Bhutan and Tourism

Bhutan got its name from a Sanskrit word “bhu” indicating land and “uttan” meaning elevated; the High Land but there are other theories as well. To local people Bhutan is known as Drukyul; the land of Thunder Dragon. Bhutan lies between 88° 45’ to 92° 10’ East longitude and 26° 45’ to 28° 10’ North latitude.

With an area of 38,394 square kilometers, Bhutan is sandwiched between two giants of Asia; China to North and India to South, East and West. Bhutan’s time is 6 hours ahead of GMT. It has an estimated population of 779,666 (2017).

Bhutan is divided into three climatic zones; The Subtropical Lowlands, The Temperate Midlands and The Alpine Highlands.

More than 80% of people in Bhutan practice Buddhism as their religion, some 15% practice Hinduism and small margin of people practice Christianity.

Though Bhutan is a small country, more than 25 dialects are spoken throughout Bhutan; credit to its geographical barriers that kept people form interacting with each other in olden days thus forming their own community and languages. Dzongkha is the national language of Bhutan and the only language with written form. It is predominantly spoken in western parts of the country.

Throughout its history Bhutan was never colonized; credits to its isolation from rest of the world by its leaders and geographic conditions. It was unified by the great Tibetan Buddhist saint Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal in the 17th century. After his death, country was hit by series of civil wars to fill the vacuum post and in the midst of this chaos, house of Wangchuck dynasty came into power and thus in 1907 Bhutan had its first hereditary king, Sir Ugyen Wangchuck, the 2nd great grandfather of Present king Jigme khesar Namgyal Wangchuck (5th).

Bhutan changed from absolute monarchy to constitutional democracy in the year 2008.

 

Bhutan opened to Tourism only in the year 1974. Ever since Bhutan has a different approach, keeping in mind the high value and low impact tourism, has set up a minimum mandatory fee of $200 per night stay for all its visitors except regional tourists (Indian, Bangladeshis and Maldivians). With this policy in place, Bhutan could regulate on its number of visitors while reaping the financial benefits. With only a population of 0.7 million, keeping its cultural and natural resources intact is survival for Bhutan and it definitely did not want to overflowed by its visitors. With only 287 tourist arrival in its opening year (1974), Bhutan today receives around fifty thousands of International tourists and hundred thousands of regional tourists every year.

With over 70 million US dollar floating into Bhutan by means of tourism annually, for a small economy with just over 2 billion dollar of GDP, tourism is the second highest revenue earner for Bhutan government next to Hydro power projects and tourism industry today employs more than 25,000 Bhutanese people.

Of all the tourists that visits Bhutan every year, around 88% visits for cultural sightseeing tours, around 7% for Nature tours, 4% for adventure tours and 1% for spiritual and wellness.

Some of the activities that tourists can enjoy in Bhutan are:

1. Cultural Sightseeing tours

2. Festival tours

3. Trekking tours

4. Luxury tours

5. Mountain biking tours

6. Motor cycle tours

7. Bird watching tours

8. White water rafting

9. Photography tours

 

Spreading tourism across all parts of Bhutan has been always a challenge so far with more than 90% of the tourists visiting only western parts of the country. This is because of following two main reasons:

1. The location of Bhutan’s only international airport, which is at Paro one of the western district of Bhutan results in all the visitors arriving via western parts of the country.

2. Infrastructure such as tourist hotels, restaurants and transportations are lacking once you travel away from western parts of the country.

Measures are in place to distribute tourists across every parts of the country. Initiatives such as waiving off with sustainable development fee ($65) on first or last night spent on few entrance points such as Phuntsholing (South West), Sarpang (Central South) and Samdrupjongkhar (South East).

With inauguration of new domestic airport at Yonphula (East), future of tourist arrival in rest of the country is looking bright for Bhutan. Away from bustling city life, visiting to some of Bhutan’s corner places untouched by foreign visitors will be a perfect getaway to travel back into past where the life here moves at a different pace than rest of the developed cities.