Bhutan, officially the Kingdom of Bhutan, is a Buddhist kingdom situated on the Himalayas’ eastern edge. Bhutan is a popular tourist destination, known for its monasteries, fortresses, called “dzongs”, and it’s dramatic landscapes. The geography of Bhutan ranges from subtropical plains to steep mountains and valleys. In the High Himalayas, peaks such as the 7,326m Jomolhari, are popular trekking destinations. The highest mountain in Bhutan is the Gangkhar Puensum, which is also a strong candidate for the highest, yet to be climbed mountain in the world. There is also diverse wildlife in Bhutan. A popular tourist attraction is Paro Taktsang monastery, also known as Tiger’s Nest, which clings to cliffs above the forested Paro Valley.
Bhutan is a landlocked country. It’s bordered by Tibet Autonomous Region of China in the north, India in the south, the Sikkim state of India and the Chumbi Valley of Tibet in the west, and Arunachal Pradesh state of India in the east, and Assam in the south. Bhutan is geopolitically in South Asia and is the region’s second least populous nation after the Maldives. Thimphu is its capital citt and largest urban center, while Phuntsholing is Bhutan’s financial center.
Bhutan has been independent for centuries, and was never colonized in its history. Situated on the ancient Silk Road between Tibet, the Indian subcontinent, and Southeast Asia, the Bhutanese state developed a distinct national identity based on Buddhism. Headed by a spiritual leader known as the Zhabdrung Rinpoche, the territory was composed of many fiefdoms and governed as a Buddhist theocracy. Following a civil war in the 19th century, the House of Wangchuck reunited the country and established relations with the British Empire. Bhutan fostered a strategic partnership with India during the rise of Chinese communism, in part because the tiny nation has a disputed border with the People’s Republic of China.
In 2008, Bhutan transitioned from an absolute monarchy to a constitutional monarchy. Bhutan now has a two party system with citizens electing representatives to the National Assembly of Bhutan.
Tourism in Bhutan began in 1974, when the Government of Bhutan opened up its isolated country to foreign travelers. Despite being open to foreigners, the government is acutely aware of the environmental impact tourists can have on Bhutan’s unique and unspoiled landscape and culture. Therefore the level of tourist activity was restricted from the start. The country preferred higher quality of tourism, which until 1991 the Bhutan Tourism Corporation (BTC) implemented the government’s tourism policy. The Bhutanese government privatized the corporation in October 1991, facilitating private sector investment and tourism activity. With the BTC now privatized, the government agency overseeing tourism policy and regulations is the Tourism Council of Bhutan.
Today over 75 licensed tourist companies operate in the country. All tourists, group or individual, must travel on a planned, prepaid, guided package tour or custom designed travel program. Most foreigners cannot travel independently in the kingdom. The arrangements must be made through an officially approved tour operator, either directly or through an overseas agent.
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