| Quick Facts
|| Monarchy; special treaty relationship with India
|| Ngultrum (BTN); Indian Rupee (INR)
|| total: 47,000 km2|
water: 0 km2
land: 47,000 km2
|| 672,425 (2005 census)
|| Dzongkha (official), Bhotes speak various Tibetan dialects, Nepalese speak various Nepalese dialects
|| Vajrayana Buddhist 75%, Indian and Nepalese-influenced Hinduism 25%
| Country code
| Internet TLD
| Time Zone
|| GMT +6
Bhutan  is a small country in the Himalayas between China and India.
Besides the stunning natural scenery, the enduring image of the country to most visitors is the architecture. All buildings, whether large monasteries, private houses or even gas stations, must conform to traditional design. The nation is also a bastion of Vajrayana Buddhism, and the teachings of this tradition influence all aspects of life in the kingdom.
Map of Bhutan
Bhutan can culturally and geographically be divided into three regions, which are further divided into 20 districts or dzongkhag (singular and plural):
- Jakar - An administrative town in the north and the place where Buddhism entered Bhutan.
- Mongar - One of the largest towns in east Bhutan.
- Paro - The location of the international airport and Taktshang Monastery.
- Punakha - A former capital of Bhutan.
- Phuentsholing - A town on the Indian border. The point of entry for travelers arriving by bus from Kolkata.
- Samdrup Jongkhar - An administrative town in the southeast, near the Indian border.
- Trashigang - A picturesque administrative town in the east.
- Trongsa - A small administrative town famous for its dzong.
Wildlife sanctuaries/Nature reserves
Official Site for National Parks and Wildlife Sanctuaries in Bhutan: 
In terms of average wage, Bhutan is rated as a poor country, but the land is fertile and the population small and so the people are well fed and beggars and homeless are non-existent. In addition, this generation all receive free education and all citizens have access to free medical care. The sale of tobacco products is totally banned (foreign tourists and NGOs are exempt, though it is illegal for them to sell tobacco to locals), and smoking in public areas is a fineable offense.
A unique aspect of Bhutan is that progress is not purely defined by economic achievements as in most countries, but also based on the level of cultural and environmental preservation and development. This ideology was the brain child of King Jigme Singye Wangchuk who, having gained a modern education in India and the UK, realized that mere economic success did not necessarily translate into a content and happy society. Consequently, soon after his coronation in 1974, the young king began to float the idea of developing a new set of guide lines by which to govern the country. Slowly these ideas took shape, and in 1998 the GNH indicator was established. GNH stands for 'Gross National Happiness' and is defined by the following four objectives: to increase economic growth and development, preserve and promote the cultural heritage, encourage sustainable use of the environment, and establish good governance. Currently, work is in progress on converting the GNH from being a mere guiding principle for the country's development into a workable set of standard indicators. As a result of this more humane style of governance, Bhutan has developed high environmental protection standards (the use of plastic bags, for example, is completely banned) and a peaceful and harmonious society that actively protects its rich culture and profound Buddhist traditions. Major sources of income for the kingdom are agriculture, tourism and hydroelectric power.
Still, while Bhutan is often painted as a modern-day Shangri-La in the Western press, the country remains poor, with average life expectancy around 66 and a 7.2% infant mortality rate. At present, the country remains an absolute monarchy, with no political opposition allowed. However, this is about to change with the introduction of a new constitution that will transform the kingdom into a parliamentary democracy in 2008, and with this all citizens will be guaranteed freedom of speech, freedom of religious affiliation and the right to a free and independent media.
Around 125,000 ethnic Nepalese, known as the Lhotshampa, live in exile in Nepal and India. The question of their citizenship is still unresolved as it is difficult to distinguish Nepali economic settlers in Bhutan from Nepali economic migrants in the whole region.
Culturally, Bhutan is predominantly Buddhist with a national language (although there are regional variations - such as Sharchopkha, the predominant language in Eastern Bhutan), and a common dress code and architectural style.
The official name for the country is Druk Yul - Land of the Thunder Dragon - but due to the harmonious nature of the society, it has acquired the additional nickname of Deki Druk (Yul) - (Land of) the Peaceful Thunder Dragon.
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 Rimpoche (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 Wangchuk transferred power to his eldest son, the Crown Prince Jigme Keshar Namgyel, bestowing upon him the title of the fifth Druk Gyalpo.
It is not possible to travel far in Bhutan without seeing images of a man wearing a tall elaborate hat and with eyes that are open wide and staring forward into space. This is the great 8th century sage of Vajrayana Buddhism, Padmasambhava or Guru Rinpoche as he often called. According to legend, Padmasambhava was reincarnated into a lotus blossom as an eight year old child, and from very young he possessed great wisdom and insight. Furthermore, he had mastery of the elements and so like a potter manipulating basic clay and turning it into beautiful pots, he was was able to transform harmful action and substances into something positive and beneficial.
Guru Rinpoche's special association with Bhutan began when he traveled to the town now known as Jakar at the invitation of a local king to subjugate negative forces. The mission was a success, and from this encounter Buddhism spread throughout the land. A body print of the great sage exists to this day at Kurjey Lhakhang in Jakar, and he is also associated with many other sacred sites in Bhutan, with perhaps the most notable being the cliff-hanging Taktshang Monastery in Paro.
- January 2 (not fixed) - Winter Solstice (Western Bhutan only)
- January 9 (not fixed) - Traditional Day of Offerings (a day to offer food to hungry creatures - celebrated as new year in Eastern Bhutan)
- February 8-9 - (not fixed) - New Year (losar)
- February 21-23 (every year) - Anniversary of birth of HM King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck (the former king)
- April 15 (not fixed) - Shabdrung Kuchoe (commemorates the passing of Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal in 1651 CE)
- May 2 (every year) - Anniversary of Third king
- May 19 (not fixed) - Commemoration of Lord Buddha's Parnirvana.
- July 12 (not fixed) - Anniversary of the Birth of Guru Rinpoche
- August 5 (not fixed) - Commemoration of the First Sermon Taught by Lord Buddha in Sarnath, India
- October 9 (every year) - Hindu ceremony of Dasera
- November 11 (every year) - Anniversary of birth of HM King Jigme Singye Wangchuk (the fourth king)
- November 19 (not fixed) - Descending Day of Lord Buddha
- December 17 (every year) - national day, commemorating the 1907 coronation of the first hereditary king of Bhutan, Ugyen Wangchuck
In addition to the above national holidays, there are also tshechu holidays which are celebrated regionally.
- Travellers and Magicians , Bhutan's first internationally acclaimed feature film was made in 2003 and showcases life in Bhutan.
- Beyond the Sky and the Earth (buy) - a novel by Jamie Zeppa telling the true story of a young Canadian's (Jamie) experiences teaching at schools in Bhutan - very entertaining and informative.
- The Raven Crown (buy) A book by Michael Aris about the origins of the Buddhist monarchy in Bhutan.
- Kuenselonline  A government run newspaper
- BBS  The official TV broadcasting station
- The Bhutan Times  An independent source of news on Bhutan
- The Bhutan Observer  An independent source of news on Bhutan
- Kuzoo FM  An English language radio channel - mixture of youth orientated music and discussion programs - FM 105.
Everybody except citizens of India must apply for a visa at least 30 days in advance. While the visa itself costs a reasonable US$20 for 14 days (extendable once), the visa will not be issued without paid bookings for a tour generally costing upwards of US$200 per day (which includes room, board, guide, and transport in Bhutan). Although the tours are organized by private companies, the cost is not negotiable as it is set by the government, but generally it is slightly cheaper in off-season and more expensive if you take the tour alone. The only other options for visiting the country are to receive an invitation by 'a citizen of some standing' or a volunteer organization. Once the tour or invitation has been accepted, visas will be issued either by immigration at Paro airport or in Phuentsholing - basically all the work for a visa application is completed within Bhutan. There is no need to visit a Bhutanese embassy or consulate.
Official website of tour operators in Bhutan: 
Bhutan has a number of embassies and consulates, including those listed below .
- India: Royal Bhutanese Embassy - Chandragupta Marg, Chanakyapuri, New Delhi 110 021. Tel: 609217/ 609218, Fax:6876710
- U.S.: Consulate General of Bhutan - 2 UN Plaza, 27th Floor, New York NY 10017. Tel:(212) 826-1919, Fax:(212) 826-2998.
- Canada: Honorary Consul of Bhutan - 150 Isabella Street, Ottawa, Ontario K1S 1V7. Tel:(613) 232-1222 Fax:(613)569-4667
- Hong Kong: Honorary Consul of Bhutan - Unit B, 1/F, Kowloon Centre, 29-43 Ashley Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon. Tel:23762112.
- Thailand: The Royal Bhutanese Embassy in Bangkok - Jewelry Trade Center Building, Rm. 1907, 19th Floor, 919/1 Silom Road, Bangkok 10500. Tel:2671722, 630119 - Fax:6301193.
There are only two legal entry points into Bhutan: Paro's airport, and the land border with India at Phuentsholing. A third border crossing from Samdrup Jongkhar in southeastern Bhutan into India's Assam state is open, but for exit only - see Samdrup Jongkhar - 'get out' section for more detailed information.
The country's sole international airport is at Paro in the south west of the country, and is served only by the country's flag carrier Druk Air. Druk operates 2 planes (two airbuses) which fly routes to Bangkok, Kolkata, Delhi, Dhaka, Gaya, Kathmandu, and Yangon. Note that Druk Air will not issue tickets without a visa clearance number. E-tickets will be in effect from April 1st 2008 onwards.
- From Kolkata: The Royal Bhutanese Government runs a service to Phuentsholing. These buses depart from Kolkata's Esplanade bus station at 7PM on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday and from the Phuentsholing Bhutan Post office at 3PM on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. The journey takes around 18 hours and costs 300Rps/Nu. The buses are comfortable, but because much of the highway to Kolkata is like the surface of the moon, don't bank on getting much sleep on the way.
- There is frequent service between Siliguri and Phuentsholing.
- The nearest station is at Siliguri in India. Bhutan cannot be accessed by train.
- Route permits are required to travel around Bhutan, and there are check posts in most districts east and north of Thimphu where you are required to produce these documents in order to proceed. These permits are issued by the immigration office in Thimphu (Northern end of Samten Lam).
- The roads that cross the country are characterized by their twists, turns, and steep inclines, but despite the difficult topography, they are generally very well-maintained and safe. Local and inter-district bus services are not so comfortable and stop frequently. Tourists usually prefer to travel by a 4 wheeler-offroad or mini bus, which can be reserved through a tour operator. However, traveling by local or inter-district bus allows the traveler to meet Bhutanese people first hand and get more of a 'feel' for really being in Bhutan.
- As the public transport running between towns in Bhutan is infrequent, hitching is a very common way to get around. The thumb in the air symbol, however, is not recognized, and you will need to flag down a passing vehicle in order to get one to stop. NB: As some drivers pick up passengers as a means of supplementing their incomes, it is customary to offer payment when getting out of the vehicle (the amount depends roughly on the distance, but it will be comparable to the cost of traveling by bus). However, most drivers require nothing, and are more than happy just to have some company and the opportunity to make a new friend. If you plan to hitch a lot (and in some rural areas there is no other way to get around), it is a good idea to take a few small gifts to offer the drivers as an expression of your appreciation.
- Due to the mountainous terrain, roads are frequently blocked by rock falls during the summer monsoon season. Therefore, it is best to avoid traveling long distances from the beginning of June to the end of August. However, if you must travel at this time, carry ample bottled water and snacks because if the landslide is substantial it could take some time to clear the road.
- At an altitude of 3750 meters, the section of road that runs through the Thrumshingla Pass connecting Bumthang and Mongar is the highest in the country and offers some spectacular scenery. However, due to the steep sides of the valley it is especially susceptible to rock falls, so be prepared for long waits during the monsoon period in particular.
Although the country expanse is quite small Bhutanese weather varies from location to location mainly depending upon the elevation. In the North of Bhutan on the borders with Tibet it is perennially covered with snow. In the western, central and eastern Bhutan (Ha, Paro, Thimphu, Wandue, Trongsa, Bumthang, Trashi Yangtse, Lhuntse) you will mostly experience cold European-like weather. Winter lasts here from November to March. Punakha is an exception as it is in a lower valley and summer is pretty hot but winter is pleasant. Southern Bhutan bordering with India is hot and humid with a sub-tropical climate. The monsoon is the determining factor for rain here. Spring and autumn are the best season to visit Bhutan.
There are four distinct seasons similar in their divisions to those of Western Europe. The Monsoon occurs between June and August when the temperature is normally between 8° and 21°C (46°-70°F). Temperatures drop dramatically with increases in altitude. Days are usually very pleasant (average about 10°C/50°F) with clear skies and sunshine. Nights are cold and require heavy woolen clothing, particularly in winter. Generally, October, November and April to mid-June are the best times to visit – rainfall is at a minimum and temperatures are conducive to active days of sightseeing. The foothills are also very pleasant during the winter.
Lightweight cottons in the foothills, also linens and waterproof gear, light sweaters and jackets for the evenings. Upland areas: woolens for evenings, particularly during the winter months.
Permits are required to visit all monasteries, dzongs and sacred sites deemed of special significance. These permits are issued by the Cultural Affairs Office in Thimphu.
- The stunning scenery. The Paro and Bumthang valleys are especially impressive.
- 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.
Taktshang Monastery, Paro
- Kurjey 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.
- Taktshang Monastery (Tiger's Nest), Paro. This is one of the most important Buddhist sites in the country, and Guru Rinpoche visited here on his second visit to Bhutan. The temple is built on a 1,200 meter cliff and is Bhutan's most well known sacred site.
- Singye Dzong , Lhuentse. This is is a sacred valley located near the Tibetan border. The main temple in the valley was founded by Yeshi Tsogyal, and Guru Rinpoche visited the region on his second visit to Bhutan. However, partly due to the fact that the valley is located in a sensitive area near the border and also partly due to Bhutan wishing to preserve the sanctity of its sacred sites, the valley is not open for tourists.
See also: Sacred sites of the Indian sub-continent
- 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. The Fall 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 Fall 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 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.
The official language of Bhutan is Dzonghka, which is related to Tibetan. Sharchopkha is a major regional language spoken in eastern Bhutan, and Bumthangkha is spoken in the Bumthang region. English and Hindi are understood by most people in urban areas.
The suffix 'la' is an honorific, and many Bhutanese feel that their remarks sound too harsh if it is not used, and this carries over even into English. So, don't be surprised if you hear expressions such as "Yes-la" or "I'm not sure-la". It just implies respect.
See: Dzongkha phrasebook, Sharchopkha phrasebook and Bumthangkha phrasebook
- Bhutanese woven cloth is prized around the world. It is available stitched into clothing, wall hangings, table mats and rugs.
- Yathra is 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. Yethra is available in Thimphu and other cold areas, but is a speciality of the Jakar area.
- Hand made wooden bowls (dappa) are a wonderful and practical souvenir. The halves of the bowl fit tighly 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 speciality of the Trashi Yangtse region, but can be purchased throughout the country.
- Small woven baskets serve the same purpose as the dappa bowls and also have two tightly fitting halves, but are made of bamboo reeds. These baskets, which are a specialty of the south of Bhutan and come in various designs, are available throughout the country.
- Dzi beads are available throughout the kingdom. These oblong, brown and cream colored beads, which are are unique to the Himalayas, used to be cheap until wealthy Taiwanese took a liking to them. Now they are an expensive and precious commodity, and there are many fakes.
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 flavor - 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 with your mouth under the faucet!
- Ema-datsi - ema means chili and datsi is 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 that ema-datsi; all three dishes are served with rice.
- Though not a Bhutanese dish, mutter-paneer (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.
- Buckwheat cakes - small rounds of bread made from buckwheat - a kind of Bhutanese nan bread. These are a specialty of the Bumthang area.
- Bumthang Puta - a kind of buckwheat noodle.
Local spirit brewed from rice or corn called ara is popular among village folk. Tea is also very popular in Bhutan and many people prefer butter tea (suja) to sweet milk tea.
All towns connected by motorable roads have hotels, though the standard varies considerably. Tourist-standard hotels catering to international tourists are only found in tourist areas or major towns, while five star accommodation is only available in Paro and Thimphu.
It is important to understand that the hotel rates shown on the city articles are only relevant to those people who have residency qualifications, visa exemption (generally this only applies to Indian nationals) or who are visiting the country as an invited guest. Other visitors can only enter the country as part of a tour, for which the daily rates are set by the Bhutanese authorities at around $200 per person per night irrespective of the hotel rates (except for very expensive hotels where a surcharge is added).
- It is possible to receive instruction on Buddhist practice at any monastery, though for discussions on Buddhist philosophy it is better to consult with the khenpos or loppons (teachers) at Buddhist colleges (shedra), such as, for example, Lhodrak Kharchhu Monastery in Jakar, Tango Monastery near Thimphu or Chokyi Gyatso Institute in Deothang.
- Zhiwa Ling Hotel  in Paro holds one week retreats presided over by various lamas and Buddhist scholars throughout the winter months. The retreats are sold as a package at US$3,740 per one week course, which includes room and full board and also government royalties. Contact: Tsewang Rinchen, Hotel Zhiwa Ling, Satsham Chorten, Paro. Mobile:+975 17113586. Tel: +975 8 271-277. e-mail:[email protected] 
- Weaving - Bhutanese woven cloth is prized throughout the world for its unique designs and high quality, and there is a weaving center in Khaling in Trashigang.
There are a few NGOs based in Bhutan, so it is possible to arrange volunteer work. However, Bhutan is very selective about who it engages in this field. In addition, it is highly unlikely that a position can be found while visiting Bhutan, and so those interested in undertaking volunteer work here should first seek employment with NGOs overseas and then express a preference to be located in Bhutan.
- Crime is not a problem in Bhutan and it remains one of the safest countries in the world.
- Hospitals and clinics are located throughout the country, even in the remotest areas. However, travelers should not expect hi-tech facilities, and at many of the Basic Health Units the resident doctor is often away.
- Indigenous medical facilities are located in all district capitals, with the largest being in Thimphu, so it also possible to have ailments diagnosed and treated using natural herbal compounds while in Bhutan.
- Waterborne diseases such as diarrhea, dysentery, giardia and even typhoid are not uncommon in Bhutan, especially during the summer monsoon season. Therefore, ensure that all water has been thoroughly boiled or otherwise purified before consuming.
- In case of emergency, it is advisable to carry first aid material, which might include a few antibiotics and acetamenophin (paracetamol).
- Altitude sickness can strike at altitudes as low as 2,500m. Be aware of this before embarking on expeditions in the mountains. If you suffer palpitations, shortness of breath or severe headaches, inform your guide and head to a lower altitude immediately. Take altitude sickness seriously. It can and does kill.
- The hygiene standard is acceptable in tourist areas. However, it is probably wise to prepare medicine for stomach upsets.
- The Street dog population is very high in Thimphu (and to a lesser extent in most towns), and so some awareness is required when walking around the bazaar area at night. NB: There are reports of rabies associated with the canine population and, although it is uncommon, immediately seek medical attention and request a rabies vaccination if bitten. Remember if treatment is delayed, rabies develops into an incurable and fatal disease.
- Malaria and Dengue fever are not common problems in Bhutan, though there are outbreaks in the Indian border regions during the summer monsoon season.
- The King and and former king are accorded much deserved respect in Bhutan. It is wise to bear this in mind when conversing with local people.
- Always pass mani stones, stupas and other religious objects with your right side nearest to the object, and turn prayer wheels in a clockwise direction.
- Never sit on mani stones or stupas.
- When visiting temples, remove shoes and hat, and wear clothing that expresses respect for the sacred nature of the site.
- At monasteries, it is custom to make a small donation to the monks as a sign of respect; and also to the Buddhist statues as a means of developing a generous and spacious mind. However, this is not mandatory.
- No Smoking at monasteries and public places. That was the general rule, and now it's the law.
- The international dialing code for Bhutan is 975
- Most centers of population have internet cafes, though they are relatively expensive. Thimphu has broad band connection.
- Telephone call booths are existent in major towns in Bhutan
- Most of Bhutan has mobile phone coverage, and as B-Mobile has agreements with some Asian and Europe countries on mobile roaming, cellular phones from these countries can be operated in Bhutan
- Sikkim - a former independent kingdom, now part of India. The region has no air connection with Bhutan, and so travelers need to go overland via Siliguri.
- Kolkata - Druk Airways flies between Paro and Kolkata. In addition, the Bhutan Government operates an overnight bus service from Phuentsholing on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. The buses depart from Bhutan Post office at 3PM, and the journey takes around 18 hours and costs 300Rps/Nu
- Nepal - many travelers to Bhutan combine the visit with a trip to this other Himalayan kingdom and Druk Airways operate flights from Paro to Kathmandu.