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National Memorial Chorten, Thimpu, Bhutan

Facts about Bhutan

Bhutan still remains an enigmatic country that centers around peace and happiness. There are so many intriguing and interesting facts about Bhutan, mainly because it was virtually isolated from the rest of the world. This isolation helped it preserve its culture and Buddhist traditions, and its untouched landscapes. This has also made it a fascinating country to study.

Bhutan is regarded as one of the most isolated nations in the world mainly because the government has regulated foreign influences to a great extent so as to preserve the nation’s identity, eco-system, and culture.

This non-coastal interior country is situated in the eastern end of the Himalaya Mountain. While India is located on its east, west, and southern sides, it is bordered by China in the north.

In 1865, Bhutan signed the Treaty of Sinchulu with Britain. The agreement was that Bhutan was to receive some sort of an annual grant or funding in exchange for relinquishing some land to British India. Under the British influence, a monarchy was set up in 1907. In 1910, another treaty was signed wherein the British come to an understanding to not to interfere in the internal affairs of Bhutan. However, Bhutan allowed Britain to manage its foreign affairs. This role was taken on by independent India after 1947. It held its first democratic elections in 2008.

The United Nations as a country recognized Bhutan in 1971. Bhutan is a democracy and constitutional monarchy. Thimpu is the capital of Bhutan. The population of Bhutan is about 777,000 as of December 2015. Although, Dzongka is considered as the official language, there are about twenty-four odd languages spoken in this tiny nation.

Three years after its independence, in 1974, the first batch of international tourists was allowed into Bhutan by invitation. Although, today it is fully open for tourism, the high mandatory cost of $240.00 a day per head, makes it expensive as well as a giant pain for backpackers to visit. This should also be arranged through a government-approved travel agency. However, once you land in Bhutan, everything from transportation, food, lodging, and tour guide is taken care of by the agency.

Bhutanese call their nation as Druk Yul, which means or signifies as the Land of the Thunder Dragon. This is because of the fierce storms, landslides, and avalanches that roll in from the Himalayas. However, it is believed that Bhutan originated from the Sanskrit word Bhu-attan, that translates as highlands.

Buddhism is the official religion with Hinduism the second popular religion. The temples and the Dzong’s are supported and maintained by the government. There are even schools that teach students on how to work on the carving and paintings of these holy places.

Seventy two percent of this tiny country is covered in forest. Bhutan promotes environmental conservation to such an extent that, it was the first country in the world that has issued explicit statutory obligations on its people to safeguard its environment. One of the primary requirements of this obligation is that at least 60 percent of the country must remain as forests. Bhutan is the only country in the world that soaks up more carbon dioxide than it gives out. Bhutan sells hydro-electrical power to such an extent that it is the only country whose largest export revenue is through renewable energy.

Cotton bags are used instead of plastic bags, which have been banned since 1999. The major industries are agriculture, fruits, rice, and the dairy industry (primarily yaks).

One-third of Bhutan’s population is under the age of 14 and its median age is 22.3 years. However, the average life expectancy in Bhutan is only 66. Interestingly, 54.3% of adults and 76.2% of youngsters in Bhutan are literate. Another funny decree is that all citizens have the same birthday and that is New Year’s Day or 1 January. Hence, it is unlikely that a person forgets a birthday!

Bhutan has another amazing economic measure known as the Gross National Happiness. This features as the official development policy instead of the Gross National Product or GNP. The mainstay of the GNH is based on four ideologies, i.e., good governance, cultural preservation, environmental protection, and of course sustainable development.

Gangkhar Puensum is the highest mountain in Bhutan and is said to be 24,850 feet. It is very revered and hence no one has tried climbing its peak. The view of the mountains as you drive across the high mountain passes are breath taking, and is the climax of any journey through Bhutan.

Archery and darts are the national sports of Bhutan, although it is difficult to perceive how darts qualifies as a sport.

The capital city of Thimphu is the only city in the world where they use men in white gloves instead of traffic lights. When the city did try to install some traffic lights, there was an enormous public protest, and as a result, they were promptly removed.

Both education and healthcare are free to residents as well as visitors to Bhutan. This is highly impressive, given the existing poverty level.

Bhutan is the first country to have outlawed tobacco in 2004. However due to moderation in the laws, there is regular smuggling across the borders. Although people do not smoke on public places or streets, alcohol and drugs still are a big problem to the government. In fact, the government promotes a program to educate and discourage residents from misusing the smuggled narcotics.

Until the 1960’s Bhutan had no electricity, telephone, or postal system. It also did not have any asphalt roads or automobiles. In fact, it was only after 1999, that television and the internet were permitted in to the country. The internet apparently was more of a gift from the king, HE Jigme Singye during his silver jubilee celebrations in the year 2000. However, today it is not strange to see smart phones and laptops with youngsters, particularly in the capital city of Thimphu.

Try to visit Bhutan before all this changes. Before the developed world creeps in and changes all this, despite the government’s best intentions.

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