There are still plenty of takers wanting to explore the breathtaking mountains and valleys of this astonishing country. The tourism industry in Bhutan is founded on the principle of sustainability, meaning it must be environmentally friendly, socially and culturally acceptable and economically viable. The number of tourists is also kept to a manageable level by the limited infrastructure.
The Bhutanese name for Bhutan, Druk Yul, means ’Land of the Thunder Dragon’. Much of Bhutanese history is lost in legends but the first major event was the arrival of Guru Rinpoche, believed to have brought Mahayana Buddhism from Tibet in the eighth century. Bhutan, the world’s last Mahayana Buddhist kingdom, became a coherent political entity around the 17th century and has never been conquered or ruled by another foreign power.
Bhutan is a peaceful country with strong traditional values based on religion, respect for the royal family and care for the environment.
Bhutan is located in the eastern Himalayas, bordered to the north by China and to the south, east and west by India. The altitude varies from 180m (590ft) in the narrow lowland region to over 7,300m (23,950ft) in the Himalayan plateau in the north, and there are three distinct climatic regions. The foothills are tropical and home to deer, tigers, leopards and the rare golden langur monkey as well as much tropical vegetation, including many species of wild orchids. The Inner Himalaya region is temperate; wildlife includes bear, boar and sambar, and the area is rich in deciduous forests. The High Himalaya region is very thinly populated, but the steep mountain slopes are the home of many species of animals, including snow leopards and blue sheep.
Bhutan Food & Dining
There is a fair choice of restaurants in Paro and Thimphu but most tourists eat in their hotels where hygiene is good and chefs temper the spicy Bhutanese dishes to suit Western tastes. Rice is the staple (sometimes flavored with saffron or of the red variety) apart from in central Bhutan where the altitude makes rice cultivation difficult. Buckwheat is more common here. The country is replete with apple orchards, rice paddies and asparagus, which grows freely in the countryside and there are over 400 varieties of mushroom including orchid mushrooms.
Bhutan: The Namgay family of Shingkhey Village
Things to know: Meals are often buffet-style and mostly vegetarian. Meat and fish are now imported from nearby India, and Nepali Hindus living in Bhutan are licensed to slaughter animals. Usual precautions apply.
• Datse (cow’s milk cheese), sometimes served in a dish with red chillies (ema datse).
• Tshoem (curry), usually served with rice.
• Eue chum (pink rice), a nutty-flavored variety unique to Bhutan.
• The most popular drink is tea, sweet or Tibetan style with salt and butter. • Ara is a spirit distilled from rice.
• Chang (a kind of beer, cereal-based and generally home-brewed).
Legal drinking age: 18.