Bhutan

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Bhutan is a small country in the Himalayas between Tibet and India. Besides the stunning natural scenery, the enduring image of the country for most visitors is the strong sense of culture and tradition that binds the kingdom and clearly distinguishes it from its larger neighbors. Bhutan is the only Vajrayana Buddhist nation in the world, and the profound teachings of this tradition remain well preserved and exert a strong influence in all aspects of life. Due to its pristine environment and harmonious society, the tiny Kingdom of Bhutan has been called "The Last Shangrila." (less...) (more...)

Population: 725,296 people
Area: 38,394 km2
Highest point: 7,570 m
Coastline: 0 km
Life expectancy: 68.44 years
GDP per capita: $6,800
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About Bhutan

History

The first humans probably arrived sometime after the Ice Age, and little is known about Bhutan's prehistory. Historical records began with the arrival of Buddhism in the 7th century, when Guru Rinpoche (Padmasambhava) visited Bhutan and established monasteries.

In 1865, Britain and Bhutan signed the Treaty of Sinchulu, under which Bhutan would receive an annual subsidy in exchange for ceding some border land. Under British influence, a monarchy was set up in 1907; three years later, a treaty was signed whereby the British agreed not to interfere in Bhutanese internal affairs and Bhutan allowed Britain to direct its foreign affairs. This role was assumed by independent India after 1947. Two years later, a formal Indo-Bhutanese accord returned the areas of Bhutan annexed by the British, formalized the annual subsidies the country received, and defined India's responsibilities in defense and foreign relations.

In December 2006, King Jigme Singye Wangchuck transferred power to his oldest son, the Crown Prince Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, bestowing upon him the title of the fifth Druk Gyalpo. The official coronation took place in November 2008. The Fifth King is Boston and Oxford educated and is held in high esteem throughout the country.

Activities

  • Trekking: Bhutan is a popular place for trekking, though the walks are generally quite tough as there are no places to stay or eat in the higher regions, and so all food and camping equipment must be carried in. Autumn and spring are the best seasons for undertaking a trek. In the summer, the paths are too muddy, while in winter they are snow covered. However, despite the difficulties of the treks, all efforts and discomforts are more than compensated for by the stunning scenery and extremely friendly, gentle and hospitable people that are met along the way. See: Wilderness backpacking.
  • Festivals: Tshechu is the largest religious festival in Bhutan and is celebrated in the late summer and autumn throughout the country (see city articles for local information), though Thimphu Tshechu is the most famous and attracts around 30,000 people. The highlight of the tshechu ceremonies is the masked dances by monks, which were developed according to precise instructions given by past Buddhist masters. According to Buddhist philosophy, all experiences leave an imprint in the mind stream that produces a corresponding result in the future, and so viewing these dances, which are imbued with sacred symbolism, is considered to be a very auspicious and sanctifying experience. While the event is not held in a solemn atmosphere and there is much merriment, visitors are reminded that it is still a religious festival that is of great importance to Bhutanese people, and so appropriate behavior is expected.
  • Archery: This is the national sport of Bhutan and competitions are held throughout the country at most weekends. Visitors are very welcome to watch and also to add voice to the boisterous cheering that accompanies these events.

Food

Rice is a staple with every meal. Vegetable or meat dishes cooked with chili and/or cheese comprise the accompanying cuisine.

Bhutanese food has one predominant flavour - chili. This small red condiment is not only added to every dish but is also often eaten raw. So, if you don't like spicy-hot food, make this abundantly clear before ordering a meal. Otherwise, you'll be spending the next hour dousing your mouth with cold yoghurt or milk.

Vegetarian dishes

  • Ema-datsi. Ema means chili and datsi is a kind of cottage cheese, so ema-datsi is a kind of spiced-up Welsh rarebit.
  • Kewa-datsi. A potato, cheese and chili dish.
  • Shamu-datsi. A mushroom, cheese and chili dish.

Kewa-datsi and shamu-datsi tend to be less hot than ema-datsi; all three dishes are generally served with rice.

  • Mutter paneer. Though not a Bhutanese dish, this Indian staple of curried peas and cheese is readily available throughout Bhutan and is therefore an additional choice for vegetarians.
  • Cheese momo. A small steamed bun that traditionally contained cheese, cabbage and sometimes onion. However, these days other vegetables, including green papaya, may be substituted for cabbage.
  • Khuli. Buckwheat pancakes - a specialty of Bumthang. They are often served with ema-datsi as an alternative to rice.
  • Puta. A dish of buckwheat noodles usually served with curd - a specialty of Bumthang

Imtrat run canteens that sell excellent Indian dishes along with tea from 9:30AM to 4:30PM. The quality of the food is very good, while the price is low. The canteens are located throughout the country, especially along main highways.

Drinks

  • Ara. A local spirit brewed from rice or corn. It is popular in rural areas.
  • Tea. Located next to the tea growing regions of Assam and Darjeeling, a steaming cuppa remains the popular drink in Bhutan, with both the butter variety (suja) and sweet milk kind (cha) readily available throughout the country.
  • Coffee. The coffee culture that has swept most of the planet is just beginning to creep into the country. However, for the most part, coffee in Bhutan means the instant variety and it is served simply white or black.

Shopping

  • Woven cloth. Bhutanese handwoven fabric is prized around the world, and is available stitched into clothing, wall hangings, table mats and rugs.
  • Yathra. A brightly colored woven material made from wool and dyed with natural colors. It is sold in pieces or sewn into jackets, bags, rugs and wall hangings. Yathra is available in Thimphu and other cold areas, but is a specialty of the Jakar area.
  • Dappa. Hand made wooden bowls. The halves of the bowl fit tightly together so they can be used to carry cooked food, which is their function in Bhutan. However, they also make excellent salad or cookie bowls. Dappa are a specialty of the Trashi Yangtse region, but can be purchased throughout the country.
  • Bangchung. Small bamboo woven baskets with two tightly fitting halves. They are a specialty of the southern Bhutan, but available throughout the country.

This article is based on Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike 3.0 Licensed text from the article Bhutan on Wikivoyage.

Cities in Bhutan

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Thimphu is the capital of the Kingdom of Bhutan, and with a population of around 80,000 is the nation's largest city.

Interesting places:

  • Clock Tower Square
  • Memorial Chorten
  • Stupa at Dochula
  • Changlimithang Stadium
  • Coronation Park
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Points of Interest in Bhutan

The majority of tourists do "cultural tours" where they visit important destinations. Paro, Thimphu, Punakha, Wangdue, and Jakar are popular destinations. Further afield, the unexplored region of Zhemgang (birders paradise, excellent wildlife viewing) and Eastern Bhutan have just been opened up to tourism. If you are an adventurist and want to explore the unexplored the east of Bhutan is the place for you. This unique and yet untouched part of the country offers the ultimate experience.

Monasteries

Taktsang Monastery (Tiger's Nest), Paro. This is one of the most important Buddhist sites in the world, and Guru Rinpoche visited here in the 8th century on his second visit to Bhutan. It is the most recognized and visited monument in Bhutan. It is believed that he arrived on the back of a winged tigress, hence the name, Tigers Nest. The temple is built on a 1,200 metre cliff and was built in 1692.

Hundreds of monasteries dot the landscape in some of the most pristine and remote areas.

Kurje Lhakhang, Jakar. A temple built around a cave with a body print of Guru Rinpoche embedded in the wall. Guru Rinpoche practiced meditation here on his first visit to Bhutan and as such it is the earliest Buddhist relic in the country.

Dzongs/Fortresses

Tashichho Dzong is a Buddhist monastery and fortress on the northern edge of the city of Thimpu in Bhutan, on the western bank of the Wang Chu. It has traditionally been the seat of theDruk Desi (or "Dharma Raja"), the head of Bhutan's civil government, an office which has been combined with the kingship since the creation of the monarchy in 1907, and summer capital of the country.[1] The main structure of the whitewashed building is two-storied with three-storied towers at each of the four corners topped by triple-tiered golden roofs. There is also a large central tower or utse. The original Dzong was built in 1216.

The dzongs are ancient fortresses that now serve as the civil and monastic administration headquarters of each district. Apart from the architecture, which in itself makes a dzong worth visiting, they also hold many art treasures.

Dzongs dot the countryside and were built without the use of cement, nails or plans. Dzongs which you can visit are:

  • Punakha Dzong
  • Trongsa Dzong
  • Jakar Dzong
  • Lhuentse Dzong
  • Simtokha Dzong
  • Gasa Dzong
  • Rinpung Dzong
  • Gonggar Dzong
  • Gyantse Dzong
  • Shigatse Dzong
  • Tashichho Dzong
  • Kagyu-Dzong
  • Lingzhi Yügyal Dzong
  • Drukgyal Dzong
  • Changchukha Dzong
  • Tsechen Monastery and Dzong
  • Shongar Dzong
  • Singye Dzong

Trekking

Trekking is also extremely popular. The Druk path is the most commonly trekked from Paro, to the capital Thimphu. However, many other more impressive treks are available, see the complete list below. The Jomolhari, and Laya Gasa trek are also very popular and the Snowman Trek is reported to be one of the toughest treks in the world, taking an approximately 30 days. The recommended season for this trek is mid-June to mid-October.

Other treks include:

  • Bumthang Cultural Trek.
  • Bumthang Owl Trek.
  • Chelela Trek
  • Dagala Thousand Lakes Trek.
  • Dongla Trek
  • Druk Path Trek.
  • Dur Hot Spring Trek.
  • Gangjula Trek
  • Gangkar Puensum
  • Gantey Trek.
  • Jomolhari Trek.
  • Laya Gasa Trek.
  • Lingmithang – Zhemgang Trek
  • Merak-Sakteng
  • Nabji Korphu Community Based Trek.
  • Nubtsona Pata Trek
  • Punakha Winter Trek.
  • Rigsum Goenpa Trek
  • Royal Heritage Trek
  • Sagala Trek
  • Samtengang Trek.
  • Sinchula Trek
  • Snowman Trek.
  • Wild East Rodungla Trek.

Scenery

Bhutan pristine environment offers ecosystem which are rich and diverse, due to its location and great geographical and climatic variations, Bhutan’s high, rugged mountains and valleys boast spectacular biodiversity, earning it a name as one of the world’s ten most important biodiversity hotspots. Recognizing the importance of environment, conservation of its rich biodiversity is one of its development paradigms. The government has decreed that 60% of its forest resources will be maintained for all time through a recently enacted law passed by government. Today, 72% of the total land area is under forest cover and 26% is protected in four parks.

35% of Bhutan is made up of protected national parks. Namely, Jigme Singye Wangchuck National Park (1,300 km2), TrumshingLa National Park (768 km2), Royal Manas National Park (9,938.54 km2), Jigme Dorji National Park (4,349 km2), Bumdeling Wildlife Sanctuary (1,545 km2) and Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary (650 km2).

Festivals

Festivals or Tshechu (“tenth day”) are another major draw card to Bhutan and are held every year in various temples monasteries and dzongs across the country. The Tshechu is mainly a religious event celebrated on tenth day of a month of lunar calendar corresponding to the birth day of Guru Rinpoche (Guru Padmasambhava). However the month of Tshechu depends place to place and temple to temple. Tshechus are large social gatherings where people from various villages come together to witness the religious mask dances which are based on incidents from as long as 8th century from the life of Guru Padmasambhava and to receive blessings from lamas. The event also consists of colourful Bhutanese dances and other entertainments.

It is said that everyone must attend a Tshechu and witness the mask dances at least once to receive the blessings and wash away the sins. Every mask dances performed during Tshechu has a meaning or a story behind. In monasteries the mask dances are performed by monks and in remote villages they are performed jointly by monks and village men. Among many Tshechus in the country most popular are Paro and Thimphu Tshechus in terms of participation and audience. Besides the locals many tourists from across the world are attracted to this unique, colourful and exciting culture.

Traditionally, the Paro and Thimphu have been the most popular but tourists are fast realizing that the smaller more rural festivals are much more intimate.

Other festivals which happen throughout the year are:

  • Black Necked Crane Festival.
  • Chorten Kora Festival.
  • Gomphu Kora Festival.
  • Haa Summer Festival.
  • Jampa Lhakhang festival.
  • Kurjey Festival.
  • Lhuentse Festival.
  • Merak Tshechu.
  • Mongar Festival.
  • Nimalung Festival.
  • Nomad Festival.
  • Paro Tsechu.
  • Pema Gatshel Festival.
  • Punakha Festival.
  • Sakten Tshechu.
  • Takin Festival.
  • Thimphu Festival.
  • Trashigang Festival.
  • Trongsa Festival.
  • Ura yakchoe.
  • Wangdue Phodrang Festival.

Punakha Dzong - Punakha

Rinpung Dzong - Paro

Clock Tower Square - Thimphu

Trongsa Dzong - Trongsa

Bhutan Gate - Phuntsholing

Kurje Lhakhang - Bumthang

Gangteng Gonpa - Wangdue Phodrang

Royal Manas National Park - Zhemgang

Trashigang Dzong - Trashigang

Thrumshingla National Park - Mongar

Memorial Chorten - Thimphu

Stupa at Dochula - Thimphu

Changlimithang Stadium - Thimphu

Coronation Park - Thimphu

Taktshang Monastery - Paro

Bhutan National Museum - Paro

Buddha Dordenma - Thimphu

Changangkha Lhakhang - Thimphu

Tamshing Lhakhang - Bumthang

Dechencholing Palace - Thimphu

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