Bhutan at Glance
Bhutan, officially the Kingdom of Bhutan, is a landlocked country in South Asia located at the eastern end of the Himalayas. It is bordered to the north by China and to the south, east and west by India. Further west, it is separated from Nepal by the Indian state of Sikkim, while further south it is separated from Bangladesh by the Indian states of Assam and West Bengal. Bhutan’s capital and largest city is Thimphu.
Bhutan existed as a patchwork of minor warring fiefdoms until the early 17th century, when the lama and military leader Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, fleeing religious persecution in Tibet, unified the area and cultivated a distinct Bhutanese identity. Later, in the early 20th century, Bhutan came into contact with the British Empire and retained strong bilateral relations with India upon its independence. In 2006, based on a global survey, Business Week rated Bhutan the happiest country in Asia and the eighth-happiest in the world.
Bhutan’s landscape ranges from subtropical plains in the south to the sub-alpine Himalayan heights in the north, where some peaks exceed 7,000 metres (23,000 ft). Its total area was reported as approximately 38,394 square kilometers (14,824 sq mi) in 2002. Bhutan’s state religion is Vajrayana Buddhism and the population, now (as of 2012/2013) estimated to be nearly three-quarters of a million, is predominantly Buddhist. Hinduism is the second-largest religion.
In 2008, Bhutan made the transition from absolute monarchy to constitutional monarchy and held its first general election.
Why visit Bhutan?
Decades after it decided to open up to modernization, Bhutan treads the path with caution adopting the goodness it offers while protecting its soul. Government’s high value-low volume tourism policy is a good example of its efforts to keep foreign influences at bay while fostering Bhutanese values at home. In order to sustain its fragile ecosystem, backpacker-style independent travel is discouraged in Bhutan.
Preservation and protection of natural environment are at the forefront of government policy and Bhutan maintains almost 72% of its total land under forest cover, earning the recognition of being one of the ten global biological hotspots for environmental conservation.
Bhutan is the only Vajrayana Buddhist nation in the world, and the profound teaching on Middle Path and the concept of Gross National Happiness (GNH) are a strong basis for the Bhutanese way of life. The inhabitants of Bhutan are gracious, sociable, gentle and very hospitable. They never fail to smile and spread joy. They are peace loving people and possess a very good sense of delightful humor.
Major sources of income for the kingdom are hydroelectric power, tourism and agriculture. The citizens receive access to free medical care and the education in the country is free. The sale of tobacco products is banned and smoking in public areas is a fineable offense.
Bhutan offers an opportunity to glimpse another way of alternate living suffused with the wisdom of Buddhism and the vision of the benevolent kings.