Bhutan is located in the Himalayan mountain range between India and China and roughly covers an area of 38,394 km2. The climatic condition here is mostly pleasant and features a full 3 months of each season. The political system of Governance is Democratic monarchy with democracy inducted very recently in 2008. The country’s main source of income is electricity generated by hydropower and tourism, making the nation one of the most expensive countries to visit in the world. The country is known for her policies regarding the conservation of nature.
The main religion followed in the country is Buddhism. Festivals in Bhutan are very colorful, masked men in colorful brocade perform dances and people from all walks of life attend the festivals. Bhutan’s economy is measured in terms of GNH, an indigenous concept talked about world-over. The GDP of the country, however, is about 2 Billion Dollars. The currency of Bhutan is called Ngultrum which equates to the Indian Rupee. Architecturally Bhutan boasts of her monolithic Dzongs (castles) which are painted in white and red. Bhutan, the land of Happiness is known as the happiest land on the planet.
The land of Bhutan
Bhutan connects to the outer world through India by road and has 3 gateways, Phuentsholing, Gelephug and in Samdrup Jongkhar. Reaching the capital is the shortest if you come via Phuentsholing which can take you up-to 6 hours. The motorable roads, in general, aren’t very good, Bhutan being a Himalayan country undergoes constant road block during the summer months of June, July, and August. The roads mostly cross dense forests and occasionally wind up in small settlements. The roads of Bhutan has been described as a heaven for motorbiking, the traffic rules are very much respected.
Bhutan has an International airport in Paro. The flights connect with various major cities in the neighboring countries. Two airlines operate in the country among which one of them is state-owned. Paro is at a distance of about 30 – 40 minutes from the capital.
Climate in Bhutan
The Climate in Bhutan is moderate, although in the southern parts it gets hotter in the summer. Bhutan has 4 seasons, each spanning roughly 3 months. Excepting a few towns in the east (Bumthang) and Haa in the wast, Bhutan sees not a lot of snow. The capital mostly receives only one snowfall every year and the first snowfall is a holiday. The western region, of the country, has a moderate climatic condition throughout the year. The winter could be a little colder with the temperature dropping to 0 degrees Celsius at night.
The Political System in Bhutan
Bhutan has for the large part remained closed and only opened to the outer world in the late 1900s during the reign of the Third King. Bhutan is a democratic monarchy. The parties that get elected to run the government is chosen by the people. Bhutan became a democracy in 2008 when the fourth king of Bhutan chose to embrace the new form of governance. The King, upon multiple requests from the people to not make the country a democracy, kept his decision final. Up until 2008, the country was governed by the King with his cabinet of Ministers.
Bhutan has a very close relationship with her neighbor, the land of colors; India. Even since Bhutan opened to the outside world in the late 20th century, Bhutan has maintained a close relationship with her neighbor.
Sources of Income
The Bhutanese main source of income is Hydro-power electricity which is supplied into the cities in India. Bhutan owing to her rich natural resources has an abundance of river systems that eventually meet the Brahmaputra in India. Bhutan produces 1,615 MW and is estimated to be capable of producing 7,780 GWh by the international hydropower association.
The other main source of income for the county is Tourism. Bhutan has a policy of ‘High value and low volume’ where by the high tariffs to visiting Bhutan controls the number of people visiting the country. About 274,097 people visited in 2018. The cost to visit Bhutan is USD 250 per night during the peak tourism months out of which USD 65 goes towards the sustainable development of the nation. India, Bangladesh, and the Maldives have a different policy in place and do not need to pay the USD 250.
Bhutan and her pledges
Bhutan is very environmentally conscious when it comes to her beliefs. The constitution of Bhutan mandates that 65% of the total country should aways be covered with forest. Currently, the percentage is maintained well above 70%. Bhutan is the only carbon negative country in the world and has pledged to remain so for all times to come.
Though the country’s economy and population which stands well below the one million mark make it very difficult to fulfill such pledges, yet with wise kings leading the way, Bhutan has been able to withhold the promises.
The main religion practiced in Bhutan is Buddhism with small segments of Hinduism followers followed by Christianity. Buddhism came into Bhutan in about the 8th century and is the state religion. The forgiving lifestyle, architecture and the environment the country has to offer for visitors are all rooted in the distinctive Buddhist culture.
Among the population of 800,000 of the country’s state religion is Buddhist among which a 23% identify as Hindu. Christianity is practiced by a small segment of the population and the Muslim population in the country is estimated at .5%.
The sect of Buddhism prevalent in Bhutan is Vajrayana Buddhism.
Festivals in Bhutan
Festivals here are colorful, Tshechus are the main festivals celebrated in the country. The country has around 20 Tshechus among which Thimphu Tshechu and Paro Tshechu are the most frequented festivals by the locals and foreigners. Tshechus are observed on the 10th day of the Bhutanese calendar and feature masked monks in colorful brocades performing dances. The dances are symbolic and a way of preaching the Buddhist way of beliefs. These dances are a form of art that gets passed down to the generations come that teaches them the beliefs of the Buddhist doctrine. The festivals have been around for a very long time and have been passed down since.
The locals, with their entire family, visit the Dzongs(fortresses) where the festivals are observed. They carry packed meals and flasks full of Suja(butter tea) and spend the entire day in the company of family and friends during the festivals. Towards the end of the festival, a hand-stitched portrait(thongdrel) is displayed which is believed to wash off the sins of anyone who makes an effort to witness it displayed.
Gross National Happiness
What makes you happy? It is very difficult to answer this question in a sentence and for that matter, in a word, because the definition of happiness varies from person to person. The word that perhaps comes closest to summing up happiness is “progress”. Any form of progress in life drives a person to do what they do and in doing so makes them happy. Countries of the world are driven by some form of progress whether it is economic, military, territorial, political or regional influence. Progress in any form provides the countries of the world with a clear direction of where it wants to be. Amidst all of this exists a country whose happiness lies in the progress of happiness itself.
In 1972 His Majesty the fourth Druk Gyalpo, Jigme Singye Wangchuk coined the term Gross National Happiness. The country of Bhutan, since then is in pursuit of true happiness over any other form of progress.
Read More about GNH
Bhutan and money
Money came at a later time as compared to the outer world. The Bhutanese currency is called the Ngultrum and is at par with the Indian Rupees. The Ngultrum was officially launched in 1974.
The Bhutanese currency abbreviated as BTN comes in denominations of 1, 5, 10, 20, 100, 500 and 1000. With the denominations of 100, 500 and 1000 being in circulation the most.
Architecture in Bhutan
Architecture in Bhutan is very unique. In the olden times of war, the rulers built fortresses called Dzongs. These beautiful forts were built with huge boulders and tree trunks. The carpentry of these forts are so well done that no nails were used in the construction and yet the forts have withstood for centuries. The forts are painted in white and reds mostly with intricate paintings depicting the preachings of saints.
Bhutan has many stupas(chortens), which are a place of worship and locals perform circumambulation around these chortens chanting and praying. These stupas like most Buddhist stupas around the world are pyramid/conic shaped.
The local residence are unique to the country’s culture as well. The houses have paintings of Phallus, Garuda and the eight lucky signs and are very prominent in the country.
Lonely Planet recently honored Bhutan as the top 1 must visit the country in the world. Bhutan has a lot to offer from an amazing experience for visitors to an ideological philosophy to ponder upon for those who plan to come to visit us someday.