27 Things You Do Not Know About Bhutan

A question I am commonly asked is “what is your favourite country to visit”? Having been to nearly 50 countries makes this a difficult question to answer but there is one country that will always be in my top three: Bhutan. There are so many things you do not know about Bhutan!

A peaceful and spiritual oasis lying in the heart of the Eastern Himalayas, Bhutan is simply magical. Hidden between its neighbouring giants China and India, Bhutan is a similar size to Switzerland with a population of 700,000.

Exploring Bhutan is an opportunity to discover a nation who are proud of and have retained their cultural identify. It is a place like no other and visiting it feels like stepping into a magical vortex frozen in time.

Things You Do Not Know About Bhutan

AKA You know you are in Bhutan when…

1.   You are thankful for a window seat on a plane with the only airline that flies to Bhutan (Druk Air) after getting up close and personal with the Himalayan Mountains on the descent into Paro Airport.

2.   Rather than being quickly escorted off the runway by security, you are not only allowed to stay on the airport tarmac to photograph the stunning Himalayan backdrop but are actively encouraged to by local airport staff to pause and take photos

3.   You’ve organised your pre-booked tour, the only way to gain entry into the country

4.   You’ve paid over $200 USD a day to enter the country but hardly spend a penny once you are there

5.   You are greeted at the airport by a sign stating “Gross National Happiness is more important than Gross National Product”

6.   You stand with monks watching a local football game outside Thimpu Stadium, the site of “The Other Game” played at the same time that Brazil and Germany competed in the 2002 World Cup. In this game, the two lowest ranked teams in the world competed with Bhutan defeating Monserrat 4-0.

7.   You find yourself eating boiled rice three times a day because you don’t like spicy food

8.   You spend an afternoon in an unplanned meditative state, listening to the mesmerising chants from the monks at Punakha Dzong  

One of the things you do not know about Bhutan is that Punakha Dzong, built in 1638, is the second oldest and second largest dzong in the country
Punakha Dzong, built in 1638, is the second oldest and second largest dzong in the country — be honest, that is probably one of the things you do not know about Bhutan

9.   The only interruption to your picnic by the river is the ‘whooshing’ sound of an arrow shot from a local archer practising nearby

10.   You spend entire days not seeing any other Westerners

11.   You feel you have stepped back in time as you join locals at the Sunday afternoon regional Archery event, Bhutan’s national sport. A magical scene evolves as teenage girls hold hands and sing on the sidelines, opposing teams chant football-like banter at each other, monks and older men stand deep in conversation and a “woosh” past you signifies an archer’s attempt at hitting the wooden target from 140 metres away.

Walking the streets of Thumphu, the capital of the Kingdom of Bhutan
Walking the streets of Thumphu, the capital of the Kingdom of Bhutan

12.   You take a leisurely stroll around Thimphu, the world’s only capital city without traffic lights

13.   You purchase some local sweets and water through a window below a wooden “General Store” sign

14.   You realise the locals don’t all have the same fashion sense, but are wearing the National Dress (gho for men, kira for women)

15.   Are in a country whose altitude ranges from 100 to 7,500 metres


16.   You face 3-5 years in jail for smoking a cigarette, and can only legally smoke by purchasing a monthly permit for those with a ‘smoking addiction’.

17.   You discover local hair salon’s don’t need four walls and modern equipment as ladies queue for a trim in the grounds of the Memorial Chorten

18.   You immerse yourself in people watching at the Memorial Chorten as local’s cling to prayer beads as take the clockwise walk around the Chorten

19.   You have that feeling of insignificance that a powerful natural scene like the snow-capped Himalayan Mountains creates

20.   You learn to greet locals with the Bhutanese word for hello, “kuzuzanpo-la”   See More: Destination Bhutan

The strange-looking Takin is Bhutan’s National Animal, just one of the many strange things you do not know about Bhutan
Takins are part of the goat-antelope family and Bhutan’s National Animal, just one of the many strange things you do not know about Bhutan

21.   You encounter the strange looking Takin, Bhutan’s National Animal

22.   You realise the inadequacy of your fitness levels as you are overtaken by a small child on a hiking trail

23.   You spend your evening sitting around a fire, following a traditional story narrated via music and dance.

24.   You meet locals who had to be convinced by the much loved Royal Family that the introduction of a democratically-elected government in 2008 after a century of monarchy rule, was the way forward for the nation

25.   You travel through a countryside decorated with prayer flags, chortens, dzongs, stupa, monasteries…and colourful penis’s painted on doors

26.   You share the road to Gangte with the little black-faced Langur Monkeys

27.   You find ear plugs an essential ingredient to a night’s sleep in Paro, the town where dogs only bark at night

28.   You stand with locals on the side of the road in the Punakha Valley as a car with the license plate “BHUTAN 6” transports members of the much-loved royal family through the village

29.   A pile of rocks in the middle of the road represents a round-about, one of two traffic control mechanisms in the country

30.   You observe the other traffic control mechanism in Thimpu with amused interest – a white gloved and suited traffic controller

31.   You see a field containing nothing but wooden goal posts, a reminder that whilst archery may be the nation’s favourite sport, football is not far behind

Tiger's Nest Monastery in Bhutan
Tiger’s Nest Monastery

32.   You feel you are on top of the world, both physically and spiritually after surviving the trek up to Tiger Nest Monastery

33.   You learn more about a Buddhist belief that is embedded in all aspects of daily life

34.   You are entertained by naughty little novice monks who cannot hold their concentration during prayer time at a monastery

35.   You feel uplifted as you listen to the chatter and laughter of happy school children skipping along the road, girls holding hands and boys playfully wrestling with each other

36.   You are admiring the picturesque Punakha Valley as a local girl tells you she would love to see the grey, concrete underground network in London

37.   You learn that Gross National Happiness is more than just an inspiring quote, it is a way of life

Traditional cultural dance in Bhutan
Traditional dance in performance in Thimpu

There are so many things wrong with the world. There are so many countries in turmoil. There is a sense of a growing power struggle between the superpowers of the east and west. There are countries enduring violence and bloodshed to achieve a democratic, corruption-free and fair existence.


And then there is this little country called Bhutan, which many people haven’t even heard of, that seems to have got so much right. It’s not a perfect country it has the advantage of having a small population and a strong Buddhist faith, but it has a much loved Royal Family and a newly elected and respected government and experiences a relatively peaceful existence.

A monarchy that spent the first half of the last century maintaining its culture and national identify has recently begun to open its doors to the outside world, which inevitably raises some questions. Does Bhutan have something the rest of us can learn and benefit from? Will it benefit from the positive aspects of modern technology and development? Or has it created a gateway through which the negative aspects of the outside world will creep through to challenge the peace, culture and national identity that this country is so proud of. Only time will tell.

  // chris_fynn ucumari XXXX

Ever visited Bhutan?

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About Kellie Netherwood

No matter how we travel there is always further to go. The world is full of open doors - new friends to make, different cultures to experience, inspirational images to capture and lessons to learn. As I enjoy life's journey to MY DESTINATION UNKNOWN I am energised by the world we live in and inspired by those paving their own path in life. Through the intersection of my travel, writing and photography passions I share my travel adventures to help inspire you to create your own.

11 thoughts on “27 Things You Do Not Know About Bhutan”

  1. Bhutan is one country that really fascinates me — I want to visit so badly. Even more now after reading your article…wow, such an amazing country! And from what I hear tourism there has started to increase — all the more reason to see it now, before things change 🙂

    Reply
    • Yes tourism has started to increase now that the secret is out – Bhutan is incredible! Not only that, but internet and cable TV is becoming more widely available within the country so it will be interesting to see how they balance the wish to hold on to their national identity and century old traditions v the desire to modernise and sync up with the rest of the world. I hope to read about your visit one day! Definitely recommend it being on your bucket list!

      Reply
  2. Hi Kellie,
    Nice little article that highlights the oddities of Bhutan (may read as western Bhutan). One thing that you forgot to mention is the ubiquitous smell of ‘doma’ (betel nut) datshi (cooking cheese) and the ‘sha kom’ (jerky). The pervading ‘Bhutan’ odour that’s penetrates and permeates everything.
    Besides, there is more to Bhutan than just the 3 valleys you have been to, most of which are out of bounds to $250/day tourists. May be you ignored to add them coz it may go against ‘tourist operators ethics’ or just emulating what Bhutan does best in its world exposure propaganda.
    But, one thing is certain, Bhutan is stunningly unique and breath-taking – no second opinion on that.

    Reply
  3. Awesome Kellie! Big time barking methinks overnight, if you need ear plugs to get a decent night’s sleep. Reminds me of a few places where I visited with a major league street dog population. Bhutan feels like a peaceful, serene place, from my Facebook buddies living in the kingdom.

    Ryan

    Reply
  4. I also agree that there is a lot of natural beauty and Bhutan is a very interesting place to visit. But don’t believe all the propaganda about GNH. If you’re an ethnic Nepali who was forced off your land into a refugee camp your “Happiness” doesn’t count. And add in the fact that so many people are leaving rural farms for a chance at economic stability in the city and you get overcrowding and lots of unemployed young people. Not everything is rainbows and gumdrops in Bhutan.

    Reply

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