Bhutan is an extraordinary country with deeply spiritual people. Landlocked and geographically isolated, it is sandwiched between China at north and India at the south. Bhutan is the land of wonderful vistas ranging from the alpine to the tropical and magnificent architecture that is beautifully revealed in the Dzongs (fortress), all over the country. Bhutan is one of the peaceful and safest countries in the world.
Bhutan is also a holy land with many tales of miracles and replete with myths and legends. It is one of the least densely populated countries in the world, approximately with 79%of the population. Almost eighty percent of the population lives in villages, and where Gross national happiness is deemed more important than Gross national Product.
Bhutan –‘the last Shangri La’.
Climatic Zones of Bhutan
Southern Bhutan has a hot and humid subtropical climate that is fairly unchanging throughout the year. Temperatures can vary between 15-30 degrees Celsius (59- 86 degrees Fahrenheit). In the Central parts of the country which consists of temperate and deciduous forests, the climate is more seasonal with warm summers and cool and dry winters. In the far Northern reaches of the kingdom, the weather is much colder during winter. Mountain peaks are perpetually covered in snow and lower parts are still cool in summer owing to the high altitude terrain.
Bhutan has four distinct seasons in a year.
The Indian summer monsoon begins from late-June through July to late-September and is mostly confined to the southern border region of Bhutan. These rains bring between 60 and 90 percent of the western region’s rainfall. Annual precipitation ranges widely in various parts of the country. In the Northern border towards Tibet, the region gets about forty millimeters of precipitation a year which is primarily snow. In the temperate central regions, a yearly average of around 1,000 millimeters is more common, and 7,800 millimeters per year has been registered at some locations in the humid, subtropical south, ensuring the thick tropical forest, or savanna.
Bhutan’s generally dry spring starts in early March and lasts until mid-April. Summer weather commences in mid-April with occasional showers and continues to late June. The heavier summer rains last from late June through late September which are more monsoonal along the southwest border.
Autumn, from late September or early October to late November, follows the rainy season. It is characterized by bright, sunny days and some early snowfalls at higher elevations.
From late November until March, winter sets in, with frost throughout much of the country and snowfall common above elevations of 3,000 meters. The winter northeast monsoon brings gale-force winds at the highest altitudes through high mountain passes, giving Bhutan its name – Drukyul, which means Land of the Thunder Dragon in Dzongkha (the native language).
Bhutan’s arts and crafts reflect the unique spirit and identity of the Himalayan kingdom.
The art of Zorig Chosum – or the thirteen arts and crafts of Bhutan – remains very much alive today. They include carpentry, blacksmithing, weaving, sculpting and many of the crafts described below. There are two institutes of Zorig Chosum where these traditional arts and crafts are being taught today – one in the capital, Thimphu, and the other in Trashi Yangtse in eastern Bhutan.
The arts and crafts continue to thrive despite a small tourist market. Much of this is due to the government’s support and emphasis on the preservation of culture and tradition.
Bhutan’s textiles are an integral part of daily life in this Himalayan kingdom. Gifts of cloth are offered at birth and death, and during auspicious occasions, weddings, and when someone gets promoted to higher level in his/her profession. Textiles are fashioned into clothing, crafts, and various kinds of containers.
Bhutanese textiles are renowned for their distinctive patterns inspired by nature. Each region has a specialised design. Bumthang, for example, is known for its vegetable dyed wool weaves called yathra, and exquisite pure silk weavings, Kishuthara, are famous in the eastern region of Lhuentse where it originates.
Weavers, mostly women in remote communities, pride themselves on being able to create textiles that reflect a visually stunning combination of colour, texture, pattern and composition. Bhutan is holding on to this traditional skill despite rapid modernisation.
Bhutanese textiles are now prized among collectors as a rare art form that is being practiced only among a very small community in the remote Kingdom of Bhutan.
Most Bhutanese art, including painting, are religious by nature. Moreover it is the process of creating the paintings that is important, most traditional painting is anonymous without an artist’s signature.
The Bhutanese tradition of painting is called lhazo. This refers to all types of painting including traditional paintings, called thangkhas, which are scroll paintings of Buddhist iconography executed in mineral paints.
Bhutanese paintings of religious and other symbolic motifs also adorn houses in Bhutan, both inside the home and on exterior walls.
Thangkha style painting is highly stylised and strict geometric proportions are followed.
Bhutanese sculptors are well known in the Himalayan region. Many famous sculptors have been, and still are, making clay statues of Buddhist figures for important monasteries in the region.
Clay is the traditional material for local sculpture, known as jinzob. The art is expressed in statues and ritual objects and can be seen in the numerous monasteries throughout Bhutan. Many of Bhutan’s monasteries boast of exceedingly fine central statues that sometimes rise up as high as three floors.
The art of sculpture is being kept alive at the Institute of Zorig Chosum where it is taught as a core subject.
The Bhutanese have always used their own handmade paper called deysho. Made of the bark of the daphne plant, this paper is used for the printing of religious texts, traditional books as well as for wrapping gifts. It is an extremely durable paper that is fairly resistant to insects.
Traditional paper making continues as an additional activity on the farm to earn some extra income for the paper makers.
A few paper factories have been established and some of them are now producing ornamental art paper with the inclusion of flower petals, and leaves, and other materials. Vegetable dyed paper is also being made for special occasions.
The carving of wood is an ancient craft that continues to play an important role in modern Bhutan. The numerous prayer flags that flutter across the vast ridges of Bhutan are all printed from carved wooden blocks.
Parzo, or the craft of carving is not restricted only to wood. Carving is also done on slate and stone. Woodcarving is, however, the most common. It is used for making wooden blocks to print traditional books that are still much highly sought after today.
The wood is usually collected and seasoned for more than a year before it is carved. Bhutan’s artisans are also well known for their highly skilled wooden carvings which adorn pillars and windows in monasteries, offices and public buildings.
The art of sword making falls under the tradition of garzo (or blacksmithing) which includes the making of all metal implements including knives, chains, darts etc.
Today, ceremonial swords are now a highly specialised craft. They are still being made for the gentry or senior officials who have been ceremoniously honoured. Ceremonial swords are worn on all special occasions while almost every Bhutanese male, even children, wear a traditional short knife called the dudzom.
History has it that Bhutan’s best known sword maker was the treasure discoverer, Terton Pema Lingpa, from central Bhutan.
For ceremonial occasions, it is not uncommon to see Bhutanese men wear traditional boots made of cloth that is handstitched, embroided and appliquéd in Bhutanese motifs. The different colours used on the boot signify the rank and status of the person; hence, Ministers wear orange, senior officials wear red and the laity wears white.
There has been a revival of traditional boot making in recent years. Popularised by the emphasis on preservation of culture and tradition, boot making is also a subject taught at the Institute of Zorig Chosum. There are also shorter boots that reach above the ankle for women. Traditional Bhutanese boots are a must for formal events, and lend a ceremonial air to such occasions. Many villagers and retired monks also wear simpler traditional boots without the fancy appliqué work.
The art of working with cane and bamboo is called thazo. Certain regions in Bhutan are famed for its bamboo and cane craft.
Rural communities in Zhemgang and Trongsa produce a variety of crafts with these materials. They include the distinctive bamboo hat called the belo that is still popular with the people in the area, and the still popular Bhutanese “Tupperware” basket called the bangchung.
The popular folk craft also include baskets of varying sizes for the home and for travel on horseback, and containers for carrying local drinks , the homebrew called arra.
Bow and Arrow Making
With archery as a national sport, the making of bamboo bows and arrows are picking up momentum once again particularly just before the annual national archery competition.
Many of the craftsmen look out for specific types of bamboo and mountain reeds to be fashioned into bows and arrows. These are picked at particular seasons, whittled down to size and expertly fashioned into the bow and arrow that has enabled Bhutanese men and youth to play a unique form of archery over the centuries. A well made set of bows and arrows are instrumental to a good game of archery.
Traditional Bhutanese jewelry is usually silver and gold jewelry with intricate motifs. They include heavy bracelets, komas or fasteners for the traditional women’s dress, the kira, loop ear rings set with turquoise, and necklaces of the most valued stones in the Himalayan region – antique turquoise, coral beads and the zhi stone.
The zhi stone is a highly prized stone in Bhutan and among Himalayan Buddhists who believe in its protective powers. The stone is distinguished by its black and white spiral designs called “eyes”. The zhi is believed to be an agate which were made into the zhi bead. There are now many replicas of the ancient zhi stone available in the market.
The best place to see Bhutanese jewelry is during a local festival where women turn up in their finery and jewelry. Some of them are draped with the traditional necklaces of coral, the size of small stones.
The symbols give an identity to its nation, which bind the people together with united mind and principle.
National Flag is rectangular in shape and diagonally divided into two parts, along with a dragon in the middle. The dragon symbolise the history, character and values of Bhutan as a nation. The upper yellow in colour signifies the secular authority and fruitful action of the king. The lower orange signifies the religion practice and spirituals power of Buddhism.
The national emblem is in a circle; comprises a double diamond thunder bolt (Dorje) placed above a lotus, surmounted by a jewel and framed by two dragons. The double diamond thunder bolt, signify the purity, the two dragon male and female enclosing the Dorji symbolise the name of the country- ‘‘Drukyul’’ (Land of Thunder Dragon).
Cypress (Cupressus Corneyana), the national tree, once Bhutan was known as “Tshenden Mengyi Jong” (the valley of cypress and herbs) due to adandance growth of cypress and aromatic plant. Other aspect is that some of the ancient temples, such as the Kuje Lhakang and Nabji Lhakhang have a cypress tree standing majestically outside, as people believes that Guru Rinpoche planted the day he visited to Bhutan, and also it signifies the wealth of the country in terms of natural resources.
Bluepuppy (Meconopsis Grandis), Bhutan’s national flower, which grows above the tree line at altitiudes between 11,480 and 14,760ft (3500m to 4500m). It blooms only once during its lifetime of several years, once the Bluepuppy was considered to be Himalayan myth, along with Yeti.
Takin (Budorcas Taxicolor), Bhutan’s national animal. Some Takin migrates to subalpine forest and alpine meadows (3700m) and during winter in temperate broadleaf forest (2000m to 3000), its unique looks and rareness signify the uniqueness of the country. In the 15th century, the great Lama Drukpa Kinley (Divine Madman) visited Bhutan. While travelling he was asked to perform magical powers by the people around the country. The saint demanded that he should be first served a whole cow and a goat for lunch. He proceeded to demolish them with great relish and left only the bones, after a loud satisfied burp, he took and placed the goat’s head on the bones of the cow. And then with a snap of his figure commanded the sange beast to rise up and graze on the mountainside, this animal came to known as takin (Dong Gyem Tshey), we see this strange animal grazing on the mountainside and in zoo of Bhutan today.
National day is celebrated on 17th of December, when Gongsar Ugen Wangchuk, then first king ascended the Golden Throne in Punakha Dzong. 17th December is a day to remember all the heroes of the past for preserving the independence of our country.
The national bird is the Raven (Corvus Corax Tibetanus). Its symbolism is wrapped in mysticism and yet occupies a realistic place in the history of Bhutan; it signifies the protection of the country by the protective deities, Yeshey Goenpo and Pelden Lhamo.
The people of Bhutan can be divided into three main ethnic groups: The Sharchops, who live in the east of the country and are believed to be the original inhabitants. The Ngalongs, who live mostly in western Bhutan and are the descendants of Tibetan immigrants who arrived in Bhutan from the 9th century. The Lhotshampa, who are of Nepalese origin and settled in the south of Bhutan in the late 19th century. The Lhotshampa (meaning Southern Bhutanese) represent Nepali- speaking groups.
Bhutan has the richest and one of the world’s finest cultural heritages that has largely remained intact due to its isolation from the rest of the world untill early 1960s. One of the main attractions of the tourists in Bhutan is culture and its traditions, the government is increasingly making efforts to sustain the current culture and tradition and Bhutan has aptly been referred to as the ‘Last Shangri-la’.
Bhutanese art reflects major Tibetan influences, though it has developed many of its own derivations. It has three main characteristics: it is anonymous, religious, and performs no independent aesthetic function. Intricate wall paintings and thankas (wall hangings), most historical writing and fine sculpted images all have a religious theme.
Although both Buddhism and the monarchy are critical elements, it is the general extensive perpetuation of tradition that is possibly the most striking aspect of Bhutan ‘s culture. This is most overtly reflected in the style of dress and architecture. All Bhutanese continue to wear the traditional dress: the gho, are knee-length dress, for men and ankle-length dress which clipped at shoulders and tied at the waist, the kira for women. An accompaniment to the kira is a long-sleeved blouse, the toego, which is worn underneath an outer layer. Generally colorful apparel, the fabrics used range from simple cotton checks and stripes to the most intricate designs in woven silk. Hand-woven fabrics are the pride of Bhutan and well remind textile-lovers of weavings form Laos, form Northeastern India or form the Central America and Peru .The Bhutanese architectural landscape is made up of chortens, stonewalls, temples, monasteries, fortresses, mansions and houses. Associated with a number of clear-cut architectural concepts and building types rooted in Tibetan Buddhism, there is a strong association between state, religious and secular forms. What makes it quite unique is the degree of uniformity, with all structures corresponding to traditional designs. Thus ancient monasteries and fortresses appear to merge with more modern popular dwellings to create a setting that is fully internally consistent.
Rice and maize are the staple foods of the country. The diet includes chickens,yaks,cows and sheep. chilli with cheese is the favorite dish. Popular beverages include butter tea, locally brewed rice wine and beer.
Bhutan is the only country in the world to have banned the sale of tobacco.
Bhutan ’s national sport is archery, and competitions are held regularly in most villages and towns. Unlike in Olympics the standards differs in the technical details such as placement of the targets. There are two targets placed over 100 meters apart and teams shoot from one end of the field to the other, with each member of the team shooting two arrows per round. Archery is a social event and competitions are organized between villages, towns and amateur teams with plenty of food and drink complete with singing and dancing. Darts (Khuru) is an equally popular outdoor sport, in which heavy wooden darts pointed nail are thrown at a paperback sized targets about 20 meters away Bhutan has numerous public holidays, most of which centre around traditional seasonal, secular and religious festivals. They include the winter solstice, the lunar New Year, the King’s birthday and the anniversary of his coronation, the official start of the monsoon season, National day and various Buddhist and Hindu celebrations. Even the secular holidays have religious overtones, including religious dances and prayers for blessing the day. Mask dances and dance dramas are common traditional features at festivals, usually accompanied by traditional music. Energetic dancers, wearing colourful wooden or composition face masks and stylized costumes, caricatures a common people. The dancers preserve ancient folk and religious customs and perpetuate the ancient lore and art of mask-dancing.
Inheritance in Bhutan generally goes in the female rather than the male 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. Love marriages are the norm. There is no tradition of arranged marriages and though uncommon, polygamy and polyandry are accepted. This is often a device to keep property in a contained family unit rather than dispersing it. Former King Jigme Singye Wangchuck is married to four sisters.
In a response to accusations in 1987 by a journalist from UK’s Financial Times that the pace of development in Bhutan was slow, the King said that “Gross National Happiness is more important than Gross National Product.” This statement appears to have presaged recent findings by western economic psychologists, including 2002 Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman, that question the link between levels of income and happiness. The statement signaled his commitment to building an economy that is appropriate for Bhutan’s unique culture, based on Buddhist spiritual values, and has served as a unifying vision for the economy. In addition, the policy seems to be reaping the desired results: in a recent survey organized by the University of Leicester in the UK, Bhutan was ranked as the planet’s 8th happiest place.
The official language of Bhutan is Dzongkha. While Dzongkha uses the same ‘ Ucen script as Tibetan – and the two languages are closely related – Dzongkha is sufficiently different that Tibetans cannot understand it. English is the medium of instruction in schools, so most educated people can speak it fluently. There are English signboards, books and menus throughout the country. Road signs and government documents are all written in both English and Dzongkha. The national newspaper, Kuensel, is published in two main languages: English and Dzongkha. In monastic schools Chokey, the classical Tibetan language is taught and used in writings.
In the eastern part of Bhutan most people speak Sharchop (meaning ‘language of east’), which is totally different from Dzongkha. In south, most people speak Nepali. As a result of the isolation of many parts of country, a number of languages other than Dzongkha and Sharchop survive. Some are so different that people from different parts of the country can’t understand each other. Butmthangkha is a language of Bumthang region, and it’s common for regional minorities have their own language. Other tongues in Bhutan’s Tower of Babel are Khengkha from Zhamgang, Kirtoep from Lhuentshe, Mangdep from Trongsa and Dzala from Trashi Yangtse.
Buddhism in Bhutan has a complex and rich visual traditional that can be seen over whelming. The bright and intricate mandalas decorating temples, porches, warthfull protective deities and the wheel of life all serve the same purpose.
In the 8th century, Guru Padmasamhba (the chief protagonist of the Vajrayana teachings of Buddhism), introduced Buddhism in Bhutan.
Buddhism is followed by almost seventy percent of population which the rest follows Hindu, specially people of Lhotshampas(southern Bhutanese),the descendants of Nepalese migrants.
Bhutan’s landscape is studded with a profusion of majestic dzongs, beautiful Goenpas (monasteries) and Chorten(stupas or pagodas),that are evidence of living spiritual culture. In addition we can see colourful prayer flags on the valleys, near Dzongs, temples and also on the top of the roofs. Moreover in every household has its own prayer room or altar (chosum) and generally celebrates an annual rituals (chogu). This is when prayers of thanksgiving are offered for the past as well as for the future well being of family.
It does, however, recognise the importance of Bhutan’s Buddhist heritage to Bhutan’s cultural identity.
History & Myths
The country was originally known by many names including Lho Jong, ‘The Valleys of the South’, Lho Mon Kha Shi, ‘The Southern Mon Country of Four Approaches’, Lho Jong Men Jong, ‘The Southern Valleys of Medicinal Herbs and Lho Mon Tsenden Jong, ‘The Southern Mon Valleys where Sandlewood Grows’. Mon was a term used by the Tibetans to refer to Mongoloid, non-Buddhist peoples that populated the Southern Himalayas.
The country came to be known as Druk Yul or The Land of the Drukpas sometime in the 17th century. The name refers to the Drukpa sect of Buddhism that has been the dominant religion in the region since that period.
Initially Bonism (a pre-buddhist religion of Tibet) , was the dominant religion in the region that would come to be known as Bhutan. Buddhism was introduced in the 7th century by the Tibetan King Songtsen Gampo and was further strengthened by the arrival of Guru Rimpoche, a Buddhist Master that is widely considered to be the Second Buddha.
The country was first unified in 17th century by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel. After arriving in Bhutan from Tibet he consolidated his power, defeated three Tibetan invasions and established a comprehensive system of law and governance. His system of rule eroded after his death and the country fell into in-fighting and civil war between the various local rulers. This continued until the Trongsa Penlop Ugyen Wangchuck was able to gain control and with the support of the people to establish himself as Bhutan’s first hereditary King in 1907. His Majesty Ugyen Wangchuck became the first Druk Gyalpo (Dragon King) and set up the Wangchuck Dynasty that still rules today.
In 2008 Bhutan enacted its Constitution and converted to a democracy in order to better safeguard the rights of its citizens. Later in November of the same year, the current reigning 5th Druk Gyalpo Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck was crowned.
Geography & Geology
The kingdom of Bhutan lies deep in the eastern Himalayas. It is surrounded by the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) of China to the north, and the Indian territories of Assam and West Bengal to the south, Arunachal Pradesh to the east and Sikkim to the west. The tiny landlocked kingdom has a total area of 46,500 km² and spreads between meridians 89°E and 93°E, and latitudes 27°N and 29°N.
The altitude zones of Bhutan
The relief of Bhutan can be divided into three altitude zones, namely, the the Greater Himalayas of the north, the hills and valleys of the the Inner Himalayas, and the foothills and plains of the Sub-Himalayan Foothills.
1. The Greater Himalayas
The towering Himalayan mountains of Bhutan dominate the north of the country, where peaks can easily reach 7,000 metres (22,966 ft) above the sea level. Some of the best known peaks are Jiwuchudrakey and Jumo Lhari. Permanent snow, glaciers and barren rocks form the main features of this zone. These snowy, glacial high lands are the sources for many of the rivers of Bhutan. At a little higher altitude, you will reach the tree line, the point where the vegetation changes from forest into small bushes of juniper and rhododendrons.
2. The Inner Himalayas
Rising continuously from the lower foothills to a height of about 4000 metres, the valleys of different heights and topography makes the country an ideal place for both native people and tourists within the mainland of Bhutan. The valleys of Bhutan are traversed by the country’s five major river systems and their tributaries which ultimately drain to the Brahmaputra River in India. The valleys are linked by a series of passes (called “La” in Dzongkha, the national language of Bhutan). Between the Haa valley and Paro valley is the Chele La (3,780 metres (12,402 ft), the highest pass crossed by a Bhutanese highway. The Lateral Road from Thimphu to Punakha crosses the Dochu La (3,116 metres (10,223 ft)), which features 108 chortens (stupas) built to commemorate the expulsion of Assamese guerrillas. To the east of Wangdue Phodrang is the Pele La (3,390 metres (11,122 ft)). Continuing to the east along the main highway, other major passes include the Yotang La, Thrumshing La and Kori La (2,298 metres (7,539 ft).
The vegetation in this zone is a mixture of broad-leaved and coniferous forest.
3. The Sub-Himalayan Foothills
Stretched along the southern border of the country, the Duar Plain drops sharply away from the Himalayas into the large tracts of sub-tropical forest, grasslands and bamboo jungle. The altitude of the southern foothills ranges from about 200 metres at the lowest point to 2000 metres. This zone is rich in dense and sub-tropical vegetation.
Bhutanese architecture is one of the most remarkable features of the country. The amazing part of Bhutanese architecture is that it does not use either nails or iron bars, The Bhutanese architectural is exhibited in the form of Dzongs(fort-monasteries),remote goembas (monasteries), chortens, Temples (lhakangs),as well as the traditional houses. The Dzongs architecture is one of the striking of the kingdom. The Dzongs are built huge with grand design which dominate the major towns and serves as the administrative headquarters all twenty dzongkhags(Disticts).We can see few Dzongs that have been abandoned or destroyed,or now are used for other purpose, namely Simtokha dzong ,south of Thimphu, and Dobji Dzong ,south of Chhuzom.Almost all the Dzongs had Ta dzong(watch tower) which is built separately ,as in Paro and Trongsa Dzongs.
The way of building houses in Bhutan varies depending on the location, particularly the elevation. In the lower altitude we can see houses built of bamboo, where else in the high altitude homes are simple stone structure and even we see yak-hair tents. Houses in the inner- Himalayan zone are built in a typically Bhutanese style; many houses are decorated with paints and carved wooden phalluses.
Bhutan has a very big number of religious buildings design for different purpose, According to the National Commission for Culture Affairs there are 2002 religious building-1434 are owned by government and an estimated 568 are privately owned.
Bhutan features a tremendous diversity of plants and animals living in a range of ecosystems from subtropical forest barely above sea level to snowbound mountains above 7500m. The country’s various habitats are believed to contain over 5500 species of plants, and close to 200 species of mammals and over 600 species of birds.
Each year Bhutan’s extensive bird list grows longer, a consequence of Bhutan’s rich biodiversity and the small amount of systematic birding that has been done in the kingdom. Nevertheless, over 770 birds species have been recorded and bird-watching tours are extremely popular,and that include 16 globally threatened species,and rare and endemic species like golden langoor also roam the jungles of Bhutan.
Bhutan is rightly famous for its wintering populations of the vulnerable black-neckedcrane. Less well known as the winter populations, mainly as solitary individuals, of endangered white-bellied heron, for which there are about 15 records in 2005, in the area of Punakha and Wangdue Phodrang.
Some bird species are even more transient ,migrating through Bhutan between Tibet and northern India in autumn and spring.Pailas’ fish eagle, which is considered rare,is regularly seen migrating up the Punak Chhu near Wangdue Phodrang sping.It is often in the company of ospreys, a wild range of ducks waders such the pied avocet, and other species that breed in Tibet.
Winter brings numerous species down to lower altitudes,including accentors ,rosefinches,grosbeaks,snow pigeons and pheasantand such as the satyr trangopan, the Himalayan monal and the blood pheasant. Observant early-morning walkers can often find these on the mountains and passes around Thimphu. In summer many lowland species move to higher altitudes to breed; these species include the exotic-looking hoopoe,various species of minivets,cuckoos(one can commonly hear at least five different species calling),barbets,warblers,sunbirds,fulvettas and yuhinas.
Given the density of forest cover and the steep vertical descents, the road is often the best place from which to spot birds. Recommended stretches include the road down from Dochu La to Wangdue Phodrang( the adventurous can take the old trail, which is ever better),from Wangdue Phodrang to Nobding (on the way to Pele La), and before Trongsa .For those who go east,the 2000m descent between Sengor and Lingmethang is spectacular.Ward’s trongon and the Rufous-necked hornbill have been recorded in this area. Trekking will provide you with a greater chance of seeing high-altitude birds,including the lammergeyer,the Himalayan griffon, the raven, the unique high-altitude wader-the ibisbill-and colourful pheasants.
Large mammals abound in the wilds of Bhutan,but unless you are trekking or until Royal manas National Park is opened up you will be very lucky to see more than a few examples.The neighbourhood of Royal Manas is home to a large varity of well-known south Asian game species,water buffalo,gaur,serow,wild pig and several species of deer,sambar,muntjac,chital,and hog.It is also the best place to see Asian elephants and the very rare greater one-horned rhinoceros.
On the high trails you may well be lucky enough to spot herds of blue sheep, or bharal.Blue sheep are goat –antelopes, taxonomically somewhere between goats and sheep, that turn a bluish-grey in winter and are found from 1800m to 4300m. Other mammals that prefer the high life include wolves, yaks and the diminutive,unusual musk deer. The male’s musk gland is a highly valued perfume ingredient and this secretive deer is a target for indiscriminate poaching.Fat marmots whistle as you pass their burrows in the high alpine pastures and the curious takins can be seen in north western and far north eastern Bhutan.However,the most likely place to see a tarkin is in the Motithang Takin Preserve in Thimphu.
Several species of monkeys are found in Bhutan and some of these are active throughout the days and may be seen not far from villages or a main road-so keep an eye on the roadside trees on those long drives.Most common are the Assamese macaques ;reddish brown,stumpy-tailed monkeys travelling on the ground in troops of 10 to 15 individuals. They are found throughout Bhutan up to2900m.Rhesus macaques are similar and are the dominant monkey of the Indian planes.In Bhutan the bold rhesus is confined to the southern foothills.
Langurs are elegent,arboreal monkeys with graceful limbs and extraordinarily long tails and a charismatic presence.Three species of langur make a home in Bhutan’s forests- up to 3600m in altitude, and usually high up in the forest canopy.The common grey or Hanuman langur is found west of Pele La;while e famous golden langur is only found from the Puna Tsang Chhu in the west to the Manas Chhu in the east. This beautiful primate’s existences was not even known to the scientific community until the 20th century.Not surprisingly,its distinctive feature is its golden coat.
Several species of cat,ranging from the moggy-sized jungle cat to the power-ful tiger,prowl the forests, valleys and mountains of Bhutan.The other cats are the Asiatic golden cat,marbled cat, pallas cat, leopard cat, fishing cat, lynx, clouded leopard, common leopard and the enigmatic snow leopard.
With its extraordinarily beautiful dappled silver coat, the snow leopard has been hunted relentlessly throughout its range and is now in danger of extinction. This elusive cat is almost entirely solitary, largely because a single animal’s hunting territory is so vast and its prey is so scarce throughout its high-altitude habitat. However, when its favourite prey, the blue sheep, migrates to lower valleys in winter, the snow leopard follows.The essentially solitary tiger is a symbol of great reverence in bhutan. They number probably around 100 animals, mostly concentrated in and around Royal Manas National Park, though tigers may be found throughout Bhutan, even at high altitudes (3900m), and so far north as Jigme Dorji National Park.
There are two species of bear found in Bhutan. The omnivorous Himalayan black bear is a bane to farmers growing corn and fruit near the temperate forests (1200m to 3500m) it frequents, whereas the sloth bear is principally a termite eater and honey
The red panda is known in Bhutan as aamchu donkha and is most commonly found near Pele La, Thrumshing La and parts of Gasa district. It is bright-chestnut coloured, about 50cm long, including its bushy, banded tial, and has a white face. The red panda is nocturnal, sleeping in trees during the day and coming to the ground to forage on bamboo and raid bird’s nests at night.
An amazing array of plants grow in Bhutan; over 5000 species, including more than 600 species of orchid, 300 species of medicinal plants and over 50 species of spectacular rhododendrons.
Forests are found up to 4500m and serve not only as a source of fuel, timber and herbs, but also as a cultural resource, as they form the basis of many folk songs and ritual offerings. Though the government policy is to maintain at least 60% of the land as forest, the present ratio is higher, with a remarkable 72% of the country covered in forests of mixed conifers and broadleaf species.
Bhutan is a landlocked country which covers an area of 46,500sq km, 300km long and 150km wide. Almost the entire country is mountainous, ranges in elevation from 100m to the 7541m Gangkhar Puensum peak on the Tibetan border.
Bhutan’s environment is one of the dazzling and charming which welcome most of the visitors, its environment is as diverse as its culture. The land of Thunder Dragon is, today, one of the world’s top ten global hotspots, boasting a rich and varied biodiversity.
Bhutan is covered by 72.5% of forest, and has highest species density (species richness per unit area) in the world. There are over five thousand species of plants grown here, including six hundred types of orchids, 770 species of avifauna, forty five different varieties of rhododendrons (etho metho), four hundred types of mushrooms and more than 165 species of mammals.
The Royal Bengal Tiger, generally known to survive in tropical and sub-tropical areas, has been found in Bhutan in the rich forests above 4,000m where they are known to breed.
A range of high Himalayan peaks forms part of the northern and western borders of the country, some are unexplored and not even named .There are many high mountain passes the Himalaya which is covered by snow through the years. In the central points of the northern border Himalaya range extends from Jomolhari (7314m) in the west and kula Gangri (7554m) in the east.
In the Inner Himalaya lies a range of high peaks and broad valleys and forested hillsides ranging from 1100m to 3500m in elevation, which are the largest regions of Bhutan and all the major towns including Thimphu (Capital of Bhutan) are here.
Rivers (chhus), are important in Bhutan’s geography, there are four major river systems in Bhutan, mostly known by its name as they flow through the country. Most rivers have their source in the high mountains like Amo Chhu, Kuri chhu and Gamri chhu. Bhutan’s rivers are larger and have created broader and fertile valley.
Although lager tracts have been cleared for agriculture, the southern tropical region you will find Sal, Sissu, Semal tres.Ascending from this region, temperate zone at around 1800m you will come across Pine, Maple,Oak ,Magnolia and Laurel trees. At higher elevations (2400m) finds the Hemlock, Walnut, Brich,Spruce and the national tree –the Cypress.
Blue poppy ,Bhutan’s national flower, it grows to nearly one metre tall on the rocky mountain found above the tree line (3500m to 4500m).It grows during the early monsoon, from May to July, and seeds yield oil and dies, people believes that only few can see. The Blue poppy is known for its rear and special hybrids.
We can see hundred and sixty-five species of mammals and Himalayan black bear, sloth bear and a variety of deer, the forest are the home of many monkeys and black langur .Bhutan is only known habitat of the golden langur, there are so many wild parks on the central- south border of India we can see tigers, leopards, rhinoceros, gaur, wild boar, wild dogs and deer .In the north we find snow leopards, bears and red pandas.
In the alpine region of the country you will find yaks, the rear blue sheep, Tibetan gazelle, and the Himalayan goat. Takin-Bhutan’s national animal, is completely unique, the alpine meadows are its home in summer and broadleaf forest in winter.
Bhutan is real paradise for birders; the country boasts around six hundred and seventy five species of birds. As you come across the country you are likely to come across small groups of avid bird watchers armed with binoculars and cameras, wandering into the forest. The vulnerable Black Necked Crane is the most famous for the visitors; some other bird species seen are Ospreys, Waders, and wide varieties of Ducks, Snow Pigeons, Rose finches and Accentors. Besides that, you can spot Minivets, Barbets, Sunbirds, Warblers, Cuckoos and Yuhinas.
At the high altitudes you can see the Raven, Himalayan Griffon and Vulture, more commonly visible are the blue whistling Thrush, chattering yellow billed Magpies, Choughs and many more.