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Bhutan Facts

23 Interesting Facts About Asia's Most Closed-Off Country

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Bhutan Facts

Traveling pilgrims in Bhutan.

Photo by RajKumar1220 / Creative Commons

Unsurprisingly, most people know very few facts about Bhutan -- and for good reason. Surrounded by the Himalayas and sandwiched between China and India, Bhutan has deliberately remained closed off to maintain its old traditions.

Despite being an impoverished country, the cost to visit Bhutan is set exorbitantly high to discourage influence from outside countries; even television and internet access were banned until 1999.

Enjoy these Bhutan facts for a small glimpse into one of Asia's most mysterious countries.

Everyday Life

  • With only around 14,800 square miles (38,400 square kilometers) of territory, Bhutan is roughly half the size of Indiana -- just slightly smaller than Switzerland.
  • Druk Yul -- the local name for Bhutan -- means "Land of the Thunder Dragon."
  • In 2010, Bhutan became the first country in the world to ban the production and sales of tobacco products. Smoking in public areas is illegal, however, tobacco can be used in private. In 1916, the first King of Bhutan called tobacco "the most filthy and noxious herb."
  • In a push to modernize, the King of Bhutan finally allowed television and internet access into the country in 1999. Bhutan was among the last countries in the world to adopt television. The king warned that misuse of television could corrupt their old traditions.
  • Bhutan has a mandatory national dress code. Men wear knee-length traditional garments and women must wear ankle-length dresses. The colors are determined by social class and status.
  • The University of Texas at El Paso used Bhutanese architecture as an influence to design its campus.
  • Bhutan is the only country in the world to measure national happiness by way of an index known as Gross National Happiness. Rather than place emphasis solely on productivity and Gross Domestic Product, Bhutan attempts to track the happiness of its population. The United Nations bought into the idea in 2011 and is working to develop an indicator that encompasses social, health, and environmental wellness into an index rather than just economic concerns.
  • Despite a focus on internal happiness, the Bhutanese government has been accused of numerous human rights violations against the ethnic minorities living there; many were forced out of the country or into refugee camps. The US accepted 30,870 Bhutanese refugees between 2008 and 2010.
  • Bhutanese receive free education from the government. A heavy emphasis is placed on Buddhist teachings. Most schools have an English curriculum.
  • Inheritance (land, house, and animals) is generally passed to the eldest daughter rather than the eldest son. A man often moves into the home of his new wife until he can 'earn his keep.' Polygamy is legal, however, the practice is not common.
  • Bhutanese are forbidden to marry foreigners.
  • The national sport of Bhutan is archery.
  • The state religion of Bhutan is Vajrayana Buddhism. Vajrayana follows tantric Buddhist texts.

Health, Military, and Politics

  • Bhutan is squeezed directly between two world superpowers who often clash politically: China and India. Bhutan controls many key mountain passes between the two countries.
  • India and Bhutan maintain a friendly diplomatic relationship. Bhutanese may cross into India with only their national ID cards and may work without restrictions.
  • Bhutan is still negotiating parts of its mountainous border with China. Aside from land disputes, the Bhutanese have very little diplomatic relations with their biggest neighbor. In 2005, Chinese soldiers began constructing roads and bridges -- without Bhutan's permission -- to gain better access to disputed territory.
  • The King of Bhutan handed the crown to his eldest son in 2008. At the age of 28, King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck became the youngest reigning monarch in the world.
  • Bhutan became a constitutional monarchy with a two-party system in 2008.
  • The tiny Bhutanese Army is trained by the Indian Army and has a total annual budget of approximately $13.7 million.
  • In 2008, Bhutan had the second-fastest growing economy in the world.
  • Despite being a mostly closed-off country, Bhutan is a member of the United Nations.
  • Although the Bhutanese receive free basic healthcare, they suffer from a dreadful lack of doctors. In 2007, the physician density was one doctor per 50,000 people. In contrast, the US has around 133 doctors per 50,000 residents.
  • The average life expectancy in Bhutan is 68.4 years.

Travel to Bhutan

Bhutan is one of the most closed countries in Asia -- visiting as an independent traveler is nearly impossible. While they no longer restrict the number of tourists per year as they once did, exploring Bhutan can be incredibly expensive. To receive a travel visa, all visitors to Bhutan must book through a government-approved tour agency and pay the full price of the trip before arrival. The full amount of your stay is wired to the Tourism Council of Bhutan in advance; they then pay the tour operator which arranges your hotels and itinerary. Travelers get very little choice in the matter.

Some Bhutanese claim that foreign visitors are shown only what the government wants them to see in order to maintain a false image of internal happiness.

The visa and tour agency fees to visit Bhutan can average more than US $250 per day!

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