As a landlocked country bordered by China in the north and India in the south, Bhutan is located entirely within the Himalaya mountain range and is South East Asia’s second least populous country, consisting mostly of devout Buddhists (approximately 75%), followed by the second most dominant religion, Hinduism (approximately 23%). This is a country that has spent years in isolation tucked away from the rest of the world until recently. Naturally one might start to form ideas of Bhutan as a backwards society with little reason for tourists to visit. Contrary to that belief, those years of segregation has helped Bhutan gain its reputation as the happiest country in all of Asia (as deemed by their gross national happiness index). Bhutan is the perfect destination for those looking for a rejuvenating and culturally immersive experience, as the government’s strict regulations that limit foreign influence enables them to preserve their unique culture, identity and pristine landscapes for all to soak in.
Bhutan is also known by its alternative nickname as the ‘Land of the Thunder Dragon’ due to the fierce storms that whip down from the valleys from the Himalayas, hence the appearance of ‘Durk’ the mythological beast and national symbol on Bhutan’s flag. Their national animal however, is the ‘takin,’ a goat-antelope.
Apart from the spectacular views of
the Himalayas, one can expect to catch many breath-taking views of the scenery as well as the ancient architecture and stunning landscapes-mostly monasteries and temples due to the large percentage of Buddhists. It is said that 60% of the country is under constitutional obligation to remain under forest cover at all times, a peaceful and pleasant change from the typical hustle and bustle of concrete jungles that city-dwellers usually witness. Definite must-sees when visiting Bhutan include, but are not limited to, the valley of Paro, where terraced fields of red rice and exquisite temples with views of the alpine region such as Paro Taktsang (Tiger’s Nest) are located, Bhutan’s capital city, Thimphu, which is famous for its 51.5m bronze statue of Buddha as well as several Bhutanese art galleries and religious structures.
Interestingly, Bhutan is only nation in the world where sales of tobacco are illegal, and the government had only lifted the ban on televisions and the internet in 1999, resulting in them being one of the last few countries to do so. Despite all that, the citizens of Bhutan live a relatively prosperous life, as their country boasts one of the fastest growing gross domestic product rates. They also deal with less pollution than most other countries thanks to the lack of waste-producing businesses and factories.
Bhutan also boasts a unique culture and lifestyle, though with some traditions and values that may seem outdated due to their years of isolation, such as the still common practice of arranged marriages. One can expect to find Bhutanese wearing their national costumes to work and to monastic buildings, ‘gho’ (a judo-style suit) for men and ‘kira’ (a silk jacket) for women. Though they are obliged to do so, if you talk to them you will realize that they do not feel restricted in any way and instead are more than willing to demonstrate their pride for their country and culture. The country has many festivals throughout the year, at least one each month, so it would be likely for you to encounter one when you visit Bhutan. The Thimphu Tshechu is one of the biggest festivals in Bhutan as thousands of people flock to the capital in colourful, festive garments. This annual festival is a three-day event where citizens pack into the courtyard of the Tashichho dzong (a Bhuddist fortress located in the capital city), and mask dances, often with a religious significance, are performed on a dancing stage.