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All About Kingdom of Bhutan.

Location: Located in the eastern Himalayas, Bhutan is bordered by China in the north & Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh, Sikkim, Assam & West Bengal in the east, west & south.

Area: 38,394 sq. Km.

Altitude: Varying from 180 m. to 7550 m. above sea level.

Population: Approx. 7 hundred thousand.

Capital: Thimphu.

Local time: Six hours ahead of GMT & ½ hour ahead of IST.

Religion: Mahayana Buddhism & Hinduism.

The Bhutanese way of life is greatly influenced by religion. Most Bhutanese homes have a special room
used for prayers which is known as “Chosum”.

National Emblem: The National emblem, contained in a circle, is composed of a double diamond thunderbolt placed above a lotus, surmounted by a jewel & framed by two dragons. The double diamond thunderbolt represents the harmony between secular & religious power; which results from the Buddhist religion in its Vajrayana form. The lotus simbolises purity; the jewel- sovereign power; & the two dragons – a male & female stand for the name of the country – the thunder dragon ( Druk Yul).

National Flag: The national flag is rectangular & divided into two parts with a white dragon in the middle. The upper yellow half signifies the country’s secular authority of the King & the lower saffron-orange half signifies the religious practice & spiritual power of Buddhism.

National Symbols:

National Tree: Cyprus (Cupresses Corneyana).    National Flower: Blue Poppy (Mecanopsis Grandis).

National Animal: Takin (Budorcas Taxicolor).      National Bird: Raven (Corvus Corax Tibetanus)

People: Bhutanese are friendly & hospitable people. The large majority of Bhutanese people are a homogeneous group divided linguistically into three broad sub-groups. These are Sharchops, Ngalong & Lhotshampa.

National Day: National day is celebrated on 17th of December in commemoration of the accession of Gogsar Ughen Wangchuk, the first king of Bhutan to the throne in 1907, in Punakha Dzong.

Currency: Ngultrum, the currency of Bhutan, has the same value as Indian rupee, which is also a legal tender. One US$ is roughly equal to 46 NU.

Food: Staple diet is red rice, buck-wheat, wheat, maize, pork, beef, chicken, yak meat, cheese & chilies which are taken as vegetable – not as spice.

Arts & Crafts: Bhutan is known for handicraft items in bronze, silver & other metals. Sculpting of religious figures is widely practiced & every temple, houses are large brightly painted & gilded statues of the Buddha & other saints.

Dress: Bhutanese men wear “Gho”, which are longish robes tied around the waist by a cloth belt known as “Kera”. The women’s ankle-length dress is known as “Kira”, which is made of bright colored fine woven fabric with traditional patterns.

Sports: The national sport of Bhutan is archery. Other traditional sports include Digor-a kind of shot put, darts, & wrestling. Other international sports, such as soccer, basketball, volleyball, tennis & table tennis are becoming popular.

Architecture: The castle-like Dzongs, with their gently tapering walls classic lines, large courtyards & beautiful galleries, are among the finest examples of Bhutanese architecture.

Living Culture:

Tsechus (Festival): In almost every Dzongs (fortresses that house both the monastic & the Govt. administrative wings) there is an annual traditional festival (tsechus) that normally spans 3-4 days. Colorful & well choreographed mask dances are performed during the tsechus. Due to the nature of the lunar calendar, exact dates for tsechus vary from year to year.

Trekking in Bhutan: Trekking involves walking though routes that pass by some of the highest mountains in the world. These mountains are permanently covered in snow & remain unclaimed. Mountaineering is forbidden in Bhutan because of the belief that mountains are representation of holy deities. The most appropriate trekking times are mid-March to mid-June & September to end of November. There are, however also trekking routes that are better suited to summer & winter. The Snowman Trek is said to be the hardest trek in the world (24days) with 12 passes between 4500 & 5300 meters.

Paro: (Altitude 7000 feet) The beautiful valley is home to many of Bhutan’s oldest monasteries & temples. The countries only airport is in Paro. The valley is also home to Mount Chomolhari (7300 meters.) situated at the northern end of the valley whose glacier water forms the Pachu flowing through the valley.

Drugyel Dzong: (The Ruined fortress) On a clear day one can see Mount Chomolhari from the village below the Dzong.

Rinpung Dzong: This “fortress of the heap of jewels” is the venue for the annual Paro tsechu held every spring.

Ta Dzong: Build as a watch tower the Ta Dzong has since been turned into the national museum.

Taktsang Monastery: The Taktsang “Tiger’s lair” is perched on the side of a cliff at the highest of 900 m above the Paro valley. The hike up to the monastery takes about 3-4 hours. There is a look out point & a cafeteria about three hours walk from the road.

Kyichu Lhakhang: This monastery dates back to the 7th century & is one of the oldest & sacred.

Thimphu :( Altitude 7000 feet) Thimphu is a bustling town on the bank of Thimphu Chu & set gloriously in the hills of the Thimphu valley. It’s the home to the Bhutanese Royal family, the Royal Government, & to several foreign missions & development projects. Bhutan’s only golf course, a nine hole circuit, is situated next to the magnificent Tashichhodzong.

Tashichhodzong: The ‘Fortress of the glorious religion’ houses the throne room of His Majesty the King, the main secretariat building & the central monk body. It’s courtyard is open to visitors during the Thimphu Tshechu & when the monk body moves to it’s winter residence in Punakha.

Memorial Chorten: This stupa was built in 1974 by the mother of the Third King, His Majesty Jigme Dorji Wangchuk in memory of her son.

The Institute of Zorig Chusum: The traditional arts & craft institute.

National Library: Bhutan’s national Library is located close to the Institute of Zorig Chusum & contains Bhutan’s history in the form of religious & historical literature.

The Folk Heritage Museum: Founded by Her Majesty the Queen Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuk the museum is one of it’s kind that portrays the life style of a genteel family in the Thimphu valley in the olden days.

The Institute of Traditional Medicine: A hospital of Indigenous medicine.

Weekend Market: Every Saturday & Sunday most of the Thimphu population congregate on the banks of the river, where the weekend market is held. Here villagers from the valley & other nearby places come to sell their agricultural products.

For the spiritually inclined & those prefer short treks- there are various monasteries & temples in & around Thimphu.

Punakha: (Altitude 4420 feet) Punakha served as the capital of Bhutan until 1955. It’s the winter seat of the Je Khempo (Chief Abbot) & the monk body. It has a temperate climate & its rich fertile valley is fed by the Pho Chu & Mo Chu rivers.

Druk Wangyel Chortens at Dochula: On the way to Punakha to from Thimphu is the Doclula pass from where a panoramic view of the Himalayan mountain range can be seen, especially on clear winter days. The beauty of this place is further enhanced by the Druk Wangyel Chortens – a 108 stupas built by the eldest Queen, Her Majesty Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuk.

Punakha Dzong: The Punakha Dzong was build by the Zhabdrung in 1637. It stands majestically at the junction on two rivers- Pho Chu & Mo Chu. The Dzong is open for visitors during the Punakha Tsechu & during the summer months when the monk body moves to Thimphu.

Khamsum Yulley Namgyel Chorten: Build by the third Queen, Ashi Tshering Yangdon Wangchuk this Chorten is a splendid example of the fine Bhutanese architecture, art & is the only one of its kind in the world. It has been built over eight & a half years & its details have been drawn from religious scriptures.

Wangdiphodrang :( Altitude 4430 feet) This town is located south of Punakha & is the last town before central Bhutan. The district is famous for it’s fine bamboo work, slate work & stone curving.

Gangtey Goenpa / Phobjikha :( Altitude 9840 feet) The valley of Phobjikha is well known as the winter home of the black necked cranes. Bhutan is home to around sin hundred black necked cranes with Phobjikha being one of the popular places that the birds migrate to in the winter months from the Tibetan plateau. These elegant & shy birds can be observed from early November to beginning of March. Overlooking the Phobjikha valley is the Gangtey Goenpa. This is an old monastery that dates back to the 17th century.

Trongsa :( Altitude 7600 feet) Trongsa forms the central hub of the kingdom & is historically the place from where attempts at unifying the country were launched.

Trongsa Dzong: Built in 1648, Trongsa Dzong is the ancestral home of the Royal family. Both first & the second king ruled the country from this ancient seat. All kings hold the post of Trongsa Penlop prior to being crowned as King.

Ta Dzong: Perched above the Trongsa Dzong this is a watch tower which once stood guard over the Trongsa Dzong from the internal rebellion. It’s now being turned into a heritage museum.

Bumthang :( Altitude 8,530 – 13,125 feet) This fascinating valley is the religious heartland of the nation & home to some of the oldest Buddhist temples & monasteries. Its gentle sloping hills offer plenty of walking opportunities to the many temples that dot this valley. The valley is also famous for its production of honey, cheese, apple & yatha- a woolen material that has multiple uses.

Jambey Lhakhang: it’s one of the 108 monasteries built by King Songtsen Goenpo in the 8th century to subdue evil sprits in the Himalayan region.

Kurje Lhakhang: Kurje Lhakhang is located just a few meters beyond Jambey Lhakhang. It is dedicated to the saint Guru Padmasambhava who was supposed to have meditated there in 8th century.

Tamshing Lhakhang: This monastery lies on the other side of the river opposite the Kurje Lhakhang. It was built in 1501 by Terton Pema Lingpa, a re-incarnation of Guru Padmasambhava & whose linage the Royal family trace their ancestors too.

Jakar Dzong: The Dzong was initially built as a monastery in 1549by the great grand father of the Zhabdrung. It is now used as the administrative center for the Bumthang district. The Bumthang Tsechu is one of the most popular. It’s held mostly at night & is said to bring fertility to any woman wanting a child.

Mebar Tsho (Lake of Burning Fire): This is a sacred lake of the Bhutanese who believe that Pema Lingpa discovered religious treasures from this lake in the 12th century. On auspicious days many Bhutanese go offer butter lamps on this fresh water lake.

Ura Village: Ura lies in the Tang valley, a one & a half hours drive from Bumthang town. The drive is mainly through sheep pastures & along the way one can glimpse magnificent view of the Mount Gangkar Puensum from Ura la. The main characteristics of this village is the closely cluster houses. It is the last settlement before the climb to the highest road pass at Trumsingla.

Mongar :( Altitude 5575 feet) The Journey from Bumthang to Mongar is one of the most beautiful in the Himalayas crossing 3800 meters high Trumsing-la pass. Mongar marks the beginning of eastern Bhutan. The second largest town in the sub tropical east, Mongar, like Trashigang further east, is situated on the side of a hill in contrast to the other towns of western Bhutan which are built on the valley floor.

Trashigang :( Altitude 3775 feet) This is the largest district of Bhutan & it lies in the far east on the banks of river Gamri Chu. It was once the center of a busy trade with Tibet. Today it’s the junction of east-west highway with road connecting to Samdrupjonkhar & then to the Indian state of Assam. The nomadic people of Merak & Sakten who are remarkable for their exceptional features & costumes use this town as their market place mostly during winter.

Trashigang Dzong :( Altitude3775 feet) It was built in 1659 & now serves as the administrative seat for the district as well as the home of monk body. The Dzong commands a remarkable view of the surrounding countryside.

Gom Kora : It is said that the Guru meditated in this place to subdue a demon that dwelt in a big rock. A temple was then built.

Trashiyangtse :( Altitude 6000 feet) Trashiyangtse is also home for black necked cranes especially in Bomdeling. This is the eastern most Part of Bhutan & borders the state of Arunachal Pradesh in India.

Chorten Cora : It is similar to the stupa of Boudhanath in Nepal & was built in 1740 by Lama Ngawang Lodey. During the second month of lunar calendar an interesting celebration known as ‘Kora’ takes place here when people from neighbouring Arunachal Pradesh also join in the festivities.

Samdrupjongkhar :( The road from Trashigang to Samdrupjongkhar was completed in 1960s & it enables the eastern past of the country to access & benefit from trade with the south as well as across the Indian border. There is little for travelers to see in this area but it is used as more of a convenient exit town.

Travel tips:

Visa: With the exception of Indian travelers, all visitors to Bhutan need a visa. Visas are issued only when a confirmed booking through a Bhutanese or Tour Operator is made upon full Govt. fixed tariff paid in well in advance.

Entry: Bhutan can be entered either by Air or Land. The National Airline Druk Air flies from Bangkok, Delhi, Kolkata, Dhaka & Katmandu. Entry by road is from India through the state of west Bengal that shares a border with Bhutan’s border town Phuentsholing in the south-west.

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