Bhutan is a small landlocked Himalayan Kingdom about 300km long and 150km wide, encompassing 38,394 sq km. The high Himalayas to the north separate the kingdom from the Tibetan Autonomous Region of China, while the rugged eastern region borders the Indian states of Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, West Bengal and Sikkim. The landscape ranges from subtropical plains in the south to the Himalayan heights in the north, with some peaks exceeding seven thousand metres.
Bhutan has a rich and unique cultural heritage that has largely remained intact due to its isolation from the rest of the world until the early 1960s. For centuries, Bhutan remain undiscovered by the rest of the world. A conscious policy of isolation complemented by formidable geographical barriers has enabled the country to maintain its independence throughout its history. The Kingdom ended its self-imposed isolation only in 1961 and embarked on the path of modern development in a fine balance with its ancient traditions. One of the main attractions for international visitors is the country’s culture and traditions. Bhutanese tradition is deeply steeped in its Buddhist heritage. Due to its largely unspoilt natural environment and cultural heritage, Bhutan has aptly been referred to as The Last Shangri-la.
Nestled between China and India, Bhutan is a small mountainous country occupying 38,394 km2 located in the Eastern Himalayas. Measuring roughly 325 km east to west by 175 km north to south, it is bordered on the west, south and east by the Indian states of Sikkim, West Bengal, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh, respectively and to the north by the Republic of China. The country is divided into 20 districts and 205 sub-districts. Landscape is mountainous with elevations ranging from 160 m in the south to 7,550 m above sea level in the glaciated north. Major rivers flow south from the high mountains in the north creating deeply incised valleys. The valleys are mosaic of lush agriculture farms, rivers, houses and, forests and mountains.
The climate varies by altitudes. The southern foothills and plains experience a hot and humid climate with fairly even temperature ranged 15-30°C annually. The central valleys of the country experience cool, temperate climate throughout a year. For example, Thimphu, the capital of Bhutan, experiences annual temperatures from 14-25°C during the monsoon months of June through September but drop to -3°C in January. In the north, above 4000 m, climate is cold with the highest mountain peaks under snow cover most times of the year.
Maximum and minimum temperature of main towns in Bhutan
The north experiences low rainfall of 40 mm per annum mainly in the form of snow. In the temperate central region, a yearly average of around 1,000 mm is common. For example, Thimphu experience dry winter (December-February) with little precipitation until March. The hot and humid southern region experience about 7,800 mm per year at some locations.
Spring season starts in early March and lasts until mid-April. Summer weather commences from mid-April with occasional showers and continues through the early monsoon rains of late June. The summer monsoon lasts from June through September with heavy rains from the southwest monsoon. Autumn starts from September or October through November with bright, sunny and clear skies. From November to until March, winter sets in, with frost throughout much of the country and snowfall above 3,000 m.
In 2012, total population was 742,737 persons with a population density of 18 persons per km2. About 69 % of the population reside in the county side depending on natural resources for their livelihoods. Bhutan has three main ethnic groups; Ngalongs, Sarchops and Lhotsampas living in the west, east and south Bhutan, respectively.
Bhutan’s development is guided by Gross National Happiness (GNH) with its four pillars; equitable socio-economic development, protection and conservation of environment, preservation and promotion of cultural heritage and, promotion of good governance. The strong conservation ethic of the Bhutanese people and a relatively low human population has contributed to the preservation of the country’s rich cultural and biological heritage. More than 70% of the land surface is under forest cover with 50% under network of protected areas. Estimates show that there are 5,500 species of vascular plants, 770 species of birds and 160 species of mammals, bestowing Bhutan as one of the 10 biodiversity hotspots.
The country is governed under the democratic constitutional monarchy system headed by the King of Bhutan and administered by the elected Council of Ministers since 2008. The executive, legislative and judiciary wing of the Government administers the country.