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Bhutan Culture, Geography and History
Culture and Customs of Bhutan
Bhutan’s rich and remarkable culture is a real highlight for many visitors. Even though the internet and mobile phones have infiltrated Bhutan in recent years, the traditions and customs that are centuries old continue to endure. Bhutan’s dance, art, drama and music are linked to Buddhism, which is the most-practiced religion in Bhutan. As with most other Asian countries, monks are revered in Bhutanese society and generally afforded great respect for they are the guardians of the predominant faith. Visitors shouldn’t miss out on visiting one of Bhutan’s many monasteries to see daily rituals, monks and pilgrims. Religious festivals are celebrated all year round, from smaller regional festivals practiced only by villages, to large nationally recognised religious ceremonies and festivals. These festivals help to preserve and celebrate an ancient culture, and are full of parades, sports, dance, drumming and art. Bhutan’s distinctive traditional dress is another cultural highlight and it’s possible to see locals wearing fine woven dresses and jackets of different colours and decorations, which often define ones social class or standing.
Geography and Environment of Bhutan
This landlocked kingdom may occupy a small space on the world globe but there’s nothing small about the mountains that lie within! Sharing borders with China and India, Bhutan is known as 'The Switzerland of Asia' for its mountainous topography and similarity to Swiss landscapes. Bhutan has largely resisted overdevelopment, which has left much of its natural environment intact. As a result of this, Bhutan is one of the most species-rich countries in the world – with hundreds of species of mammals, birds and plants calling the Bhutanese valleys, mountains and meadows home. Endangered red pandas and snow leopards can be found in Bhutan as well as a huge variety of wild flowers and birds. Most Bhutanese people live simple lives with much less access to modern technology and infrastructure than others in neighbouring countries. There are still many villages that operate without running water and electricity; however, these facilities are widely available in the larger cities. Although Bhutan’s larger cities like Paro and Thimphu do have more access to technology, the pace of life is still slow and most traditional buildings have been preserved, as has the way of life.
History and Government of Bhutan
As one of the few countries in the world to have never been conquered or occupied by another, Bhutan has a long history of independent governance. Although its early history is shrouded in mystery, Bhutan is thought to have been inhabited from as early as 2000BC. Tibetan Buddhism was introduced into the region sometime around the 9th century, when many Tibetans fled neighbouring Tibet to seek refuge in Bhutan. The leadership and governance of Bhutan has always been linked to its religion, and this continues in today’s political, legal and religious leadership of the country. The 16th and 17th centuries saw some conflict with Tibet, although Bhutan was never officially taken over by its neighbour. External threats from the British presented themselves in the 18th and 19th centuries; however, once again Bhutan was never officially controlled or governed by an external power.
In the last 40 years, Bhutan has had many ‘firsts’. Bhutan introduced a new monetary system and currency in 1974, and also opened up its borders to welcome foreign tourists in the same year. By 2000, Bhutan had its first television set and internet cafe, and by 2004 Bhutan became the first country in the world to ban the sale of tobacco products. Bhutan’s first constitution was drawn up in 2005, and its first democratic multi-party election was held in 2008, when the constitution was finally ratified. Today, Bhutan’s economy relies mainly on tourism, agriculture and forestry, although ‘Gross National Happiness’ continues to be valued more than economic abundance or growth in domestic product.
Bhutan at a glance
- Thimpu (population 30,000)
- (GMT+06:00) Astana, Dhaka
- Type D (Old British 3-pin), Type F (German 2-pin, side clip earth), Type G (Irish/British 3-pin), Type M (see D)
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