It is not a surprise that very few people know minimal facts about Bhutan. Even the most experienced travelers will probably be unsure where the location of Bhutan is. The government of Bhutan has deliberately remained closed to protect their ancient traditions even though government approved tours are possible. Despite being a developing nation, the number of tourist entering the country is controlled by the high cost. The government has set a high season cost from US$250 per person per day, and this is to discourage mass tourism which could influence their youths away from their traditions. Bhutan has been off the backpackers' list because of the high cost.
Where Is Bhutan?
Bhutan is in the Eastern Himalayas and is a small nation that is sandwiched between India and Tibet. It is east of Nepal and north of Bangladesh. It is a member country of the South Asian Association for Regional Corporation (SAARC).
Facts About Bhutan
- With an area of 38,359 square kilometers of territory, Bhutan is slightly larger than Taiwan and a little smaller than Switzerland. Most of the country consists of Hilly and mountainous terrain.
- Druk Yul is the local name for Bhutan. It means "Land of the Thunder Dragon." The dragon is on the flag of Bhutan.
- In a move to modernize Bhutan, the past King finally permitted television and internet access into the country only in 1999. Bhutan is among the last nations in the world to allow TV. Some television channels are received from their giant neighbor, India. The past king issued warnings that abuse of television could corrupt their traditional lifestyle.
- It is mandatory for citizens to wear the national dress. The men wear traditional, knee-length garments called "Gho" and the women wear ankle-length dresses with a silk or brocade blouse called "Kira." The colors can indicate someone's status and social class.
- Bhutan is the first nation in the world to ban the production and sales of tobacco products in 2010. Although it is illegal to smoke in public areas but tobacco products can be used in private. The first King of Bhutan called tobacco "worst herb" as early as 1916. The violators are slapped with a hefty fine, as much as two months average salary.
- Bhutan is the pioneering nation to create the measurement of national happiness officially. The index is called Gross National Happiness (GNH). The government has emphasized GNH rather unlike the rest of the world who give priority to GDP. This Himalayan nation intends to track the happiness of the population. The United Nations adopted this idea and released a World Happiness report in the year 2012.
- Before the focus on internal happiness was started, the Bhutanese government has been accused of human rights violations against ethnic minorities living there, especially those of Nepalese origin. As many as 100,000 were forced out of the country or into refugee camps. The United States accepted more than 95,000 Bhutanese refugees since 2008.
- The Bhutanese government provides free education. Buddhist teachings are highly prioritized. English is a widely taught second language in its education system. Only 30 percent of the male and 10% of the female population were literate before the education reform was passed in the 1990s.
- Bhutan is unique where the inheritance of land, house, and animals is passed on to the eldest daughter rather than the son or sons like in most Asian culture. The husband often moves into the home of his new wife until he becomes financially independent.
- The Bhutanese discouraged from marrying foreigners. The law forbids homosexuality. Although polygamy is legal in Bhutan, the practice has become frequent.
- Archery is the national sport of Bhutan. Soccer is the second most loved sport in Bhutan while recently basketball and cricket have been gaining popularity.
- Vajrayana Buddhism is the national religion of Bhutan. It follows the tantric Buddhist texts.
Health, Military, and Politics
- Bhutan lies directly between two giant neighbors China and India. These two nations are not in the best of terms and clash politically every now and again. Bhutan is the buffer between these two nations as it controls many crucial high mountain passes.
- India and Bhutan have a friendly diplomatic relationship. The Bhutanese can cross into India with just their national ID cards; no visa necessary and can work without restrictions. Many Bhutanese go to India for further studies.
- Parts of the mountainous borders are still in negotiation with China. Bhutan is still negotiating parts of its mountainous border with China. The Bhutanese have minimal diplomatic relations with their most prominent neighbor, Aside from land disputes. Every now and again the Chinese soldiers begin constructing roads and bridges in sensitive areas which cause uneasiness in Bhutan.
- The King of Bhutan abdicated and gave the throne to his eldest son in 2008. King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck became the youngest reigning monarch in the world, at the age of 28.
- Bhutan became a constitutional monarchy in 2008, with a two-party system. The 2018 People's Democratic Party won the elections in 2013.
- The Bhutanese Army consists of around 7500 active soldiers. The Indian Army trains the Bhutanese force.
- Bhutan's economy is growing very swiftly. The Bhutanese currency, the Ngultrum, is pegged to the Indian rupee. The Indian currency is accepted throughout Bhutan.
- Bhutan attained membership of the United Nations in 1971. It was a founding member of SAARC (South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation) in 1985.
- Although primary healthcare is free in Bhutan, the country suffers from a severe shortage of doctors. In 2016, the physician density was 0.38 doctor per 1,000 people according to https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/fields/2226.html. In contrast, the United States has around 2.56 doctors per 1,000 residents.
- The average life expectancy in Bhutan is 69.9 years for males and 71.7 years for females per the https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/fields/2226.html 2017 data.
Traveling to Bhutan
Bhutan is one of the most restrictive countries in Asia if not the world. To visit Bhutan as an independent traveler is next to impossible. You will either need t book with a travel company or be invited by a citizen on an official visit. These days the government has lifted the restriction on the number of tourists per year. However, their set price of US$250 per day works as a filter for those who can't afford this amount. A travel visa is only issued through government licensed travel companies, and the full amount for the tour has to be paid in full before the arrival. You can make the payment through your overseas tour operator or the local who tour operator. The paid amount goes to the local travel company's account with the Tourism Council of Bhutan who then pays the local tour operator who makes all arrangments like your hotels, transportation, entrance fees etcetera.
The full amount of your visit has to be wired to the Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB) in advance either via your overseas travel company or the local company of your choice. The TCB then pays the tour operator who arranges your hotels and itinerary. Foreign visitors get a minimal selection of where to stay. The regular package includes 3-star hotels, but you can upgrade to 4 or 5-star hotels if you want better accommodations for an additional cost.
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