landlocked, the country is located in the Eastern Himalayas with China to the north, and India to the south, bordering the Indian states of Sikkim, West Bengal, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh.
Bhutan has a strong ancient Buddhist culture and is governed by a development philosophy known as Gross National Happiness, a paradigm for sustainable development and progress coined by His Majesty the Fourth king of Bhutan that gives equal importance to non-economic aspects of wellbeing such as environmental conservation, cultural preservation and promotion, and good governance. The concept is endemic to Bhutan and was enshrined in the country’s constitution in 2008, stating that “the State shall strive to promote those conditions that will enable the pursuit of Gross National Happiness”.
To achieve the GNH mission of reaching collective happiness by living in harmony with nature and traditional values, Bhutan is committedly dedicated to preserving its culture and environment. This mission as resulted to a perpetual maintenance of an intact and vibrant culture and the highest forest cover in the Asian region (72% of Bhutan is covered in forests).
Bhutan was almost completely cut off for centuries to avoid foreign influences and uphold GNH values but began to slowly open up to outsiders in the 1970s. Tourism today is privatised by the Royal Government of Bhutan but still restricted with travel is only possible as part of a pre-arranged package or guided tour.
- Capital City: Thimphu
- Government Type: Democratic constitutional monarchy
- Geographical location: Southern Asia, between China and India
- Area: 38,394 km² (slightly smaller than Switzerland)
- Agriculture products: Rice, corn, grains; root crops, citrus, dairy products, eggs
- Population: 760,000 (2015)
- Currency: Ngultrum (BTN), Indian Rupee (INR)
- Terrain: Mountainous, from the Himalayas to lower-lying foothills to plains with semi-tropical forest, savannah grassland and bamboo jungles
- Climate: Alpine to temperate to subtropical with monsoon season from June to September
- Nationality: Bhutanese
- Religions: The tantric form of Mahayana Buddhism (Drukpa Kagyupa) is the state religion; a small proportionate of the population practice Hinduism
- Languages: Dzongkha (official language), English (medium of instruction), and a number of local dialects
- Natural resources: Hydroelectric power, timber, gypsum, calcium carbide
This picturesque region is known for its beautiful wide valleys, fertile rice fields and a quaint but rapidly growing main town that is lined with a colorful array of restaurants, bakeries, cafes, and handicraft stores. Paro is a historic region with many temples, sacred sites and historical buildings scattered through the valleys. Among them is the temple that is considered as Bhutan’s most iconic landmark, Taktsang Monastery, also known as the Tiger’s Nest. This stunning temple complex is a prominent Buddhist site and is constructed on a precarious cliff about 900 meters (3,000 ft.) above the Paro valley.
Sights in Paro: Paro Dzong, Takstang Monastery, National Museum, Ugyen Pelri Palace, Kyichu Lhakhang
The bustling capital city with a small-town charm is an intriguing destination that attracts tourists with its captivating contrast of the old and the new. The region offers an eclectic abundance of restaurants, cafes, bars and shopping centers, while still retaining its cultural identity with the preservation of many traditional Buddhist and cultural attractions.
Sights in Thimphu: Tashi Chho Dzong, Farmer’s Market, Buddha Dordenma, National Institute of Zorig Chusum, Motithang Takin Preserve
Discover Punakha, a region that has witnessed many momentous moments of Bhutanese history. The district served as the capital of the kingdom from 1637 to 1907 and houses the fortress of Punakha Dzong, the second oldest dzong in the country and one of the most majestic structures in Bhutan. The royal wedding of His Majesty Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck and Her Majesty Jetsun Pema, King and Queen of Bhutan was held at the Punakha Dzong in October 2011.
Sights in Punakha: Punakha Dzong, Chimi Temple, Khamsum Yulley Namgyal Chorten, Punakha Suspension Bridge, Sangchhen Dorji Lhuendrup nunnery
Phobjikha is a broad bowl-shaped glacial valley that borders the Jigme Singye Wangchuck National Park. It is also known as Gangtey valley, named after the 17th century Gangtey Monastery that perches on a hillock rising from the valley floor. This scenic valley is one of Bhutan’s prominent biodiversity hotspots, providing shelter to a number of endangered flora and fauna. Most notably, it serves as the wintering grounds for flocks of globally threatened black-necked cranes that fly from Tibet into Phobjikha every winter. This magical spectacle is witnessed annually with the Black-necked crane Festival, celebrated in the courtyard of Gangtey Monastery. The festival is an occasion for the locals to rejoice and celebrate the arrival of this majestic bird which has become an indivisible part of the lives of the people of Phobjikha.
Sights in Phobjikha Valley: Gangtey Monastery, Black-necked crane Information Center, Gangtey Nature Trail, Black-necked crane Festival
Popularized as the spiritual heartland of Bhutan, the region of Bumthang is a treasure trove of stunning sights, sounds, and savors. The country’s oldest and highly venerated Buddhist temples and monasteries are found in serene and protected natural spaces. Scenically astounding and vibrant with vivid cultural sights, the region is an unmissable destination on a traveler’s jaunt through the kingdom. Bumthang is also home to Bhutan’s most celebrated customs in culinary and textile arts and is also credited as being the birthplace of famous folklore.
Sights in Bumthang: Burning Lake, Kurje Temple, Jambay Temple, Bumthang Brewery, Ugyenchholing Palace
Haa valley remains one of the least visited areas in Bhutan and therefore boasts unspoiled nature and an intact local culture. The hills of Haa provide an ideal location for adventure, whether that may be a gentle hike or a thrilling bike ride. The district is also home to a number of nomadic herders and annually hosts a summer festival that showcases the unique lifestyle and culture of the nomads. The festival is an ideal occasion to immerse oneself into the traditions and unchanged lifestyles of the herders, as well as to taste the appetizing local cuisine.
Sights in Haa: Karpo and Kakpo Monastery, Haa Summer Festival, Juneydrak Hermitage