Bhutan - The Dragon’s Nest

BHUTAN - The Dragon’s Nest

The Buddhist Kingdom of Bhutan lies along the lofty ridges of the eastern Himalayas, bordered by China (Tibet) to the north and northwest, and by the Indian states of Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, West Bengal and Sikkim on the east, south and west respectively. With an area of 46,500 square kms Bhutan is comparable to Switzerland both in its size and topography. It was the mighty Himalayas which protected Bhutan from the rest of the world and left the Kingdom blissfully untouched. The Drukpa Kagyupa school of Mahayana Buddhism provided the essence of a rich culture and a fascinating history. The Bhutanese people protected this sacred heritage and unique identity for centuries by choosing to remain shrouded in a jealously guarded isolation.

The Kingdom is peopled sparsely by a population of 0.6 million. Three main ethnic groups constitute Bhutan's population; the Sharchopas, who are held to be indigenous inhabitants, the Ngalogpas whose descendent is traced to neighboring Tibet and the Lhotshampas, recent immigrants of Nepalese origin. The inhabitants of Bhutan are gracious gentle and very hospitable, they are peace loving and possess lively sense of humor.


The documented history of the Kingdom begins in the 8th century with the legendary flight of Guru Padmasambhava from Tibet in 747 A.D, on the back of a tigress The Guru, also considered as second Buddha, alighted in Taktsang (Tiger's Nest ), in the valley of Paro and began the propagation of Tantric strain of Mahayana Buddhism. In the ensuing centuries, many great masters preached the faith resulting in full bloom of Buddhism by the middle ages. Although sectarian at first, the country was eventually unified under Drukpa Kagyupa sect of Mahayana Buddhism by the saint /administrator, Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, in the early 17th century. The Shabdrung codified a comprehensive system of laws and built a chain Dzongs which guarded each valley during unsettled times and now servings the religious and administrative centre of the region. In the next two centuries, the nation was once again caught up into regional fiefdoms with intermittent civil wars. Towards the end of the 19th century, the Tongsa Penlop, Ugyen Wangchuck, who then controlled the central and eastern region, overcame all his rivals and united the nation once again. He was unanimously crowned as the first King of Bhutan in 1907. The country now has the system of democratic monarchy. Bhutan is the last Mahayana Buddhist Kingdom, and the teaching of this school of Buddhism are living faith among its people. The air of spirituality is pervasive even in urban centers where the spinning of prayer wheels, the murmur of mantras and glow of butter lamps are still important features of everyday life. Bhutan religious sites and institutions are not museums, but the daily home of its people.


One of the most striking physical features of Bhutan is its architecture. The characteristic style and colour of every building and house in the Kingdom is a distinct source of aesthetic pleasure. The Dzongs - themselves, imposing 17th century structures built on a grand scale without the help of any drawing and nail - are outstanding examples of the best in Bhutanese architecture. Patterns of rich colours adorn every wall, beam, pillar, door in traditional splendor.

Arts and Crafts

Like its architecture, its art and painting are important aspects of Bhutanese culture and they depict the spiritual depth of Bhutanese life. Whether it is on a wall, or one of the renowned Thangkhas or murals, painters use vegetables dyes to give their work the subtle beauty and warmth seen nowhere else in the world.

Bhutan also boasts an unparalleled wealth in its cottage industry. Its fine handicrafts of wood and bamboo, ornaments of gold and silver, an highly developed weaving skills represent an advanced art form.

One of the main attractions in the Kingdom is its annual religious festivals also known as TSHECHUS, celebrated to honor Guru Padmasambhava also known as "Guru Rimpoche". For local people, Tshechus are an occasion for reverence and blessing, feasting and socializing. Two of the most popular Tshechus are held at Paro in spring and Thimphu in autumn, but there are various others all the year around at temples, dzongs and monasteries throughout Bhutan. Staged at different places at different time of the year, it provides an opportunity to outsider to experience the extraordinary.

Natural Heritage

Nowhere in the Himalayas the natural heritage is more rich and varied than in Bhutan. In historical records, the Kingdom was called the valley of Medicinal Herbs, a name that still applies to this day. The country's rich flora and fauna is the result of its unique geographic location in the eastern Himalayas, within an area that extends through both Indo-Himalayan ( oriental ) and the Pale-arctic biographic regions ; its annual rainfall, which is significantly higher than in the central and western Himalayas, and its considerable altitudional variation, from 200 meters in the south to over 7,000 meters in the north, which is accompanied by dramatic climatic changes.

Because of deep traditional reverence which the Bhutanese have for nature, the Kingdom is one of the leading countries in environmental preservation. More than 70% of the area is still under forest cover. Many parts of the country which have been declared as Wildlife reserves are the natural habitats of rare species of both flora and fauna. opened for tourism in 1974, after the Royal coronation of the present King, His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck, Bhutan is perhaps the world's most exclusive tourist destination.

The country manages to retain all the charm of the old world. Like timeless images of the past, the travelers encounter the full glory of the ancient land through its strategic monastic fortresses known as dzongs, numerous ancient temple, monasteries and stupas which dot the countryside, prayer flags which flutter along the high ridges, wild animals which abound in dense forests, foamy white waterfalls which are ethereal showers, and the warm smile of the people. Each moment is special as one discovers a country which people have chosen to preserve in its magical purity.


Thimpu is the capital and largest city of Bhutan. It is situated in the western central part of Bhutan. The ancient capital city of Punakha was replaced as capital by Thimpu in 1995, and in 1961 Thimpu was declared as the capital of the Kingdom of Bhutan. Thimpu is the fifth highest capital in the world. Unusually for a capital city, Thimpu does not have its own airport, instead relying on the Paro Airport by road some 52 kilometeres. Thimpu, as political and economic center of Bhutan. Thimpu contains most of the important political buildings in Bhutan, including the National Assembly of the newly-formed parliamentary democracy and Dechencholing palace, the official residence of the king, located to the north of the city.


Paro is a town and seat of Paro District, in the paro valley of Bhutan. It is a historic town with many sacred sites and historical buildings throughout the area. It is also home to Paro Airport, Bhutans sole international Airport, Bhutan’s sole international airport. Accentuating the natural beauty are the elegant, traditional-style houses that dot the valley and surrounding hills. There are over 155 temples and monasteries in the area, some dating as far back as the 14th century. The country’s  first and only international airport is also located in the region. The paro Tshechu is one of the biggest festivals in the country.


Punakha is the administrative centre of Punakha dzongkhag, one of the 20 districts of Bhutan. Punakha was the capital of Bhutan and the seat of government until 1955, when the capital was moved to Thimpu. It is about 72 km away from Thimpu, and it takes about 3 hrs by car from the capital, Thimpu. Unlike Thimpu, it is quite warm in winter and hot in summer. Punakha was built at the confluence of two major rivers in Bhutan, the pho chhu and mo chhu, which converge in this valley. It is an especially beautiful sight on sunny days with sunlight reflecting off the water into its white-washed walls.


Phuentsholing is a border town in southern Bhutan and is the administrative seat of Chukha district. Phuentsholing adjoins the Indian town of Jaigaon, and cross-border trade has resulted in a thriving local economy. The town had the headquarters of the bank of Bhutan previously but shifted to Thimpu. Phuentsholing cannot be called as a major tourist destinations of Bhutan. However, it remains thickly populated with tourists for a simple reason. It offers averry easy route of entry and exit by road from Bhutan. Once you reach Phuentsholing there would be formalities of arranging pwemits, so some times it makes sense to stop over in Phuentsholing for a day at the beginning of your trip.

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