Journey to the land of the thundering dragon... Bhutan

Bhutan or Druk Yul is known as the” land of the Thunder Dragon”. The original name Bhutan may have evolved from Sanskrit ‘Bhotant’ meaning the end of  Tibetor from ‘Bhu-uttan’ meaning highland. Bhutan early history is steeped in Buddhist tradition and mythology. The medieval and modern history is better documented then its ancient history; it was a time of warlords, feuds, giant fortresses and castles.

The modern history is no less amazing, with intrigue, treachery, fierce battles and extraordinary pageantry all playing an important part. Bhutan is also known as the last domain of tantric Buddhism.

The estimated population of Bhutan is 8 million with 40 % of the population under 15 years of age. The population can be categorized into three ethnic groups. The Sharshops (people who live in east), Nagalong (the descendants of Tibetan immigrants) and the Lhotshampa (Nepalese who settled in the south).

Bhutan is landlocked country encompassing 46500 sq km. The country is bound in the north and northwest by Tibet and surrounded by India in the east and south. It can be divided into three major geographic regions: the high Himalayas of the north, the hill and valleys of the center and the foothills and the plain of the south.

Bhutan lies between 80° 45’ and 92° 10’ east longitude and between 26° 40’ and 28° 15’ north latitude. The three relief zones (foothills, Central Himalayan valleys and the High Himalayas) define the three climatic regions: Tropical, temperate with monsoon and alpine monsoon.

Ecology could not find a better balance then within the lush natural environment of Bhutan. More than 72 % of the country’s rugged terrain is under forest. As the mountain range clime from sea level to the highest peak on earth, the trees range from the tropical hard woods to numerous alpine species. The seasons in Bhutan can be identified by the foliage that colors the hillsides.

Bhutan is a home to rare wildlife, including the rarest protected spices like snow leopard, The Himalayan bear, the black- necked crane, the national animal Golden Takin and the golden langur.

Climate

The monsoons start in mid June and lasts until the end of September. The climate within the mountains varies greatly according to  precipitation and wind conditions. In the Duars plain upto 1500m, the climate is subtropical with high humidity and heavy rainfall. The climate of mid-mountain belt varies, such that low-lying parts of Punakha, Mongar, Tashigang and Lhuntse have cool winter and hot summers, whereas the higher valleys of Ha, Paro, Thimpu, Tongsa and Bumthang ranging from 2500-4500m endure a temperate climate with cold snowy winters and somewhat cooler summers.
Spring is rhododendron season in Bhutan. The mountain-sides all over the country are ablaze in shades of red and orange. Days are warm but nights are still cold. As the monsoon rises from the Bay of Bengal, spring turns to summer and three months of heavy monsoon rains. Arguably the loveliest time of the year in Bhutan, autumn brings clear skies and warm days.

Religion

Drukpa Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism is the state religion but the Nyingma school is also well represented in the central and eastern districts.



Festivals

Festivals (Tshechus) are held in Bhutan throughout the year at different locations. These festivals are celebrations of faith, legends, myths and history of Bhutan in ancient rituals of colourful dance and music. The most popular for tourists are those held in thimpu, Paro and Bumthang. They mark the busiest time of the year for tourism and reservation are difficult to come by. Festival time is one of the only periods during a year when tourists are permitted inside the courtyard of the dzongs. The dzongs come to life with colour, music and dancing as valley dwellers and townsfolk dres in their best clothes and join together to excorcise evil spirits and rejoice in a new harvest. Rare masked and sword dances and other rituals are performed in the dzongs’ courtyards and temples. Each dance has its own significance and can be performed by monks or lay men dressed in bright costumes. Certain festivals end with the unveiling and worship of huge religious appliqués or T hongresl. The momet of the unveiling is shrouded in secrecy and creates great excitement amongst all the participants.