History & Geography

Bhutan is called “Drukyul” meaning the land of Thunder Dragon. The Kingdom is often known as the ‘World’s last Shangrila’. The country opened to outsiders in the 1970s. Located in the Eastern Himalayas, spanning an area of 38,394 sq. km. with a population of 634,982 Bhutan is a small country. It is bounded by the Tibetan autonomous region of China in the north and India in the east, west and south.

There are different versions claiming the origin of the name ‘Bhutan’. It is believed to have been derived from the Sanskrit word ‘Bhotant’ which means ‘the edge of Tibet’ Or “Bhu-uttan” meaning ‘highland’. However, Bhutan is referred to as ‘Drukyul’ or Land of the Thunder Dragon by Bhutanese.
The history of Bhutan is documented as early as around 747 A.D. when Guru Padmasambhava also known as Guru Rimpoche, flew from Tibet across mountains on a tigress’s back. His arrival in Paro at Taktshang (Tiger’s Nest) monastery where he meditated is an important religious site for Buddhists all over the world. As founder of the Nyingmapa religious school he is considered as the second Buddha. Buddhism continued to flourish under great saints in the middle centuries. Later in the 17th century A.D, under the leadership of a great saint, Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal various religious sects were unified under Drukpa Kagyupa sect of Mahayana Buddhism in Bhutan. Ngawang Namgyal codified a comprehensive system of laws and built a chain of Dzongs. These Dzongs guarded each valley during wars but now serve as religious and administrative centre of each region.
The next two centuries witnessed internal strife and civil wars and regional governors were more powerful than ever before. The 19th century gave way to peace after the Trongsa Governor, Sir Ugyen Wangchuck, won over all his rivals. Subsequently, he was elected as the 1st Hereditary Monarch of the Wangchuk dynasty in the Kingdom of Bhutan in 1907. The Wangchuk Dynasty completed 100 years of rule in 2007.

Bhutan is a mountainous country with land elevations ranging from 150 meters in the south to about 7000 meters in the north. Based on relief, the country can be divided into 3 altitude zones namely: the Sub-Himalayan Foothills; Inner Himalayas and the Greater Himalayas. The Sub-Himalayan Foothills is about 50 km wide with altitudes ranging from 150 meters to 2,000 meters a.s.l. Similarly, the Inner Himalayas is about 70 km wide with altitude ranging from 2,000 meters to 4000 meters a.s.l. while the Greater Himalayas lie over 4,000 meters measuring about 30 km in width. These altitudinal zones display different agro-ecological zones determined by physiographic and climatic conditions.
With an altitudinal range from 200m to more than 7,500m and with three distinct physiographic zones namely the southern foothills (200m-2000m), the inner Himalayas (2000m to 4000 m), and the great Himalayas (above 4000m) – this creates a corresponding range of climatic conditions varying from hot and humid tropical and subtropical conditions in the southern foothills to cold and dry tundra conditions in the north and an equally amazing diversity of vegetation. In 2005 it was determined that 64% of the land is under forest cover. Protected areas comprise 35% of the land.