Bhutan

Bhutan, officially known as the Kingdom of Bhutan is a landlocked country in South Asia. Located in the Eastern Himalayas, it is bordered by Tibet Autonomous Region of China in the north, the Sikkim state of India and the Chumbi Valley of Tibet in the west, the Arunachal Pradesh state of India in the east, and the state of Assam and North Bengal in the south. Bhutan is geopolitically in South Asia and is the region’s second least populous nation after the Maldives. Thimphu is its capital and largest city, while Phuntsholing is its financial centre. The independence of Bhutan has endured for centuries and it has never been colonized in its history. The country’s landscape ranges from lush subtropical plains in the south to the sub-alpine Himalayan mountains in the north, where there are peaks in excess of 7,000 metres (23,000 ft). The highest mountain in Bhutan is the Gangkhar Puensum, which is also a strong candidate for the highest unclimbed mountain in the world. There is also diverse wildlife in Bhutan. It is a member of the United Nations, SAARC, BIMSTEC and the Non-Aligned Movement. The Royal Bhutan Army maintains extensive military relations with the Indian Armed Forces. Bhutan is also notable for pioneering the concept of gross national happiness.

The precise etymology of “Bhutan” is unknown, although it is likely to derive from the Tibetan endonym “Bod” used for Tibet. Traditionally, it is taken to be a transcription of the Sanskrit Bhoṭa-anta “end of Tibet”, a reference to Bhutan’s position as the southern extremity of the Tibetan plateau and culture. Since the 17th century, the official name of Bhutan has been Druk Yul (country of the Drukpa Lineage, the Dragon People, or the Land of the Thunder Dragon, a reference to the country’s dominant Buddhist sect) and Bhutan only appears in English-language official correspondence. The climate in Bhutan varies with elevation, from subtropical in the south to temperate in the highlands and polar-type climate, with year-round snow in the north. Bhutan experiences five distinct seasons: summer, monsoon, autumn, winter and spring. Bhutan primarily exports electricity, cardamom, gypsum, timber, handicrafts, cement, fruit, precious stones and spices.

History: Stone tools, weapons, elephants, and remnants of large stone structures provide evidence that Bhutan was inhabited as early as 2000 BC, although there are no existing records from that time. Historians have theorized that the state of Lhomon (literally, “southern darkness”), or Monyul (“Dark Land”, a reference to the Monpa, the aboriginal peoples of Bhutan) may have existed between 500 BC and AD 600. Buddhism was first introduced to Bhutan in the 7th century AD. Tibetan king Songtsan Gampo (reigned 627–649), a convert to Buddhism, who actually had extended the Tibetan Empire into Sikkim and Bhutan, ordered the construction of two Buddhist temples, at Bumthang in central Bhutan and at Kyichu (near Paro) in the Paro Valley. Until the early 17th century, Bhutan existed as a patchwork of minor warring fiefdoms, when the area was unified by the Tibetan lama and military leader Ngawang Namgyal. In 1907, an epochal year for the country, Ugyen Wangchuck was unanimously chosen as the hereditary king of the country by an assembly of leading Buddhist monks, government officials, and heads of important families. In 1953, King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck established the country’s legislature – a 130-member National Assembly – to promote a more democratic form of governance. Bhutan’s political system has recently changed from an absolute monarchy to a constitutional monarchy. King Jigme Singye Wangchuck transferred most of his administrative powers to the Council of Cabinet Ministers and allowing for impeachment of the King by a two-thirds majority of the National Assembly.

*(All the above information are from Wikipedia.)

Transport:

Airport: Paro Airport is the only international airport in Bhutan. It is connected to many cities across India, Dhaka, Bangkok, Singapore and a few other cities across the world.

Road: The Lateral Road is Bhutan’s primary east-west corridor, connecting Phuentsholing in the southwest to Trashigang in the east. In between, the Lateral Road runs directly through Wangdue Phodrang, Trongsa and other population centres. The Lateral Road also has spurs connecting to the capital Thimphu and other major population centres such as Paro and Punakha.

Local: For local transportation within the city and around there are buses, taxis and hired vehicles from various tour operators and hotels.

Tourist Interest:

The tourist map of Bhutan is divided into three sections: Western Bhutan, Central Bhutan and Eastern Bhutan, with the western zone being the most popular among tourist.

Western Bhutan:

Paro: Paro valley extends from the confluence of the Paro Chhu and the Wang Chhu rivers at Chuzom up to Mt. Jomolhari at the Tibetan border to the North. This picturesque region is one of the widest valleys in the kingdom and is covered in fertile rice fields and has a beautiful, crystalline river meandering down the valley.

Thimphu: It is the Kingdom’s capital city and also the home to the Royal family. This bustling little city is the main centre of commerce, religion and government in the country.

Dochula: Dochula pass is located on the way to Punakha from Thimphu. The pass is a popular location for tourists as it offers a stunning 360-degree panoramic view of Himalayan mountain range. The view is especially scenic on clear, winter days with snow-capped mountains forming a majestic backdrop to the tranquillity of the 108 chortens gracing the mountain pass.

Punakha: Punakha Dzongkhag has been inextricably linked with momentous occasions in Bhutanese history. It served as the capital of the country from 1637 to 1907 and the first national assembly was hosted here in 1953. It is the second oldest and second largest dzong in Bhutan and one of the most majestic structures in the country.

Wangdue Phodrang: Wangduephodrang is one of the largest dzongkhags (districts) in the country. As the district covers 4,308 sq km and ranges from 800-5800m in altitude it has extremely varied climatic conditions ranging from Sub-Tropical forests in the south to cool and snowy regions in the north.

Haa: Located in South West of Paro and covering an area of roughly 1706 sq. km. Haa is the smallest Dzongkhag in the country. This tiny region is one of the most beautiful and isolated areas in the kingdom, adorned with pristine alpine forests and tranquil mountain peaks.

Phuentsholing: Phuentsholing is a border town in southern Bhutan, and is the administrative seat (dzongkhag thromde) of Chukha District.

Chhukha: Chhukha is a hot, wet region of dense Sub-Tropical forests located in South Western Bhutan. The region is home to many important plant and animal species.

The other places of interest within this region are Laya village, Adha and Rukha, Gasa and others.

Central Bhutan:

Bumthang: This region that spans from 2,600-4,500m is the religious heartland of the nation and home to some of its oldest Buddhist temples and monasteries. Tales of Guru Padmasambhava and the Tertons (“religious treasure-discoverers”) still linger in this sacred region.

Jakar: This is a bustling little one-street town with an abundance of restaurants and handicrafts stores. Jakar sells a good amount of Chugo, a hard, chewy dried cheese snack popular among Bhutanese. Internet cafes and the odd espresso bar have also started to make an appearance here.

Trongsa: The Vanguard of the Warriors – Trongsa Dzongkha is located near the centre of Bhutan and was considered crucial to controlling the kingdom in earlier years due to its strategic position.

Gelephu: Gelephu is a region of the Dzongkhag of Sarpang. It is located in Southern Bhutan on the border with India and this makes it a hub for cross-border trade. Gelephu is a warm, fertile region with plenty of rainfall.

The other places of interest are Sarpang, Zhemgang and the Burning Lake.

Western Bhutan:

Tashigang: The Jewel of the East – Trashigang spans the easternmost corners of the kingdom, skirting up to the edge of the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh. It is the country’s largest district, with an altitude ranging from 600m to over 4000m.

Mongar: The road approaching Mongar is one of the most spectacular journeys in the country. It passes over sheer cliffs and through beautiful fir forests and green pastures. Travellers passing this way will have the opportunity to visit the Rhododendron garden. There are countless varieties of rhododendrons here and on clear days you can even catch a glimpse of Gangkhar Puensum (7541 meters), the world’s highest unclimbed mountain.

Samdrup Jongkhar: Samdrup Jongkhar town holds the distinct honour of being the oldest town in Bhutan. This border town is a bustling little settlement packed to the brim with shopkeepers and hawkers from across the border.

The other places of interest are Trashiyangtse, Lhuntse, Khoma village, Riddhi village and many others.

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*(All the zonal information are from Bhutan tourism website.)

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Read my experience in Bhutan.

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