About Bhutan

About Bhutan

While agreeing that the ultimate purpose of life is the pursuit of Happiness, for a very long time, economists the world over have argued that the key to happiness is obtaining and enjoying material development. However, Bhutan adheres to a very different belief and advocates that amassing material wealth does not necessarily lead to happiness. There are abstract, non material aspects of life, which are equally if not more important to make people happy. This was first underlined by Bhutan’s Fourth King, Jigme Singye Wangchuck, who proclaimed that “Gross National Happiness (GNH) is more important that Gross National Product (GNP).”
This concept has now become an international anthem and it was elevated further on 19 July 2011, when the United Nations General Assembly unanimously adopted resolution A/RES/65/309 entitled ‘Happiness: towards a holistic approach to development’. It was the first resolution initiated by Bhutan and was passed without a vote after Bhutan was able to secure the support of 68 co-sponsors.
A concept that arose from a small Kingdom nestled in the Himalayas; GNH is today a subject for scholars and social thinkers, a literature in itself. This is a reason why Bhutan is called the “Happy Kingdom” and has become the epitome of Happiness.
GNH revolves around four main pillars; equitable and equal socio-economic development’ preservation and promotion of cultural and spiritual heritage, conservation of environment and good governance. These are interwoven and complement one another.

Medieval Bhutan was known by several names and the genesis of the names varies. Some say that the name Bhutan has been derived from the ancient Indian term “Bhotanta” which means the end of the land of the Bhots. ‘Bhots was the Sanskrit term for Tibetans, thus Bhutan could mean the end of the land of Tibet or from ” Bhu-uttan” which means ‘high land’. Though known to the outside world as Bhutan, Bhutanese refer to their country as Druk Yul or the Land of The Thunder Dragon.
Bhutan has never been colonized, a historic fact greatly treasured and prized by Bhutanese. Numerous clans and feudal chiefs ruled different regions in the country, leading to constant conflicts amongst themselves. However, this changed after the arrival of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel in the 17th century, who unified the country and established a dual system of governance.
Apart from this, Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel built several Dzongs in the country and established the Drukpa Kagyud school of Buddhism.
1907 was another historic moment as the Trongsa Penlop (Governor) Ugyen Wangchuck was enthroned at Punakha as the first hereditary King of Bhutan. The Wangchuck dynasty, especially the Third King, Jigmi Dorji Wangchuck, known as the Father of Modern Bhutan opened Bhutan to the world. The current King, His Majesty Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuck is the fifth king of Bhutan.
Another historic figure in Bhutanese history is the great Indian Tantric Saint, Guru Padma Sambhava who came to Bhutan on the invitation of the then King of Bumthang, Sindhu Gyab. There are several legends surrounding Guru Padma Sambhava, one of the most important one being his journey to Paro Taktshang on a tigress in a wrathful form. He had come to the monastery to subdue evil forces that were obstructing the spread of Buddhism. Guru Rinpoche is not only recognized as the founder of Nyingmapa religious school but also considered as the second Buddha. In the years that followed many great masters flourished the faith of Buddhism. The country was eventually unified under the Drukpa Kargyud sect of Mahayana Buddhism by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal.
From the 17th century till date, Bhutan has witnessed several historical moments, the most important being the abdication from the Throne by the Fourth King and introduction of democracy in the country. Bhutan held its first general elections in 2008. Thus, it is not without sufficient evidence and reasons that Bhutan is known as a special country, guided by visionary leaders- a country which gifted Gross National Happiness to the world.

For a country of Bhutan’s size, there are a huge number of people from different ethnic groups. However, Bhutanese people can be broadly divided in three ethnics group – Sharchops, Ngalops and Lhotshampas – based on the regions inhabitated.
The Sharchops, meaning “people of the east” are considered to be the earliest major group to inhabit Bhutan. They also form the largest ethnic group and speak a language called Sharchokpa.
Ngalops, or dwellers of the North are the descendants of Tibetan immigrants who came to Bhutan in 8th and 9th century A.D settling primarily in the west.
The third group are the Lhotshampas, representing the Nepali speaking ethnic group. They started migrating in the 19th and 20th century and live in the southern foothills of Bhutan. They are mostly Hindus.
Predominantly Buddhist, the Bhutanese people practice Drukpa Kargyud sect of Mahayana Buddhism. Monks and nuns play an important role in the daily lives of Bhutanese people. They perform ceremonies by preserving the ancient culture and promote the teachings of wisdom and compassion. You can practically see every Bhutanese home with a room called ‘choeshum’ for daily religious practice. The faith of Bhutanese can be measured by the temples, monasteries and stupas built in every corner of the country for their daily worship.
Bhutanese wear distinctive national dress made from wool, cotton and silk. The men’s attire is called ‘Gho’ and ladies dress is called ‘Kira’. People in Bhutan wear the national dress while going to school, offices and on formal occasions.
Bhutanese food mainly consists of meat, rice and vegetables. People in Bhutan love chilies. The most popular dish in Bhutan is called ‘Ema Datse’ which is made from cheese and chilies.
Chang, a local beer made from rice is a common drink especially in the villages.
The folk dances, ancient music and the mask dances performed during the religious festivals called Tshechu are some of the unique and distinct cultural identity Bhutan has preserved over the years.

Bhutan is a landlocked country, sandwiched between two Asian giants, China in the North and India from all other directions. While 72 percent of the country is under forest cover, its landscape consists of a succession of lofty and rugged mountain ranges separated by deep valleys. Thick forests cover most of the slopes. Several rivers flow southward into the Brahmaputra River in India.
The panoramic scenes of the snow capped mountains in the north reaches a height of over 7500 meters above sea level. The northern belt is inhabited by few nomads and yak herders who move to the warmer places in the winter and bring back their livestock for grazing in the summer. The snow fed rivers in the alpine region provide pastures for the livestock in the summer.
In the inner Himalayas the elevation reaches from 1500 meters to 3500 meters. All the major towns like Thimphu, Paro, Punakha, etc. are situated in this zone. From June to September, which is the monsoon season, the valleys become lush and green.
In the south, the Southern Hills are covered with dense deciduous forest, alluvial lowland river valleys, and mountains that reach around 1,500 meters above sea level. The Southern Foothills in the north have dense vegetation and abundant wildlife. The border towns are all in the southern foothills which shares borders with India.
The climate is humid and subtropical in the southern plains and foothills, temperate in the inner Himalayan valleys of the southern and central regions, and cold in the north, with year-round snow on the main Himalayan summits.

The sheer beauty of Bhutan makes it an ideal filming location. However, apart from the local film industry which has grown dramatically in the last few years, parties from outside have not used Bhutan as a filming haven. There are few documentaries and even movies set up and shot in Bhutan, but the Kingdom’s potential has not been fully harnessed.

Similar to most countries, there are rules and regulations set up for filming. It is governed by the Bhutan Filming Regulations. Issued under the Bhutan Information, Communications and Media Act, the Bhutan Info-Comm and Media Authority (BICMA) has the sole authority to grant filming permits to foreign companies or filmmakers, and to implement and enforce this Regulation. However, the issuance of permits is subject to clearance from the Department of Information and Media, to which the foreign companies or filmmakers should submit their proposal with an application.

Atlas Travels can assist and act as a facilitator for any individual or company interested in making films within Bhutan. Our assistance will cover logistics to location hunting and the provision of vital information.  We can also act as your agent in Bhutan for pushing papers and fulfilling formalities, so that you can commence your work right after arrival in Bhutan.

(For further details read the Bhutan Filming Guideline)

Due to Bhutan’s location and unique geographical and climatic variations, it is one of the world’s last remaining biodiversity hotspots.

Bhutan’s pristine environment, with high rugged mountains and deep valleys, offers ecosystems that are both rich and diverse. Recognizing the importance of the environment, conservation of its rich biodiversity is one of the government’s development paradigms.

The Constitution of Bhutan states that at any given point of time, 60 percent of the country should be under forest cover. Today, approximately 72% of the total land area of Bhutan is under forest cover and approximately 60% of the land area falls under protected areas comprising of 10 national parks and sanctuaries.

Flora and Fauna

An astonishing array of plants grow in Bhutan: over 5,400 species, including 300 species of medicinal plants, some hardy species thriving even at 3,700m above.

Bhutan has one of the richest stocks of orchids in the world. Of the 369 species, 82 are unique to the mountain kingdom. Bhutan claims 48 of the 1,000 species of rhododendrons found worldwide.

The tropical evergreen forests growing below 800m are repositories of a unique biodiversity. The tropical vegetation of the lower zones gives way to dark forests of oak, birch, maple, magnolia and laurel. Above 2,400m altitude is the home of spruce, yew, and weeping cypress, and higher still, growing up to the tree line, is the east Himalayan fir.

At about 5,500m are low shrubs, rhododendrons, Himalayan grasses and flowering herbs. Bhutan’s national flower, Blue Poppy grows above the tree line 3,500 – 4,500m elevation.

Many rare and endangered species such as the Royal Bengal tiger, Asian elephant, gaur, wild buffalo, wild dog, common leopard, black panther, marveled cat, golden cat, clouded Leopard and Chinese pangolin, Musk derr, Blue Sheep, Takin are seen in Bhutan. Species endemic to the Eastern Himalayan foothills, such as golden langur, capped langur, pygmy hog and hispid hare are found in Bhutan’s oldest park, the Royal Manas Park.

This park alone has a total of 530 species of birds recorded, highest among all protected areas. Apart from the globally endangered species, such as, the Rufous-necked hornbill and Pallas fish eagle, there are 14 other species recorded from the park, which are considered to have globally significant breeding populations in Bhutan.

Physically, the country can be divided into three zones:

1. Alpine Zone (4000m and above) with no forest cover;
2. Temperate Zone (2000 to 4000m) with conifer or broadleaf forests;
3. Subtropical Zone (150m to 2000m) with Tropical or Subtropical vegetation.

Forest types in Bhutan are fir forests, mixed conifer forest, blue pine forest, chirpine forest, broadleaf mixed with conifer, upland hardwood forest, lowland hardwood forest, and tropical lowland forests. Almost 60% of the plant species found in the eastern Himalayan region are present in Bhutan.

As one of the ten global hotspots, Bhutan is committed to preserve and protect its rich environment through its government and environmental organizations. This commitment is apparent in the fact that the kingdom has the distinct honor of being one of the only nations whose forest cover has actually grown over the years.

Some of the proactive organizations working in Bhutan are:

1. Alpine Zone (4000m and above) with no forest cover;
2. Temperate Zone (2000 to 4000m) with conifer or broadleaf forests;
3. Subtropical Zone (150m to 2000m) with Tropical or Subtropical vegetation.

Forest types in Bhutan are fir forests, mixed conifer forest, blue pine forest, chirpine forest, broadleaf mixed with conifer, upland hardwood forest, lowland hardwood forest, and tropical lowland forests. Almost 60% of the plant species found in the eastern Himalayan region are present in Bhutan.

As one of the ten global hotspots, Bhutan is committed to preserve and protect its rich environment through its government and environmental organizations. This commitment is apparent in the fact that the kingdom has the distinct honor of being one of the only nations whose forest cover has actually grown over the years.

Some of the proactive organizations working in Bhutan are:

For a country that began to build its first roads only in the early sixties, Bhutan has come a long way. Bolstered by export of hydro power, churned from the gushing rivers of the country, Bhutan has developed economically.
This has enabled the state to provide free basic health and education to the people of Bhutan. The rights of the people to avail these facilities are enshrined in the Constitution. Though there are segments of the population who still live under the poverty line, Bhutanese people have seen unprecedented growth in the last couple of decades. All villages now have access to basic amenities such as education, safe drinking water, and basic healthcare and are connected by roads and electricity. Even the most remote villages have connection to the telecommunication network including mobile phone services.
The Bhutanese economy is predominantly agrarian. Farmers supplement their income through the sale of animal products such as cheese, butter and milk. Farmers’ markets are common throughout the country, supplying the people with fresh, organic, local produce.
The main staple crops are rice, maize, wheat and buckwheat while cash crops are predominantly potatoes, apples, oranges, cardamom, ginger, and chilies. Fruit based industries has been established in the country thereby allowing farmers from the nearby areas to sell their produce and thereby earn additional revenue.

Cottage Industries

Bhutan’s rich biodiversity provides the country with ample forest resources and this has brought about the development of a thriving cane and bamboo handicraft industry. Craftsmen weave a number of beautiful and intricate items out of bamboo and cane including hats, backpacks, floor mats and traditional bowls. These items are then sold to tourists or Bhutanese, supplying a secondary income source.


The Bhutanese Tourism Industry was first opened in 1974. Since then it has grown to become a major contributor to the Bhutanese economy creating employment opportunities and generating additional revenue for the government.
The government is committed to building a sustainable tourism industry that is not only financially viable but also limits the negative cultural and environmental impacts commonly associated with the culture of mass tourism. By establishing a policy of “High Value, Low Impact’ tourism, the kingdom of Bhutan seeks to ensure that it attracts only the most discerning visitors with a deep respect for cultural values, traditions and the natural environment.
To this end efforts have been made to ensure that even remote areas are publicized and able to reap the benefits of tourism while still respecting their traditions, culture and natural environment.


Due to its fast flowing, glacier-fed rivers, Bhutan has enormous potential to produce hydroelectricity. With the construction of several major dams, the power sector has undeniably been the biggest contributor to the Bhutanese exchequer. The Chukha Hydro Power Corporation, the Tala Hydro Power Corporation, the Baso Chu Hydro Power Corporation and the Kurichu Hydro Power Corporation, under the umbrella of Druk Green Power Corporation, are some of the existing mega projects in the country. The 1500 MW of power they generate, most of which is exported to India, barely scratches the surface of Bhutan’s untapped hydroelectric potential. With its abundant water resources, Bhutan still has the capacity to generate another 30,000 MW of electricity. However, the government is proceeding cautiously with new construction projects in order to minimize the impact upon the surrounding areas.


The Manufacturing sector is another major contributor to national revenue. With the industrial sector established in Pasakha, small scale industries such as cement plants, calcium and carbide, steel and Ferro silicon, Coca Cola and also wood based industries have started developing.
As a result of the recent economic development, Bhutan has one of the highest per capita incomes in South Asia at US$1,321. However the government is unwaveringly committed to maintain and preserve its culture and environment amid the potential for growth.

Essential Links

Tourism Council of Bhutan


Department of Immigration


Drukair (Royal Bhutan Airlines)


Bhutan Airlines


LCC Atlas

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