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Bhutan

Taktsang Monastery

Bhutan is the small Himalayan kingdom of south-central Asia, located on the eastern ridges of the Himalayas having northern and western boundary with Tibet and all other sites borders with the Indian states. The historic isolation of Bhutan is rapidly disappearing, and forces of change are accelerating. King Jigme Dorji Wangchuk (reigned 1952–72) made drastic alterations in the system of government that led to the establishment of a constitutional monarchy. Progress has also been made in the development of transportation since 1960, when the trip from the Indian border to the Bhutanese capital, Thimphu, took six days by mule. Now the journey can be made in six hours by car along the 120-mile winding mountain road from Phuntsholing, on the border, to Thimphu. The economic core of Bhutan lies in the fertile valleys of the Lesser Himalayas, which are separated from one another by a series of high and complex interconnecting ridges extending across the country from north to south. The political nucleus of Bhutan lies in the Paro and Thimphu valleys in the Lesser Himalayan region. Its location between the Assam-Bengal Plain of India to the south and the Chinese-occupied Plateau of Tibet to the north gives it considerable geopolitical significance.

Physically, Bhutan may be divided into three regions from north to south: the Great Himalayas, the Lesser Himalayas, and the Duars Plain. The northern part of Bhutan lies within the Great Himalayas; the snowcapped peaks in this region attain a height of more than 24,000 feet (7,300 metres). High valleys occur at elevations of 12,000 to 18,000 feet, running down from the great northern glaciers. The Alpine pastures on the high ranges are used for grazing yaks in the summer months. North of the Great Himalayas are several “marginal” mountains of the Plateau of Tibet that form the principal watershed between the rivers respectively running southward and northward. A dry climate is characteristic of the Great Himalayan region. Spurs from the Great Himalayas radiate southward, forming the ranges of the Lesser (or Inner) Himalayan region. The north-south ranges of the Lesser Himalayas comprise watersheds between the principal rivers of Bhutan. Differences in elevation and the degree of exposure to moist southwest monsoon winds determine the prevailing vegetation, which ranges from dense forest on the rainswept windward slopes to Alpine vegetation at higher elevations. Several fertile valleys of central Bhutan are in the Lesser Himalayas at elevations varying from 5,000 to 9,000 feet. These valleys, notably the Paro, Punakha, Thimphu, and Ha, are relatively broad and flat, receive moderate rainfall (from 40 to 50 inches [about 1,000 to 1,270 millimetres] or less a year), and are fairly well populated and cultivated. South of the Lesser Himalayas and the foothills lies the narrow Duars Plain, which forms a strip 8 to 10 miles wide along the southern border of Bhutan. The Himalayan ranges rise sharply and abruptly from the narrow Duars Plain, which controls access to the strategic passes (known as dwars or dooars) through the mountains leading into the fertile valleys of the Lesser Himalayas. Subject to excessive rainfall (between 200 and 300 inches a year), the entire Duars tract is unhealthy, hot, and steamy and is covered with dense semitropical forest and undergrowth. The northern part of the Duars immediately bordering the mountains consists of a rugged, irregular, and sloping surface. At the foot of the mountains small villages are found in forest clearings, but most of the area is covered with dense vegetation inhabited by elephants, deer, tigers, and other wild animals. The southern part of the Duars bordering India is mostly covered with savanna (grassy parkland) and bamboo jungle. In many areas the savannas are being cleared for rice cultivation. The principal trade routes between central Bhutan and India follow the valleys of the main rivers.

Bhutan's climate is perhaps more diverse than that of any other similarly sized area in the world. A temperate climate occurs only in the central mountain valleys. The remainder of the country experiences either extreme heat, as in the Duars, or extreme cold, as in the north. The climate changes with elevation, producing striking meteorologic contrasts, and differing exposures to sunlight and moisture-laden winds result in complex local variations. Three principal climatic regions can be distinguished: the hot, humid, subtropical tract of the Duars Plain and its adjacent foothills; the cooler region of the Lesser Himalayas; and the Alpine tundra region of the Great Himalayas.

Bhutan is a relatively sparsely populated country, though its population is increasing at a rate of perhaps 2 percent a year. Nearly nine-tenths of Bhutan's population lives in very small, scattered villages, though there now are also a handful of towns whose inhabitants number in the thousands. Southern Bhutan's domestic architecture resembles that of neighbouring areas of India, while in the Great Himalayan region and the Lesser Himalayan valleys the architecture is typically Tibetan. A notable feature of Bhutan's settlements is the dzong, or fortress-monastery. The dzongs served as feudal strongholds in the past, but they now play important roles as combined administrative centres and monasteries. Almost every populated valley has a dzong, which is usually situated on a prominent site overlooking a stream or river. The dzongs continue to serve as focal points of Bhutan's political, economic, religious, and social life. Their thick white walls, which slope inward in Tibetan style, shelter Buddhist lamas, government officials, and artisans. The national capital, Thimphu, was a mere cluster of houses in the 1960s but has developed into a sizable town. Its venerable dzong has been rebuilt and enlarged to house the Bhutan government secretariat. After Thimphu, Paro is Bhutan's fastest-growing town. Since 1983, scheduled air service between Paro and the cities of Calcutta, New Delhi, Dhaka (Bangladesh), Bangkok (Thailand), and Kathmandu (Nepal) has stimulated Paro's growth.

There are three major ethnic groups in Bhutan: the Bhutia, Nepalese, and Sharchops. The Bhutia, who are also called Ngalops, are the largest ethnic group and make up as much as 60 percent of the population. They are the descendants of Tibetan immigrants who came southward to Bhutan from about the 9th century onward. The Bhutia are dominant in northern, central, and western Bhutan. They speak a variety of Tibetan dialects, and the most common of these, Dzongkha, is Bhutan's official language. The Bhutia's written language is identical with Tibetan, and they adhere to the Drukpa sect of Tibetan Buddhism. They dominate Bhutan's political life. In southern and southwestern Bhutan, an ethnically mixed population with predominance of Nepalese settlers is found. The Nepalese, or Gurung, are the most recent arrivals in Bhutan and constitute about one-third of the population. They speak Nepali and practice Hinduism. Their growing numbers prompted the Bhutanese government to ban further Nepalese immigration beginning in 1959. The Nepalese are also prohibited from settling in central Bhutan. Little assimilation takes place between the Tibetan and Nepalese groups, and discrimination against the Nepalese constitutes a major internal political problem for Bhutan. Most of the people in eastern Bhutan are ethnically related to the hill tribes living in adjacent areas of Assam and Arunachal Pradesh. The Sharchops, as these people are called, are believed to have been the earliest inhabitants of Bhutan. Though the Sharchops are Tibetan Buddhists, they are less strict in their observance of religious customs than are the Bhutia.

Bhutan's development plans have stressed the improvement of transport and communications. The 120-mile Phuntsholing-Paro-Thimphu national highway is part of a network of roads the Bhutan government has built to open up the country. The total length of the network is about 1,500 miles. Highways have been constructed through difficult mountain terrain, linking Indian roads to Thimphu and to Paro in western Bhutan, to Tongsa in central Bhutan, and to Tashigang in eastern Bhutan. The construction of a lateral east-to-west road has also been completed. Druk Air, the national airline, operates between Paro and India, Nepal, Bangladesh, and Thailand. Indian engineers have assisted the Bhutan government in laying telephone lines and exchanges. The principal administrative centres of Bhutan have telecommunication links with India. A postal service between Bhutan and other countries was inaugurated in 1963, when the first series of Bhutanese stamps were issued.

Bhutan is a unique country both culturally and environmentally. Perched high in the Himalayas, it is the world’s last remaining Buddhist Kingdom. It has developed the philosophy of Gross National Happiness; where development is measured using a holistic approach of well-being, not just based on gross domestic product. Bhutan is known as a land of the thunder dragon. The real pleasure lies in the exploration of this mystical and cultural land. The main attraction of Bhutan is the remote monasteries, spiritual temples, wondrous Himalayas and mountain pastures. The living traditional customs and vivid cultural celebration are the most popular activities in Bhutan. Thus Bhutan is the unique country in the world and one of the most popular destinations in the world for cultural tours and walking/trekking holidays. Massif Holidays has designed the different itineraries for tours and activities that varies from the major and top selling destinations to some of the remote and off-the beaten path. Please feel free to share your ideas with us if you are thinking about traveling to Bhutan, we will provide the best and life memorable holiday experiences to you based on your time, budget, interest and requirements. More information about Bhutan Travel (click here

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