Introduction and History

Bhutan, འབྲུག་ཡུལ་།, is a small kingdom situated east of Nepal between the countries of India and China. Its name means “Land of the Thunder Dragon.” It is a constitutional monarchy and ascribes to Vajrayana Buddhism as the state religion. It is a subalpine, mountainous region in the north with some peaks in the Bhutanese Himalayas rising more than 23,000ft (7000m) in elevation. Gangkhar Puensum is Bhutan’s highest peak (24,836ft/7,570m) and is the highest unclimbed peak in the world. The southern part of the country is subtropical. 


The history of Bhutan is complex and somewhat unknown. Most records were destroyed in a fire that raged through the ancient capital of Punakha 1827. Tibetan Buddhism spread to Bhutan under the reign of Songtsen Gampo in the 600s. Songsten Gampo is the most famous of all the Tibetan kings and led the broadest, most unified Tibetan kingdom in all the region’s history. Bhutan was incorporated into the Tibetan kingdom during his reign. But it is Ngawang Namgyal, a Tibetan lama and military leader who fled to Bhutan in the 17th Century, who is most notable for what Bhutan has become today, an independent kingdom that still holds to its Tibetan Buddhist heritage and customs. 


Key Cultural Sites and Observances in Bhutan

Ngawang Namgyal established many fortresses throughout the kingdom to protect the nation from neighboring countries. These fortress palaces, known as a dzong in Bhutanese, are the dominant cultural and political sites throughout the country. In fact, the national language is referred to as DzongKha, or the language of the palace


There are several main observances or holidays throughout the year. Losar, or new year, is the biggest. Cham dances are notable performances during the Losar celebrations. Additionally, there are celebrations to mark the official end of monsoon season, the King’s birthday and coronation, significant religious dates, and National Day. 


Adventure Opportunities in Bhutan

Bhutan is an adventure to most because of its exclusive nature. Few people make the journey to Bhutan and the country restricts the number of tourists to preserve the national culture and environment. With the announced reopening of Bhutan in 2022, the government is applying a significant fee to each tourist entering the country to offset the carbon generated by their travel within Bhutan. Climbing and trekking is forbidden or limited in most places throughout the country, although trekking along some ancient routes is being reintroduced in the fall of 2022. 


Best Time of Year to Visit Bhutan

Bhutan is a year round destination. Each season has unique characteristics. Spring and Summer are a delight for those wishing to enjoy the flora and fauna of the region. Fall is harvest season and the country glows with golden hues. Winter offers the clearest views of the Himalayas.


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