WELCOME TO THE KINGDOM OF
Bhutan, tucked away in the depths of the Eastern Himalayas, the 47,000 sq km small kingdom of Bhutan, or Druk Yul, is little known and lesser visited. A forbidden land for centuries. Still, the kingdom maintains a policy of "low volume - high quality tourism" and retains its exclusiveness in the world of travel. From high mountain peaks to deep lush valleys, from modern apartments in Thimphu to farmland barns, from meditative monks deep in prayer to fluttering prayers and vibrant, colorful festivals, Bhutan is incomparably unique.
Over the last few centuries, difficult natural terrain and a self-imposed policy of isolation saw to it that life here stayed virtually unchanged. It was only in the early 1960s that Bhutan opened up its doors to the world beyond and plunged into a new age of socio-economic development.
Wedged between China and India, the two most populous countries in the world, and being disadvantaged with little military or economic strength.
Religion is the other value system that holds the Bhutanese people together. Tantric Mahayana Buddhism of the Drukpa Kagyu sect has survived unblemished here for centuries and continues to be the officially adopted religion of the state.
Bhutan evolved one of the independent state and is one of the last Bastions of Buddhist country. Thus, Bhutan today remains one of the untouched virgin land with magnificent scenic beauty, a paradise for the cultural tourist, the trekkers and the mountaineer alike.
With more than 72% of the total area covered by forests and diverse flora and fauna, the country has been declared as "One of the Ten Global Hotspot" in the World. In cities and hamlets across the kingdom, the people live a way of life that is rich in tradition and steeped in the age-old system of hospitality.
The population consists predominantly of three ethnic groups: the Ngalops of the western and central region, the Sharchogpas of the east, and the Lhotsampas along the southern belt. Collectively called the Drukpas, the Bhutanese people generally speak the official state language, Dzongkha, although several dialects are also used. The Bhutanese are also known to be fairly proficient speakers of English as it is the medium of instruction in Bhutanese schools.
Bhutan is the only country in the world to retain the Tantric form of Mahayana Buddhism (Drukpa Kagyu) as its official religion. The Buddhist faith has played and continues to play a fundamental role in the cultural, ethical and sociological development of Bhutan and its people. It permeates all strands of secular life, bringing with it a reverence for the land and its well being. Annual festivals (tshechus and dromchoes) are spiritual occasions in each district. They bring together the population and are dedicated to the Guru Rinpoche or protective deities. Throughout Bhutan, chortens or stupas (receptacle for offerings) line the roadside commemorating places where Guru Rinpoche or another high Lama may have stopped to meditate. Prayer flags dot the hills, fluttering in the wind. They allow Bhutanese people to maintain constant communication with the heavens
The rectangular national flag of Bhutan is divided diagonally and depicts a white dragon (druk) across the middle. The upper part of the flag is yellow, representing the secular power of the king, while the lower part is orange, symbolizing the Buddhist religion
The national emblem, contained in a circle, is composed of a double diamond-thunderbolt (dorji) placed above a lotus, surmounted by a jewel and framed be two dragons. The thunderbolt represents the harmony between secular and religious power. The lotus symbolizes purity; the jewel expresses sovereign poer; and the two dragons, male and female, stand for the name of the country which they proclaim with their great voice, the thunder.
National Day is celebrated on December 17 and commemorates the ascension to the throne of Ugyen Wangchuck, the first king of Bhutan.
The national flower is the blue poppy, found in the high altitudes. The national tree is the cypress, which is often associated with religious places. The national bird is the raven, which adorns the royal crown. It represents the deity Gonpo Jarodonchen, one of the most important guardian deities of Bhutan. The national animal is the takin, an extremely rare bovid of the ovine-caprine family. Found in heards in the very high altitudes (13,000 ft and over), living on a diet of bamboo
Art and craft
Royal patronage as well as social and government support for the zorig chusum have led to Bhutan to being reputed as the last bastion of Himalayan Buddhist art. In contrast to traditional artists in places like Nepal and Darjeeling, Bhutanese artists tend to value religious ethics and quality over commercial gain and quantity. Sophisticated machinery and mass production have no place in Bhutanese art. Indigenous textiles, for one, are entirely hand-woven over months or years and hence may be relatively expensive.
Owing to their relative proximity to the airport, the tsechus of Paro (in spring) and Thimphu (in the fall) are well attended by foreigners.
Nature and wildlife
Many plant and animal species are endemic to Bhutan only. In 2000, researchers spotted an orchid species that had last been seen only in the 19th century. Meanwhile, the golden langur is a species of long-tailed monkey that was and still remains unique to Bhutan.
Small as the country may be, Bhutan's diverse landscapes, ranging from the sub-tropical and the temperate to the alpine and the snowbound, are home to an amazing variety of biological species. This is as much the land of the blue sheep and the clouded leopard as it is the land of the Royal Bengal Tiger. Yaks, takin, and some rare butterfly and bird species abound, as do wild rhododendron, blue poppies and conifer forests.