about-bhutanBhutan is a land of respite in a world driven by material pursuit and economic gains. The tiny Himalayan nation wedged between China and India can be described as the ultimate travel destination where nature has remained intact and where money is secondary to happiness.

Bhutan is often considered as one of the youngest democratic country when it peacefully transited to a constitutional monarchy through a Royal Command in 2008. The country was ruled by the Wangchuck dynasty since 1907.

Perched in the Himalayas, Bhutan has one of the highest unclimbed mountain peaks in the world. The mountains that feed the rivers has been tapped to generate electricity that earn the major portion of the government’s revenue.

But the main thrust of governance has been in providing happiness to the people rather than economic growth. Gross National Happiness, propounded by the fourth king Jigme Singye Wangchuck remains central to any government policies, plans and programs.

As the mighty Himalayan range descends towards the central and the southern region of the country, one can behold picturesque river valleys, lush green hills and meadows and clean fresh rivers and streams.

72 percent of Bhutan’s land area is covered by natural forest. Bhutan’s lush green forest has thousands of species of birds, animals, plants and flowers. A major treat for travellers to Bhutan has been the experience of breathing unpolluted and clean fresh air.

The valleys and hilltops are dotted with ancient monasteries and forts, known as dzongs that has fascinated travellers for many years. Many forts and temples are precariously located on cliffs and the summit of hills.

Bhutan’s culture has remained vibrant throughout history. Preservation of culture has been identified as an important pillar that supports the realization of gross national happiness.

Bhutanese men wear the traditional dress called Gho that closely resemble the Scottish kilt and women wear Kira, an ankle length wraparound skirt. All office goers wear the traditional dress.

cultureCulture in Bhutan, while being deeply entwined with religion, manifests itself in a vast interweave of traditional arts, architecture, festivals and religious ceremonies.

Bhutan’s culture remains vibrant amidst modernization attracting tourists from all over the world. The Thimphu tshechu (festival of mask dances) alone has been attracting thousands of visitors.

Tshechus are the most important festival where both culture and religion come alive. It is observed in all the districts and villages across Bhutan. Festivals and religious ceremonies can be an important place to understand Bhutan’s culture as it sees people from all walks of life dressed in traditional attire.

During tshechus, monks and laymen perform mask dances and women sing wearing traditional hand woven brocades.

Bhutanese arts, paintings and architecture take inspiration from nature and the Himalayan landscape. Mountains and valleys are witnessed in almost all forms of Bhutanese paintings. Traditional songs trace the meandering rivers and the ups and lows of mountains and valleys.

Traditional culture and etiquette remain important in the Bhutanese lifestyle. Every office goer wears the traditional dress, while Driglam Namzha, the code for good discipline and etiquette guides every individual.

The traditional dress for Bhutanese men is the gho, which is a wraparound skirt tied at the waist with a belt while women wear kira which are ankle length skirts.

Culture in Bhutan can also be witnessed in the several dzongs or fortresses, monasteries and stupas that dot the country. Bhutanese hoist prayer flags on hilltops and bridges. It is believed the wind will carry the mantras imprinted on the prayer flags across the universe and benefit all sentient beings.

Culture is also central to the government’s policy and many efforts are made to preserve and promote Bhutan’s unique culture. It constitutes an important pillar of Gross National Happiness, Bhutan’s most important development philosophy.

Bhutan floraBhutan, in the words of a foreign botanist, is a floral paradise with over hundred endemic species and many others yet to be discovered. The country falls under the Eastern Himalayan Biodiversity hotspot.

In the medieval times, Bhutan had earned itself the name of ‘The land of Medicinal plants’ and attracted traditional doctors and physicians from far and wide, particularly from Tibet.

During the same time, many Bhutanese lived close to nature and survived on edible natural plants, roots and fruits, etc.

Today, Bhutan boasts of receiving prestigious international awards in its conservation efforts. Among several other awards, Bhutan also received the “Champion of the Earth Award.”

Bhutan’s serene and virgin forest that covers 72 percent of the land area is home to over 6,000 vascular plants (flowering plants) including 369 orchids, 46 rhododendrons and 111 ferns. The country also has over 100 endemic plants.

There are also three types of pine trees found in Bhutan, which are the blue pine, Chirpine and Bhutan pine. Resin from pine trees was used for lighting purposes in ancient Bhutan.

Out of the 46 rhododendron species, around 6 are endemic to Bhutan. The species grow in the temperate and alpine region of the country. The plant is regarded as highly medicinal and is also used to manufacture incense.

Bhutan’s national flower is the Blue Poppy that grows in the northern alpine region. The national tree, which is the Cypress, grows in abundance throughout the country. Like the rhododendron, the cypress is considered highly medicinal and is also used to make incense.

Cypress trees were used abundantly in the construction of dzongs in the country.

Many tourists visit the country during the flowering season to explore and admire the floral diversity in the country.

For centuries, Bhutanese have lived in perfect harmony with its surrounding, allowing for an environment where men and animal thrived together in peaceful coexistence. The more than 70 percent forest cover provides an ideal habitat for the animals.

bhutan faunaMany rare and endangered species populate the country and the government has prioritized its conservation efforts in the face of rapid modernization.

Some rare species found in Bhutan include the Golden Langur, the Royal Bengal Tiger, the elusive Snow leopard, Takin and Rhinoceros in the south.

Bhutan’s national animal is the Takin. The animal, which dons a goat’s head and a cow’s body, was considered a mythical creature in the west until the 1990s. According to legend, the animal was a creation of a Buddhist saint, Drukpa Kuenley, who fixed a goat’s head in a cow’s carcass to prove his miraculous power.

There are more than 150 mammals recorded in the country and according to foresters, the number keeps increasing every year.

Beside, animals, Bhutan houses more than 600 bird species. Bird watching in Bhutan has been gaining popularity among tourists and locals in recent times. Some rare birds in Bhutan are the White Bellied Heron, Rufus Necked Hornbill and Black Necked Crane, etc.

Threatened by the country’s hydropower construction, the White Bellied heron has received serious government attention in recent times. Of the 200 white-bellied herons in the world, Bhutan houses around 30 of them.

The endangered black-necked cranes migrate towards Bhutan from Tibet crossing the Himalayas in winter to breed. The people share great reverence to the bird, which measure more than one meter in height, and the bird is celebrated in the form of festivals among locals.

Black necked cranes can be mostly seen in the northern valleys of Trashi Yangtse and Phobjikha.

The national butterfly of Bhutan has been recently declared as Ludlow’s Swallowtail, which is endemic to the eastern Himalayas.

Bhutan’s fauna has attracted special attention from international organizations especially in conservation of keystone species such as tiger, snow leopard and elephant.

buddhist heritageBhutanese in general are deeply religious people. The basic Buddhist belief of compassion and interdependence has allowed a society where people live in respect of his environment that constitute not only other people, but also all other living beings.

Buddhism came to Bhutan around the eighth century when Guru Padmasambhava, the great tantric Buddhist master visited Bhutan to subdue evil spirit and liberate human beings from demons.

Guru Padmasambhava, who had earned the peoples’ faith by vanquishing evil spirits, taught Buddhism in Bhutan. Today, many important temples and monasteries in the country are dedicated to the life and work of Guru Padmasambhava.

Buddhism had however, already become popular in India when a royal prince, Siddhartha achieved enlightenment by meditating on human life, suffering, disease, old age and death.

Siddhartha abandoned his wife and son, wealth and princely luxury and set upon the task to lift the curse of sickness, old age and death by meditating more than six years. When he had found the answers, Siddhartha is said to have achieved enlightenment.

Siddhartha’s teaching has since then evolved into Buddhism, crafted and molded by many of his followers and disciples.  Siddhartha, who later came to be called Lord Buddha is said to have taught anyone who came to him.

His teachings constituted compassion, emptiness, interdependence, impermanence and the abstinence of desire, which he had identified as the root cause of suffering.

Today Buddhism is recognized as the state religion, while allowing a secular system for people to practice other religions too. The chief abbot, the Je Khenpo overlooks the spiritual aspect of the country.

Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel instituted the dual system of governance, which include the secular and the spiritual in the 17th century. The secular looked after civil administration and politics while the spiritual handled religious affairs of the country.

bhutan echo stytemStarting in the northern highlands, Bhutan’s geography is roughly divided into four vegetation zones including alpine, sub alpine, temperate and subtropical. The national biodiversity centre based in Thimphu has identified over 6,000 flowering plants, 200 medicinal plants, 369 orchids and 400 species of ferns.

Most of the medicinal plants grow in the alpine region in the north along with many other shrubs, grasses and herbs. Various Rhododendron species grow in plenty in both the alpine and temperate region. 46 species of rhododendron has been recorded so far in the country, of which 4 species are endemic to Bhutan.

Several other flowers including the national flower, the Blue Poppy grow in the alpine region. Bhutan is rich in forest ecosystem as it covers over 70 percent of the total land area.

The national tree, the cypress, which is evergreen, grow in all parts of the country and is used to make incense sticks and is considered sacred.

The black-necked cranes migrate to Bhutan’s temperate forest from Tibet during winter. The mountains further north, are inhabited by the elusive snow leopard.

Bhutan’s forest is home to a diverse species of rare and endangered animals. The rare golden langur lives and thrives in the temperate and subtropical region in central Bhutan. Elephants and rhinoceros can be seen in the warm and hot southern region.

The Takin is Bhutan’s national animal and it inhabits the northern region. There are over 100 mammals recorded in the country so far. Bhutan is home to a variety of bird species and in recent times bird watching and photography has become a popular recreation and profession for many tourists and locals alike.

Bhutan’s river system and lakes has also allowed many bird species to thrive including cormorants, king fishers, egrets and herons. Till date over 90 species of fishes have been recorded in Bhutan’s river system and lakes.

Bhutan boasts of having around 30 white belied heron out of the total 200 that live in other parts of the world.

bhutan historyMuch of Bhutan’s history is obscure, but it can be broadly summarized into three important eras: the advent of Buddhism, Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel’s unification of the country and the institution of monarchy in 1907.

Before Buddhism arrived in the country, Bhutan is said to have been in a dark age with rampant evil, cannibalism and bon practice. Guru Padmasambhava who visited Bhutan on several occasions introduced Buddhism in the country.

In one occasion, guru Padmasambhava visited eastern Bhutan in pursuit of an evil spirit who fled from Tibet escaping the Guru’s wrath. Guru Padmasambhava subdued the evil spirit and blessed the site. Today it is an important pilgrimage site for every Bhutanese.

Bhutan’s ancient history abounds in Guru Rinpoche’s literature.

Until seventeenth century, Bhutan was divided among numerous warlords and rival factions. There were no laws and the country remained in anarchy.

Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel who visited Bhutan from Tibet is said to have unified the country together under a uniform law.

He also introduced the dual system of governance, the spiritual and the secular that is still in existence today. He was also responsible for warding off several Tibetan invasions.

After the death of Zhabdrung, which remained secret for a long time, the country once again plunged into fighting, rivalry and lawlessness. It continued until Ugyen Wangchuck, the first king of Bhutan, united the country once again.

Ugyen Wangchuck was officially declared the first king of Bhutan in 1907. The coronation of the fifth king of Bhutan, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck took place in Thimphu in 2008.

In the same year, the fourth king, Jigme Singye Wangchuck transferred power to the people by instituting democracy. Today, Bhutan is a constitutional monarchy with a ruling party, the opposition, and the national council, an independent house of review. The monarchy is the head of state.

bhutan attireThe history of Bhutan’s tradition and culture closely follow the history of Buddhism. Guru Padmasambhava, who brought Buddhism in Bhutan, thus remains the single most important and influential figure in Bhutan’s ancient history.

The traditional dress worn by Bhutanese men today called the gho was reproduced from the dress worn by the Guru himself. And the women’s kira according to some oral literature claims to have evolved from the dress worn by the Guru’s consorts.

The gho worn by men is a knee length wraparound skirt, which is tied at the waist by a belt. The pouch that forms on the chest is used as pockets to carry valuable items.

Westerners have often remarked on Bhutan’s distinctive traditional dress as having the biggest pocket in the world. A white, small cylindrical piece of cloth called the lagey is attached to the sleeve and folded inside out.

In ancient times and even today, people carry daggers that are fastened on the belt along their hips. Officials with rank and power are bestowed a long sword called the patang. This sword, which can be used both as a tool and a weapon is symbolic of men defending the country as well as building it.

Both Bhutanese men and women wear a scarf while on important occasions and while entering a dzong or a monastery. As a symbol of respect the scarf is lowered in front of those with higher position including the king.

Ordinary Bhutanese wear white scarf while those of a higher rank that wear red are referred to as Dashos. Parliamentarians wear blue and the king wears the yellow scarf.

A woman’s equivalent of the scarf is called the Rachu. Rachus worn by ordinary women are hung over the shoulder and is woven in colorful embroidery.

All men and women including the civil servants wear their traditional dress during office hours.

bhutan architectureBhutan’s finest architecture can be seen in dzongs perched on hilltops, monasteries on cliffs, temples and Stupas that are built across the country.

Dzongs were mostly built during the 17th century when Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel was in the process of unifying the country under one law.

Dzongs served as fortresses as it was strategically built on hilltops overlooking the valley. Dzongs became necessary to protect the country with several invasions from the north, mostly from the Tibetans and the Mongols.

Punakha dzong in western Bhutan is considered an architectural marvel and attracts many visitors every day. The dzong is built between two rivers that surround it and join together. The rivers served the purpose of a moat.

A traditional cantilever bridge connects the dzong with the road.

According to legend, Punakha dzong was built from the architect’s vision of Guru Padmasambhava’s palace in heaven. Zow Palep, the chief architect of the dzong is said to have had a vision of travelling to heaven and being instructed by Guru to build a dzong similar to his palace in heaven.

Monasteries such as the Taktshang (Tiger’s Nest/Den) in Paro draw equal number of tourists. The monastery is precariously located on the face of an almost vertical cliff. Guru Padmasambhava, according to legend is said to have flown on the back of a tigress from Tibet and landed in Taktshang.

He had meditated at the site and later a monastery was built. Today, Buddhist lamas from Tibet and all over the world visit Taktshang to meditate. Architecture in Bhutan has deep religious significance.

Dzongs serve as both centres for monastic and administrative affairs, a system of governance, described as the dual system of government. The system was promulgated by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel.

Traditional paintings drape the Bhutanese architecture including dzongs, monasteries and homes.

bhutan eco-systemBhutan’s economy is predominantly agricultural with over 60 percent of the people living on subsistence farming. One of the smallest in the world, Bhutan’s GDP size stands at USD 1.6B.

The biggest recipient of government budget is health and education, which are provided free by the government.

In recent times however, serious emphasis has been laid on hydropower development in a bid to achieve self-reliance. Bhutan’s river system has the potential of generating around 30,000 megawatt of electricity.

Most of the power, after meeting domestic requirement, is sold to India, which earns Bhutan, Indian rupee. Hydropower earnings contribute 26 percent to total government revenue.

However, critics are skeptical that Bhutan was putting all its egg in one basket. Diversifying Bhutan’s economy still remains a major challenge and the government has been relying on a single commodity-hydropower.

Bhutan’s economy suffered a serious setback in 2012 from which it is still recovering. The economic slowdown was triggered by a shortfall in Indian rupee. Most of Bhutan’s trade, over 80 percent is with India, and hence a shortage of Indian rupee meant banning car imports and freezing construction loans.

The manufacturing sector in Bhutan is almost non-existent, and therefore, it has to pay rupees for all its imports from India, thus creating a shortage.

After the rupee shortage, growth in GDP slumped to a minimum 2 percent.

Besides the hydropower sector, tourism in Bhutan earns the economy valuable foreign exchange. The government however has adopted a restrictive tourism policy that centers on high value-low impact.

Since Bhutan’s economy is aligned with providing happiness to its citizens, any government policies, plans and programs must pass the gross national happiness-screening test.

Policies are put to test to ensure they are in line with the gross national happiness philosophy.

Bhutan PeopleNearly 750,000 Bhutanese people live in a country roughly the size of Switzerland. The country’s population can be divided into the Northerners, the Lhotshampas in the south and the Sharchops in the east. Besides these, there are also few other indigenous tribes.

The Bhutanese people speak four major languages and several other dialects that have branched out from the major languages. Dzongkha is the national language and is used for official communication and correspondences.

Besides the local language, all Bhutanese literates are also fluent in English. English is also equally used in many official exchanges and communications. Children learn both Dzongkha and English as soon as they are enrolled into schools.

Buddhism and Hinduism constitute the two major religions in the country.

Bhutan was introduced to television only in 2000 and hence western culture and modernization is relatively new. Many Bhutanese people also study and work abroad today.

Bhutanese society is closely integrated with a strong sense of community and family values. The sense of community is entrenched in the basic Bhutanese belief of respect to elders, compassion to the young ones and a sense of fellowship, hospitality and solidarity.

The story of the four noble friends impersonated by an elephant, a bird, a monkey and a rabbit is one of the most popular among Bhutanese and is depicted in paintings in many Bhutanese homes. The painting is a symbol of harmony.

The Bhutanese government’s major responsibility lies in providing happiness to the people and any government activity is expected to be geared towards achieving happiness for the people.

Over 70 percent of the Bhutanese people live in rural areas and depend on subsistence agriculture. In recent times, due to rapid urbanization, more and more people have been migrating to urban centers in search of better opportunities.

 

religionBhutanese people follow two major religions that are similar in many beliefs and faith. Northern India was the seat of both the religions from where it spread to other parts of Asia.

In Bhutan, the Northerners are mostly Buddhist while the Lhotshampas in the south follow the Hindu faith.

Both Hindu and Buddhist festivals are celebrated throughout the country and the festivals see many Buddhists and Hindus celebrating together.

Buddhism is the state religion in Bhutan. In ancient times, it was customary for every family to enroll one of their children in the monastic school.

With the advent of modern schools, the tradition has however lost its prevalence today.

Headed by the chief abbot, Je Khenpo, the monastic body in Bhutan looks after the spiritual aspect of the country. Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel founded the dual system of administration that includes civil and spiritual administration of the nation in the 17th century.

Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel has been the most influential highest Buddhist spiritual leader in Bhutan.

Today, every district has a dzong, forts built during the time of Zhabdrung. The dzong is the center of both spiritual and civil affairs..

The two religions have no history of conflict in the country and have peacefully co-existed with one another throughout time. Both Hindus and Buddhists believe in compassion, karma, reincarnation and rebirth.

pilgrimagePilgrimage tours in Bhutan can be very exciting. Some historic sites in Bhutan draw hundreds of tourists every day. Temples, monasteries, fortresses, stupa, ancient ruins and religious sites are scattered across the country.

The monastery of Taktshang (Tigers Den) in Paro, situated on a cliff is Bhutan’s greatest architectural wonder. The monastery defies basic engineering techniques, as it stands firmly right on the edge of the cliff.

The monastery was built on a cave where Guru Padmasambhava had meditated sometime in the eighth century. According to legend, the Guru flew on the back of a tigress to the site where he meditated.

To reach to the site one has to walk uphill from the base of a hill in Paro for about two hours. Regular trekkers however reach the site in about an hour.

In the east, popular pilgrimage sites include the Gomphu Kora. Gomphu Kora is the site where Guru Padmasambhava subdued an evil spirit who had fled from Tibet. After subduing the demon, the guru is said to have meditated and performed a victory dance.

Every year, people from across the country gather together at the site to celebrate the victory of good over evil. The riverbank below the temple has several religious sites including guru’s personal items including boxes, a demon’s flesh turned to stone, etc.

Every district in Bhutan has ancient fortress called dzongs mostly built during the 17th century by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel, the unifier of Bhutan. The Punakha dzong in western Bhutan attracts hundreds of visitors every day.

The dzong is a replica of the Guru’s palace in heaven. The chief architect is said to have had a vision of the palace in heaven and copied its design to build the dzong.

Dzongs were built to defend Bhutan from the Tibetan invasion in the north.

The first dzong built by Zhabdrung is the Semtokha dzong, located in Thimphu.

gnhHappiness is integral to Bhutanese. Recognizing the importance of happiness over material wealth, the fourth king of Bhutan, Jigme Singye Wangchuck officially declared, happiness as an ultimate measure of a nation, rather than economic gains in the 1970s.

Bhutan’s policies, plans and major government programs are all screened and happiness-tested before being implemented. The philosophical concept of GNH (Gross National Happiness) has since then taken a primary position in any government policy. The concept eventually evolved into a development model.

The Gross National Happiness Commission, Bhutan’s planning commission ensured government plans included the element of happiness.

The basic idea of GNH was in creating an environment where every individual is given an opportunity to be happy. Such a society could be achieved by preserving the culture, protecting the environment, and through good governance and balanced economic development: the four main pillars of GNH.

Bhutan’s concept of GNH as a development philosophy can also be seen in economic concepts such as Development Economics, which rejects gross domestic product and emphasizes the importance of poverty, inequality and unemployment.

Major government targets continue to be reducing the inequality gap, providing jobs and alleviating poverty.

The pursuit of economic wealth in the west had proven to be troubled with economic pains, financial crises and continued degradation of the environment. Because of this, the concept has attracted a lot of interest from international economists, politicians and thinkers.

After the country’s peaceful transition to democracy in 2008, happiness became the spirit of the constitution. It mandated a 60 percent coverage of the country’s forest for all the times to come.

The United Nation has embraced the concept of GNH and declared 20th March as the International Happiness Day. In Bhutan, November 11th, the birth anniversary of the fourth king is celebrated on a grand scale across the country among people from all walks of life.

bhutan_flagOne of the national symbols of the Kingdom of Bhutan, the Bhutanese national flag was officially adopted in 1969. The flag of Bhutan is diagonally separated in two halves: the upper left half is orange/ yellow and the lower right half is orange.
In the middle of the flag is an emblem of a white dragon facing to the right.The dragon is seen holding jewels in its claws and these signify the nation’s wealth.
The snarling mouth of the dragon represents the strength of the people protecting the country. The orange color represents the Drukpas monasteries and Buddhist religion, and the orange/ yellow symbolizes the secular authority of the King.The white color stands for purity and loyalty.

The national flag of Bhutan is one of the national symbols of Bhutan. The flag is based upon the tradition of the Drukpa Lineage of Tibetan Buddhism and features Druk, the Thunder Dragon of Bhutanese mythology. The basic design of the flag by Mayum Choying Wangmo Dorji dates to 1947. A version was displayed in 1949 at the signing of the Indo-Bhutan Treaty. A second version was introduced in 1956 for the visit of Druk Gyalpo Jigme Dorji Wangchuk to eastern Bhutan; it was based upon photos of its 1949 predecessor and featured a white Druk in place of the green original.

DRESS

dressComfortable clothing and sturdy, soft-soled shoes are essential for travel in Bhutan. Warm clothing is recommended; and except for summer months, down jackets and woolen sweaters are suggested. In summer, heavy cottons and lightweight woolens will be acceptable. Altitudinal differences account for a wide range of temperatures from day to night the year round. It is, therefore, suggested that clothing be layered so that you can adapt to the changing conditions.

While visiting temples and other religious institutions, dress modestly and respectfully. Slacks are more appropriate for men; and longer – length skirts are more appropriate for women. Shoulders must also be covered when inside religious buildings. Also refrain from smoking while on the premises. Please keep in mind that shoes must be removed when entering temples. It is, therefore, suggested that you carry a pair of socks to wear inside religious buildings.

CURRENCY

currencyBhutanese currency is Ngultrum (Nu.) and is officially pegged to the Indian Rupee. Also Indian Rupee is acceptable all over Bhutan except Rs 500 and Rs 1000 currency notes.Credit Cards have limited acceptability and payment through credit card is accepted mainly by Deluxe hotels and few selected Handicrafts establishments only.

There are ATMs in Bhutan but currently they only operate with their respective Bhutanese banks. Since these ATMs currently do not function with outside banks, so ATM facility can not be used by visitors. Traveler’s checks / cash are best option if you need additional money.

Cash and Travelers Cheques exchange facility is available for most of the main currencies including the US dollar, Euro, Indian Rupee, Japanese Yen, Thai Baht, Pound Sterling, Swiss Franc, Hong Kong dollar, Canadian dollar, Australian dollar, Singapore dollar, Danish kroner, Norwegian kroner, and Swedish kroner. Exchange rates vary.

It is also possible to have funds wired with the services of Western Union but funds cannot be accessed in all locations, and are limited in amounts and days of availability.

HEALTH

healthNo vaccination is currently required for entry into Bhutan. However if you are arriving from an area infected with yellow fever, you are required to have a yellow fever vaccination.

If you are arriving from Cholera infected area then officials may ask for evidence of Cholera vaccination. Anti –malarial medication is recommended for all travelers to Bhutan who are visiting rural areas in the districts that border India.

It is suggested that you assemble a traveler’s medical kit appropriate to destination, length of trip and general health. On a tour in Bhutan, there are long drives, and roads are winding so medication for motion sickness is strongly suggested. You should also pack an adequate supply of any prescribed medications you may require while traveling.

Travelers who plan to visit Bhutan should consult a physician about high-altitude travel. After a brief period of acclimatization, most people do not suffer from altitude sickness; but elderly travelers or those with high blood pressure or heart conditions need to exercise caution at high altitudes.

FOOD

foodBhutanese food is generally good. Set meals for travelers tend to be on the bland side, because local food is heavily seasoned with red chilies and can be quite hot. However, more adventurous can try the local delicacies like the tasty and fiery the national dish of Bhutan, Emma Datshi which is made with chilies and Local Bhutanese cheese.  Most hotels provide meals buffet-style. There are usually continental, Indian, Chinese and Bhutanese dishes. The food in hotels is often the best in town, but in main towns now there are few restaurants increasingly becoming popular. All tourist hotels have good selection of international and Bhutanese beverages.

thimphuLocated in the Himalayas, Bhutan, often described, as the land of the thunder dragon is a natural paradise with lush green forest, emerald rivers, beautiful valleys and picturesque hills and mountains.

History comes alive wherever you travel in the kingdom in the form of ancient fortresses, temples and monasteries.

Road travel in Bhutan can be tiring with several turns and bends across hills, mountains and cliffs, but it would offer one a comprehensive experience of Bhutan as one passes through different districts.

Thimphu, Punakha and Paro districts are attractive tourists destinations located in western Bhutan. Thimphu with around 100,000 people is the capital city. While entering the city, tourists are greeted with the one of the biggest statue of lord Buddha situated in a hill overlooking the Thimphu valley.

Considered one of the most beautiful fortress in the country, the Punakha dzong, whose design, according to legend, was replicated from the palace of Guru Rinpoche in heaven.

The Taktshang monastery built on a spine-chilling edge of a vertical cliff in Paro continues to amaze tourists with its unique location and architectural design.

In central Bhutan, the Trongsa dzong, one of the biggest dzong in the country was the political seat of Bhutan in the early 20th century. Trongsa is also a land of ancient battlefields.

Lhuentshe in the east abounds in many ancient folklore and tales of kings. In ancient Lhuentshe, a prosperous king who ruled the region was attacked by Tibetan troops who were looking to loot his immense wealth.

To avoid being detected by the Tibetan troops, the king is said to have built a nine-storied underground fortress. The fortress can still be seen in Lhuentshe today.

Bomdelling in Trashi Yangtse in eastern Bhutan is a place of beautiful meadows and green pastures. The rare black necked cranes can be spotted in Bomdelling during winter.

politicsBhutan is often described as the youngest democracy in the world after the fourth hereditary monarch, King Jigme Singye Wangchuck transferred the power to the people by instituting democracy in 2008.

Since 1907, Bhutan was ruled by the Wangchuck dynasty.

During the first democratic election, two political parties contested for the government in 2008. The Druk Phuensum Tshogpa who won the majority formed the government while the people’s democratic party formed the opposition with just two members in the parliament.

Bhutan saw five political parties contesting for the government in 2013. The Druk Phuensum Tshogpa and the People’s Democratic Party passed the primary round to contest for the government.

The People’s Democratic Party formed the ruling and the Druk Phuensum Tshogpa, the opposition.

Bhutan’s political system is described by some people as-‘Bi-Party Parliamentary democracy.’ The three branches of the government include the executive, the legislative and the judiciary.

The executive includes the prime minister and the cabinet ministers.

On the legislative front, the parliament consists of the national assembly and the national council. While the national assembly includes the government and the opposition, the national council is an independent house of review.

The judiciary, headed by the chief justice is the third branch of the government. The chief justice heads the interim government during the election.

District administration is carried out by dzongdas who report to the government on the progress of the five-year plans. At the grass root level, people vote for gups; a Gup will head a gewog (village block), which generally consists of around three or four villages.

With the political system in Bhutan still relatively new, many believe democracy is yet to take roots. The next parliamentary election will take place in 2018 with a primary and a secondary round.

During the primary round only two political parties will qualify who will contest for the government during the secondary round. The party that wins the majority will form the government and the other the opposition.


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