Bhutanese people have perfected the art of coexisting with nature. Bhutan’s tranquil scenery are second only to its people’s joyful and peaceful existence. The quiet rumbling of the trees in the wind, as well as the bubbling water of its rivers, will put you at ease. We’ve compiled all of the information you’ll need to plan your trip to Bhutan.
The country’s lush subtropical plains in the south rise from the subalpine Himalayan mountains in the north. There are peaks in Bhutan’s Himalayas that rise above 7,000 meters (23,000 feet) above sea level. Bhutan’s highest peak, Gangkhar Puensum, may also be the world’s highest unclimbed mountain. Bhutan’s wildlife, which includes the Himalayan takin, is known for its diversity. Thimphu is the capital and largest city of Bhutan.
Bhutan and nearby Tibet witnessed the spread of Buddhism, which began in the Indian subcontinent during Gautama Buddha’s lifetime. From the southern Pala Empire of Bengal, the Vajrayana school of Buddhism moved to Bhutan in the first millennium. During the decline of Buddhism in India, Tibet, Bhutan, Sikkim, and parts of Nepal were the last strongholds of the Mahayana schools. Bhutan was influenced by the Tibetan Empire as well.
Ngawang Namgyal consolidated Bhutan’s valleys into a single state in the 16th century. Three Tibetan invasions were crushed by Namgyal, who also conquered competing theological schools, formalized the Tsa Yig legal system, and established a theocratic and civil government. Namgyal was the first Zhabdrung Rinpoche, and his successors, like the Dalai Lama in Tibet, served as spiritual leaders of Bhutan. Bhutan ruled over huge parts of northeast India, Sikkim, and Nepal in the 17th century, and had a strong impact in Cooch Behar State.
During the Bhutan War in the 19th century, Bhutan gave the Bengal Duars to British India. The House of Wangchuck ascended to the monarchy and cultivated stronger links with the British in India. A treaty signed in 1910 provided British foreign policy advice in exchange for Bhutan’s internal autonomy.
In 1949, a new treaty with India was signed, in which both countries recognized the sovereignty of the other. Bhutan became a member of the United Nations in 1971. Bangladesh, Israel, Kuwait, Brazil, Japan, Thailand, and Turkey, as well as the European Union, have all increased their links since then. Bhutan has its own military divisions, although being dependent on the Indian military.
A parliamentary government with an elected National Assembly and a National Council is established by the 2008 Constitution. Bhutan is a member of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation since its inception (SAARC). Bhutan was placed third in South Asia in the Human Development Index in 2020, behind Sri Lanka and the Maldives.
Bhutan also belongs to the Climate Vulnerable Forum, the Non-Aligned Movement, BIMSTEC, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, UNESCO, and the World Health Organization (WHO). Bhutan topped the SAARC rankings in 2016 for economic freedom, ease of doing business, peace, and lack of corruption. Bhutan boasts one of the world’s greatest hydroelectric water supplies. Bhutan is becoming increasingly concerned about melting glaciers as a result of climate change.
Although there are no historical records from that time, stone tools, weapons, elephants, and relics of enormous stone constructions show that Bhutan was populated as early as 2000 BC. Historians believe that between 500 BC and 600 AD, the state of Lhomon (literally, “southern darkness”), or Monyul (“Dark Land,” a reference to the Monpa ethnic group in Bhutan and Arunachal Pradesh), existed.
Ancient Bhutanese and Tibetan histories mention the names Lhomon Tsendenjong (Sandalwood Country) and Lhomon Khashi, or Southern Mon (country of four approaches). Bhutan was the first country to bring Buddhism to the country in the 7th century AD.
Songtsän Gampo (reigned 627–649), a Buddhist convert who expanded the Tibetan Empire into Sikkim and Bhutan, ordered the construction of two Buddhist temples, one in Bumthang and the other in Kyichu (near Paro) in the Paro Valley. In 746, Ruler Sindhu Rja, an exiled Indian king who had established a government in Bumthang at Chakhar Gutho Palace, began to actively promote Buddhism.
Because most of the documents were destroyed when the old capital, Punakha, was destroyed by fire in 1827, much of early Bhutanese history is unknown. Bhutan’s political evolution was greatly affected by its religious past by the 10th century. Various Buddhist subsects arose, which were patronized by various Mongol warlords.
Bhutan may have been inspired by the Yuan dynasty, with whom it shares cultural and religious links. Following the decline of the Yuan dynasty in the 14th century, these subsects fought for dominance in the political and theological environment, finally resulting to the Drukpa Lineage’s predominance in the 16th century.
Bhutanese invaded and occupied the kingdom of Koch Bihar in the 18th century. The Maharaja of Koch Bihar appealed to the British East India Company in 1772, who aided in the expulsion of the Bhutanese and then in the attack on Bhutan itself in 1774. Bhutan agreed to withdraw to its pre-1730 borders after signing a peace treaty.
The peace was fragile, however, and border conflicts with the British would continue for the next century. The skirmishes eventually culminated in the Duar War (1864–65), a conflict over the Bengal Duars. The Treaty of Sinchula was signed between British India and Bhutan after Bhutan lost the war. The Duars were given to the United Kingdom in exchange for a Rs. 50,000 rent as part of the war reparations. All wars between British India and Bhutan were stopped by the treaty.
Power disputes between the competing valleys of Paro and Tongsa led to civil war in Bhutan in the 1870s, with Ugyen Wangchuck, the penlop (governor) of Trongsa, eventually ascending to the throne. Following multiple civil wars and rebellions between 1882 and 1885, Ugyen Wangchuck used his power base in central Bhutan to vanquish his political opponents and unite the country.
With the solid appeal of Gongzim Ugyen Dorji, the Lhengye Tshog comprising major Buddhist monks, government officials, and heads of important families unanimously picked Ugyen Wangchuck as the hereditary ruler of the country in 1907, an epochal year for the country. The ceremony was photographed by John Claude White, a British Political Agent in Bhutan.
The British government quickly recognized the new monarchy, and Bhutan signed the Treaty of Punakha in 1910, a subsidiary treaty that granted the British control of Bhutan’s foreign affairs and made Bhutan a princely state of India. Given Bhutan’s historical reticence, this had little effect, and it also did not appear to affect Bhutan’s customary connections with Tibet.
Bhutan was one of the first countries to acknowledge India’s independence after the new Union of India declared independence from the United Kingdom on August 15, 1947. On August 8, 1949, the newly independent India and Bhutan signed a treaty identical to that of 1910, in which Britain gained control over Bhutan’s foreign relations.
To create a more democratic style of governance, King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck established the country’s legislature, a 130-member National Assembly, in 1953. He established a Royal Advisory Council in 1965 and a Cabinet in 1968. Bhutan was admitted to the United Nations in 1971 after three years of observer status.
After the death of his father, Dorji Wangchuck, in July 1972, Jigme Singye Wangchuck succeeded to the throne at the age of sixteen. Bhutan is located on the southern slopes of the eastern Himalayas, landlocked between China’s Tibet Autonomous Region to the north, India’s Sikkim, West Bengal, and Assam to the west and south, and Arunachal Pradesh to the east. It is located between the latitudes of 26°N and 29°N, as well as the longitudes of 88°E and 93°E.
The country is largely made up of steep, high mountains that are cut through by a network of fast rivers that form deep valleys before flowing into the Indian plains. The elevation ranges from 200 meters (660 feet) in the southern foothills to over 7,000 meters in the northern foothills (23,000 ft). Bhutan’s extraordinary range of biodiversity and ecosystems is due to its vast geographical diversity, which is combined with similarly diverse climate conditions.
Bhutan’s northern section is made up of an arc of Eastern Himalayan alpine shrub and meadows that stretch up to glaciated mountain peaks at the highest elevations, with an exceptionally cold environment. Most of the peaks in the north are over 7,000 meters (23,000 feet) above sea level; the highest point is Gangkhar Puensum, which stands at 7,570 meters (24,840 feet) and is the world’s tallest unclimbed mountain.
The river’s lowest point, at 98 meters (322 feet), lies in the valley of Drangme Chhu, where it crosses the Indian border. Alpine valleys in this region, irrigated by snow-fed rivers, provide grazing for animals, which are maintained by a small population of itinerant shepherds.
In Bhutan’s central region, the Black Mountains serve as a watershed between two main river systems: the Mo Chhu and the Drangme Chhu. The Black Mountains’ peaks range in elevation from 1,500 to 4,925 meters (4,921 to 16,158 feet), and fast-flowing rivers have cut extensive canyons in the lower mountain sections.
Eastern Himalayan subalpine conifer forests at higher elevations and Eastern Himalayan broadleaf forests at lower heights make up the forests of the central Bhutan mountains. The central region’s woodlands generate the majority of Bhutan’s forest production. Bhutan’s main rivers, the Torsa, Raidak, Sankosh, and Manas, pass through this region. The central highlands are home to the majority of the inhabitants.
The Shiwalik Hills are covered in dense Himalayan subtropical broadleaf forests, alluvial lowland river valleys, and mountains rising to 1,500 meters (4,900 feet) above sea level in the south. The foothills give way to the subtropical Duars Plain, which serves as the eponymous entry point to key mountain routes (also known as dwars or dooars; literally, “doors” in Assamese, Bengali, Maithili, Bhojpuri, and Magahi languages.).
The majority of the Duars are in India, although a 10- to 15-kilometer (6.2- to 9.3-mile) stretch of land extends into Bhutan. The northern and southern Duars of Bhutan are separated into two parts. The rough, sloping topography of the northern Duars, which border the Himalayan foothills, has dry, porous soil, lush flora, and numerous fauna.
The southern Duars have reasonably fertile soil, dense, mixed vegetation, and freshwater springs. Mountain rivers in India discharge into the Brahmaputra River, which is nourished by melting snow or monsoon rains. According to data given by the Ministry of Agriculture, the country’s forest cover was 64 percent in October 2005.
Bhutan’s climate varies according to altitude, ranging from subtropical in the south to temperate in the highlands and polar-type climate with year-round snow in the north. Summer, monsoon, autumn, winter, and spring are the five distinct seasons in Bhutan.
The monsoon rains are heavier in western Bhutan; southern Bhutan experiences hot humid summers and cool winters; central and eastern Bhutan are moderate and drier than the west, with warm summers and cool winters. Bhutan has a diverse primate population, including uncommon species like the golden langur. Macaca munzala, a variation Assamese macaque that some authorities describe as a new species, has also been discovered.
In the tropical lowlands and hardwood forests of the south, Bengal tigers, clouded leopards, hispid hares, and sloth bears live. Grey langur, tiger, goral, and serow can be found in mixed conifer, broadleaf, and pine forests in the temperate zone. The Himalayan black bear, red panda, squirrel, sambar, wild pig, and barking deer all have homes in fruit-bearing trees and bamboo.
Snow leopards, blue sheep, marmots, Tibetan wolves, antelope, Himalayan musk deer, and the takin, Bhutan’s national animal, all live in the alpine ecosystems of the great Himalayan range in the north. The endangered wild water buffalo can be found in tiny numbers in southern Bhutan. Bhutan is home to more than 770 different bird species. Bhutan’s bird list was recently updated in 2006 to include the globally endangered white-winged duck.
How To Reach Bhutan
Getting to Bhutan used to be more difficult than it is now. Only two entry sites, one in the north and the other in the south, provided access to the Kingdom of Bhutan on foot. The northern route, which passed through Tibet and was marked by high passes and massive mountains, would be impassable in the winter due to snow.
The southern route passed through the dense jungles of Assam and West Bengal in India. Bhutan, on the other hand, is well connected and accessible by road and air nowadays.
The country’s principal roadways connect it to the Indian plains in West Bengal and Assam through Phuentsholing, Gelephu, and Samdrup Jongkhar in the south. There are multiple domestic airports in the country, as well as an international airport with flights to all of the world’s major destinations.
It is vital to note that a visa is required to enter Bhutan. Indians, Bangladeshis, and Maldivians can get a visa on arrival, but they must have a passport or voter’s id card with them. So, how do you get to Bhutan? Continue reading to learn more.
1. By Road
The road routes to Bhutan via India are inexpensive, but they take a long time to travel. Bhutan may be reached by three routes, one in West Bengal and the other two in Assam. The Jaigaon/Phuentsholing route is the most popular since it is the most convenient. This route has a variety of lodging alternatives, making it a popular choice. Those traveling to Bhutan via this method will also find it easier to obtain a permission. Many people prefer the Bongaigaon/Gelephu and Darangamela/Samdrup Jongkhar routes via Assam.
The border between Jaigaon and Phuentsholing can be reached via Hasimara or New Jalpaiguri. The small village of Hasimara is only 16 kilometers from the border, and from here you can take autos, shared jeeps, or taxis to the border. From all around India, there are various trains that go to Hasimara.
Direct trains to Hasimara are available from most major cities such as Delhi, Kolkata, Mumbai, Kanpur, and Ranchi, but you can also find connecting trains from all around the country. New Jalpaiguri is around 150 kilometers from the Jaigaon/Phuentsholing border, thus it will take you about 3-4 hours to go there. Almost all important cities in India have trains that terminate in New Jalpaiguri, and many more have trains that stop at New Jalpaiguri. One can either take a taxi or take the less expensive bus from New Jalpaiguri.
There are other buses that run from Kolkata to the border. It’s possible that the travel will take 18-20 hours and cost you roughly 1000 Indian rupees. Tourists can also bring their cars into Bhutan, but they must obtain a special vehicle permission. The journey to the Bongaigaon/Gelephu border can be thrilling in and of itself.
While the massive Brahmaputra would leave you speechless, Assam’s beautiful and calming surroundings will enhance your experience. Tourists can travel to New Bongaigaon by train and then take a taxi to the border, which is around 60 kilometers away. Depending on weather and traffic, the trip to the border could take up to two hours.
The nearest railway station to the Darangamela/Samdrup Jongkhar boundary is Rangiya’s Old Railway Station. There are direct trains from Delhi and Kolkata that stop in Rangiya, and travelers can always board a connecting train from Guwahati, Assam’s state capital. The border is merely an hour’s drive from Rangiya, and the route takes you through Assam’s beautiful landscapes and water bodies. From Rangiya, taxi services are available to take you to the border.
2. By Air
Paro is home to Bhutan’s only international airport. The Paro airport is Bhutan’s only operational airport while a new international airport in Gelephu is being built. Druk Air and Bhutan Airlines are the two airlines that fly here. There are numerous flights to major cities and locations all around the world.
Delhi, Kolkata, Mumbai, Guwahati, and Bagdogra are among the Indian cities served by aircraft, as are Bangkok, Kathmandu, and Singapore. Air travel to Bhutan is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. With clear weather, one can see tall mountains and Bhutan’s gorgeous countryside, and flights are the closest one can get to mountain summits while descending into the Paro valley. Yonphula, Bumthang, and Gelephu are three domestic airports in Bhutan that make travel within the country simple and efficient.
Weather In Bhutan And The Best Time To Visit
Bhutan is surrounded in the Eastern Himalayas and is bordered on the west, south, and east by Sikkim, Assam, and Arunachal Pradesh, respectively, while the north is bounded by China-occupied Tibet.
Naturally, the culture and traditions of this landlocked mountain state are comparable to those of its neighbors. Bhutan is a peaceful Buddhist country with snow-capped mountains, lush green valleys, and a devoutness that is hard to find anywhere else. If you’re planning a trip to Bhutan, here’s a guide to the weather and the ideal time to go.
1. The season of spring (March, April & May)
Spring is the happiest and most beautiful season of the year, transcendent and flaming, with a riot of vibrantly flowered flora all around. It’s that time of year when tourists may see the famous Paro Tsechu festival’s many cultural exhibitions.
Because this is the most popular time of year for travel and a very busy time of year, it is advisable to book hotels and flights two or three months in advance. This is Rhododendron season, which is perfect for hiking because the temperature ranges from 13 to 25 degrees.
2. The Autumn/Fall season (September, October & November)
Autumn is a favorite time for hikers, travelers, and photographers. The temperature is mild and comfortable at this time of year, with stunning blue skies.
It’s the ideal time to escape reality by visiting calm monasteries and meeting with monks to learn about their modest ways of living. Bhutan also celebrates the Thimpu Tshechu and black-necked crane festivals during this time. The temperature fluctuates between 13 and 25 degrees Fahrenheit.
3. Summer and Monsoon (June, July & August)
Summers and monsoons are rather quiet in Bhutan, as they are the country’s off-season. This is the ideal season for the lazy traveler who simply wants to relax on their balconies with a beautiful view.
Bhutan receives more divine rains than any other Himalayan region. As a result, the monsoons are a very amorous time. The temperature is usually above 20°C, and it rains practically every night, making trekking somewhat dangerous.
4. The season of winter (December, January & February)
Winter is bitterly chilly here in the highlands. During January, there will be snowfall and the temperature will drop significantly. The valley, on the other hand, has a few sunny days with a beautiful blue sky every now and then. Visit if you enjoy peace and quiet in the off-season and want to see the Trongsa Tshechu – a private event with relatively few tourists, this could be a unique experience.
Bhutan Tourist Attractions
Bhutan is a serene country filled with monasteries and dzongs, and surrounded by snow-capped mountains, pure rivers, and verdant valleys. The pure air and lush vegetation here provide a relaxing respite for visitors.
The monasteries and hills all around provide a refreshing experience, as does the peaceful air. If you’re planning a trip to this wonderful Himalayan nation, here are our best recommendations for sites to see in Bhutan, from Paro to Thimphu, Punakha to Bumthang, and Dochula Pass.
1. Taktsang Monastery
Guru Rimpoche is said to have flown in from Tibet on the back of a flying tigress and landed here in the 8th century, where he meditated before preaching Buddhism to the people of Bhutan; thus, this monastery is one of Bhutan’s most important sites. The monastery is located on a granite cliff in the Paro highlands.
The monastery’s sight, hidden in the clouds, can steal your breath away. Travelers can hike up to the monastery, which can take up to two hours and is well worth the effort. Because of the legend of Guru Rimpoche, the Taktsang Monastery is also known as the Tiger’s Nest.
2. Punakha Dzong
Bhutan’s second-largest and oldest monastery is definitely a sight to behold. The monastery is appropriately named the ‘Palace of Happiness,’ as it is situated between two rivers, the Pho Chu (male) and the Mo Chu (female), and is surrounded by lilac-colored Jacaranda trees and a pleasant temperature.
Punakha Dzong is a must-see in Bhutan, located three hours east of the capital city of Thimpu. The monastery also preserves relics from several rulers’ pasts, giving tourists a glimpse into Bhutan’s rich history.
3. Buddha Dordenma Statue, Thimpu
The 169-foot Buddha statue in Thimpu’s main city is said to have fulfilled Yogi Sonam Zangpo’s prophecy that a statue will be believed in the region to bestow blessings, peace, and happiness on the world.
The statue also honors the Bhutanese monarchy’s centennial. This is one place you must visit if you are planning a vacation to Bhutan, as it contains thousands of miniature Buddha statues made of gold and bronze. The statue can be seen from practically anyplace in Thimpu, and the view of the city is spectacular from here.
4. Dochula Pass
The Dochula pass, located on the road from Thimpu to Punakha, is one of the most magnificent spots on the earth. The pass is one of Bhutan’s most famous destinations, with a breath-taking view of the Gangkar Puensum’s snow-capped peak in the distance and 108 stupas or chortens built in the memory of soldiers.
The pass is next to Bhutan’s first botanical garden, the Royal Botanical Garden, and provides a view of the botanical garden’s stunning Rhododendron garden.
Jomolhari, also known as the ‘bride of the Kanchenjunga,’ is believed to be the home of the goddess Jomo, who was a disciple of Guru Rimpoche and was sworn to protect the people of the region by Guru Rimpoche.
The Jomolhari’s magnificent snow-capped peak is roughly 7000 meters above sea level. The glacial lakes and valley views will transport you to another view. One of the most difficult treks in the region, the Jomolhari trek, is also a famous attraction. The mind-blowing view that awaiting trekkers here is well worth the effort.
6. Phobjikha Valley
In November, visit the Phobjikha Valley. Countless Black-necked cranes are migrating to the valley. Enjoy the panoramic vistas, distant snow-capped mountains, and thick forests that encircle the valley on all sides. For hikers, this is the ideal location. Simply pack a filling snack and go.
Thimphu, Bhutan’s capital, is located in a beautiful valley in the country’s west. It is the seat of Bhutan’s government and the epicenter of the country’s activity. There are palaces among the Buddhist temples and places, as well as monasteries. Visit Tashichho Dzong, a government palace with a golden leaf-covered dome. This is also a monastery with formidable fortifications. Visit the Fort Heritage Museum, the Memorial Chorten, and the Buddha Dordenma.
Paro is a lovely, peaceful town in Bhutan that is home to the renowned Tiger’s Nest monastery, Taktsang Palphug. Paro is also Bhutan’s only place with an international airport. Visit the Tiger’s Nest, stroll through Paro’s valley’s deep forests, see the great fort of Drukgyel Dzong, and participate in activities such as kayaking, rafting, mountain biking, and severe climbing.