The ancient Kingdom of Bhutan (capital Thimphu) in the eastern Himalayas of South Asia is bordered by India (near Nepal and Bangladesh) and China (at The Tibet Autonomous Region). Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal came from Tibet to unify Bhutan and build its unique identity in the 17th century. However this relatively insular country only opened relations with India and the British Empire in the early 20th century. Bhutan is currently a constitutional monarchy and the population is mainly Buddhist, with Hinduism practiced by the largest minority. Bhutan’s landscapes are amazing and range from the sub-alpine (Himalayan, with some peaks over 7Km) to subtropical southern plains. Interestingly, some reports suggest that Bhutan is one of the happiest countries in the world.
Costs make Bhutan largely difficult to reach. Non-Indian/Bangladeshi foreigners must pay around US$200 per day’s stay in the country through a tour operator. The local currency is called ngultrum, however the Indian rupee is also legal tender in Bhutan.
The local economy is one of the world’s fastest growing, mainly due to the Tala Hydroelectricity project selling power to India. Nevertheless, forestry, tourism and agriculture also contribute.
Paro is the international airport of Bhutan. Road travel through Bhutan is mostly possible on the main east-west corridor, the Lateral Road, which also connects to Thimphu, Paro and Punakha. However, driving in Bhutan is not for the faint-hearted.
The climate ranges from polar in the north to subtropical in the south with some temperate regions (the highlands), with monsoons of varying ferocity adding a fifth season to some areas.
In Bhutan’s north, Gangkhar Puensum (7570m) (24,840 ft) is the highest unclimbed mountain on the planet. The Black Mountains in the central region (peaks from 1500 to 2700m) are flanked by the major rivers Mo Chhu and Drangme Chhu. Great mountain ranges, deep valleys and fast rivers contribute to a geographical and climatic diversity that makes Bhutan a very unique, but fragile, ecosystem.
Bhutan has around 770 species of bird, 5400 species of plant, animals like the sloth bear, greater one-horned rhinoceros, clouded leopard, wild water buffalo, Bengal tiger, grey langur, goral, serow and hispid hare. Primates such as the golden langur, Macaca munzala and a unique Assamese macaque live mostly in the rich forests of the south. By contrast, animals like the Himalayan musk deer and the snow leopard are mostly present in the Himalayan north.
In Bhutan, social standing is shown by dress code, with garments textures, colours and decorations indicators of status. Traditional Bhutanese men wear a knee-length robe called the gho, whereas women wear a longer dress called the kira together with a long-sleeved blouse (toego).
Posted : Friday, January 27th, 2012 at 11:00
As well as writing about travel, Karen Bryan offers tips on saving money, frugal living and how to live well on less, on her site Help Me To Save