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Bhutan

Good to Know

Destination
Bhutan
Inner-line permit Requirements
Yes for both Indians and Foreigners
Languages/Dialect spoken
Bhutenese,Hindi,English, etc
Currency used
Dollar/Rnul
Area (km2)
..... Sq Kms

General Info

Geography

Bhutan is located on the southern slopes of the eastern Himalayas, landlocked between the Tibet Autonomous Region to the north and the Indian states of Sikkim, West Bengal, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh to the west and south. It lies between latitudes 26°N and 29°N, and longitudes88°E and 93°E. The land consists mostly of steep and high mountains crisscrossed by a network of swift rivers, which form deep valleys before draining into the Indian plains. Elevation rises from 200 m (660 ft) in the southern foothills to more than 7,000 m (23,000 ft). This great geographical diversity combined with equally diverse climate conditions contributes to Bhutan’s outstanding range of biodiversity and ecosystems.

The northern region of the country consists of an arc of Eastern Himalayan alpine shrub and meadows reaching up to glaciated mountain peaks with an extremely cold climate at the highest elevations. Most peaks in the north are over 7,000 m (23,000 ft) above sea level; the highest point in Bhutan is Gangkhar Puensum at 7,570 metres (24,840 ft), which has the distinction of being the highest unclimbed mountain in the world. The lowest point, at 98 m (322 ft), is in the valley of Drangme Chhu, where the river crosses the border with India. Watered by snow-fed rivers, alpine valleys in this region provide pasture for livestock, tended by a sparse population of migratory shepherds.

The Black Mountains in the central region of Bhutan form a watershed between two major river systems: the Mo Chhu and the Drangme Chhu. Peaks in the Black Mountains range between 1,500 and 4,925 m (4,921 and 16,158 ft) above sea level, and fast-flowing rivers have carved out deep gorges in the lower mountain areas. The forests of the central Bhutan Mountains consist of Eastern Himalayan subalpine conifer forests in higher elevations and Eastern Himalayan broadleaf forests in lower elevations. Woodlands of the central region provide most of Bhutan’s forest production. The Torsa, Raidak, Sankosh, and Manas are the main rivers of Bhutan, flowing through this region. Most of the population lives in the central highlands.

In the south, the Shiwalik Hills are covered with dense Himalayan subtropical broadleaf forests, alluvial lowland river valleys, and mountains up to around 1,500 m (4,900 ft) above sea level. The foothills descend into the subtropical Duars Plain. Most of the Duars is located in India, although a 10 to 15 km (6.2 to 9.3 mi) wide strip extends into Bhutan. The Bhutan Duars is divided into two parts: the northern and the southern Duars. The northern Duars, which abuts the Himalayan foothills, has rugged, sloping terrain and dry, porous soil with dense vegetation and abundant wildlife. The southern Duars has moderately fertile soil, heavy savannah grass, dense, mixed jungle, and freshwater springs. Mountain Rivers, fed by either the melting snow or the monsoon rains, empty into the Brahmaputra River in India. Data released by the Ministry of Agriculture showed that the country had a forest cover of 64% as of October 2005.

The climate in Bhutan varies with elevation, from subtropical in the south to temperate in the highlands and polar-type climate, with year-round snow in the north. Bhutan experiences five distinct seasons summer, monsoon, autumn, winter and spring. Western Bhutan has the heavier monsoon rains; southern Bhutan has hot humid summers and cool winters; central and eastern Bhutan is temperate and drier than the west with warm summers and cool winters.

Formation

Buddhism,History and Heritage ;

History

Stone tools, weapons, elephants, and remnants of large stone structures provide evidence that Bhutan was inhabited as early as 2000 BC, although there are no existing records from that time. Historians have theorized that the state of Lhomon (literally, “southern darkness”), or Monyul (“Dark Land”, a reference to the Monpa, the aboriginal peoples of Bhutan) may have existed between 500 BC and AD 600. The names Lhomon Tsendenjong (Sandalwood Country), and Lhomon Khashi, or Southern Mon (country of four approaches), have been found in ancient Bhutanese and Tibetan chronicles.

Buddhism was first introduced to Bhutan in the 7th century AD. Tibetan king Songtsän Gampo (reigned 627–649), a convert to Buddhism, who actually had extended the Tibetan Empire into Sikkim and Bhutan, ordered the construction of two Buddhist temples, at Bumthang in central Bhutan and at Kyichu (near Paro) in the Paro Valley. Buddhism was propagated in earnest in 746under King Sindhu Rāja (also Künjom; Sendha Gyab; Chakhar Gyalpo), an exiled Indian king who had established a government in Bumthang at Chakhar Gutho Palace.

Much of early Bhutanese history is unclear because most of the records were destroyed when fire ravaged the ancient capital, Punakha, in 1827. By the 10th century, Bhutan’s political development was heavily influenced by its religious history. Various sub-sects of Buddhism emerged which were patronized by the various Mongol warlords. After the decline of the Yuan Dynasty in the 14th century, these sub-sects vied with each other for supremacy in the political and religious landscape, eventually leading to the ascendancy of the Drukpa sub-sect by the 16th century.

Until the early 17th century, Bhutan existed as a patchwork of minor warring fiefdoms, when the area was unified by the Tibetan lama and military leader Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal who had fled religious persecution in Tibet. To defend the country against intermittent Tibetan forays, Namgyal built a network of impregnable dzong (fortresses), and promulgated the Tsa Yig, a code of law that helped to bring local lords under centralized control. Many such dzong still exist and are active centers of religion and district administration. Portuguese Jesuits Estêvão Cacella and João Cabral were the first recorded Europeans to visit Bhutan, on their way to Tibet. They met Ngawang Namgyal, presented him with firearms, gunpowder and a telescope, and offered him their services in the war against Tibet, but the Shabdrung declined the offer. After a stay of nearly eight months Cacella wrote a long letter from the Chagri Monastery reporting on his travels. This is a rare extant report of the Shabdrung. After Ngawang Namgyal’s death in 1651, his passing was kept secret for 54 years; after a period of consolidation, Bhutan lapsed into internal conflict. In the year 1711 Bhutan went to war against the Mughal Empire and its Subedars, who restored Koch Bihar in the south. During the chaos that followed, the Tibetans unsuccessfully attacked Bhutan in 1714.

In the 18th century, the Bhutanese invaded and occupied the kingdom of Cooch Behar to the south. In 1772, Cooch Behar appealed to the British East India Company which assisted them in ousting the Bhutanese and later in attacking Bhutan itself in 1774. A peace treaty was signed in which Bhutan agreed to retreat to its pre-1730 borders. However, the peace was tenuous, and border skirmishes with the British were to continue for the next hundred years. The skirmishes eventually led to the Duar War (1864–65), a confrontation for control of the Bengal Duars. After Bhutan lost the war, the Treaty of Sinchula was signed between British India and Bhutan. As part of the war reparations, the Duars were ceded to the United Kingdom in exchange for a rent of Rs. 50,000. The treaty ended all hostilities between British India and Bhutan.

During the 1870s, power struggles between the rival valleys of Paro and Tongsa led to civil war in Bhutan, eventually leading to the ascendancy of Ugyen Wangchuck, the ponlop (governor) of Tongsa. From his power base in central Bhutan, Ugyen Wangchuck defeated his political enemies and united the country following several civil wars and rebellions during 1882–85.

In 1907, an epochal year for the country, Ugyen Wangchuck was unanimously chosen as the hereditary king of the country by an assembly of leading Buddhist monks, government officials, and heads of important families. The British government promptly recognized the new monarchy, and in 1910 Bhutan signed the Treaty of Punakha, asubsidiary alliance which gave the British control of Bhutan’s foreign affairs and meant that Bhutan was treated as an Indian princely state. This had little real effect, given Bhutan’s historical reticence, and also did not appear to affect Bhutan’s traditional relations with Tibet. After the new Union of India gained independence from the United Kingdom on 15 August 1947, Bhutan became one of the first countries to recognize India’s independence. On 8 August 1949, a treaty similar to that of 1910, in which Britain had gained power over Bhutan’s foreign relations, was signed with the newly independent India.

In 1953, King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck established the country’s legislature – a 130-member National Assembly – to promote a more democratic form of governance. In 1965, he set up a Royal Advisory Council, and in 1968 he formed a Cabinet. In 1971, Bhutan was admitted to the United Nations, having held observer status for three years. In July 1972, Jigme Singye Wangchuck ascended to the throne at the age of sixteen after the death of his father, Dorji Wangchuck.

 

Cultural and Society

Bhutan has a rich and unique cultural heritage that has largely remained intact because of its isolation from the rest of the world until the early 1960s. One of the main attractions for tourists is the country’s culture and traditions. Bhutanese tradition is deeply steeped in its Buddhist heritage. Hinduism is the second most dominant religion in Bhutan, being most prevalent in the southern regions. The government is increasingly making efforts to preserve and sustain the current culture and traditions of the country. Because of its largely unspoiled natural environment and cultural heritage, Bhutan has been referred to as The Last Shangri-la.

While Bhutanese citizens are free to travel abroad, Bhutan is viewed as inaccessible by many foreigners. Another reason for it being an unpopular destination is the cost, which is high for tourists on tighter budgets. Entry is free for citizens of India and Bangladesh, but all other foreigners are required to sign up with a Bhutanese tour operator and pay around US$250 per day that they stay in the country, though this fee covers most travel, lodging and meal expenses. Bhutan received 37,482 visitor arrivals in 2011, of which 25% were for Meetings, Incentives, Conferencing, Exhibitions.

Music and dance

Masked dances and dance dramas are common traditional features at festivals, usually accompanied by traditional music. Energetic dancers, wearing colourful wooden or composition face masks and stylized costumes, depict heroes, demons, dæmons, death heads, animals, gods, and caricatures of common people. The dancers enjoy royal patronage, and preserve ancient folk and religious customs and perpetuate the ancient lore and art of mask-making.

The music of Bhutan can generally be divided into traditional and modern varieties; traditional music comprises religious and folk genres, the latter including zhungdra andboedra. The modern rigsar is played on a mix of traditional instruments and electronic keyboards, and dates back to the early 1990s; it shows the influence of Indian popular music, a hybrid form of traditional and Western popular influences.

Family structure

In Bhutanese families, inheritance generally passes through the female rather than the male line. Daughters will inherit their parents’ house. A man is expected to make his own way in the world and often moves to his wife’s home. Love marriages are common in urban areas, but the tradition of arranged marriages is still common in the villages. Although uncommon, polygamy is accepted, often being a device to keep property in a contained family unit rather than dispersing it. The previous king, Jigme Singye Wangchuck, who abdicated in 2006, had four queens, all of whom are sisters. The current king, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, wed Jetsun Pema, 21, a commoner and daughter of a pilot, on 13 October 2011.

Places to See

 PLACES TO VISIT IN BHUTAN

Known as the last ‘Shangri-La’ on earth, the land of the thunder dragon, of ancient temples and fortresses, Bhutan is a country of breathtaking natural beauty and manmade cultural treasures. Here are our 10 top places to visit:

  1. PUNAKHA FESTIVAL

Mask Dance, Panakha Festival, Bhutan

Join hundreds of pilgrims from all over Bhutan and enjoy the most colourful and vibrant festival. Watch re-enactments of the Bhutanese victory over invading Tibet. Firecrackers explode as battle scenes are acted out, culminating in the colourful Serda (procession) to the river. Punakha Dzong (fortress) is the magnificent backdrop, probably the most beautiful building in Bhutan.

  1. THIMPU

National Memorial Chorten, Thimpu

In Thimpu, the capital of Bhutan, visit its colourful weekend market and quirky shops, museums and landmarks like the National Memorial Chorten, built by the third king His Majesty Jigme Dorji Wangchuck. This small city was established as the capital in 1961 and is famous for being the only capital in the world without traffic lights!

  1. DOCHU LA PASS

Dochu Laa Pass, Bhutan PHOTO: JuleeK, CNN Travel Photo of the Day, June 4, 2013

Dochu La pass with its fluttering prayer flags and views over the majestic Himalayas, takes your breath away on a clear day. Visit the highly ornate Drukwangyal Lhakhang (temple) and the 108 chortens, built by the Queen Mother Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck  to honour the Bhutanese soldiers who were killed when fighting the Indian rebels in 2003.

  1. TAKTSANG LHAKHANG

Taktsang Monastery, Paro, Bhutan

High above the Paro valley, this monastery – known as the Tiger’s Nest – perches on a rocky mountainside at 3,000m. It was built in the 8th century, when legend has it the 2nd Buddha, Guru Rimpoche, meditated here, having flown from Kurtoe valley on the back of one of his consorts who had taken the form of flying tigress. To Bhuddhist pilgrims this is one of the most sacred sites in the Himalayas, to anyone it has to be one of the most spectacular.

  1. GANGTEY

The village of Gangtey and the Gangtey Monastery PHOTO: Suila

This beautiful glacial valley lies at 2900m. After climbing up through dense forests dripping with lychen, the wide, open expanse of dwarf bamboo can come as a surprise. The valley boasts two beautiful meandering rivers, Nakay Chhu and Gay Chhu. Perched overlooking this beautiful, almost flat valley is the village and monastery of Gangtey.  As well as the black-necked cranes that roost here in the winter, there are also barking deer, wild boar, red fox, leopard and Himalayan black bear.

  1. TASHICHO DZONG

Tashicho Dzong, Bhutan

Known as the ‘fortress of glorious religion’, the Tashicho Dzhong was originally built in 1641. It was rebuilt in 1952 by the third king and is now used as the seat of the Royal Bhutanese Government. Situated in beautiful gardens, it is also the summer residence of the central monastic body.

  1. KURJE LHAKHANG

Kurje Lhakhang, Bhutan

Located in the sacred Bumthang valley, Kurje Lhakhang is a monastery of particular significance as Buddhists believe that Guru Rinpoche meditated here and left the imprint of his body on a rock.    It is also the final resting place of Bhutan’s first three kings. There are many religious and historical legends connected with this place which consists of three large temples and many smaller structures, rich with impressive adornments.

  1. CHIME LHAKHANG

Chime Llakhang, Bhutan

This small 16th century temple of fertility is dedicated to the Lama Drukpa Kunley, the ‘Divine Madman’, decorated with colourful phalluses and visited by childless couples seeking a special blessing to beget children.  This is one of the most revered temples in all of Bhutan.

  1. TRONGSA

Trongsa Dzong, Bhutan

The Dzong dominates the town of Trongsa. Perched above the Dzong, the actual town is little more than one street. Many of the town’s inhabitants are of Tibetan origin and so you may have the chance try some Tibetan specialties here. The new museum situated in the 300 year old Ta Dzong, watch tower, provides an insight into the religious history of Bhutan, the significance of Trongsa in the history of the Kings of the Wangchuck dynasty.

  1. RUKHA

The hidden village of Rukha, Bhutan

A remote village in the Jigme Dorje Wangchuk National Park, Rukha is a hidden jewel. Accessible only by a precarious rope bridge, this collection of 20 houses dotted around the hillside are built in the traditional style with steep steps leading up to the first floor with the kitchen on the outside. Experience the other face of Bhutan close up with a home stay in this hospitable rural community.