The Himalaya Kingdom of Happiness
Why visit Bhutan
The Last Shangri-La. Land of the Thunder Dragon. Wonderful names have been used to refer to Bhutan, a small Buddhist kingdom at the southern slopes of the Himalayas, between Tibet and India.
Bhutan's living cultural heritage and its numerous monasteries, temples and other monuments reflect its Tibetan influence over thousands of years. Bhutan is the perfect alternative for visiting Tibet and for an obvious reason: whilst all the Tantric-Buddhism kingdoms and principalities (Tibet, Ladakh, Mustang, Sikkim and others) lost their independence and original Bhuddhist identity, only Bhutan resisted foreign invasion and a dramatic cultural and ethnical take-over. Bhutan's kings brought peace, freedom and democracy, not perfect, but quite unique for this part of the world.
The views and the nature of the mountains, forests, valleys and plains make Bhutan one of the best places for sustainable ecotourism which is inspired by the Buddhist view of interdependence between man and nature.
Bhutan's forest coverage is ca. 72% (with a minimum of 60% guaranteed in its Constitution) and it generates more hydropower than its own energy consumption. This makes Bhutan the world's only carbon negative country, a carbon sink absorbing three times the amount of CO2 than its population emits. The absence of an extensive heavy industry and of coal-fired power plants contributes to a relatively high air quality (although cars are on the increase). Meat consumption is traditionally limited due to Buddhism.
Probably its most famous contribution to the world is the Gross National Happiness Index, more about it further down in this page.
International visitors cannot just fly to the country, buy a visa and go. It is mandatory first to contact a recognised Bhutanese tour operator to arrange the local travel and accommodation in advance; a local guide will be assigned to each group. Most visitors arrive by air at Paro Airport, but there are possibilities to arrive over land, but only through a recognised tour operator.
All important information can be found here.
Since international travellers are required to hire a Bhutanese tour operator, your transportation will be taken care of, usually in excellent vehicles. Ask your tour operator for the options of getting around in the country and also to make hiking or bicycle tours. All towns including Thimphu’s city centre have a pleasant size to allow for walking around, for shopping or to experience local Bhutanese life.
Tourism & People
Respect for the local communities and the people's traditions is at the core of tourism development and promotion.
International visitors are required to spend US$ 250 per person per night in the country (off-season: US$ 200) covering all local travel, all accommodation, meals, excursions, a local guide and a contribution for social development, sustainability and restoration projects. This may sound like a lot of money, but many top destination holidays are more expensive and in Bhutan's case, your money remains in the country, for the benefit of local communities and tourists.
The Bhutanese tourism system ensures a good employment, education and training of tour guides who are so important in helping visitors to understand and respect the country and its nature, its people and their culture and tradition.
Culture & Local Life
Most visitors to Bhutan are attracted by its amazing culture and tradition and by its Tsechu festivals staging the typical Bhutanese mask dances (Cham). Bhutan provides the best opportunities to quietly celebrate and experience Himalayan Buddhism pure, as part of everyday life among local people whose behavior is little impacted by tourism.
The traditional culture of Bhutan is not limited to specific sites or hotspots, it is everywhere. Many Bhutanese proudly wear the traditional dress. And while cities all over the world become more similar every day, Bhutan shows global leadership by making its traditional design and ornaments mandatory for new buildings throughout the country. This is an excellent way to celebrate traditional craftsmanship, authenticity and local identity instead of locking it up in a folk museum.
Nature & Wildlife
Thanks to the country’s enormous variety of landscapes and ecosystems, Bhutan is of the world’s biodiversity hotspots. Protected nature areas cover more than 50% of the country, with 10 national parks and sanctuaries connected with ecological corridors.
The list of almost 200 mammal species includes Bengal Tiger, Snow Leopard, Red Panda, Takin, Golden Langur, Asiatic Elephant and Himalayan Musk Deer.
Travel tips from our editors
Attend a Tshechu festival
The religious Tshechu festivals are organised annually on days determined by the lunar Tibetan calendar. In every district it can be in another month, so there are festivals (also other than Tshechu) throughout the year. Some are very big (Paro Tshechu and Thimphu Tshechu), others are smaller. Typically, festivals stage the Cham (Bhutanese mask dance). Normally your tour operator will include a festival in your program.
Learn about Cham, the mask dance
The Cham (Bhutanese mask dances) is performed by monks, nuns and villagers and can be seen at the many festivals (like the Tshechu) throughout the country. See the videos below to get an impression of the mask dance.
Waste separation for recycling
With rapid socio-economic development, increasing population and urbanization, Bhutan is seeing an increase in the amount of solid waste generated. More problematically the composition of that waste is shifting from biodegradable to non-biodegradable waste. In order to promote, reuse and recycling, waste segregation is an essential task. Hence, Thimphu and few other districts towns are implementing Public Private Partnership for Integrated Solid Waste Management where segregation of waste is carried out.
Bhutan has featured in the Sustainable Destinations Top 100 since the very beginning of this competition in 2014.
In 2018 Bhutan was the first country to receive a Green Destinations Gold Award.
In 2018 it was also the first winner of the ITB Earth Award for being a carbon sink and for its contributions to social wellbeing and environment, resulting from Bhutan's Gross National Happiness policies.
The Gross National Happiness
In 1972 King Jigme Singye Wangchuck declared that “Gross National Happiness is more important than Gross Domestic Product.”
The Gross National Happiness (GNH) concept has inspired many in Bhutan and around the world about sustainable development. GNH is a holistic concept focusing on non-economic aspects of wellbeing: Psychological wellbeing, Health, Education, Time use, Cultural diversity and resilience, Good governance, Community vitality, Ecological diversity and resilience, and Living standards.
In 2011 the principles of Bhutan's GNH have been endorsed by the United Nations General Assembly.