Welcome to Bhutan…the land of the Dragon King. If that title doesn’t make you want to explore more, hopefully the stunning Himalayan setting and one-of-a-kind culture will!
Want to learn more about Bhutan?
- Capital (and Largest City): Thimphu
- Population (2016): 779,580 (160th)
- Total Area: 38,394 km² (136th)
- Official Language: Dzongkha
- Currency: Bhutanese ngultrum (Nu.) (BTN) & Indian rupee (₹) (INR)
History of Bhutan
While people may have lived in Bhutan all the way back in 2000 BCE, more in-depth chronicles don’t come about until around the 7th century CE with the arrival of Buddhism to the country. Most of this was done under the purview of a Tibetan king, while an exiled Indian royal also set up shop in the land. Unfortunately, our knowledge of early Bhutan is limited due a massive fire in the 19th century that destroyed many records.
Early Modern Bhutan
In the 1600’s Bhutan was consolidated, transforming from competing fiefdoms to a single entity under Tibetan military leader Ngawang Namgyal. Many fortresses were constructed to ward off attacks from Tibet while European visitors provided Bhutan with a greater connection to the outside world. Namgyal’s death in 1651 plunged Bhutan into chaos amongst continued strife with Tibet. After Bhutan invaded a neighboring southern kingdom in India, the British East India Company came to their aid and invaded Bhutan proper as retribution. After significant losses, a treaty was struck and Bhutan and British India were at peace.
The Wangchuck Dynasty
During the late 19th century, internal chaos led to the rise of Ugyen Wangchuck – who successfully seized power, defeating political opponents along the way. He was chosen as king in 1907, beginning a dynasty and new era for Bhutan. Throughout the 19th century, Bhutan was close with British India (including having Britain oversee their foreign affairs). After Indian independence, Bhutan was one of the first countries to recognize it (and also gave India power over the small country’s foreign affairs).
Starting in the latter half of the 20th century, Bhutan began to shift from an absolute monarchy to a constitutional one. While slow to modernize, television and the Internet were finally introduced in 1999 – contributing to a measurable increase in happiness. Today, the country maintains very close relations with India and is ruled by the 36-year-old ‘Dragon King’ Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck – the youngest reigning monarch in the world.
Thanks to a geographic and political isolation until recently, Bhutan has retained much of its traditional culture that was crafted over the centuries. Buddhist heritage is clearly evident throughout the country, while traditional dress, architecture, music, and dance are still widely viewed. The picture of Bhutan as an unspoiled, traditional country has led to some calling it ‘The Last Shangri-La’ – named for the mystical earthly paradise described in a 1933 novel.
Flag of Bhutan
The flag of Bhutan features two triangles (yellow and orange) divided diagonally. At the centre is a white dragon. Specifically, the dragon is Druk – known as the Thunder Dragon out of Bhutanese mythology.
Red rice, buckwheat, and corn are staples of the Bhutanese diet. Local meat is also widely eaten, namely; yak, beef, pork, chicken, and lamb. Ema datashi is a popular spicy dish made from cheese and chilies. Finally, tea and rice wine are enjoyed throughout the country.
Sports in Bhutan
Archery is the national sport, as well as being Bhutan’s most popular. It is practiced throughout the country, though the rules differ from the Olympic variant. Digor (a traditional sport involving both shot-put and horseshoes) is also played, while basketball, soccer, and, increasingly, cricket are gaining popularity. The national soccer team is historically one of the world’s weakest, though they did beat Montserrat in 2002 to win ‘The Other Final’ – a game between the then world’s two worst ranked teams.
Geography of Bhutan
Thanks to its location in the Eastern Himalayas, Bhutan’s geography is one of its most lauded features. High mountains mix seamlessly with rivers and deep valleys – many of which travel downwards towards the plains of India. In the south you can find subtropical forests, which give way to the ‘Black Mountains’ in the centre, and finally the considerably taller snow capped peaks of the north.
Cities in Bhutan
Bhutan is not home to many large cities, with the capital (Thimphu) home to just about 100,000. The city is the home of the Dragon King (we really like saying that), while also playing host to many festivals and cultural events.
Facts about Bhutan
- Bhutan is known as ‘The Land of the Thunder Dragons’
- It is the first country to ban tobacco
- Its tallest peak, Gangkhar Puensum (7,570 metres) is the world’s highest unclimbed mountain
- The country measures ‘Gross National Happiness’
- The capital has no traffic lights, only officers
- Everyone officially celebrates getting one year older on New Year’s – this way no one’s birthday is forgotten!
- Bhutan is about half the size of Indiana
- Killing an endangered black-necked crane could result in life in prison
- It’s customary to refuse meals by saying “meshu meshu” and covering your mouth. Feel free to give in after a few offers though
Decades of isolation helped preserve Bhutan’s traditional culture and way of life, making it one of the most unique and extraordinary countries on earth!
Descend the Himalayas and keep exploring with all of Continental’s Countries. Or you can keep exploring the mountains with our Bhutan Travel Guide and finish off your journey with our Currency Spotlight.
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