Geography and Landscape


The kingdom of Bhutan (officially Druk Yul = Land of the Dragon;also known as Druk Tsendhen = Land of the Thunder Dragon) is located in Southeast Asia between China (Tibet) and India and nowhere borders the sea.
Bhutan is bordered to the north and northwest by Tibet (470 km, regions Dromo, Khangmar, Lhodrak and Tsona) and is completely enclosed by Indian states, a total of 699 km: to the east by Arunachal Pradesh (217 km), to the south by Assam (267 km) and West Bengal (183 km) and to the west by Sikkim (32 km). The southern part of Bhutan is officially located on the Indian subcontinent. It is only possible to enter Bhutan via the border with India, the border with China is completely closed.

Bhutan Satellite PhotoBhutan Satellite PhotoPhoto: Public Domain

Bhutan has a maximum width of 150 km and a maximum length of 300 km and the area of Bhutan is approximately 46,500 km2.


Bhutan LandscapeBhutan LandscapePhoto: Bernard Gagnon CC 4.0 International no changes made

Bhutan, located in the eastern Himalaya Mountains, consists almost entirely of mountain land, making it one of the most relief-rich countries in the world. Only on the border with India it is somewhat flatter with a height of only 97 meters above sea level, the lowest point in the country is Drangeme Chhu. After that, however, the height rises very quickly to more than 7500 in the north, with the Gankhar Punsum as the highest peak (7541 m) which lies entirely in Bhutan. Higher is the Kulha Gangri (7554 m), but it lies partly in the Tibetan region of Lhodrak. Mountain climbers have a hard time with Gankhar Punsum as it is still the highest mountain in the world that has not been conquered by anyone.

Other high mountains in Bhutan are Liangkang Kangri (7534 m), Cho-mo-la-li Shan (7,314 m), Kangphu Kang I (7,220 m), Tongshanjiabu (7,207 m) and Chomolhari Kang (7,121 m). Bhutan does not have a single mountain higher than 8000 meters, but it does have 21 peaks higher than 7000 meters. Most of Bhutan consists of low mountain ranges with an altitude between 1100 and 4000 meters. Bhutan's highest mountain pass, Thumsingla Pass, is located at an elevation of 3,800 meters in eastern Bhutan.

Gangkhar Punsum, highest mountain in BhutanGangkhar Punsum, highest mountain in BhutanPhoto: Dhaag23 CC 2.0 Generic no changes made

Besides an unmistakable mountain landscape, Bhutan is also largely covered with forests. And it always will, if it is up to the government of Bhutan. The law stipulates that the surface of Bhutan must consist of at least 60% forest.

Bhutan can be roughly divided into four landscapes. To the north is the "Great Himalaya", the highest central mountain range in the Himalayan range, running from Chomo Lhari in the west to Phameleja in the east. Here are many peaks of more than 6000 m, covered with eternal snow and glaciers. Approx. 20% of Bhutan is continuously covered with eternal snow. Many mountain peaks have not or hardly been climbed and sometimes do not even have a name. Between these impressive peaks there are valleys at an altitude of at least 3500 m with tundra-like vegetation. The Great Himalaya is intersected by only one valley, namely that of the Kuru Chhu (Lhobrak). including Thimphu, Paro, Haa, Bumthang, Tongsa and Punakha), often at altitudes between 1500 and 2700 m.

This area also contains all the major cities of Bhutan. The most striking chain is the Black Mountains, a somewhat mysterious area of about 1400 km2 with deep ravines the main barrier between East and West Bhutan. A road runs through the passes from the east to the west at an altitude of more than 2000 m. Differences in height and location with respect to monsoon winds provide a vegetation that varies from dense cloud forests to tundra vegetation. the Black Mountains range in elevation from 700 meters in the south to 4,600 in the central area. The highest mountain in the Black Mountains is Dungshinggang (or Mount Jow Durshing), 4617 meters high and consisting of three peaks, the 'Three Brothers Peak'.

Map of Bhutan regions

Map of Bhutan regionsPhoto: Public domain

The ends of the Inner Himalayan mountain ranges are called 'Outermost Ranges' and form a distinct small landscape. The Outermost Ranges rise from the Duar Plain to 600 meters and then rise through steep walls or escarpments to a height of 1500 meters. A number of rivers or 'chhus' flow through the Outermost Ranges through deep canyon valleys. . The 18 "duars" are the fertile valleys between two river valleys. Depending on the permeability of the soil, long grass or dense rainforest grows here.

Bhutan has four major unnavigable river systems, the Amo-chhu, the Kuri-chhu, the Gamri-chhu and the Thimphu-chhu . The enormous hydropower potential of these river systems makes a significant contribution to the Bhutanese economy. Bhutan's largest river is the Manas or Drangme-chhu. All the rivers of Bhutan flow through the 'duars' or 'dooars' towards Brahmaputra in India. Other rivers are Di-chhu, Wang-chhu, Punatsang-chhu, Mangde-chhu, Bumthang-chhu, Kulong-chhu, Tawang-chhu, Bada-chhu and Dhansiri-chhu.

Bhutan has 618 glaciers and and 2664 glacial lakes (above 3500 meters altitude). The recent flooding of several glacial lakes is alarming. This has everything to do with global warming, the lakes are filled with millions of cubic meters of melt water and then cause floods because the water has nowhere to go. In 1994, a glacial lake in the Po Chhu River overflowed and devastated a number of villages, killing 23 people. At present, several dozen lakes pose a direct danger to humans and animals.

Glacial Lakes of BhutanGlacial Lakes of BhutanPhoto: Public domain

Main glacial lakes of Bhutan

Thorthormi Glacial LakeGasaGangchentag Glacial LakeGasa
Raphstreng Glacial LakeGasaWochey Glacial LakeGasa
Luggye Glacial LakeGasaTeri Kang Glacial LakeGasa
Bechung Glacial LakeGasaChubda Glacial LakeBumthang
Roduphu Glacial LakeGasaTaksha Tsho Glacial LakeGasa
Sinchhe Glacial LakeGasaTsokar Glacial LakeBumthang

In addition to the thousands of glacial lakes, there are also dozens of 'ordinary' Lakes, which can generally be found above a height of 3500 meters. Only four lakes are below an altitude of 2000 meters: Ho Ko Tsho (at an altitude of 1829 meters), Luchika Tsho (1830 meters), Buli Tsho (1372 meters) and Gulandi Tsho (366 meters).

Main mountain lakes of Bhutan:

Animo TshoBumthangHo Ko TshoPunakhaRigona TshoParo
Buli TshoZhemgangJanye TshoThimphuSertshoThimphu
Chhiba TshoDaganaJatshoThimphuSethag Burge TshoGasa
Chungge TshoBumthangJimilang TshoThimphuSetshoGasa
DagebhoThimphuLaname TshoParoSimdong Goi TshoGasa
Daja TshoThimphuLangtshoDaganaSimk otra TshoThimphu
Djule TshoBumthangLuchika TshoWangdue PhodrangSolang ChhuBumthang
Dongney TshoParoMembar TshoBumthangTampoe TshoTrongsa
DongtshoThimphuNgyetshoThimphuTshochena LakeGasa
Dungtsho TshoParoNob Tshona Patta TshoHaaTsho PhuParo
Gulandi TshoJongkharOm TshoTrongsaUtsho TshoThimphu

Climate and Weather

Bhutan Climate Zones Bhutan Climate ZonesPhoto: Ali Zifan CC 4.0 International no changes made

The climate Bhutan is as varied as the elevation in the country and is heavily influenced by the monsoons in June, July and August, especially in western Bhutan. In that area, 60-90% of the annual amount of rainfall falls during the monsoon season. The climate is humid and subtropical on the southern plains and foothills of the mountains, temperate in the Himalayan valleys in southern and central Bhutan, and cold in the north, with perpetual snow on the Himalayan peaks.

The temperatures also depend strongly on the altitude. The temperature in the capital, Thimphu, at 2,200 meters in West-Central Bhutan, ranges from 15 to 26°C during monsoon season, dropping to temperatures of -4 to 16°C in January. Central Bhutan has a cool temperate climate all year round. Southern Butan has a warm, humid climate with year-round temperatures between 15 and 30°C and summer peaks of up to 40°C in the valleys.

Annual precipitation varies widely in different regions of the country. In the harsh climate in the mountainous north only about 40 mm of precipitation falls per year, mostly in the form of snow. In the temperate central part of Bhutan annual precipitation of about 1000 mm is fairly normal, in the humid, subtropical south precipitation of more than 7000 mm per year is no exception. The capital Thimphu receives an average of 650 mm of rainfall per year, from 20 mm in the dry winter months of January-March to 220 mm in the month of August.

The dry period in Bhutan starts in early March and lasts until mid-April. Then the summer period starts with occasional rain showers until the pre-monsoon rains at the end of June. The summer monsoon lasts from the end of June to the end of September with heavy rainy periods advancing from the southwest. Typical for monsoon storms, held up in the north by the Himalayas, are prolonged rainy periods, very high humidity, floods, landslides and many days with fog or heavy cloud cover. The autumn period, which lasts from the end of September or the beginning of October to the end of November, is characterized by clear, sunny days and early snowfall in the higher parts of the country. Winter sets in from late November to March, with frost in much of Bhutan and guaranteed snowfall above 3000 meters. The northeasterly winter monsoon brings stormy winds from the high mountain passes.

 Thimphu, capital of Bhutan, in winter Thimphu, capital of Bhutan, in winterPhoto: Chistopher J. Fynn CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

The best time for tourists to visit Bhutan visits are in October and November. Then the sky is often clear and there is plenty of sun with daytime temperatures above 20°C and at night around 5°C. The morning almost always starts with beautiful clear weather, after one o'clock in the afternoon it becomes a bit more cloudy and the wind blows a bit harder, in the evening and at night the weather is clear again with a beautiful starry sky.

In the period March-May it is already getting warmer and the chances of rain are greater. High mountain passes are often covered with snow until March at least. December-February is winter, but in the lowlands there is still plenty of walking and mountain biking. June-August is the period of the monsoon, when it can sometimes rain for days on end, causing mudslides as a nuisance. Hiking trails get wet and slippery and leeches attack people in great numbers. In September it can still rain heavily, the mud is still far from gone and clouds prevent the sunshine.

Climate table with maximum and minimum temperatures


Plants and Animals


Bhutan's national tree, Cupressus cypress torulosa Bhutan's national tree, Cupressus cypress torulosaPhoto: S.Rae CC 2.0 Generic no changes made

Bhutan is one of the last biodiversity hotspots in the world, with coniferous and deciduous forests growing to 72% of the total land area. Furthermore, 60% of the country has been declared a protected area.

As far as forest areas are concerned, Bhutan can be divided into three major zones:

-the alpine zone, above 4000 meters, where there are no forests

-the temperate zone, from 2000 to 4000 meters, with coniferous and deciduous forests

-the subtropical zone, from 150 to 200 meters, with tropical and subtropical vegetation.

Bhutan counts various forest types including spruce forests, mixed coniferous forests, forests consisting of the himalayads (Pinus wallichiana), also called teardrops, Bhutan pine or Wallichs pine, mixed coniferous and deciduous forests, highland hardwood forests, lowland hardwood forests and tropical lowland forests. Bhutan's national tree is the cypress Cupressus torulosa or teardrop tree. Also special is the wild Himalayan cherry tree, Prunus cerasoides, which grows in forests at an altitude of 1200-2400 meters.

Bhutan has a particularly large number of flower and plant species;more than 5000 species, including more than 600 orchid species, 300 medicinal plants and 46 rhododendrons. 60% of the Bhutanese flora is found in Eastern Himalya. Common plants include magnolia, juniper bush, orchids in many shades, gentian, pepper tree and giant rhubarb.

Very special is the blue poppy (Meconopsis grandis), the national flower of Bhutan. This plant grows above the tree line (above 3500 meters) on a rocky soil and reaches a height of about 1 meter.

There are five types of poppy in Bhutan, in addition to the red, yellow and white poppy. True enthusiasts are looking for the large creamy-white Maconopsis superba, which is only found in the Haa Valley.

Blue poppy, the national flower of BhutanBlue poppy, the national flower of BhutanPhoto: Andrew Curtis CC 2.0 Generic no changes made


The takin is the national animal of BhutanThe takin is the national animal of BhutanPhoto:-Majestic- CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

Many rare, endangered animal species live in the dense jungle and high mountains of Bhutan, including about 200 mammal species. Bhutan's oldest national park, Royal Manas, is home to many mammals typical of Bhutan and South East Asia in general, including water buffalo, gaur, himalayan forest gems, sambar (also called Aristotle deer or horse deer), muntjac, chital or chital, Asian elephant, blue sheep (also called bharal or naur) and the very rare Indian or armored rhinoceros.
Wolves, yaks, Himalayan marmot and musk deer live at higher altitudes. The high mountains are also home to the snow leopard, clouded leopard, Asiatic wild dog, red panda and black Himalayan bear. Other predators include the tiger, Asian golden cat, marble cat, manoel or pallas cat, Bengal tiger, sloth bear or bahloe and fishing cat or fish cat.
The Asiatic wild dog (also called red dog, alpine dog, dhole or adjak) has Bhutan recovered somewhat after a poisoning campaign in the 1970s and settled in Jigme Dorji National Park since the 1990s.

Asiatic wild dog reoccurs in BhutanAsiatic wild dog reoccurs in BhutanPhoto: Davidvraju CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

Bhutan's national animal is the takin, a type of moose. Deer, antelopes and wild dogs also live in the forests. The warmer regions of southern Bhutan are home to a variety of monkey species, including the Assam macaque or mountain red monkey, golden langur, crested langur, and a Hullman or gray langur species. Small mammals include the Bengal rabbitn and the pygmy pig.

In 2013, following various scientific studies, it was determined that Bhutan at that time had 36 amphibians (34 frogs, 1 salamander, 1 amphibian) and 83 reptiles (57 snakes, 20 lizards, 1 crocodile, 5 turtles).
Snake species include Small Striped Snake, Common Worm Snake, Dark or Burmese Tiger Python, Indian Wolf Snake, Flying Snake, Spectacle Snake, White-lipped Bamboo Viper, Indochinese Rat Snake, Russell's Viper and King Cobra .
Lizards include agames (including the leech), geckos (including tjitjak, flat-tailed gecko), skinks, monitor lizards (including Bengal monitor lizard, yellow monitor lizard) and a slow worm species.

The white-lipped bamboo viper occurs in BhutanThe white-lipped bamboo viper occurs in BhutanPhoto: Rushen CC 2.0 Generic no changes made


No other animal on the Tibetan plateau and in Bhutan is more imaginative and exemplifies the unique fauna in the Himalayas than the yak or bromine, the 'camel of the snow'. Hardened, stubborn, playful and at first glance clumsy, but on rugged and steep terrain indispensable for the people of Bhutan. Actually, only the bulls are called 'yak', the cows are called 'dri'. The bulls are, as with all cattle, larger than the cows, wild yaks are larger than the domesticated ones. Three main types of yak can be distinguished: with a square or rectangular head, with a long nose and a small version. There are also white yaks.

The yak was domesticated thousands of years ago by the nomads all over Central Asia and used for plowing, as a pack animal and as a producer of meat, milk (butter and cheese ), grease (paint), fertilizer fuel, clothing and canvas.

Wild yaks are an endangered species, but the population in Tibet, where the only true wild yak lives, seems to be increasing again in recent years . Yaks are often crossed with other bovine species.

Yak Bull BhutanYak Bull BhutanPhoto: 4028mdk09 CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

Bhutan has more than 700 various bird species (and new ones are still being discovered), of which more than 400 species are resident birds. The Phobjikha Valley in Central Bhutan is the main wintering site (late October-mid February) for about 400 rare black-necked cranes. The birds come from the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau and always arrive between 23 and 26 October.

Also in danger of extinction is the imperial heron, one of the 50 rarest birds in the world. Also special is the white-banded sea eagle, which can be seen in Bhutan on its journey in the spring and in the autumn from Tibet to North India and vice versa. In the Thrumshingla National Park there are six very endangered bird species: Himalayan yearbird (kind of hornbill), red-throated tigger, red satyridae, beautiful nuthatch, Harpactes wardi (trogon species) and robin wood partridge. The globally endangered white-winged forest duck has recently also appeared in Bhutan.

The raven is the national bird of Bhutan and is incorporated in the crown of the Bhutanese king.

The raven crown of Bhutanese King Hariboneagle927The raven crown of Bhutanese King Hariboneagle927Photo: Hariboneagle927 CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

Red-breasted WheateargrandalaRed-bellied Rock Thrush
azure niltavaGray WhinchatRed-throated Nightingale
flycatchergreybackforktailredthroat niltava
bamboo flycatcherHimalayan BluetailSapphire Flycatcher
Mountain Rock ThrushHimalayan RedtailShama Thrush
BluethroatHodgson's WhinchatMirror Redtail
Blue ShortwingHodgson's FlycatcherTaiga Flycatcher
Blue Rock ThrushIndian WhinchatField Redtail
blue-throated niltavaIndian bluetailwater redstart
blue-headed redstartizabelle wheatearwhitefly flycatcherr
Blue-tailedKashmir FlycatcherWhite-browed Flycatcher
Blue-fronted Callenesmall short-wingedwhite-bellied redstart
Blyth's blue tailsmall niltavawhite-throated redstart
Spotted Wheatearsmall fork tailWhite-throated Flycatcher
Brooks' niltavacobalt niltava (photo)white-crowned redtail
brown flycatcherslate blue flycatcherwhite-crowned forktail
Chinese Flute ThrushOrange NightingaleWhite-tailed Callene
Dayal ThrushRed-breasted RedtailBlack-breasted Nightingale
Dwarf NiltavaRust-bellied ShortwingBlack-breasted Wheatear
magpie flycatcherrusty flycatcherblack redstart
spotted forktailrust spot flycatcherblack-backed fork tail
soot fly trap
Gould's short wingred-bellied niltava

Cobalt niltava is found in BhutanCobalt niltava is found in BhutanPhoto: Ajit Hota CC 4.0 International no changes made

Asian crested eaglehawk eaglered-bellied eagle
Asian honey buzzardhimalayan or snow vultureshikra (photo)
Mongrel EagleHimalayan BuzzardSnake Eagle
Bengal VultureIndian Eared Vulturesperwer
besrasperwerIndian snake eaglegolden eagle
hen harrierIndian black eaglesteppe eagle
imperial or eastern eaglewhite-banded sea eagle
Brahminy kitelittle river eaglebald eagle
buzzardcrested goshawkblack kite
dwarf eaglebearded vulture
gray kiteMongolian buzzard

Shikra, bird of prey in BhutanShikra, bird of prey in BhutanPhoto: Jan Willem Steffelaar CC 2.0 Generic no changes made

BhutanlijstergaaiJapanese nightingalered-necked thrush
blue-winged starfishjungle babblerred-backed minla
blue-winged minlalong-tailed sibiared-tailed minla
spotted thrushNepalese nontimaliaWhite-bellied Thrush
Chest-Strap-ThrowerNepalese Stripe WingWhite-Bellied Thrush
brown-throated nontimaliaornate minnow (photo)white-throated thrush
striped thrushred-bellied thrushWhite-crested Thrush
Gold-winged Thrush-wingRed-chinned Thrush-wingSilver-eared Malia
Gray-headed Striped Wingred-faced thrushblack-headed sibia
himalayacutiared-masked timiliablack-faced thrush

Ornate minnow, bird found in BhutanOrnate minnow, bird found in BhutanPhoto: JJ Harrison CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

Baer's white-eyed duckgadwallwigeon
shelduckred-crested duckpochard
bronze-headed ducktufted duckmallard
casarca or sooty gooseMandarin DuckTeal
Greylag GoosePintailWhite-Eyed Duck
Great merganserRed or Yellow Whistling DuckWhite-winged Wood Duck
Indian or Stripe-headed GooseSiberian or Baikal tealsummer teal
Indian spotted duckslo beend
blue peacockquailsnow partridge
blood pheasantnepal pheasant (photo)mirror peacock
Blyth's blackbirdRed Junglefowl or Banana FowlTibetan Mountain Fowl
Common Wood PartridgeRed Satyr Fowl or SatyrtragopanTibetan Partridge
Himalayan Glazed PheasantRobin Wood PartridgeBlack Francolin
Japanese quailred-throated wood partridge

Nepal pheasant is found in BhutanNepal pheasant is found in BhutanPhoto: Tinyfroglet CC 2.0 Generic no changes made

Mountain Red SparrowGray-headed Goldfinchred-headed bullfinch
Blanfords rosefinchhimalaya greenfinchrosefinch
Brandt's Mountain FinchHimalayan HookbillScarlet Duckbill
Brown BullfinchHimalayan Red SparrowMirrored Sparrow
Red SparrowHimalayan Red SparrowTibetan Canary
Burton's bullfinchHodgson's mountain finchfinch
dark redfinchkeepspotted winged beak
yellow-backed beakcrossbilleyebrow red sparrow
gold-crowned finchgiant red sparrow
Gray WagtailIndian Pied WagtailTree Pipit
Yellow WagtailOriental PipitSiberian Pipit
Eastern Yellow WagtailLong-billed Pipit (photo)Red-throated Pipit
Lemon WagtailMongolian PipitPacific Pipit
Great Yellow Wagtaildune pipit
white wagtailvine pipit

Long-billed piper occurs in BhutanLong-billed piper occurs in BhutanPhoto: Lip Kee Yap CC 2.0 Generic no changes made

rock pigeonred dovethick-billed puffin
cliff dovepearl-necked dovepointed-tailed puffin
Snow DovePalm DoveWedge-tailed Puffin
Hodgson's Pigeonstriped cuckoo pigeongreen imperial pigeon
Nepal pigeonemerald or green-winged pigeonIndian Eurasian pigeon
Oriental DoveOrange-breasted Puffin
Collared DoveIndo-Chinese puffin
amethyst cuckoo (photo)large green-billed malkohacuckoo
Bengal spur cuckoolarge green-billed malkohaShort-winged Cuckoo
Chinese Spur CuckooHimalayan CuckooPiet-van-Vliet or Common Cuckoo
Coromandel CuckooHodgson's Sparrow CuckooRight-Tailed Drongo Cuckoo
Striped Piet-van-VlietIndian Koëlfork-tailed drongo cuckoo
spotted bronze cuckooIndian spotted cuckoo
gray-bellied Piet-van-Vlietlittle cuckoo

Amethyst Cuckoo is found in BhutanAmethyst Cuckoo is found in BhutanPhoto: Kesavamurthy N CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

leaf kingGray-throated Woods WarblerOrpheus Woods Warbler
Blyth's Woods WarblerGray-headed Woods WarblerSooty Woods Warbler
brown forest warblergray-cheeked forest warblerTicehurst's golden-eyed forest warbler
Burke's golden-eyed forest warriorChiffchaff
Thick-billed FitisHimalayan Woods WarblerSilver Eyed Woods Warbler
gold band forest warblerHumes leaf king
gray fitischestnut-headed forest warbler
brown thrushTenimberg Gold Thrush
Dama ThrushChestnut ThrushTibetan Blackbird
gray-winged blackbirdKessler's thrushTickells thrush
green cochoalong-tailed thrushpale thrush
long-billed thrushpurple cochoawhite-collared thrush (photo)
himalayan thrushred-throated thrushblack-throated thrush

White-collared thrush is found in BhutanWhite-collared thrush is found in BhutanPhoto: Francesco Veronesi CC 2.0 Generic no changes made

Asiatic woodpeckergray-headed woodpeckerlesser scaly-chested woodpecker
bleached-headed bamboo woodpeckergreat yellow-crested woodpeckerpowder woodpecker
brown-eared woodpeckergreat gold-backed woodpeckerrobin woodpecker
darjeelings woodpecker (photo)himalayan woodpeckerred-eared woodpecker
wryneckhimalayan gold-backed woodpeckerred-eared woodpecker
gray-crested woodpeckerlesser yellow-crested woodpeckerpale-breasted woodpecker
bosoehoeCollared Scops OwlOriental Scops Owl
Tawny OwlSpotted Scops OwlLong-eared Owl
Brahminy Owlhimalayan owlLong-legged Owl
Brown Tawny OwljungledwerguilShort-eared Owl
collared scops owllittle himalayan owlSouth Asian pitfall

Darjeeling woodpecker occurs in BhutanDarjeeling woodpecker occurs in BhutanPhoto: Nbu2012 CC 2.0 Generic no changes made

mountain sniperuffredshank
buckcurved sandpipersnipe
green-legged riderspiny-tailed snipe
woodcockTemmink's sandpiper
bamboo forest warblergolden crown tesiachestnut koptesia (photo)
mountain-cutting birdg RijsbiktesiaRed-faced Shrub Warbler
Mountain Shrub WarblerGreen Shrub WarblerRed-faced Bush Warbler
broad-billed bush warblerHumes shrub warbler
The Black-billed CreeperHarrington's Tree TimaliaSickle-Creeper
Banded Parrot TimaliaRed-throated Creeping TimaliaSpotted-Breasted Creeper
Yellow-throated TimaliaRed-throated Tufted TigersWestern Wedge-billed Timalia
Golden Tree TimaliaRed-headed Tree TimaliaWhite-browed Creeper

Chestnut Choptesia, Bhutanese BirdChestnut Choptesia, Bhutanese BirdPhoto: John&Jemi Holmes CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

alpine choughgray-breasted woodcatchernutcracker
red-billed crowgreen kittaraven
black-billed crowhouse crowred-throated treecatcher
magpieMasked WoodcatcherJay
Yellow-billed Kitta
brown big-billed titgray-billed big-billed titflea tail
Yellow-headed Big-billed TitBig-billed TitWhite-browed Nontimalia
Golden NontimaliaJerdons timaliaWhite-throated Beaked Tit
Gray-headed Billed TitRed-headed Billed Tit
witkoptimaliaoliveflanknontimaliaassam dwarf creeper (photo)
yellow-throated nontimaliaspotted jungletimaliared-tailed mouse malia
red-winged nontimaliawhite-bellied jungletimaliaIndian grass warbler
red-throated nontimaliastripe chest creepy tigers

Assam dwarf creeper, Bhutanese birdAssam dwarf creeper, Bhutanese birdPhoto: Umeshsrinivasan CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

mountain priniaGray PriniaWhite Welt Prinia
Yellow Belly PriniaJungle PriniaBlack-throated Prinia
gray-breasted prinialong-tailed cutterbird
gray-headed priniarusty prinia
Great Blue HeronLittle EgretReddish Little Bittern
Great EgretCattle EgretMiddle or Yellow-billed Silver Egret
Indi rale heronquack
emperor heronmangroveron
Mountain Great TitGray Crested TitSultan Tit
Woodland WarblerGray Great TitFire Crown or Red-headed Tit
Yellow-faced TitRed-bellied TitBlack Tit
ash gray bulbulhimalayan black bulbulwhite-throated bulbul
striped bulbulred-bellied bulbulwhite-faced bulbul
green-winged bulbulred-bellied bulbulblack crested bulbul (photo)

Black-crested Bulbul, bird from BhutanBlack-crested Bulbul, bird from BhutanPhoto: JMGarg CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

yellow-backed honey-suckergreen-tailed honey suckerred-eared honey sucker
banded spider hunterlittle spider hunterflea-tailed honey sucker
Gould's honey extractorpurple honey extractorblack-throated honey extractor
magpie starlinggreat maniaoevermania
gray-headed starlingjunglemaniastarling
big beomarbled starlingweeping mania
Arabian House MartinIndian Sand MartinRed-rumped Swallow
pale sand martinNepalese house martinrock martin
barn swallowsand martin
small red lead birdlong-tailed red lead birdlarge caterpillar bird
gray-throated red-throated redheadscarlet red-lead birdred redhead
short-billed redhead birdpink red lead bird
Blyth's kingfisherkingfishersmyrna kingfisher
pied kingfisherjungledwarf kingfisherblack-capped kingfisher
Chinese giant kingfisher (photo)ruddy kingfisher

Chinese giant kingfisher, bird from BhutanChinese giant kingfisher, bird from BhutanPhoto: Public domain

alpine swiftlarge house swiftsteKel-tailed Swift
Asian Palm SwiftHimalayan SwiftBlack-backed Swift
Blyth's SwiftSiberian Swift
Indian lapwinglapwingKentish Plover
Indian Spur LapwingLittle Plover
Mongolian plover
bronze drongoking drongoflag drongo
gray drongocrow-billed drongo
hair-crested drongospateldrongo
bearded meestimaliaIndian spectacled birdspotted meestimalia
yellow-legged mosti maliaRed-bellied Meestimalia
Striped MostimaliaRed-headed Mostimalia
big-billed honeybirdgreen-gray honeybirdblack-yellow honeybird
Yellow-billed honeybirdIndian honeybird
spotted honeybirdredback honeybird (photo)

Red-backed honeybird, Bhutan birdRed-backed honeybird, Bhutan birdPhoto: Lip Kee Yap CC 2.0 Generic no changes made

brown spotted crakegray-headed crimsontwo-colored purple grouse
banded or bandralboatheadwhite-breasted waterfowl
blue-throated barbetbarred barbetGreat Barbet
Blue-eared BarbetGolden-throated BarbetCoppersmith
slender-billed gullgiant black-headed gull
Alexander ParakeetGray-headed ParakeetCollared Parakeet
blossom-headed parakeetGreat Alexander Parakeet
Blyth's shrike timaliagreen most malia (photo)black-eared spectacled malia
green spectacled maliablack-headed shrike timalia
Bengal LarkLittle SkylarkTibetan Lark
Short-toed Lark
Alpine hedge sparrowstriped hedge sparrowrobin hedge sparrow
brown hedge sparrowhimalayan hedge sparrow

Green Most Malia, Bhutan BirdGreen Most Malia, Bhutan BirdPhoto: Francesco Veronesi CC 2.0 Generic no changes made

pied hornbill (photo)common yearbirdhimalayan yearbird
double-horned hornbill
blueberry beeentererbrown-headed bee-eaterlittle green bee-eater
blue shrikeHimalayan ShrikeLong-tailed Shrike
brown-backed shrike
thin-billed orioleIndian blood-orioleblack-headed oriole
Indian Oriole
Cinnamon Belly NuthatchSplendid Nuthatchwhite-tailed nuthatch
feathered-tailed nuthatch
Reed WarblerSmall MockingbirdLong Reed Warbler
Indian Reed Warbler
brown shrub warblerspotted shrub warblerMandell's shrub warbler
striped grassbird

Pied Hornbill, Bhutanese birdPied Hornbill, Bhutanese birdPhoto: John J. Mosesso in the public domain

dwarf buntingmask buntingstone orotolan
crested bunting
killersgrebeblack-necked grebe
CormorantIndian CormorantIndian Cormorant
Damselfly CraneCraneBlack Necked Crane (photo)
gray nightjarHorsfields nightjarsavannah nightjar
House SparrowRing SparrowRed-headed Sparrow
baya weaverFinns baya weaver
Bishop or Woolneck StorkBlack Stork
AvocetBlack-winged Avocet

Black-necked crane, rare in BhutanBlack-necked crane, rare in BhutanPhoto: Eric Savage CC 2.0 Generic no changes made

Chinese buttonquailblack-throated quail
redhead trogonWards trogon
dollar birdIndian roller
parrot broadbillbrow broadbill
blue-necked pittahooded or black-headed pitta
Great-legged Shrikemotley dwarf thriller
blackneck monarchIndian paradise monarch
yellow-bellied fan tailgray-headed flycatcher
Brown-breasted Long-tailed TitRed-crowned Long-tailed Tit
brown-throated creeperHodgson's tree creeperNepalese tree creeper
water starlingblack water starling
gold forehead leafbirdorange bellied leaf bird
nutmegsSpit-tailed Bronzed Man
OspreyCrowned SwiftWhite-throated Fan Tail
Indian stone curlewhoprock creeper
ibissnavelhimalayan honeyguideWren
bronze-winged jacanagray woodbirdgoldencrest
lesser fork-tailed plovercommon iora (photo)blackbird
Indian bluebackelachura

Common iora, Bhutan birdCommon iora, Bhutan birdPhoto: Lip Kee Yap CC 2.0 Generic no changes made


Early History and Middle Ages

Archaeological finds so far indicate that the first inhabitants of the low lying valleys in Bhutan between 2000-1500 BC. were nomadic shephards, using the Manas Chhu Valley as a trade route between India and Tibet. Some of Bhutan's first inhabitants were followers of Bon, an animist religion quite common in this part of the Himalayas before the advent of Buddhism. Bon is believed to have been in the 6th century AD. was introduced in Bhutan and Buddhism in the 2nd century, although most historians agree that the first Buddhist temples, including Kyichu Llakhang near Paro and Jampey Llakhang in Bumthang, were built in the 7th century, under the Tibetan King Songtsen Gampo. During the first centuries AD, much of the source material was lost by fires in the 19th century and 1907, and by the earthquake of 1897.

Guru Rinpoche (aka Padmasambhava), is one of the most important Bhutanese historical, mythical and religious figures, as his visit to Bumthang in 746 is widely regarded as the real introduction of Buddhism to Bhutan. Guru Rinpoche was invited by the king of Bumthang to expel evil spirits from his land, among other things. In return, the king and many others converted to Buddhism. Guru Rinpoche is also said to have visited present-day Bhutan during the reign of Muthri Tsenpo (764-817), the son of the 38th Tibetan king Trisong Detsen (742-ca. 800).

Guru Rinpoche, founder of Tantric BuddhismGuru Rinpoche, founder of Tantric BuddhismPhoto: Secretlondon CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

Trisong Detsen's grandson, Langdharma, ruled Tibet from 836 to 842. He was a devotee of the Bon religion, banned Buddhism, destroyed many religious buildings, and exiled his brother, Prince Tsangma, to Bhutan. Many Buddhist monks from Tibet would have fled to Bhutan along with Tsangma. Not long after, Langdharma was assassinated and Buddhism reintroduced in Tibet. The country was in chaos and even now many Tibetans fled to Bhutan.

At the time, there was no central authority in the territory of present-day Bhutan. Instead, several fiefdoms sprang up from the early 9th century, the most prominent of which was the Bumthang kingdom. Tibetan monks who had fled had anchored religiously and culturally in Bhutan. At the time, the fertile valleys of Bhutan were slowly but surely occupied by Tibetan-Mongol military; in the 11th century, all of Bhutan was occupied by these armies. As early as the 10th century, Bhutan's political development has been heavily influenced by its religious history. After a period in Tibet when Buddhism was again threatened, many disputes arose between various subdivisions, which were protected by the Mongol overlords until the 14th century. At the time, the Gelugpa or Yellow Hat school of Tibetan Buddhism, founded by Je Tsongkhapa (1357-1419), after an anarchist period in Tibet, was so prevalent that many Tibetan monks fled from subdivisions to Bhutan.

Je Tsongkhapa, founder of the Gelug School of Tibetan BuddhismJe Tsongkhapa, founder of the Gelug School of Tibetan BuddhismPhoto: Tibetan Museum Society CC 2.5 Generic no changes made

Among these monks, the founder of the Lhapa Kagyu School, Gyalwa Lhanangpa, a subsection of the Kagyu School, today one of the six main schools of Himalayan-Tibetan Buddhism. The Lhapa were the founders of a number of strategically located 'dzongs', fortified monasteries. Although the Lhapa subsection was pressured in the 12th century by the Drukpa Kagyu school of Ralung in Tibet, another subsection led by the Tibetan monk lama Phajo Drugom Shigpo (1184-1251), it continued to convert people until the 17th -century. Lama Gyalwa Lhanangpa was defeated by lama Phajo Drugom Shigpo and the latter is widely regarded as the great man behind the development of the Bhutanese form of Buddhism by converting many Bhutans to the Drukpa Kagyu school.

However, between the 12th and 17th centuries, the two schools remained hostile to each other. During this period, Bhutan was often visited by important Druk Kagyu teachers from Ralung, including Lama Ngawang Chhogyel (1465-1540) and his sons, who built various monasteries and temples, including Druk Choeder in Paro and Pangri Zampa and Hongtsho Goemba nearby from the capital Thimphu. Another notable and important Druk Kagyu teacher was Drukpa Kunley (1455-1529), who is still highly prized by the Bhutans and associated with the beautifultemple of Chimi Lhakhang.

Drukpa Kunley, important Drukpa teacher in BhutanDrukpa Kunley, important Drukpa teacher in BhutanPhoto: Public domain

In the 16th century, the political arena in Bhutan was still very fragmented, local rulers each controlled a piece of Bhutan and fought many conflicts with other local rulers. Many monasteries vied for superiority, and Western Bhutan lamas tried to extend their influence to Eastern Bhutan.

This situation changed radically from 1616, when Lama Ngawang Namgyal (1594-1651) traveled from Ralung to Bhutan. He is said to be a reincarnation of the founder of Ralung Monastery, Tsangpa Gyarey. However, this was disputed by a ruler from another principality in Tibet, and Ngawang Namgyal more or less fled to Bhutan. On his journey through Western Bhutan he also strengthened his political strength and soon became widely regarded as the religious leader of Bhutan with the title Zhabdrung Rinpoche. Under his rule the 'dzongs' became buildings with a civil, religious and military function; the first dzong built in this way was that of Simtokha, just outside the capital Timphu.

Simtokha Dzong, Bhutan Simtokha Dzong, BhutanPhoto: Christopher J. Fynn CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

Ngawang Namgyal was soon fought by a coalition of five lamas led by Lama Palden and in 1629 the Simtokha-dzong was attacked. This attack was repulsed, but the coalition reinforced there with a group of Tibetans and continued to oppose Ngawang Namgyal. But in the end he won the battle, the Tibetans were defeated several times, finally after an alliance with King Singye Namgyal of Ladakh. In 1639 Tibet recognized Ngawang Namgyal as the only real authority in all of Bhutan. He immediately strengthened his power by establishing friendly relations with Rama Shah, the king of Nepal, and with Raja Padmanarayan of Cooch Behar in India. The king of Ladakh also allowed Ngawang Namgyal to settle in a number of places in Tibet for the purpose of meditation and worship, including on the slopes of the sacred mountain Kailash. This situation continued until Tibet was taken over by China in 1959.

Meanwhile, in Tibet, a battle was raging between the Buddhists of Nyingmapa ("red hat") and Gelugpa ("yellow hat"), led by the Dalai Lama. The Dalai Lama was supported by the Mongol leader Gushri Khan, who invaded the Tibetan Tsang province, as the Ringpong dynasty was replaced by the Gelugpa lineage. In 1644 the Mongols and Tibetans attacked Bhutan, but couldn't cope with the heat and the many forests in Bhutan. Ngawang Namgyal himself led the resistance and managed to hold out. To prevent another such invasion and as a memorial monument, the Drukyel Dzong was built at the beginning of the Paro Valley in 1647. Several years later, in 1648 and 1649, one of the most powerful Dalai Lamas ever in Tibet, called "the Great Fifth," again attempted to break the power of Ngawang Namgyal, but every attempt failed miserably. These successes cemented Ngawang Namgyal's power and his excellent army gave him control over the entire country. Minyur Tenpa, appointed by Ngawang Namgyal as governor of the Trongsa region, took action to unite all the valleys of central and eastern Bhutan under the rule of the Ngawang Namgyal. These actions were completed in 1655, while many dzongs were built at the same time. The first Western visitors to Bhutan also arrived in 1627, Portuguese Jesuit missionaries and explorers Estêvão Cacella (1585-1630) and João Cabral (1599-1669), who traveled from Calcutta in India to Shigatse in Tibet. They spent a month in Cheri Goemba, north of Thimphu, near the Zhabdrung. Ngawang Namgyal had established a dual system of government in his day, consisting of a religious leader, the Je Khenpo, and a civil leader, the Druk Desi.

Bhutan map 17th centuryBhutan map 17th centuryPhoto: Public domain

Ngawang Namgyal died in 1651, but to avoid unrest and chaos his death was concealed for nearly 50 years. He was succeeded in 1651 by his minor son and in 1680 by his half-brother, who was also a minor. They were under the control of the Druk Desi and the powerful Je Khenpo into the 21st century. During that initial succession period, Bhutan came into conflict with Tibet and Sikkim, and in the 1980s and 1700s, Bhutan invaded Sikkim. Bhutan, in turn, was invaded in 1714, aided by Mongolia, but failed to control the country. Bhutan took over in Cooch Behar, India, that Bhutan had asked for help after the invasion of the South Asian Muslim Mughal Empire, which in the 17th century covered almost the entire Indian subcontinent. Cooch Behar managed to keep the Mughals out with the help of Bhutan, but this gave Bhutan a lot of political influence in Cooch Behar and a Bhutan garrison was stationed, which together with an army of Cooch Behar invaded Sikkim in 1770. In 1772, a protégé of the Druk Desi of Bhutan was banned from the throne with the help of British forces and Cooch Behar became an area under the control of the British East India Company.

Bhutan under British rule

After Cooch Behar was liberated from Bhutan by the British, the British took immediate action and invaded Bhutan in 1772-1773. The Druk Desi of that time enlisted the help of the Panchen Lama of Ladakh, who turned against Bhutan by immediately claiming Tibet's claim to Bhutan. The Druk Desi was thus cornered and signed a peace agreement with the British on April 25, 1774, including the pre-1730 borders of Bhutan in the treaty, symbolically donating five horses to the British, which were also allowed to buy timber to cut down in Bhutan. It was a good thing for Bhutan that from now on trade could take place between Bhutan and British India. In 1784, the British allowed Bhutanese to be appointed to manage the Duars area in Bengal and keep the income from it. The Bhutanese-British relationship was plagued by many border disputes, in 1787 an envoy was sent to Calcutta to negotiate, in 1815 and 1838 an envoy was sent to Thimphu. In 1838 it was agreed that Bhutanese soldiers who had invaded Assam, part of British India since 1827, would be extradited, free and unlimited trade between India and Bhutan and a settlement of the Bhutanese debt to the British. In an effort to ensure independence, however, Bhutan refused to sign the treaty. The point about Assam in particular was indigestible for the Bhutanese. Bhutan had controlled part of Assam for several decades, and paid an annual amount to the British, and frictions between Bhutan and the British about this area dated back to 1826. Those payments were getting worse and worse, which led to a success in 1834 British invasion of Bhutan. In 1841, the British annexed Assam Duars and paid Bhutan 10,000 Rupees annually for it, followed by the Duars area of Bengal in 1842.

In 1852 a delegation from Bhutan left for Calcutta in India to negotiate with the British, among other things for compensation for the loss of the Duars areas. But the British refused, and instead cut the amount for Assam Duars from 10,000 to 7,000 rupees. More border incidents followed and British troops gathered at the Bhutan border. As the British faced the Sepoy uprising in 1857-1858, Bhutanese troops smelled their chance and invaded Sikkim and Cooch Behar in 1862. The British immediately stopped all compensation payments and demanded from the Druk Desi the release of all prisoners and return of stolen goods. In 1864, the British sent a peacekeeping mission to Bhutan because civil war had broken out there, but Bhutan refused the outstretched hand of the British, which led to a declaration of war by the British in November 1864. The so-called Duar War (1864-65) lasted only five months, because it was an unequal battle between the humble army of Bhutan and the modern of the British. On November 11, 1865, the Treaty of Sinchula was signed, requiring Bhutan to surrender a number of areas in exchange for an annual fee of 50,000 rupees.

Yet in the 1870s and 1880s, conflicts erupted again between regional rivals, eventually resulting in the emergence of Ugyen Wangchuck (1862-1926), the ponlop of Tongsa. He eventually managed to unite his country after several civil wars and revolts in the period 1882-85. He also helped the British in their free trade negotiations with Tibet. For his contribution to the Anglo-Tibetan Convention of 1904, he was knighted by the British and this greatly increased his power in Bhutan.

Map of British India in 1909Map of British India in 1909Photo: Public domain
The rise of Ugyen Wangchuck was accompanied by a belief that the dual political system was outdated and ineffective. He replaced his main rival, the ponlop of Paro, and installed a member of the pro-British Dorji family in his place. In addition, the last Zhabdrung died in 1903, and when no reincarnation had appeared in 1906, the civilian government also came under Ugyen Wangchuck's control. Ultimately, the 54th and final Druk Desi was forced to step down, and although reincarnations of Ngawang Namgyal were still being sported, the Zhabdrung system came to an end.

Bhutan becomes a kingdom

In November 1907, Buddhist monks, government officials, and heads of important families gathered to end the moribund 300-year-old dual government system and proclaim a new absolute monarchy. Ugyen Wangchuck was then proclaimed the first Druk Gyalpo (dragon king), which would be the post of king in Western eyes. The British fully agreed with this turn of events. Ugyen Wangchuck ruled from 1907 to 1926 and the Dorji family was appointed heir to the Gongzim office, the main government position.

In 1910 China invaded Tibet and the Dalai Lama was forced to flee to India. But China not only claimed Tibet, but Bhutan, Nepal and Sikkim as well. These developments brought closer togetherness between Great Britain and Bhutan. This was confirmed by the Treaty of Punakha, which increased the donation from 50,000 rupees to 100,000 rupees and the British pledged not to interfere with Bhutan's domestic policy. Bhutan, in turn, promised to listen to Britain's foreign advice. This treaty also caused China to renounce their claims on Bhutan and put an end to the more than 1,000 years of Tibetan-Chinese influence on Bhutan. King Ugyen Wangchuk died in 1926 and was succeeded by his son Jigme Wangchuk, aged 24 at the time, who ruled until 1952.

Ugyen Wangchuck, First King of BhutanUgyen Wangchuck, First King of BhutanPhoto: John Claude White in the public domain

The reign of the first two kings of Bhutan was marked by political stability and economic progress, despite the reign of Jigme Wangchuck, for example, falling in the midst of the great economic crisis of the 1930s and World War II. Jigme Wangchuck improved the administrative and tax system and brought the entire country under his control.

Bhutan independent

After India's independence on August 15, 1947, the new Indian government recognized Bhutan as an independent country. This was further confirmed by a treaty signed by India and Bhutan in 1949. It was further agreed that India would no longer interfere in Bhutan's internal affairs, and that Bhutan would conform to India's foreign policy. Bhutan also regained some land in the southeast, including Dewangiri, which had been annexed by the British.

Wangchuk Family BhutanWangchuk Family BhutanPhoto: John Claude White in the public domain

King Jigme Wangchuck died in 1952 and was succeeded by his son Jigme Dorji Wangchuck, who was educated in India and England and was fluent in Tibetan, English and Hindi. In 1958, to strengthen relations with India, he invited the Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru, and his daughter Indira Gandhi to visit Bhutan.

In 1959 China took over Tibet, and it became clear to Bhutan that to prevent such a thing from happening, a policy of isolationism would be dangerous and it would be better to join a number of international organizations. In 1961 Bhutan embarked on a process of planned development, and in 1962 it joined the so-called Colombo Plan, an organization that focuses on governmental cooperation for the economic and social development of the Asia-Pacific region. An initial five-year plan was drawn up in 1961, with India helping to finance and build the major Chhukha hydroelectric project in Western Bhutan. Not all Bhutanese agreed with all the changes. There were clashes between rival groups, and on April 5, 1964, a major proponent of change, Prime Minister Jigme Palden Dorji, was assassinated in Phuentsholing. The results achieved by the king's inland policy were impressive: In 1953 he established the National Assembly ('Tshogdu') and wrote a twelve-part legal text. He also abolished slavery, carried out land reforms and established the royal army and a police force. In 1968 the country got a government with ministers for the first time. The judicial system was reformed by separating the judiciary from the executive and a Supreme Court was created. But although he took Bhutan into the modern era, he continued to insist that traditional Bhutanese culture should never be lost.

King Jigme Dorji Wanchuck died at the age of 44 and was succeeded in 1972 by his 16-year-old son Jigme Singye Wangchuck (1955-). He was crowned King of Bhutan on June 2, 1974, but the influence of his mother Kesang Choden (1930-) was still great during the early years of his reign. Important for the development of Bhutan was also the invitation to the international press to attend the coronation. Jigme Singye Wangchuck, like his father, enjoyed education in India and England, but also at the Ugyen Wangchuck Academy in Paro. His wish was to continue his father's modernization policy and make Bhutan economically independent. He also wanted to achieve through all kinds of other measures that his people would become happier, which was expressed by the concept of Gross National Happiness (BNG). This economic independence is not an end in itself, but a means to increase the BNG.

Jigme Singye Wangchuck emphasized the modernization of the education system, health care, rural development and communication. He was also the architect of Bhutanese environmental and conservation policy, in which ecology is considered more important than commercial interests. In 1988 Jigme Singye Wangchuck married four sisters Ashi Dorji Wangmo, Ashi Tshering Pem, Ashi Tshering Yangdon and Ashi Sangay Choedon.

In 1998, he made an important decision, giving up his absolute power and working closely with the National Assembly and the Council of Ministers, and the system of ministerial responsibility was introduced.

Jigme Dingye Wangchuck, 4th King of BhutanJigme Dingye Wangchuck, 4th King of BhutanPhoto: Public domain

In December 2005, Jigme Singye Wangchuck announced his abdication in favor of his eldest son Prince Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck and resigned on December 14, 2006. He also made sure that Bhutan was changed from absolute monarchy to a democratic constitutional monarchy in July 2008 under the motto 'the monarchy is not the best form of government because a king has become king because of his birthright and not because of his merits'.

Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, Bhutan Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, BhutanPhoto: Royal Family of Bhutan CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

In December 2007 elections were held for the 25-member upper house, the Senate as if it were. Elections for the 47-member House of Representatives were held in March 2008. The Bhutan Harmony Party (Druk Phuensum Tshogpa), which is in favor of the monarchy, won very convincingly with 44 seats out of 47. On November 6, 2008, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck was crowned the fifth king of Bhutan.

Tsehring Tobgay, Prime Minister of BhutanTsehring Tobgay, Prime Minister of BhutanPhoto:Tsehring Tobgay CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

In July 2013, the opposition, the People's Democratic Party of Tsehring Tobgay, won the elections and he also became prime minister. In February 2016, the King and Queen announced the birth of Crown Prince Jigme Namgyal Wangchuck. In June 2017, Bhutan protests the construction of a road in a controversial area across China. Tsehring Togbay will remain in power in the November 2018 elections.


Population demographics of Bhutan

Bhutan Population during the Black Crane festivalBhutan Population during the Black Crane festivallPhoto: ShrutiAD CC 4.0 International no changes made

Bhutan was home to approximately 758,288 people in 2015 and the country is the least populated country in South Asia at only 20 people per km2. Most people live along Bhutan's southern border and in the high valleys of Central Bhutan.

The two main populations are the Ngalops or Western Bhutanese, closely associated culturally with Tibet, and the Sharchops or Eastern Bhutanese. The Lhotshampa, meaning 'Bhutanese from the south', is a heterogeneous group of Nepalese origin.

The highest permanently inhabited village in Bhutan is Thanza (4100 m), located in the Lunana region.

Demographic data (2017)

Bhutan's 10 largest cities

Thimphuca. 62.500
Phuntsholingca. 60.400
Punakhaca. 21.500
Samdrup Jongkharca. 13.800
Geylegphugca. 6.700
Paroca. 4.400
Tashigangca. 4.400
Wangdiphodrangca. 3.300
Taga Dzongca. 3.100
Trongsaca. 2.300

Map showing districts of BhutanMap showing districts of BhutanPhoto: Public domain

General information districts of Bhutan

districtcapital citysurfacenumber of inhabitants (2005)
BumthangJakar2831 km216.116
ChhukhaChhukha1791 km274.387
DaganaDagana1387 km218.222
GasaGasa4561 km23.316
HaaHaa1746 km211.648
LhuntseLhuntse3022 km215.395
MongarMongar1946 km237.069
ParoParo1310 km236.433
PemagatshelPemagatshel518 km213.864
PunakhaPunakha977 km217.715
Samdrup JongkharSamdrup Jongkhar2312 km239.961
SamtseSamtse1585 km260.100
SarpangSarpang2362 km241.549
ThimphuThimphu2067 km298.676
TrashigangTrashigang2316 km251.134
TrashiyangtseTrashiyangtse1643 km217.740
TrongsaTrongsa1807 km213.419
TsirangDamphu641 km218.667
Wangdue PhodrangWangdue Phodrang4046 km231.135
ZhemgangZhemgang2126 km218.636

Bhutanese peoples

BROKPAS or Dakpas (highlanders): semi-nomadic population group of about 6000 people from the East Bhutanese Merak and Sakten, close to the border with the Indian Arunachal Pradesh and about 80 km east of Trashigang at an altitude of about 3000 meters. Originally from the Tshona in southern Tibet, this nomadic people still has its own dialect, culture and dress, of which the 'shamo' stands out most, a black beret-like hat made of yak hair and a kind of tentacles that drain rainwater.

LAYAP: predominantly semi-nomadic mountain people, at an altitude of almost 4000 meters, from the village of Laya in the Ghasa district in northwestern Bhutan. In 2003 the population consisted of just over 1000 people. Ethnically related to the Tibetans, the Layap speak Layakha, a Tibetan-Burmese language. The costume of the Layap resembles, except for a few small parts, Tibetan clothing. Most special is the conical bamboo hat of the Layap women, which points towards the sky with a sharp point. The Layap are mainly yak herders, but they also grow wheat, barley, mustard and turnips.

Layap woman with typical headdress BhutanLayap woman with typical headdress BhutanPhoto: Steve Evans CC 2.0 Generic no changes made

LHOPS or Doya: small people, maximum length 1.50 meters, from the southern hill area of Duars and living in the Amochhu valley of the Samtse and near Phuntsholing. Grow oranges and cardamom, among other things. Simple white clothing, generally animists worshiping spirits that live in rocks, waterfalls, lakes, caves and mountains. Unique burial ritual: the dead body is embalmed, placed in a fetal position and 'buried' above the ground in a round wooden box. Then the box is buried under a pile of stones, a bull is sacrificed if it is a man, a cow if it is a woman.

LHOTSHAMPAS: people in the south of Bhutan, mainly ethnic Nepalese. They are generally Hindus, although the Tamang and Gurung minorities are mainly Buddhists, and the Rai and Limbu minorities are primarily Animists.

MONPAS: animistic (worshiping sun, moon and numerous spirits) population group of about 3000 people on the mountain slopes of the 'Black Mountains' above the Mangde Chhu River in the villages of Jangbi, Wangling and Phumzur. The Monpas are arguably the oldest ethnic group in Bhutan.

NGALOPS or Ngalongs: Tibetan immigrants who have settled in Central and Western Bhutan and adhere to the Drukpa Kargyupa variety of Tibetan Buddhism. They grow mountain rice, potatoes and barley, among other things.

SARCHOPS or Tshangla: Tshangla-kha speaking people from Eastern Bhutan. Make beautiful woven clothes from raw silk and cotton. Using almost everything from the maize plant and what is left of it is converted into 'ara', a local alcoholic beverage that is consumed all over Bhutan. Besides animists, there is also a group that adheres to Tibetan Nyingmapa Buddhism with animistic and shamanistic elements.

Gross National Happiness

The pursuit of Gross National Happiness was introduced in 1972 by the fourth King of Bhutan, Jigme Singye Wangchuck. Despite the progress that is spreading faster and faster in Bhutan as well, people in Bhutan are very aware of the dangers that modern times entail. The government has thereby established itself as the protector of the Bhutanese people; From now on, progress was measured on the basis of four pillars: conservation of nature, good governance, sustainable development in both social and economic spheres and the preservation and promotion of cultural values.

Bhutan was not only the first country where smoking was prohibited in public, but the sale of tobacco was also banned. Things like Western billboards and plastic bags were also banned. Much more important, however, are matters such as education, health care, the environment, cultural heritage and Buddhism as the basis of legislation. Every development and every project is examined for the impact it has on the local population, religion and the environment. Bhutan's commitment to tourism development is a good example; tourism is fine but should not have a major impact on the lives and well-being of the Bhutans. Bhutan is one of the few places in the world where compassion is considered more important than capitalism and the well-being of the population is more important than boosting productivity. This unique view of society is the basis of the concept of 'Gross National Happiness'.

In 2016, the United Nations published its 'World Happiness Report', and Bhutan was ranked 84th among happiest countries in the world.

Motto about Gross National Happiness BhutanMotto about Gross National Happiness BhutanPhoto: Public domain

National sport of Bhutan: archery

Archery is Bhutan's national sport and is played practically all year round. Archery is also an integral part of many celebrations that involve plenty of food and drink.

Bows and arrows are made from the special type of bamboo. The two painted wooden goals measuring 30x120 cm are at a distance of 120 meters. Alternately, one of the targets is fired by teams of eleven archers. Each archer shoots two arrows, and the first team to score 33 points wins the match.

Bhutanese archersBhutanese archersPhoto: Dvizero CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

Women should not touch the arches. Western archery styles were introduced in the 1980s and competitions are entered by both men and women. Since that time Bhutanese archers have also taken part in international competitions and from 1984 (Los Angeles) Bhutan has sent archers to the Olympic Games. However, no medals have been won yet.

Yeti or Terrible Snowman

Like other countries in South-East Asia, Bhutan also has a mythical Yeti or terrible snowman, here it is called ape-like phenomenon, which also has a female variant, Migoi or Gredpo. The Migoi lives at an altitude of over 3500 meters, is about 2.5 meters tall with feet up to 30 cm long. The Migoi has a human, hairless face, a conically shaped head and a body that is completely hairy with brown / red / black hair. The Bhutanese Yeti has two main characteristics, he can make himself invisible and his feet are backwards, which makes it more difficult to follow him. The Migoi 'lives' in the north of Bhutan, especially in the Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary. The Bhutanese government has even appointed Migoi watchers.

Yeti or Migoi, the terrible snowman also lives in BhutanYeti or Migoi, the terrible snowman also lives in BhutanPhoto: Public domain


Language map BhutanLanguage map BhutanPhoto: Public domain

The official language of Bhutan is Dzon (g) kha, one of the 53 languages of the Tibetan language family, but it is mainly spoken in the western part of Bhutan. In addition, 23 other languages are spoken in Bhutan, all of which belong to the Tibeto-Burmese language family, except Nepali, which belongs to the Indo-Aryan languages.

Although Dzongkha is related to Tibetan, the differences in pronunciation are so great that people hardly understand each other. The spelling of Dzongkha and classical Tibetan are identical.

In schools, English is taught in addition to Dzongkha, so many people speak reasonable to fluent English. Traffic warnings and official documents are written in Dzongkha and English. The national newspaper, Kuensel, is written in Dzongkha, English and Nepalese.

Due to the many remote areas, a number of languages of regional minorities have been preserved to the present day. Some Tibetan dialects are Cocha Ngachakha in Kuri-chhu valley, Drokpa and Dakpakha and Merak, Sakteng and adjacent areas of Tashigang district, Layakha and Lunakha in nomadic Gasa district, and Lakha and Droke in parts of Bumthang district .

Most of the languages of Central Bhutan, Bumthang, Khyeng, Mangdelung and Kurto, have a strong affinity with the Monpa dialects of Tawang, from the Sino-Indian border region of Arunachal Pradesh. The main language in Eastern Bhutan, Tsangla, appears to be related to the Lopa languages of Tibet and Arunachal Pradesh. In South Bhutan, where the population is mainly of Nepalese descent, Nepalese is of course the most important language.

Keyboard with Dzongkha lettersKeyboard with Dzongkha lettersPhoto: Christopher J. Fynn CC 4.0 International no changes made

The etymology of the name Bhutan is still a point of contention among historians and linguists. Bhutan could be descended from the Sanskrit word 'Bhotant', meaning 'the end of Tibet', or from 'Bhu-uttan', meaning 'high land'.

British explorers believed that the name Bhutan was derived from 'Bhotsthan', which means land of the 'Bhotias' (Bhotia is Sanskrit for people of Tibet). Although the country's name abroad is always referred to as Bhutan, the people of Bhutan have referred to their country as Druk Yul, 'land of the thundering dragon' since the 13th century. People call themselves 'Drukpa'.

The naming system differs in Bhutan in the north and the south. In the north there are no surnames. Shortly after birth, each child is given two names, which are given by monks. They are usually names of traditional Tibetan origin with a religious background. In the south, under the influence of Hinduism, many people do have a family name. Brahmins keep their caste names, others are named after the ethnic group to which they belong.

Some Bhutanese words

hellokuzuzangbo lawaterchhumountaingangri
1cisundayza daudogrochi/chi
2nyîwednesdayza phuppigphap
10cuthâmchickenbja sharightyäp
1000ciktong/tongthra cipotatoeskewabeforedonghka



Bhutanese student monksBhutanese student monksPhoto: Muddum27 CC 2.0 Generic no changes made

About 75% of the population adheres to the Buddhist faith. The other 25% of the population is Hindu. Buddhism is practiced all over the country, but in the south, most of the people of Nepalese or Indian descent are Hindus. Buddhists and Hindus get along well in Bhutan, because Hindu festivals also provide a day off for the entire population. Small minorities adhere to other religions, including an animist religion such as Bon, the predecessor of Himalayan Buddhism. There is also a small number of Christians. Bhutan is tolerant of all religions, but conversion activities are prohibited in Bhutan.

Buddhism originated in the 5th / 6th century BC in northern Central India according to the teachings of Siddharta Gautama, better known as Sakyamuni Buddha. Little is known about this important figure, but legend has it that his parents lived in Sakya, a small kingdom on the border of present-day Nepal and India. Shortly after his birth, a wandering ascetic predicted that the young prince would become a world-conquering king or a liberator from suffering living beings. After fleeing his parents' palace, Siddahrta also became an itinerant ascetic, doing nothing but fasting and meditating. In Bodhgaya (Bihar, India), Siddharta began to meditate under a tree, promising to meditate until he reached a state of enlightenment. On the third day of his meditations, he attained Buddha status. Buddhism has no gods and no worship services, it really only provides guidelines for a meaningful life.

Buddhism is the most malleable and constantly adapting religion in the world. Buddhism adapts to local conditions without much difficulty and as a result, new schools arose over the centuries, two of which have become the most important. The main difference between the various schools is the ultimate goal that the Buddhist sets for the spiritual path he or she takes.

THERAVADA (also called Hinayana): This form of Buddhism is mainly found in Sri Lanka, Thailand and Myanmar (Burma) and Cambodia. In the Theravada tradition, the individual tries to attain a liberated status, the Nirvana, through suffering (samsara). One who attains this status is called an Arhat. The Theravada tradition is based on writings recorded in Pali.

MAHAYANA: in the first century AD. originated in India and now mainly practiced in China, Japan, Tibet, Vietnam and South Korea. In Mahayana one pursues a higher goal than in the Theravada tradition. Love and compassion are even more important in Mahayana than in Theravada, and the ultimate goal is to free all sentient beings from cyclical existence. To redeem others one must first have attained the Buddha status as Bodhisattva oneself. The Mahayana tradition was originally recorded in Sanskrit.

VAJRAYANA (also called Tantrism or Tantric Buddhism): in this movement one wants to attain Buddhahood and from there lead other sentient beings to enlightenment, especially through rituals and initiations. Originated in India around 600 from Mahayana and is mainly practiced in the Tibetan Buddhism of Tibet, Nepal and Mongolia. In Bhutan, Vajrayana is the 'state religion', with the main schools being Nyingmapa in Central and Eastern Bhutan and Drukpa School in Western Bhutan. Vajrayana is also gaining in popularity in the western spiritual world, and Japanese Shingon, a major movement in Japanese Buddhism, is also a Vajrayana school.

Spread of Buddhism around the world

Spread of Buddhism around the worldPhoto: Public domain

Inseparable from Buddhism, and therefore also in Bhutan, are the many cylindrical prayer wheels, in all sizes and types, often made of wood, metal or leather. On the outside of the mill is a prayer or mantra, and spinning the prayer wheel has the same effect for Buddhists as saying the prayer or mantra in question. The most used mantra and also the most recited mantra in Tibetan Buddhism is 'om mani padme hum'. Most Tibetologists, after centuries of discussion, believe that the mantra is an invocation of "(The possessor of) the Jewel-Lotus" the Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara.

Prayer wheels BhutanPrayer wheels BhutanPhoto: Christopher J. Fynn CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

Special religious buildings

A 'dzong' is a fortified monastery where monks often live and government officials work.


Jampey Lhakhang: temple, probably built in 659 by the Tibetan king Songtsen Gampo. The central figure in the inner sanctuary of the temple is Jampa, the Buddha of the Future, with his foot on an elephant. This chapel is the oldest chapel in Bhutan. The inner processional hall has murals depicting 1000 Buddhas. On the walls of the Kalachakra temple are deities with animal heads, demons who resist death the 49-day 'bardo' period, the period between death and rebirth. in October every year one of Bhutan's spectacular festivals takes place here, the Jampey Lkakhang Drup.

Kyichu Lhakhang, BhutanKyichu Lhakhang, BhutanPhoto: David Broad CC 3.0 Unported no changes made


Kyichu Llakhang: one of Bhutan's oldest and most beautiful temples. The temple's construction is generally attributed to the Tibetan King Songtsen Gampo in 659. Inside, one of the greatest treasures can be found, a 7th century statue of Jowo Sakyamuni, one of the most revered and sacred objects in Tibetan. Buddhism because it is said to be the first statue of the historic Buddha at the age of 12. The main statue of the Jowo Shakyamuni is in Lhasa, the capital of Tibet.


Paro Dzong (full name: Rinchen Pung Dzong): This 17th century dzong is one of the most impressive and well-known dzongs in Bhutan, and perhaps the finest example of Bhutanese architecture to be found in the country. Survived the 1897 earthquake but was badly damaged by fire in 1907. About 200 monks live in this dzong and in the past the National Assembly met here.

Paro Dzong, a fine example of Bhutanese architectureParo Dzong, a fine example of Bhutanese architecturePhoto: Stephen Shepard CC 3.0 Unported no changes made


Trashi Chhoe Dzong: also in this 'dzong' monks live and work government officials, in this case from Internal Affairs and Finance. In this dzong, the fifth king of Bhutan, Jigme Khesar Namgye (1980-), was crowned in 2008. In the early 1960s, the dzong was renovated and expanded in the traditional Bhutanese way, that is, without nails and without construction drawings.

Trashi Chhoe Dzong, Thimpthu, Bhutan Trashi Chhoe Dzong, Thimpthu, BhutanPhoto: Christopher J. Fynn CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

Thimphu Chorten: Tibetan style Buddhist stupa built in 1974 in honor of the third king or 'Druk Gyalpo' of Bhutan, Jigme Dorji Wangchuck (19128-1972). No royal remains or relics are kept in the stupa, only a picture of the king in ceremonial robes.

Thimphu Chorten, Bhutan Thimphu Chorten, BhutanPhoto: Stephen Shephard CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

Dordenma Buddha: 42 meter high bronze Shakyamuni Buddha statue made in China at the beginning of the Thimpthu Valley. The three-storey 20-meter-high throne contains several chapels and the statue itself is filled with 100,000 approximately 20 cm large Buddha statues. Another 25,000 Buddha statues of approximately 30 cm are placed in the throne.

Shakyamuni-buddha, Bhutan Shakyamuni-buddha, BhutanPhoto: Vertalm CC 4.0 International no changes made

Changangkha Lhakhang: Fort-like Buddhist temple on a rocky outcrop above the center of Thimphu. Built in the 12th century on a site chosen by lama Phajo Drukgom Shigpo.


Taktshang Goemba: Bhutan's most famous monastery, located on a rocky outcrop 900 above the bottom of the valley. The monastery is a 'ney', a holy place, and pilgrims from all over Bhutan come to this place. Seriously damaged by fire in 1998, reconstruction started in 2000 and in 2005 the complex was consecrated again in the presence of the king.

Taktshamg Goemba, Bhutan Taktshamg Goemba, BhutanPhoto: Douglas J. McLaughlin CC 3.0 Unported no changes made


Punakha Dzong: Located in Punakha, the former capital of Bhutan, this dzong is considered the most beautiful in Bhutan. The Punakha Dzong is 180 meters long, 72 meters wide and the central tower, the 'utse', has six floors. The dzong has faced earthquakes, fires and floods over time. What is special is that the dzong has three courtyards instead of the usual two. Bhutan's most precious possession, an image of Chenresig, is kept in the central tower of the dzong and only brought out during the 'domchoe' festival. The chenresig is the "bodhisattva", (a being who has the ability to become buddha during his lifetime, but refuses to help reincarnate other beings, who is most appreciated among Buddhists.

Punakha Dzong, Bhutan Punakha Dzong, BhutanPhoto: Jean-Marie Hullot CC 3.0 Unported no changes made


Trongsa Dzong: spectacularly located dzong, official name Chhoekhor Raptentse Dzong, whose history dates back to the 16th century. As the dzong looks today, it was built in 1644 by Chhogyel Mingyur Tenpa and expanded at the end of the 17th century. Badly damaged by the earthquake of 1897. The excellent strategic position of the Trongsa Dzong gave a lot of power over this part of Bhutan, being right on the trade route from east to west, which resulted in a lot of tax money. The dzong contains 23 temples with decorations that mainly date from the time when the first king, Ugyen Wangchuck, ruled Bhutan.


State structure

Bhutan Parliament Building Bhutan Parliament BuildingPhoto: Bernard Gagnon CC 4.0 International no changhes made

The king (Druk Gyalpo) of Bhutan is also the (hereditary) head of state, and has ruled the constitutional monarchy since July 18, 2008, before that Bhutan was an absolute monarchy. The king is the symbol of the unity between state and people of Bhutan. The king is furthermore the protector of all religions in Bhutan, appointed senior officials and is commander of the Bhutanese Armed Forces. The king can only be succeeded by a child from a valid marriage. According to the constitution, the king is obliged to resign at the age of 65 and is then succeeded by the crown prince or crown princess, provided he is at least 21 years old. If the successor is not yet 21 years old, a regent observes.

The government building in the capital, Thimphu, is home to the 25 members of the upper house, the 'Gyelyong Tshogd' and the 47 members of the lower house or National Assembly (Tshogdu). The upper house has apolitical, non-partisan members, five of whom are elected by the king. The remaining twenty upper house members are elected through each of the 20 Bhutanese districts or 'dzongkhags'. The 47 members of the lower house, who do belong to a political party, are elected from 47 electoral districts. Both the members of the lower house and the upper house are elected for a period of five years. The constitution states that the national assembly may consist of a maximum of 55 people.

The party with the majority in parliament forms the government, the rest of the parties are in the opposition. The Prime Minister of Bhutan is always the leader of the ruling party in the lower house. The king, in consultation with the prime minister, nominates the candidates for a squad of ministers or 'Lhengye Zhungtshog', who are chosen from among the members of the lower house. After approval by parliament, the minsters can run their country for five years. In theory, a two-thirds majority of parliament can depose the king.

Constituencies overview

Chhoekhor TangBumthangLamgong WangchangParoNorth ThimphuThimphu
Chhumig UraBumthangKhar YurungPema GatshelSouth ThimphuThimphu
Bongo ChapchhaChhukhaNanong ShumarPema GatshelBartsham ShongphuTrashigang
PhuentshoglingChhukhaNganglamPema GatshelKanglung Samkhar UdzorongTrashigang
Drukjeygang TsezaDaganaKabisa TalogPunakhaRadhi SagtengTrashigang
Lhamoi Dzingkha TashidingDaganaLingmukha ToedwangPunakhaThrimshingTrashigang
Khamaed LunanaGasaDewathang GomdarSamdrup JongkharWamrongTrashigang
Khatoed LayaGasaJomotshangkha MartshalaSamdrup JongkharDraagteng LangthilTrongsa
Bji Kar Tshog UesuHaaDophuchen TadingSamtseNubi TangsibjiTrongsa
SombaykhaHaaPhuentshogpelri SamtseSamtseKilkhorthang MendrelgangTsirang
Gangzur MinjeyLhuentseTashichhoelingSamtseSergithang Tsirang ToedTsirang
Maenbi TsaenkharLhuentseUgyentse YoeseltseSamtseAthang ThedtshoWangdue Phodrang
Dramedtse NgatshangMonggarGelegphuSarpangNyishog SaephuWangdue Phodrang
Kengkhar WeringlaMonggarShompangkhaSarpangBardo TrongZhemgang
MonggarMonggarBoomdeling JamkharTashi YangtsePanbangZhemgang
Dokar SharpaParoKhamdang RamjarTashi Yangtse

The twenty districts or 'dzongkhag' further consist of 205 'gewogs', a number of towns and cities, and 'thromdes', the third administrative layer in Bhutan. The districts are governed by a body called 'Dzongkhak Tshokdu'. The current political situation is described in the chapter history.


Bhutan Export Export BhutanPhoto: R Haussmann, Cesar Hidalgo, et. al. CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

Over the past thirty years, Bhutan has pursued vigorous economic policies and economic progress has been significant, always in keeping, of course, with the aim of maximizing Gross National Happiness. The institutional structure of a modern economy has been established with significant help from donors. The basic infrastructure has also been installed to reduce the country's isolated position and to improve internal and external communication. Bhutan has a good reputation for macroeconomic policy. The liberalization process in the financial and industrial sectors is a big positive step in reducing government activity in the economy and also increasing tax revenues. Bhutan is making effective use of the aid offered by donors in the further development of the country and cooperates mainly with India in the economic field.

Although Bhutan is outside the economic top 100, the country's small population is free from hunger and malnutrition, provides for its own food supply and the entire population is reasonably housed.

Extensive government development programs put pressure on the budget. The export of energy (electricity generated from hydroelectric power stations) will generate greater income in the future, in 2008 this was already 40%.

Bhutan Power Corporation headquartersBhutan Power Corporation headquartersPhoto: Christopher J. Fynn CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

In addition, tourism, although still subject to strict conditions, is growing strongly. Recent five-year plans have focused on exploiting Bhutan's natural resources, including forestry, agriculture, mining and electricity. The last known five-year plan (2009-2013) focused mainly on the expansion of hydropower plants, information technology and improving prosperity in rural Bhutan. Bhutan will always remain dependent on foreign countries for oil and gas.

In particular, the government of Bhutan sees the exploitation of hydropower as a key to the development of Bhutan's prosperity. Together with India, a number of hydroelectric power stations have been set up on fast-flowing rivers: Chukha and Tala on the Wang-chu River, Mongar on the Kuri-chu and Wangdu Phodrang on the Baso-chu.

Approx. 70% of the population provides its own food, although less than 10% of the country consists of agricultural land. The Pema Gatshel district in eastern Bhutan is Bhutan's main agricultural area. More than half of the area of the district is used for agriculture. The main products grown are corn, rice, millet, buckwheat, potatoes, green vegetables and oranges.

Potato production in the region around Gangte town in Central Bhutan's Phobjikha Valley is one of the main exports to India. Bhutan has more than a hundred edible mushroom varieties, of which the 'matsutake' is exported to Japan and Southeast Asia.

Matsutake, edible fungus and export product from Bhutan Matsutake, edible fungus and export product from BhutanPhoto: Tomomarusan CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

The building of Bhutan's infrastructure actually started in 1961 at the initiative of the third king, Jigme Dorji Wanchuck, who started a five-year plan system. The consequences of this approach have been expressways, airports and modern communication systems via satellites that connected Bhutan to the outside world and brought it out of isolation. The first television station was only taken into use in 1999, less than 50,000 cars drive on approximately 5000 km of paved roads.

Another important source of income is the gypsum mines. Other industrial products, which are mainly exported to India and Bangladesh, include cement, calcium carbide, ferro-silicon, spirits and stamps.

From 1974 onwards, tourism revenues play an increasingly important role in Bhutan's economy and currently more than 20,000 people are employed in this sector. Initially, no more than 2000 tourists were admitted per year, but that number has long since been abandoned. Yet the number of tourists is naturally kept 'low' by the inadequate tourist infrastructure and the all-inclusive pricing system, which keeps budget travelers out of the country. At present, more than 100,000 foreign tourists a year visit Bhutan, which excludes Indian tourists, who have somewhat easier access to Bhutan. Bhutan is increasingly focusing on tourism, as proven by the construction of a number of airports (Gelekphuk, Bumthang, Tashigang) and the improvement of the road network. Paro Airport is currently Bhutan's only international airport.

Paro International Airport (Bhutan)Paro International Airport (Bhutan)Photo: Douglas J. McLaughlin CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

Holidays and Sightseeing

Dzong Bhutan Dzong BhutanPhoto: Keith Mason CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

One of the most pristine and isolated holiday destinations in the world, and therefore incomparable to any other destination, is the Buddhist priestly kingdom of Bhutan (Land of the Thunderous Dragon or Druk Yul), where people's happiness is the official measure of prosperity. Due to the lack of contacts with the Western world, the number of tourists is even limited by the government, a large part of the population is still living as they did centuries ago and usually wears traditional clothing. Surrounded by Himalayan giants, the adventurous tourist can enjoy beautiful, spectacular mountain landscapes and nature, Buddhist monastic fortresses or 'dzongs', traditional Buddhist monastic festivals or tshechus with their mask dances, surprisingly picturesque farm houses and a friendly population who will do everything they can to make it to make the tourist as pleasant as possible.

Tiger Nest Monastery in BhutanTiger Nest Monastery in BhutanPhoto: Thomas Wanhoff CC 2.0 Generic no changes made

The most famous monastery is Taktshang or 'Tigers Nest', which seems to be glued to the mountains. Bhutan's major festivals are those of Paro (1645), Thimphu and Jambay Lakhang. where Jambey, the Buddha of the Future is worshiped, and where the Jambay Lakhang Festival is held in honor of Guru Rimpoche, who introduced Buddhism to Bhutan. Khurje Lakhang is one of the holiest sites in Bhutan with a temple that houses a huge statue of Guru Rimpoche from 1625 and an ancient temple in which Guru Rimpoche is said to have defeated the demon Shelging Karpo. The Tamshing Temple (1505) is famous for its beautiful murals and the Konchogsum Temple dates back to the 8th century with statues of Maitreiya Buddha, Guru Rimpoche and Pema Lingpa, the founder of the Tamshing Temple.

Folklore BhutanFolklore BhutanPhoto: Stephan Shephard CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

The Bumthang region consists of four valleys and is one of the most sacred areas in Bhutan. In one of the four valleys, that of Chokhor, are the main temples and most of the monastic fortresses. The Haa Valley has many monasteries and you can go hiking and mountain biking on marked routes. The city of Paro is a tourist attraction with Taktshang Monastery, Rinpung Monastery, Paro Monastery and the National Museum of Bhutan. In the former capital Punakha is the important monastery Punaka Zhong, where the annual Mahakala is celebrated, one of the most important festivals in Bhutan. In the Chume valley you will find, among other things, the Tharpaling monastery from 1352 and the Choedrak monastery at 3800 meters.

Thimphu Bhutan Thimphu BhutanPhoto: Christopher Fynn CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

The capital, Thimpu, is built entirely in traditional Buddhist style and has attractions such as the Textile Museum, the weekly Sabji Bazaar and the large stupa Memorial Chorten. The beautiful town of Trongsa is home to the royal family and a beautiful example of Bhutanese architecture, the Trongsa-dzong. On top of the monastery is a watchtower with a beautiful view of the valley.

The largest book in the world is kept in the National Library. The illustrated book is entitled 'Bhutan', weighs 68 kilos and is more than two meters tall. One page is turned every month.

Largest book in the world in the Bhutan National LibraryLargest book in the world in the Bhutan National LibraryPhoto: Rudolph.A.furtado in the public domain

One of the most photographed events in the streets of the capital city of Thimphu are the traffic control officers with their white gloves, who make a complete show. Thimphu is the only capital in the world without traffic lights.

Cops regulate traffic in Bhutan without a traffic lightCops regulate traffic in Bhutan without a traffic lightPhoto: Steve Evans CC 2.0 Generic no changes made

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Last updated December 2021
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