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Bhutan - Information

Bhutan is often referred as the country of peaceful Dragon. It is a country of 7 hundred thousand people in the middle of Tibet and India. Even though Bhutan has a very small territory it has a very diversed terrain from sub tropical forest to some of the highest mountains on earth still virgin in Nature, as nobody has set foot on top of Bhutan’s some of the mountain peaks.

The nameBhutan is the corrupt form of a Sanskrit word Bhotanta which means the end of Bhot, the Sanskrit name of Tibet. Likewise the religion in local terms is known as Drukpa Kagyugpa, practiced mostly in the western part of this small country.Druk" means dragon." According to the legends a Tibetan lama (Tsangpo Gyare) heard the thunder dragon while he was searching for a place to build a monastery and named the area Druk Yul. The Kagyu sect was brought in Bhutan by some Tibetans monks who came to settler in the western part of the country during the medieval times.

Bhutan lies between longitude 88°45' and 92 degree10' east and latitude 26 degree40' and 28degree15'. This tiny nation has an area of 46000 sq.km which makes it almost the same size of Switzerland and these two countries are similar in topography as well as the features.

Bhutan has remained closed from the rest of the world for a long time.  The first time foreigners went into Bhutan was during the mid 70’s.The untouched and undisturbed natural and cultural heritages are the result of the long isolation Bhutan had from the outer world. As an effort to increase the return from tourism and to maintain the environment they allow only few tourists inside the country. Thus generating quality tourist rather than quantity.    Still many of the places in Bhutan don’t see foreigners at all which has helped to limit the development and maintain the fragile ecosystem.
The tours and treks inside Bhutan are a way of having insight into the life of people, their culture, tradition, ecology and religious life dominated by 90% of the Buddhist population. Almost every trek and tours pass by Dzong, monasteries other places of cultural and natural importance. These splendid monuments give you an idea of how rich the Bhutanese are in terms of art’s of and architecture.

People

The census of Bhutan in 2000 showed around 7 hundred thousand people. 4 different groups of people live in the country Bhutia, Sharchops, Nepali, and other indigenous groups. The Bhutia are considered to be the descendents of Tibetans who moved to Bhutan around the 12th century and are found around the central and northern regions of the country. This is the most dominant group interms of government and politics and also the monasteries which are important part of the daily life.

Economy

Bhutan is a least developed country and most of its population is dependent on agriculture for the generation of income and tourism is a growing industry and has a good impact in the country’s economy. Besides that there is a lot of hydropower potential in Bhutan.

Transportation

The only international airline to fly to Bhutan is its national flag carrier, Druk Air. Started in 1983 this airline links the city of Paro with Kathmandu, Dhaka, Kolkata, Bangkok and Singapore. The only means to travel within the country is through the road which is not very extensive. Because of the difficult terrain the roads are not very good in the mountains and are often damaged during the monsoon. A bus service is under operation from the government’s side which takes people to all over the country.

Language

Dzongkha, a language of the Tibetan-Burmese family is the national language of Tibet. Chokkey is the official script which also comes from Tibetan. Ngalopkha is widely spoken in the western part of the country. The people in the southern part of Bhutan speak Nepali and the official language. Sharchopkha a language of the Indo-Mongoloid language family is spoken in the eastern part of the country.

Geography

Bhutan in spite of its small territory is a very diversed country interms of climate and topography. The climatic conditions also range from bitter cold to sub tropical depending upon the altitude. The maximum rainfall occurs in between June and September and the yearly average is around 650 mm.  Geographically Bhutan in divided into three regions as  Great Himalayan Region, Middle Himalayan Region and the Duars.  With an average width of 6 miles the Duars lies in the border with India and has subtropical climate which is considered good for various wildlife in the Indian subcontinent. The north of this region is home to endangered animals like Rhino and tigers and other species of wild life. The south of the Bhutanese plains was a dense bamboo forest in the past but now most of the cultivation .The Middle Himalayan region is part of the Himalayan range that spreads down from the north and surrounds rich, broad valleys. The areas in this region are mostly populated because of the arable land and mild weather. The Great Himalayan Region is the highest region and shares border with Tibet and have a very thin population, almost no because of the extreme living conditions. Kula Kangri (4,900-9,200 ft/1,500-2,800 m) the highest peak in Bhutan lies in this region. Yaks are the main source of income and means of transport in this area.

History

Bhutan has not much documentation of its history before the 7th century. After the 7th century historical incidents started to be documented in a proper manner and that was the same time when Buddhism as a religion entered in this region. During that time Bhutan was not a single kingdom but a collection of small individual feudal states and kingdoms.

After monks from the Kagyugpa sect of Mahayana Buddhism built monasteries throughout the valleys, the Drukpa sub sect became the most popular form of religion. Ngawang Namgyal, a monk set up the first government in the year 1616. He united the powerful families and feudal rulers and subsequently defeated all the opposing rulers to create a new kingdom. He also introduced 2 kinds of governance spiritual and administrative, which continued till the 1990’s.

During the rule of the east India Company in India the administrative leader signed a treaty with them resulting between the conflict between two rulers of Tongsa and Paro. Ugyen Wangchuck, the one who favored the British, defeated his opponents and became the first druk gyalpo/king of Bhutan. He ruled for 19 years after which his son Jigme Wangchuck became the king from 1926 to 1952. Jigme Wangchuck was followed by Jigme Dorji Wangchuck from 1953 to 1972. The fourth King of Bhutan, Jigme Singye Wangchuck sat on the throne on 1972.

Religion

Almost 90% percent of the population in Bhutan practices Mahayana Buddhism, very much similar to the Buddhism practiced in Tibet. Few people practice Hinduism as well. But many of the religious practices are influenced by Hinduism in the Buddhism practiced in Bhutan.

Photography

Bhutan is one of the best places for photography in South Asia. With a very natural landscape and a lot of historical and religious monuments you may be busy with your camera in Bhutan. But there might be a need to take permissions before taking photographs in many places. Consult your guide before your take pictures of the Dzong and other monuments. It is also wise to take permission of the people if you are taking their picture as Bhutanese are shy in nature. There is plenty of opportunity to take pictures of the landscapes, plants and animals and the religious and historical monuments such as the palaces, Dzong and monasteries.

Shopping

If textiles and handmade things are not what you prefer to buy then Bhutan may not be the best place to be for you. Most of the things you can buy in this small kingdom are textiles and things related to it. Things like the wooden bowls known as Dapas are very famous and other things made of silk are also getting popular as souvenirs from Bhutan. Handmade statue and carving on silver and wood are also found here. Thankgka painting are also a popular piece of art in Bhutan.

Please remember not to buy any antiques as it is illegal to buy or do transactions related to those more than 100 years old pieces of art and manuscripts.

Gratuities

Tipping in Bhutan is a very personal thing and it is up to you if you want to tip or not depending upon the services your get. It is not customary to tip in Bhutanese culture but the drivers and guides receive tips most of the time.

Customs

If you are in possession of These things they are not levied tax/duty upon arrival in Bhutan:
  • Things of personal use.
  • A liter of liquor.
  • Maximum 200 cigarettes (pcs, not packs) which you have to pay a 200% duty.
  • Cameras, video cameras and electronic items like laptops and tablets ( for personal use only).

Before you check out of the airport you must fill the declaration form and articles mentioned in point d must be declared in the form. If you leave these things inside Bhutan (as gift or by sales) you are supposed to pay tax for those items.

Before final departure from Bhutan you must submit the form you filled during entry to the related authority at the airport.

Travelers are prohibited to travel with these things in or out of Bhutan:

  • Weapons, arms and amuation and things that can cause loss or damage of life.
  • Drugs if without proper prescription and narcotics.
  • Things made of endangered species of animals.
  • Things more than 100 years old/Antiques.

If you are bringing in vegetations and mud/soil/rocks you must go through the quarantine check at the airport. Make sure you get a clearance certificate before buying anything of historical and cultural significance.

Weights and measures

Bhutan uses the standard means of measurement measured i.e for weight they use gram and kilogram. Weighing scales in all the places make use of electronic and manual systems for measurements.

Safety precautions

Considerably Bhutan is a very safe place for visitors but being careful is always very wise. Walking alone in the streets is not very wise as the lights go off in most of the places and it is very dark.. Incidents of burglaries, street fights and drug abuse is nowadays happening in the cities mostly in Thimpu. Always make sure you are in a group while you visit the town or atleast with your guide. Always keep your travel documents such as passports, route permits in proper places or at the safety deposit boxes at the hotels. Take proper care of the cameras, wallets and purses are properly secured.

Guides and interpreters

Tour/trekking guides have to go through a training from the government and have to acquire a license to become a guide. You cannot travel independently without a guide in Bhutan. All the guides in Bhutan have good English and some of them can speak other languages such as French, Spanish, Chinese and Japanese as well.