Young monks in Bhutan

Travel Inspiration Kingdom of Bhutan Interesting Facts And Trivia - Kandoo Adventures

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Interesting Facts About Bhutan

Isolated and tucked away from civilization for over a thousand years, the friendly mountain kingdom of Bhutan is about as mysterious as a travel destination can get. Although much more is known about this fascinating country than ever before, its customs and culture are still relatively unknown by outsiders. This isolation has allowed the Bhutanese to thrive and has kept their most sacred traditions alive, making it an intriguing place to explore.

As a trekking destination, Bhutan has all the altitude of the Himalayas with none of the crowds and its borders still only allow in a set number of visitors each year. Let’s look at some interesting facts about Bhutan to help you decide the winner of the epic battle, Nepal vs Bhutan.

Young monks in Bhutan

Our top 20 interesting facts about Bhutan

1. Thimphu, Bhutan's capital city, is one of only two capital cities in the world that does not have a single traffic light. The whole city plan has been carefully and considerately designed to have a minimal impact on the environment and maximise use of the limited space available for this small capital nestled in the mountains.

Instead, traffic police conduct traffic at major intersections, waving their arms to signal when to go in an elegant and relentless dance that it a sight to behold.

2. The name 'Bhutan' only came into common use in the mid 19th century. It is believed that it derives from the Sanskrit words Bhotant or Bhot anta, meaning end of Bhot which is another name for Tibet and anta which essentially means end of the highlands or to the end of Tibet.

Before this Bhutan was known by the name Drukyul, the land of the Drukpa people. Drukpa means dragon so Bhutan has also been referred to as the Land of the Thunder Dragon. This is both a reference to Buddhism, the prevalent religion in Bhutan and because of the enormous thunder storms that roll in across the Himalayas.

Bhutan takes environmental and sustainable policy very seriously. By law, at least 60% of the nation must be covered in forest at all times and it is the only carbon negative country in the world, despite increasing tourism. This is achieved by not only limiting visitor numbers, adding mystique to this already interesting country and thus making it more attractive to tourists, but also by adhering to four main pillars of gross national happiness (GNH) – sustainable development, cultural preservation, environmental protection and good governance. Enlightened and planet-conscious leaders set 5 yearly plans with specific and measurable goals to both maintain GNH and to ensure that the country continues to thrive.

4. Standing at 7,570m, Gangkhar Puensum is the tallest mountain in Bhutan and also the highest unclimbed mountain in the world.

The people of Bhutan believe that the mountains are the homes of various gods and spirits and as such should be protected from visitors and kept pure. As a Himalayan country though, this doesn’t mean that there aren’t plenty of awesome trekking opportunities here. The Snowman Trek and the Druk Path Trek are two of the most iconic hiking trails in the world, known for their incredible scenery, remote wilderness and total cultural immersion.

Mountains in Bhutan

5. The median age of Bhutanese people is just 22.3 years old and more than half of the population is under the age of 28. In fact, over one third of the population is under the age of 15! Despite this, the average life expectancy of someone in Bhutan is 72 which is surprisingly high for a country with such a young population.

Despite having restrictive criteria for immigration to Bhutan, more people are settling there than ever before which has led to a (relatively small) boom in population and is the cause of so many young people in Bhutan.

6. Bhutan is the only country in the world where the sale and production of tobacco is prohibited. Smoking in public places is banned throughout the entire country and anyone bringing in cigarettes will need to declare them at entry to Bhutan, pay a huge import tax and carry a permit for them at all times. The Tobacco Control Act of Bhutan 2010 was passed to make Bhutan smoke-free and breaking its restrictions could result in legal action.

You are however, allowed to smoke in certain tourist accommodation and there are occasional smoking rooms in bars, but you must make sure to have your permit on you.

7. If anyone is caught harming or killing the endangered, black-necked crane, they could be sentenced to prison for life. These medium sized cranes breed in nearby Tibet and migrate to remotes areas of Ladakh, India and Bhutan. In Bhutan these cranes are celebrated after their return each year with a festival at the Gangteng Monastery on 11th November which draws locals and visitors alike.

Large areas of Bhutan are designated as sanctuaries for these attractive birds and the Bhutanese people believe they are blessed to share their habitat with them. Traditionally the arrival of the cranes signalled the time to migrate to warmer climbs for local villagers so as not to disrupt the cranes as they searched for the bamboo shoots they are partial too. These birds hold a special place in Bhutanese culture and are revered. Hunting them is illegal and punishable by law.

8. Bhutan was one of the last countries to allow televisions to be watched. Up until 1999, televisions, antenna and satellite dishes and were banned throughout the nation. Bhutan wanted to preserve the Bhutanese culture and whilst they wanted to modernise the country, they were not looking to westernise it. This led to many Bhutanese people setting up secret satellite dishes and TVs in barns, outbuildings and under covered areas away from prying eyes to access pirate channels and watch illegal videos smuggled in from India and featuring Hollywood and Bollywood films.

In 1998 the restrictions on televisions were lifted in time for the football World Cup final where France beat Brazil 3-0 and in June 1999 Bhutan officially introduce television back into their country.

9. In Bhutan manners dictate that you must turn down any food offered to you. The traditional response is to say "meshu meshu" and cover your mouth with your hands. However, you can politely accept the offered food after two or three times of doing this.

In addition to this Bhutanese custom, food is usually served while you are sitting on the floor and a small piece of food will be set down first as an offering to the spirits. Bhutanese food culture and practice is mostly untouched by westernised practice and many still eat with their hands, as is traditional.

Spices in a market in Bhutan

10. Bhutan joined the UN in September 1971 and was listed as one of the least developed countries in the world. In December 2023 Bhutan ‘graduated’ from this list after showing promising progress to lessening poverty, increasing life expectancy, becoming one of only three carbon negative countries in the world and committing to further sustainable goals for the betterment of Bhutan and its impact on the planet. Only a handful of countries have managed to leave this UN category and the dedication and progressive thinking of Bhutan’s leaders is a testament to their commitment to modernising this fascinating country.

11. Up until 1960, Bhutan had no paved roads, no mains electricity, no vehicles and no postal system. It was during the 1960’s that Bhutan slowly began to emerge out of its self-imposed isolation, with 1961 an exciting year for citizens when Bhutan joined the Universal Postal Union opening regular Bhutanese people up to written communication from outside of the country.

12. Bhutan is the one of the world's few carbon negative countries as it exports more power than it uses. The Bhutanese started building their first hydroelectric power station, known as the Chhukha Hydel project, during the 1970s which is one of the largest developments in Bhutan’s history. Hydroelectric power is the main export of Bhutan, and most of the power produced is exported to India.

13. Plastic bags were banned in Bhutan in 1999 when they became one of the first countries in the world to do so and they remain prohibited still.

14. Bhutan's two national sports are darts (Khuru) and archery. However, Khuru is unlike our typical sport of darts, their dart boards are much smaller and the darts are larger and made from heavy metal. They throw the darts over 20 meters to the dart board! Archery in Bhutan is also popular, but their games differ from western rules. Their targets are typically smaller, are placed further away from the archer and their bow and arrows are made from natural materials. Since in the introduction of TV to Bhutan, football and cricket have become increasingly popular too.

15. Traditionally, Bhutanese people don’t celebrate birthdays. A different calendar is observed to our Gregorian calendar and many people don’t know when they were born. Instead, in Bhutan on New Year's Day, every national citizen becomes one year older. This way no one forgets any birthdays. This is changing however as younger people want to celebrate their individual birth dates. This movement from focusing on the collective to the individual is overall characteristic of modernisation in Bhutan and one reason it was resisted for so long.

Typical celebrations in Bhutan

16. The people of Bhutan have a long history of painting phalluses on the sides of their houses. In fact, you may find phalluses in the most unusual and unlikely of places, especially in the city of Punakha. On shop signs, window displays, painted in public places, even built onto the side of buildings.

The phallus has long been synonymous with the predominant religion of Buddhism and is linked back to Tibetan born Bhutanese saint Drukpa Kunley. He was a debauched Buddhist who travelled to Bhutan to spread the word across an orthodox country, drinking copious amounts of wine and spending time with plenty of women during his travels. There are all sorts of legends about his life and conquests in Bhutan but the lasting reminder of his influence here is the plethora of phallus scattered across the country.

17. The first foreign tourists were only allowed into Bhutan in 1974 and were invited to help raise revenue and awareness to the world of Bhutanese culture. Two hundred and thirty seven tourists visited Bhutan in 1974 compared to around closer to one hundred thousand in 2023.

Visitor numbers are strictly controlled as Bhutan is keenly aware of the impact tourism has on the environment. For this reason, Bhutan is one of few countries in the world who charge a daily tourist tax, called a sustainable development fee, to all visitors although the amount is smaller for visitors of select neighbouring countries. This fee is to offset the extra resource needed to dispose of waste, manage appropriate infrastructure and ensure sustainable employment for those who work in the tourism sector. This policy is labelled, ‘high value, low impact’, and informs many decisions made surrounding tourism by Bhutanese leaders.

18. Although Bhutan is one of the smaller countries in the world, there are actually over 20 languages spoken throughout. Dzongkha is the official national language of Bhutan, but it is estimated that only 30% of the country speak it. Interestingly this is also the only language with a literary tradition, as many of the other languages spoken here are exclusively verbal.

19. There are no trains in Bhutan. This might not seem like a big deal, but there are few non-island countries who have no mainland railways. Bhutan have an agreement in place with Indian Railways to build five rail routes in Bhutan, the first of which will connect India to Paro International Airport. However, these are not due to be completed until after 2025.

20. It is widely known that Bhutan is a predominantly Buddhist country, but this wasn’t always the case. Bon predates Buddhism and revolves around worshiping nature. It was believed to be anti-Buddhist which was why Buddhist priests visited here to convert the Bhutanese to their new way of thinking. Although Buddhism has been widely accepted, in fact the King must always be Buddhist according to the constitution, other religions are celebrated in Bhutan. Bon festivals are still held throughout the year to this day and much of their culture and custom can be traced back to this ancient religion.

If we haven’t grabbed your attention by this point, you probably won’t ever want to visit Bhutan. This country is so steeped in history and culture and is one of the few culturally untouched countries in the world. Holidays to Bhutan are truly once in a lifetime experiences and with so much country to explore, trekking your way through the Bhutanese countryside is a walk through history. Kandoo offer some fabulous adventures here, making sure you fully immerse yourself in the customs and traditions of this unique haven. Check out our Bhutan trekking trips below and book your next adventure with us.