* Area of Bhutan: 38,394sq/km
* Altitude: varying from 590ft to 24,770ft (180m to 7550m) above sea level
* Population: 697,335 (2009)
* Life expectancy: 66.3 years
* Capital: Thimphu
* National language: Dzongkha
* State religion: Buddhism
* Forest coverage: 72.5%
* Length of roads: 5,363km
* Local time: six hours ahead of GMT and half an hour ahead of Indian standard time (IST)
* GDP (2009): US$ 2,155 per capita
* No. of tourist arrivals (2009): 23,480
* Currency: Ngultrum, same value as Indian Rupees
* Country telephone code: 975
Of all the things that Bhutan is known for, it is perhaps the rich religious and cultural traditions of the country that place it on the tourist map as one of the most exotic and must-visit destinations in the world today. Bhutan’s unique cultural heritage has remained intact and untarnished. Centuries-old traditions are in practice to this day and continue to have tremendous value and significance in the daily life of the people. The unique Bhutanese culture is what our visitors appreciate and like most about Bhutan. Bhutanese people are very friendly, their warmth and hospitable nature attract visitors from around the globe. Bhutanese culture is deeply rooted in the people’s way of life.
Gross National Happiness – Bhutan is the happiest nation in Asia!
‘Gross National Happiness’ is Bhutan’s vision for the country and its people, an inspiration that guides every aspect of the small kingdom’s development.
Gross National Happiness is an indicator developed in Bhutan, based on the concept elaborated in 1972 by the then King Jigme Singye Wangchuck. Since then, the kingdom of Bhutan, with the support of UNDP (UN Development Program), began to put this concept into practice, and has attracted the attention of the rest of the world with its new formula to measure the progress of a community or nation.
Gross National Happiness is based on the premise that the calculation of “wealth” should consider other aspects besides economic development: the preservation of the environment and the quality of life of the people. The goal of a society should be the integration of material development with psychological, cultural, and spiritual aspects – all in harmony with the Earth.
The Four Pillars of Gross National Happiness are:
the promotion of equitable and sustainable socio-economic development
the preservation and promotion of cultural values
the conservation of the natural environment, and
the establishment of good governance
In the context of Gross National Happiness, the role of the Government of Bhutan is to create an environment in which its people can find the happiness they seek. Gross National Happiness is not a promise of happiness nor a matter of physical wealth. It emphasizes a well-being that includes spiritual and emotional health. Gross National Happiness values community ties, environmental conservation, culture and tradition over and above material values. Gross National Happiness is also about social justice, equality and good governance. Aspects of Gross National Happiness thinking are reflected in Bhutan’s free health care and education, its environmental policy to maintain at least 60% of the country under forest cover, its democratic transition, and its emphasis on a high value, low impact tourism policy. This caution was translated into international visitor arrivals averaging between 23,000 and a high of 28,000 in recent years. “We want to expand this sector without compromising our policy of high quality, low impact and not volume tourism,” the prime minister said.
National Symbols of Bhutan
The national emblem contains within a circle a double-diamond thunderbolt placed above a lotus surmounted by a jewel and framed by two dragons. The double-diamond thunderbolt represents the harmony between secular and religious power. The lotus symbolizes purity, the jewel signifies sovereign power and the two dragons, a male and female, stand for the name of the country – the land of the thunder dragon (Druk Yul).
The national flag is rectangular and divided diagonally into two parts with a white dragon in the middle. The upper yellow half signifies the country’s secular authority of the king in fruitful action in the affairs of religion and state. The lower saffron orange half signifies the religious practice and spiritual power of Buddhism manifested in the Drukpa Kagyu and Nyingma traditions. The dragon symbolizes the name of the country, meaning ‘land of the thunder dragon’ and its white color signifies the purity and loyalty of the Bhutanese people.
The Blue Poppy is the national flower of Bhutan; this species grows in harsh and difficult terrain above the tree line from 3500-4500metres. The blue poppy blooms only briefly and then seeds and dies. This fleeting lifespan makes the sighting of the species a rare and special occasion. Five of the 12 species of the blue poppy growing in the Himalayas region grow in Bhutan. This one of them, the Mecanopsis grandis, is Bhutan’s national flower.
In the late spring of 1922, a British Himalayan expedition, led by legendary mountaineer George Leigh Mallory, discovered the plant on their failed attempt to reach the summit of the then-unconquered Mount Everest. The flowers were introduced to much excitement at the British Royal Horticultural Society’s spring show of 1926. However, since they are difficult to grow, the species has become fabled over the decades.
The Cypress is the national tree of Bhutan locally known as ‘Tsenden’. It is found at 1800-3000m in the Himalayas and needs a lot of sun. The Cypress thrives well in tropical and sub-tropical rain forests. It is an evergreen tree that grows up to 45m in height and its trunk can have a diameter of 90cm.
The takin or ‘Dong Gyem Tsey’ is the Bhutan national animal, a rare and unusual animal which is described as an assembly of assorted animals. Although considered a vulnerable animal worldwide, the takin survives well in Bhutan, and more than 1,000 takin have been counted in the Jigme Dorji National Park with many more living in other areas. Takin are sure-footed animals and move very fast on high ridges despite their large size.
The raven is Bhutan’s national bird; it represents the one of the most powerful deities of the country. The Royal Raven Crown or Druk Gyalpo represents Bhutan’s reverence for these birds and faith of the Bhutanese in their protective deity. The raven is much larger than a crow and is about 28inches in length. A raven’s tail looks like a wedge, its upper beak has bristles and there are prominent hackles, long, shiny and pointed feathers that can be found on the raven’s throat. Ravens are commonly found in upland habitats and in alpine and trans-Himalayan regions.
Bhutan is a Biodiversity Hotspot
Bhutan is a biodiversity hotspot, one of the last remaining in the world; forest cover has now increased to over 72% of the country, with 60% of the country under protection.
Bhutan is a biodiversity hotspot for flora and fauna:
The array of flora and fauna available in Bhutan is unparalleled due to conservation and its wide altitudinal and climatic range. Physically, the country can be divided into three zones:
1. Alpine Zone (4000m and above) with no forest cover;
2. Temperate Zone (2000 to 4000m) with conifer or broadleaf forests;
3. Subtropical Zone (150m to 2000m) with Tropical or Subtropical vegetation.
Bhutan is a biodiversity hotspot for forest types:
Forest types in Bhutan are fir forests, mixed conifer forest, blue pine forest, chirpine forest, broadleaf mixed with conifer, upland hardwood forest, lowland hardwood forest, and tropical lowland forests. Almost 60% of the plant species found in the eastern Himalayan region are present in Bhutan.
Bhutan is a biodiversity hotspot for plants:
Bhutan boasts about 300 species of medicinal plants and about 46 species of rhododendrons. Some common sights for the visitors are the magnolias, junipers, orchids of varied hues, gentian, medicinal plants, Daphne, giant rhubarb, the blue and trees such as fir, pine and oaks.
Bhutan is a biodiversity hotspot for endangered animals:
A wide range of rare and endangered animals can be found frequenting the dense jungles and high mountains of Bhutan. Due to the country’s conservation efforts and its unspoiled natural environment Bhutan supports thriving populations of some of the rarest animals on earth and has thus been classified as one of the last biodiversity hotspots in the world.
Bhutan is a biodiversity hotspot for high altitude animals:
Some high altitude species are the snow leopards, Bengal tigers that are found at altitudes ranging from 3000 to 4000 meters, the red panda, the gorals and the langurs, the Himalayan black bear, sambars, wild pigs, barking deer, blue sheep and musk deer.
In the tropical forests of Southern Bhutan one can come across clouded leopards, the one horned rhinoceros, elephants, water buffaloes and swamp deer. You can even find the Golden Langur, a species of monkey that is unique to Bhutan.
Bhutan is a biodiversity hotspot for bird species:
Bhutan also has a great variety of bird species. It is recognized as an area of high biological diversity and is known as the East Himalayan ‘hot spot’, the hub of 221 global endemic bird areas. The recorded number of bird species is over 670 and is expected to rise as new birds are discovered.
In addition, 57% of Bhutan’s globally threatened birds and 90% of the country’s rare birds are dependent on forests. Bhutan has about 415 resident bird species. These birds are altitudinal refugees, moving up and down the mountains depending upon the seasons and weather conditions. Of about 50 species of birds that migrate during the winters are the buntings, waders, ducks, thrushes and the birds of prey. Some 40 species are partial migrants and they include species such as swifts, cuckoos, bee-eaters, fly catchers and warblers.
Bhutan is also home to about 16 bird species that are endangered worldwide. These include the White bellied heron, Pallas Fish eagle and Blyth’s Kingfisher to name a few. Phobjikha valley in Wangdue Phodrang and Bomdeling in Trashi Yangtse are also two especially important locations of the endangered Black Necked Cranes.
Bhutan is a biodiversity hotspot and:
As one of the ten global hotspots, Bhutan is committed to preserve and protect its rich environment through its government and environmental organizations. This commitment is apparent in the fact that the kingdom has the distinct honor of being one of the only nations whose forest cover has actually grown over the years.
Some of the proactive organizations working in Bhutan are:
• National Environmental Commission
• Royal Society for the Protection of Nature clubs throughout the country.
• Department of Forestry Services.
• Nature Conservation Department
• Bhutan Trust Fund.
• Donor Organizations.
• Association of Bhutan Tour Operators.