Profile of Bhutan
Bhutan is the last remaining Himalayan Kingdom. An enclave set between India and China, Bhutan lies east of Sikkim and is a treasure box of heritage and culture.
A country full of Buddhist culture, it too has a history full of mythology and stories of super natural powers riding on flying tigers! The culture in Bhutan remains very much intact and this is very much the result of the policies of the ruling monarch – a hereditary lineage who have reigned since 1907, when Ugyen Wangchuck was unanimously voted by the Bhutanese chiefs to be crowned head of state and named “Druk Gyalpo”, meaning Dragon King. It is a mix of strict rules and alternative approaches which brings about a society where sale of cigerette is restricted, and where development is measured in “gross national happiness”. This allows a sustainable approach to modernisation.
The religious history began with Bon Religion (snimistic) in the 6th century, and the first Buddhist temples were built in the 7th century. Buddhism was further strenghthened during the 9th and 10th centuries receiving refugees from Tibet, a result of struggles between Bon Po and Buddhism which displaced Buddhist followers and leaders. From this point the foundation of monasteries and Buddhist schools grew across the country and gave a platform for many travelling Lamas and gurus to offer their teachings.
What is clear, is that Bhutan does have an immaculately intact heritage in the buildings with architectural design, the fields with farming practices, and even the clothes that the population wear. Still wrapped in the same heritage as it has been throughout history. This is why it is the most aspirational destination of all the Himalayan lands; this is also perhaps why it is the most expensive!
Bhutan, lying parallel to Sikkim and Eastern Nepal has a thickly forested landscape, which has been preserved unlike in Nepal where the hillsides have been de-forested and terraced to create parcels of cultivated land clinging to the steep hillsides. This forest provides a habitat for 600 species of birds, 200 mammals and over 5500 species of plants which is an excellent example of perfect bio diversity per square mile,consideing the area of the contry . This rich diversity has recently been proved to also have significant populations of the Tiger in the mountains unlike India and Nepal where they are restricted only in the plains, will become an important part of the Himalayan corridor project to conserve the tiger population.
Above the forest as you climb altitude there is of course the foothills of the Himalayas and snow capped peaks which create a majestic backdrop to the landscape. A richer land, thanks to the greater rainfall than Ladakh and Tibet, allows for a broader range of crops and a richer lifestyle from the land. However, this also means that visitors should be prepared for rain whatever time of year they visit. Bhutan does follow the Himalayan monsoon climate, and the significant forest coverage is proof of more precipitation caused by sub tropical conditions.
To be sure, Bhutan, Land of the Thunder Dragon is no ordinary place. Where traditional culture is cherished and actively retained; and where natural heritage is equally treasured and preserved. Gross National Happiness is not about smiling faces, but is an economic plan and series of policies which recognises that modernisation is inevitable, yet seting out to ensure a sustainable development is the plan Bhutan follows.