If there’s one country in the world that I thought I’d never visit, it’s Bhutan. The Land of the Thunder Dragon is not only a remote Himalayan Kingdom, it also has a notoriously expensive visa policy.
One morning in Rishikesh, India, I was presented with the opportunity from Juno. We were sitting on the second story balcony, working on our laptops, with a view out to the surrounding mountains.
“I just got an email inviting me to Bhutan. Do you want to go?” she asked.
Of course I wanted to go. This was the opportunity of a lifetime—even for me, a person who is constantly traveling, sometimes to 10-15 new countries per year. Bhutan never seemed to be a viable place for me to travel.
A few more emails later and the deal was sealed; we would be traveling to Bhutan in a few days with Bridge to Bhutan. They were eager to get the word out about traveling to Bhutan in the summer (June, July, and August) which is actually a low season here. At this time the visa fee is reduced. Most travelers visit in the spring or fall.
Some interesting facts about Bhutan:
- Bhutan was never colonized and has maintained its sovereignty and independence throughout the centuries, repelling invasions from the strongholds of its fortified monasteries called “Dzongs”
- Gross National Happiness is an official government policy. Bhutan is ranked as one of the happiest countries on earth.
- Bhutan is almost entirely mountains, with terrain rising from 180 meters (600 ft) in the south (sub-tropics) to over 7,000 meters (21,000 ft) in the north (alpine).
- The government has adopted a very cautious approach to the development of tourism in an effort to avoid its negative impacts on the culture and the environment.
- The capital Thimphu is the only capital city in the world without a traffic signal.
- 72% of the country is forested.
- Buddhism was first introduced to Bhutan in the 7th century AD. Today the state religion is Vajrayana Buddhism. The second largest religion is Hindusm, practiced by about a quarter of the population.
- 105,414 tourists visited Bhutan in 2012.
- Bhutan’s government is a constitutional monarchy. In 2008, the country transitioned from absolute monarchy and held its first general election
- Bhutan is the first country in the world to have banned the sale of tobacco.
- In Bhutanese families, inheritance generally passes through the female line. Daughters will inherit their parents’ house. A man is expected to make his own way in the world and often moves to his wife’s home.
- The Bhutanese ngultrum is the currency and is pegged to the Indian rupee. Rupees are also legal tender.
- Bhutan’s national sport is archery, and competitions are held regularly in most villages.
Over the next few weeks on Bohemian Traveler I will share stories, photos, and practical travel information with you about Bhutan.
I hope to get across the point that Bhutan is more accessible than I thought and ways of making a visit there more affordable (for example visiting in the summer, when the visa fees are less expensive).
Have you traveled to Bhutan? What were your impressions?