The Kingdom of Bhutan, also called Druk Yul meaning "land of the thunder dragon", is a landlocked South Asian nation situated between India and China. The entire country lies in the mountains of the Himalayas, except for a 13-16 km wide strip of subtropical plains in the extreme south. The elevation gain from the subtropical plains to the glacier-covered Himalayan heights exceeds 7,000 m, while the entire north-south distance of the country covers only 170km.
The northern belt of Bhutan borders with Tibet. At altitudes of 3500-5000m, it has a harsh climate and is inhabited only by the nomadic yakherders, mainly in Lingzhi, Laya, and Lunana.
The central valleys at 1000-3500m are alluvial valleys seperated by high mountains, and divided along historical and linguistic lines. A fortress, called dzong, commands each valley. Due to the high mountain passes between the valleys, there was little communication across the width of Bhutan in the past; most regions traded either with the north (Tibet) or the south (India). Consequently, languages evolved in isolated pockets, and there are few regions in the world where as many languages are spoken in such a small compass. Dzongkha is the national language which is taught in the school system and serves to foster unity and identity across Bhutan. (For more information on Bhutan’s languages, click here.)
The main inhabitants of the central valleys are Drukpas (the name druk comes from the monastery Druk near Lhasa) of Tibeto Mongol origin. 85% of them are farmers and animal breeders.
In a simplified east-west division, the western valleys are suitable for rice paddies and orchards, the central valleys grow barley, buckwheat, potatoes and breed yak and sheep, and in the east mostly maize is cultivated.
The southern belt made up of Samtse, South Chhukha, Tsirang, Sarpang, and Samdruk Jongkhar lies at 100-1000m elevation. It is largely inhabited by Lhotsampas (people of the southern border) who are of Nepali origin.
Bhutan' s traditional economy is based on forestry, animal husbandry and subsistence agriculture however these account for less than 50% of a GDP now that Bhutan has become an exporter of hydroelectricity. Cash crops, tourism, and development aid (the latter mostly from India) are also significant. Population estimates range from 734,000, to 2.23 million.
Wildlife in Bhutan is rich and varied, with 26% of the country’s land in protected reserves.
Bhutan is one of the most isolated nations in the world with an intact rich heritage; foreign influences and tourism are heavily regulated by the government to preserve its traditional Tibetan Buddhist culture.
Bhutan became a monarchy in 1907 under its first king Ugyen Wangchuk. In 2008, Bhutan held its first national elections to become a democracy.
Flags courtesy of ITA's Flags of All Countries used with permission.
Thimphu is the capital and largest town with a population of 50,000 (2003).