“Druk Yul,” meaning “The land of the Thunder dragon”, is one of the last surviving Mahayana Buddhist kingdom today.
Nestled in the eastern end of the Himalayas, Bhutan first opened its doors to tourism in 1974. Seeking to preserve its unique culture, it has guarded itself against unchecked tourism and modernization and remains a rare destination for most travelers.
With an area of 47,000 square kilometers, Bhutan is a landlocked country comparable to the size of Switzerland. Its population is well under a million people and they are ethnically divided into three groups. From the west are the Sharchopas believed to be the indigenous inhabitants, the Ngalogpas are from the East whose descendant is traced to neighboring Tibet and in the South live the Lhotshampas who are of Nepalese origin.
Though Bhutan strives toward modernization, they have undoubtedly protected their ancient culture and its Buddhist way of life. With strong roots in Mahayana Buddhism, the spiritual essence is ever present as the commemorative chortens dot the landscape and faded prayers flags are stretched around homes and monasteries. Red robed lamas can be encountered on hill path, spinning prayer wheels as they journey across this rugged country.
Due to a deep traditional respect for nature, Bhutan also offers an unspoiled habitat for a huge variety of flora and fauna. Stretching from the foothills on the Indian border to snow clad peaks, the thick belts of pine and rhododendron, oak and alder and groves of bamboo and oranges all find its own places. They are one of the leading countries in environmental preservation and more than 70 per cent of the area is still under forest cover.
The contrasting topography created by variations of altitude, allows a very rich biodiversity includes the snow leopard and the blue sheep in high mountains, tigers and elephants in lowlands. Bhutan also boasts having more than 50 species of rhododendron and 770 species of birds.
Standing at an elevation of 7,600 feet, Thimpu boasts of being a country capital with only one traffic light. True enough; Thimpu is nothing like what a capital city is imagined to be. But, for Bhutan it is a fitting and lively place. The shops vie with each other, stocked with varieties of commodities ranging from cooking oil to fabrics. Old wooden houses stand side by side with newly constructed concrete buildings, all painted and constructed in traditional Bhutanese architectural style.