The Land of the thunder dragon
Bhutan, best known to the world as the last Shangril-la has a rare combination of harmony and accord amidst a landscape of incredible beauty.
Protected by mighty Himalayas from the rest of the world and enriched by the essence of Drukpa Kagyu School of Buddhism, Bhutan has managed to remain shrouded deeply in a jealously guarded isolation. A basic understanding of Bhutan’s Buddhism is essential to understanding the Bhutanese.
Her rich Himalayan flora and fauna, dazzling white peaks and lush valleys provide Bhutan’s stunning beauty and aesthetic grandeur.
Bhutan has gently opened its doors to the visitors who respect the delicate sensitivities of this pristine land and shares the sacred values of its people.
Bhutanese architectures in Dzongs, buildings and houses are very striking.
Bhutan is not an ordinary place and has many surprises; a visit to the country is a splendid adventure.
Fast Facts about Bhutan
Area: 38, 392 sq km
Population: 634, 982 (2005 Census)
Capital City: Thimphu
Time Zone: GMT/UTC +6
Language: The national language is Dzongkha.
Country dialing code: 975
Bhutan is comprised of a mosaic of different peoples who continue to live in valleys isolated from one another and the outside world by formidable mountain passes. Differing ethnic groups are also distributed according to the varying environments. It is possible to divide Bhutan’s population into three broad ethnic groups, though the distinctions blur in places.
Southern Bhutan is inhabited mainly by Nepalese farmers who arrived in the country at the end of the 19th century. They brought the Hindu religion with them as well as the Nepalese language, which is still spoken today over much of Southern Bhutan. There is not the same mingling of Buddhism and Hinduism as is apparent in Nepal, and the two tend to keep apart.
The central Himalayan region is the home of the Drukpa people, who are of Mongoloid origin. Most breed cattle or cultivate the land, and their dwellings are spread over a wide area.
The Northern Himalayan Zone, over 3,000 meters (9,000 feet), is the haunt of semi nomadic yak herdsmen. They spend most of the year in their black yak hair tents, but also possess dry-stone walled houses, where they spend the coldest months of the year and which are used to store their goods. Additives to a diet composed mainly of yak milk, cheese, butter and meat are barley and winter wheat, plus a few root vegetables grown in small fields.
Believed to be the earliest inhabitants of Bhutan, the Sharchops are of Indo-Mongolian type, though their exact origin is unknown ( Tibet being the most likely source). At present, they live mainly in the east of Bhutan.
Bhutan’s national flag is a white dragon on a diagonally divided background of golden yellow and reddish orange. The yellow represents the secular power of the King, the orange the Buddhist religion. The white of the dragon is associated with purity, and the jewels held in the claws stand for the wealth and perfection of the country. The national emblem is composed of a double diamond thunderbolt placed above a lotus, surmounted by a jewel and framed by two dragons, all contained within a circle. The thunderbolt represents the harmony between secular and religious power resulting from the Vajrayana form of Tibetan Buddhism, the lotus symbolizes purity, the jewel expresses sovereign power and the two dragons, male and female, stand for the name of the country, Drukyul, the land of the thunder dragon.
Bhutan is the only country to maintain Mahayana Buddhism in its Tantric Vajrayana form as the official religion. The main practicing schools are the state sponsored Drukpa Kagyupa and the Nyingmapa. Buddhism transects all strata of society, underpinning multiple aspects of the culture. Indeed, religion is the focal point for the arts, festivals and a considerably above average number of individuals. The presence of so many monasteries, temples and stupas, monks and tulkus (reincarnations of high lamas) is indicative of the overarching role religion plays throughout the nation.
Bhutan’s climate varies significantly with altitude and between specific locations. There are three broad climatic zones: subtropical in the south, temperate in the broad central regions and alpine in the north. Rain is concentrated in the monsoon season from June to September. Bhutan has four distinct seasons. Each has its advantages and disadvantages for the visitor. Notice should be taken of the unpredictable weather patterns before making decisions when to visit. Remember even predictable weather can vary dramatically in different areas and in 24-hours periods.
Spring is arguably the most beautiful time of the year in the kingdom. The fierce cold that is characteristic of the winter months tends to subside towards the end of February (around Bhutanese New Year, Losar). Rhododendrons begin to bloom, first in the warmer east .At the height of spring, the end of March; the whole kingdom comes to life with spectacular flaming red, pink and white of the rhododendron blossom.
The monsoon brings rain from the Bay of Bengal in the month of June, mostly affecting the south and centrals regions. The north is inhabited in the summer months when the nomads return to the higher plains to tend to there Yaks.
End of the monsoon, is also a popular time to visit, marking the ending of summer. Days are filled with glorious cobalt skies.
The autumn months of September to November bring shorter days and cooler evenings. The days remain lovely with crisp clear skies. Views over the high Himalayas are usually only possible from September to March.
Come the end of November and the weather takes on its winter coat. Days remain crisp and nights turn cold. The southern regions, being much lower have a more temperate climate and considerably warmer winters.
Clear skies in the winter months bring with them cold weather but it’s also the best time of the year to view the snow covered peaks of the high Himalayas.
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