The Dragon Kingdom
Bhutan, often revered as the ‘Land of the Peaceful Dragon’, is still regarded as one of the last ‘Shangri-La’s’ in the Himalayan region because of its remoteness, it’s spectacular mountain terrain, varied flora and fauna, and its unique ancient Buddhist monasteries. It remains tucked away in the relatively unexplored pocket of Asia which allows only a limited number of discerning travelers to enter the country in order to protect its fragile environment and culture.
Bhutan is the purely Buddhist Kingdom and is unsurpassed in its scenic majesty and vibrant culture. The Kingdom shares with Nepal the world’s greatest concentration of mountains and living heritage of Buddhism. The fifty-minute flight from Kathmandu to Paro can truly be described as a flight into fantasy. During the flight, one receives a close-up view of Mount Everest, Mt. Kanchenjunga and other famous peaks. Bi-weekly flights between these two nations have made the travel to the long-isolated Dragon Kingdom of Bhutan comparatively easier.
Drukpa Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism is the state religion, but the Nyingma School is also well represented in the central and eastern districts.
The climate within the mountains varies greatly according to precipitation and wind conditions. In the Duras Plain and up to 1500m, the climate is sub-tropical with high humidity and heavy rainfall. The climate of the mid-mountain belt varies, as a result of which the low-lying parts have cool winters and hot summers. The central valley of Punakha, Wangdiphodrang, Mongar, Tashigang and Lhuntshi enjoy a semi-tropical climate with very cool winters, while the higher valleys (ranging from 2,500 – 4,500m) of Ha, Paro, Thimphu, Tongsa and Bumthang have a temperate climate, with monsoon rains in the summer and snow-fall in winter.
The southern part of Bhutan is tropical, and in general, the east of Bhutan is warmer than the west. Winter runs from mid-November until mid-March and during this time the climate is dry with daytime temperatures of 16-19 degrees centigrade (with sunshine and clear skies), and night-time temperatures falling below zero. The monsoon starts from mid-June and lasts until the end of September at which point autumn suddenly arrives, and is a magnificent season for trekking.
Population: – 7,00,000 (1996)
Capital: – Thimpu
Location: – Bhutan lies between 890 and 920 E and 270 and 280 N
Time: – 30 minutes ahead of Indian Standard Time and six hours ahead of GMT
Language: – Dzongkha
People: – There are two main population groups in Bhutan: the Drukpa (67% of Tibetan and Monpa origin) and Lhotsampa (30% of Nepalese origin). The rest 3% comprises of indigenous tribal groups such as Toktop, Doya, and Lepcha of SW Bhutan.
Spring is rhododendron season in Bhutan as all over the country the mountainsides become ablaze in shades of red and orange. The days are warm but the nights remain cold. As the monsoon rises from the Bay of Bengal, spring turns into summer and results in three months of heavy monsoon rains. Arguably the loveliest time of the year in Bhutan, autumn brings clear skies & warm days.
In 1995, the per capita income was estimated at the US $500 with the annual growth of 5%. Although these figures place Bhutan among the least developed nations, the country is unlike others within that category as no famine, little malnutrition and good housing exist. Over 91% of the population depends on agriculture and livestock rearing which together accounts for some 50% of GDP, despite the fact that only 2% of the land is arable.
The national currency is Ngultrum (NU) which is kept parallel to the Indian Rupee.
Visa & Transport
Foreign travelers must possess a visa to visit Bhutan which is granted initially for 14 days. While the actual visa is stamped on arrival after payment of US $50, visitors need to obtain visa clearance from the Tourism Authority of Bhutan (TAB) in advance. The visa can be extended in Thimpu for up to six months. This is something we can handle for you at Peace Nepal Treks.
Transport is provided by tour operators who have their own fleet of luxury buses. All major places of interest are connected by paved road.
Getting There & Around
Druk Air, Bhutan’s flag carrier operates flights to Paro from Bangkok, Kolkata, Dhaka, Kathmandu, and New Delhi. The overland entry/exit point is from the Indian state of West Bengal into Phuntsholing in south-west Bhutan. Phuntsholing is four hours drive from Bagdogra, the nearest Indian airport, and seven hours drive from both Gangtok (Sikkim) and Darjeeling. The drive from Phuntsholing to Thimpu takes six hours.
The state religion is Drukpa Kagyupa, a branch of Mahayana Buddhism. It has been institutionalized in the Dratshang (Central Monk Body) and is headed by the Je Khenpo (Chief Abbot) who is chosen from among the most learned Lamas and enjoys an equal rank with the King.
Bhutan is the only country in the world to have adopted Mahayana Buddhism, in its tantric form, 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.