Imagine being in a country and surrounded by people who are more concerned about how happy you are than how financially stable you are. Imagine a place straight out of the coffee-table books with mighty landscapes of the Himalayas towering over the lush green stretch of lands through forests to unfold into a haven of snow. Imagine a tiny world where tourism is self-sustained and compassion is more like an official language people speak. Lastly, how about a place so culturally beautiful and protective yet open to the modern day globalization era, where you can see Buddhist monks checking out their smartphones after their prayer sessions. Well, this is Bhutan for you.
One of the most beautiful Himalayan kingdom that will leave you mesmerized for years to come. With countless monasteries, primeval forests, indigenous flora and fauna, high-altitude trekking trails, surreal architecture, peace-loving people, composed environment, rice wine, and a sense of happiness that perpetually fills the air, Bhutan is not just another tourist destination, it is the paradise you have been seeking all through your life. If visiting Bhutan has been on your bucket list for long, thetime has come to forget everything and set out on a life-changing journey into the mystical Shangri-La of sorts of a destination – Bhutan, where compassion meets contentment.
Currency: Ngultrum and Indian Rupee
Time Zone: BTT – UTC+6:00
Area: 38,394 square kilometer
Official Language: Dzongkha
Capital’s Calling Code: +975
Bhutan is one of the blessed countries in the world to be surrounded by places that are synonymous with tranquility. Located on the foothills of the Himalayas or the Eastern slope’s southern slopes, the destination is nestled between the Indian states of Sikkim, Assam and West Bengal in the south and west and the Tibet Autonomous Region in its north. The country is marked by great Himalayan Mountains and peaks, where the terrain is often quite treacherous with high and steep slopes. The mountains are beautifully intervened by pristine rivers that give life to the mountains, forming gorges and valleys before they finally drain into the plains of India.
Elevation in Bhutan ranges from an average of 200 meters above sea level to over 7,000 meters above sea level. The northern regions of Bhutan are home to an arc of alpine shrubs and mystical meadows that go on to reach the glacial peaks of the Himalayas. Thanks to the elevation in the north, the climate is extremely cold. Most of the peaks in this region are over 7,000 meters high. The lowest point of the region is a valley and is approximately 98 meters above sea level. Called the DrangmeChhu Valley, it is the place where a river crosses frontiers with India. Rivers, forests, valleys and high altitude peaks mark the overall geography of Bhutan.
Bhutan has a rich history. One of the earliest settlers of Bhutan goes back to a timeline as early as 2000BC, where evidence of weapons, elephants, artifacts, stone tools and the remains of stone structures suggest their settlement. According to theories by historians, the aborigines of Bhutan called the Monpa could have existed in an era between 500BC to AD 600. It was in the 7th century that Buddhism first spread to Bhutan, when a converted King SongtsanGampo, extended the empire of Tibet into Sikkim and Bhutan and converted two major Buddhist monasteries in the Paro Valley and another in Central Bhutan.
The political evolution in Bhutan had an immense influence on religion and its history during the 10th century. It was at that time that several sub-sects emerged in Buddhism and were majorly patronized by Mongol warlords. In the 14th century, when the empire of Yuan dynasty fell, these sub-sects fought with each other for supremacy, resulting in the arrival of the Drukpa Lineage. With that said, much information about Bhutan’s history remains unclear because of a tragic fire incident that rampaged the country’s ancient capital Punakha. The era of the 1870s was marked by several civil wars and in Bhutan as part of the power struggles between communities.
It was in the year 1910 that the country signed a subsidiary alliance under the British – the Treat of Punakha, where Bhutan would be treated as a princely state of India with the British having a major control over the country’s foreign affairs. In 1953, a national assembly consisting of 130 members was established by King JigmeDorchiWangchuk to bring about democracy in the country. A cabinet was formed in the year 1968,and the country entered the United Nations in 1971.
There are a number of interesting facts about the population of Bhutan. As of 2017, the country has a population of about 811, 932. When compared to the world population, Bhutan makes for just 0.01% of its entire volume. In the world list of countries that are ranked by population, Bhutan numbers to 164 andhas a population density of 21 per square kilometer. 39.5% of the Bhutanese population is urban and the country’s median age numbers to 26.7 years.
Buddhism is the religion predominant in Bhutan and has a majority of the population following the faith. Close to 75% of the people in Bhutan are Buddhists and mainly follow the Vajrayana school of Buddhism. It is followed by Hinduism, which has close to 22% of followers and 2% of people from indigenous faiths and 1% from diverse religions.
Dzongkha or commonly known as Bhutanese is the national language of Bhutan. It forms one of the 53 official languages of the language family of Tibet, where its script is referred to as Chhokey. It has a high resemblance to classical Tibet. Schools and colleges teach in English and Dzongkha isgenerally taught to students as a national language. There are close to 24 languages currently spoken in Bhutan, all of which are part of the Tibeto-Burman,language family. Thanks to the increase in Bhutan tourism, English is also widely spoken followed by Hindi. People can understand and can have commendable conversations in both the language for the ease of travelers.
Ngultrum is the official currency of Bhutan and is minted and issued by the Royal Monetary Authority of Bhutan. One ngultrum is further classified into 100 chhertum just like how Re. 1 is subdivided into 100 paise. There are two types of currencies available in the country – coins and notes. The denominations available for coins include Ch.20, 25, 50 and Nu.1, with Ch.5 and 10 being rarely used coins. As far as notes are concerned, the common denominations include Nu.1, 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 500 and 1000. Indian Rupee is also used in Bhutan alongside Ngultrum.
Cost and Money
The cost of living in Bhutan is very similar to that of India, where you can get water bottles at Rs. 20, which is the same here. Meals at inexpensive restaurants cost approximately Rs. 300 for two and local transport can charge Rs. 20 approximately for a one-way ride. Accommodation in Bhutan ranges from mid-range guest houses to luxurious retreats, where prices can go from a minimal of Rs. 1,200 to a maximum of Rs. 25,000 approximately for a night.
Most restaurants offer free breakfast as part of the meal plan. ATMs are aplenty in Bhutan and are primarily located in the towns and their surroundings. MasterCard and VISA cards can be used to make transactions throughout the country. As far as Indian currency is concerned, the denomination of Rs. 1000 is not accepted in Bhutan.
My friends and I had planned to visit Bhutan from Mumbai. A package offered by Thomas Cook was too good to deny. We took a flight from Mumbai and reached Bagdogra, from here, we had a connecting flight to Paro. The bookings done at beautiful homestays and hotel all across Bhutan is the best part of the trip. Couldn’t thanks them enough.
Thomas Cook hosted a bike trip to Bhutan for 12 of us. This was an unconventional request and we were not sure if they could handle it. But we are glad that we stayed on our decision and trusted in them. Their team inside Bhutan is really strong and well connected. They made sure that our travel experience is adventurous yet comfortable.