Bhutan, located in the eastern Himalayas, borders China to the north and India to the south, east and west. The altitude varies from 300m (1000ft) in the narrow lowland region to 7000m (22,000ft) in the Himalayan plateau in the north. The foothills are tropical and home to deer, lion, leopards and the rare golden monkey. The Inner Himalaya region is temperate; wildlife includes bear, boar and sambar and the area is rich in deciduous forests. Thimphu, the capital of Bhutan, lies at a height of over 2400m (8000ft) in a fertile valley. It resembles a large, widely dispersed village rather than a capital. The yearly religious Thimphu Festival is held in the courtyard directly in front of the National Assembly Hall. A visit to the Paro Valley and the Taktsang (Tiger’s Nest) Monastery clinging to the face of a 900m (2952ft) precipice is highly recommended. Restaurants are scarce and most tourists eat vegetarian food served buffet-style in their hotels. Cheese is a popular ingredient, the most popular being dartsi (cow’s milk cheese). Rice is ubiquitous and is sometimes flavoured with saffron. The most popular drink is souza (Bhutanese tea).
Full country name: Kingdom of Bhutan
Area: 46,620 sq km (18,182 sq mi)
Capital city: Thimphu (pop 46,000)
Bhutan is a landlocked country. It is about 47,000 kilometres and is located between Tibet in the north, Indian states of West Bengal and Assam in the south, and Arunachal Pradesh in the east.
Bhutan has three major land regions. The Great Himalayan region in the north rises more than 4300 m (14,000 ft) along the Tibetan border. This area is uninhabited except for a few scattered settlements in the high valleys. The Great Himalayas radiate southward into central Bhutan, creating the Middle Himalayan zone.
The Middle Himalayas enclose fertile valleys that have moderate rainfall and a temperate climate; they are well populated and cultivated. South of the Middle Himalayan valleys and foothills lies a large plain called the Duars. The northern part of the Duars, including the foothills, is home to deer, lion, leopards and the rare golden monkey as well as much tropical vegetation including many species of wild orchids.
The southern section of the Duars was once covered with dense savanna and bamboo jungle, but has been largely cleared for rice cultivation. Bhutan is a land of soaring snowcapped peaks, alpine meadows and densely forested hills and ravines abounding in exotic flora and fauna.
From May to August, hills are covered with an awesome variety of flowers decorated with waterfalls and streams gushing in wild abandon.
Climate of Bhutan varies with altitude. Days are normally warm. Nights can be quite chilly. Dry spring starts in early March and lasts until mid-April. Summer weather commences in mid-April with occasional showers and continues through the pre-monsoon rains of late June.
The summer monsoon lasts from late June through late September with heavy rains from the southwest. The monsoon weather, blocked from its northward progress by the Himalayas, brings heavy rains, high humidity, flash floods and landslides, and numerous misty, overcast days.
Autumn, from late September or early October to late November, follows the rainy season. From late November until March, winter sets in, temperature is below freezing point.
Bhutan is the last Mahayana Buddhist Kingdom, and the teachings of this school of Buddhism are a living faith among its people. The air of spirituality is pervasive even in the urban centres where the spinning of prayer wheels, the murmur of mantras and the glow of butter lamps in the houses are still important features of everyday life.
The most striking physical features of Bhutan are its architecture – the characteristic style and colour of every building and house in the kingdom is a distinct source of aesthetic pleasure. The Dzongs themselves – imposing 17th century structures built on a grand scale without the help of any drawings and held without a single nail – are outstanding examples of the best Bhutanese architecture.
Bhutan’s art and paintings are also important aspects of Bhutanese culture and they depict the spiritual depth of Bhutanese life. Whether it is on a wall, or one of the renowned Thangkhas or murals, painters use vegetable dyes to give their work the subtle beauty and warmth seen nowhere else in the world.
Bhutan also boasts an unparalleled wealth in its cottage industry. Its fine handicrafts of wood and bamboo, ornaments of gold and silver and highly developed weaving skills represent an advanced art form.