Introducing Bhutan

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The small Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan, wedged between the vast territories of Tibet to the north and India to the south, straddles an important continental divide, where the Buddhist culture of the temperate highlands encounters the predominantly Hindu and Nepalese culture of the subtropical Duars – the low-lying canyons through which south-flowing tributaries of the Brahmaputra emerge on to the Bengal and Assamese plains. Acutely aware of the linguistic, ethnic and social problems that this culture clash has engendered in neighbouring Sikkim and in distant Ladakh, the successive kings and royal government of Bhutan have sought to maintain national unity by preserving their unique cultural heritage, which underpins sustainable economic development, and has as its objective ‘gross national happiness’. Bhutan’s success in accepting modernization while preserving the best of its traditions may hopefully serve as a model for Tibet’s own future development.

Nestled between Nepal, Bangladesh, and Burma, Bhutan has long been isolated and protected by the majestic Himalayas. But times are changing and the recently democratized nation is more open to outsiders than ever before. A trek through this Buddhist nation where "gross national happiness" is more valued than GDP, is truly magical—and likely to be a very different experience in only a couple of years.

Talk about untouched beauty: This little country in the Himalayas is flanked by Burma, Bangladesh and Nepal, and was totally cut from visitors until the 1970s. In the years since, Bhutan has only slowly allowed an increasing number of visitors—Indeed, electricity, coffee shops and Wi-Fi are only recent arrivals in many parts of the country. Bottom line: you can’t just spontaneously travel to Bhutan, or just do a backpacking trip: the obligatory tourist tariff (of $250 a day) means that most people visit Bhutan using a tour company, or at least a private guide that can help facilitate your visa. Either way, in Bhutan you’ll experience the only Vajrayana Buddhist nation on the planet, but you’ll also find a magnificently rugged terrain, beautiful monasteries, some excellent luxury hotels and best of all, a pretty tranquil atmosphere (there's a reason that the locals joke about their production of “Gross National Happiness”).

Bhutan is traditionally known as Drukyul, the ‘land of the Drukpa Kagyu school’, a reference to the tradition of Tibetan Buddhism that has come to dominate Bhutanese spiritual life since the 17th century. However, since the word druk also means dragon, the country is often poetically known as the ‘land of the thunder dragon’ (an emblem portrayed on the national flag). The English name ‘Bhutan’ probably derives from the Sanskrit bhotanta, meaning ‘extremity of Tibet’; in Tibetan, the country is most frequently known as Lhomon, or Southern Mon – harking back to the seventh and eighth centuries when Bhutan was firmly entrenched within the orbit of Tibetan imperial power.

Things Not to Miss in Bhutan

  • Explore Thimphu, the country’s distinctly mellow capital
  • Enjoy dishes made with the local chilies
  • Stroll the quaint town of Paro
  • Toast your stay with asa (a rice liquor) or local Red Panda beer
  • See Taktsang Goemba, Bhutan’s most famous monastery

You can see more Bhutan travel guide at here.

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