The central Asian country of Bhutan is located in the eastern Himalaya Mountains and surrounded by Tibetan China to the north, India and Tibet to its west, and India to its east and south. Bhutan is one of Asia’s landlocked countries, and has been united under Buddhist rule since the 17th century. The country may have gotten its unique name from the Sanskirt language word “Bhotant” meaning “the end of Tibet” or from the word “Bhu-uttan” (which means “high land”).
Bhutan has the unique distinction of never being conquered by foreign powers. When it first formed as an independent country in the 1600s (making itself independent from Tibet), it fought off two invasions during that century (one by Tibet, the other by the Mongol leader Gushi Khan). The country was in isolation for centuries and under the rule of feudal lords until the early 20th century, when Ugyen Wangchuck became the country’s first monarch. Since then there had been have a number of monarchs. It was King Jigme Dorji Wangchuk who is accredited with opening the windows of the country to the outside world and stepping in the modern world (ruling the country from 1952 to 1972).
Afterwards, His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck ascended the Golden Throne in 1972. In 1999, the King also lifted a ban on television and Internet that had been perceived as a threat to Bhutan’s culture and traditional values. Thus, Bhutan was one of the last countries to allow television. The King said that it had become necessary for modernization of Bhutan and increase Bhutan’s “Gross National Happiness” (GNH). Bhutan is the only country in the planet to calculate “GNH”.
In 2006 King Jigme Singye abdicated the throne to enable his son to introduce democracy to the country. In 2008, His Majesty Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck became the fifth Druk Gyalpo (king) and Bhutan’s first parliamentary election was held.
Bhutan, which is gradually opening itself to the outside world, is doing the same with tourism. In 2017, the country attracted the largest number of visitors it ever had (over 250,000 travelers). This, compared to just 287 visitors in 1974 (when its government first permitted tourism). Visitors visit Bhutan to experience its rich & unique culture. In its approach to tourism, the Bhutan government preserves not only its traditions, but languages as well (Dzongkha and Sharchop). Only the male gho and female kira dresses are allowed for official duties. There’s also a ban on non-traditional forms of architecture.
With the exception of travelers from India, Bangladesh and Maldive Islands, foreigners visiting Bhutan must book their trips through an authorized travel agency such as Druk Asia. Travel packages to Bhutan cost US$250 per day (US$200 during off-season) – a fee imposed by the government itself. That fee includes a guide, land transport, meals and three-star accommodations. This is the local government’s policy on managing the inflow of travelers.