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Friday, December 06, 2013

53 Random Things about Bhutan

Kusuzangpo!!
I backpacked across West and Central Bhutan for 3 weeks and during this time, I noticed a lot of interesting things about this beautiful Himalayan country. During these 3 weeks, I visited Thimphu, Paro, Punakha, Wangdi Phodrang, Trongsa and Bumthang. In these 3 weeks, I walked, took public transport, took share taxis and interacted with a lot of Bhutanese people. I have listed down some of those random things to help you get a high level overview of this pristine mountain country and also make for a very interesting read about this heaven on earth.

1) The Land of the Peaceful Dragon, the Last Shangri-La, the Kingdom of Happiness are all popular names used to refer to Bhutan.

2) Their national currency ngultrum is on par with the Indian rupee, which means 1 ngultrum equals 1 Indian national rupee.

3) Ema Datshi (Chillies in Cheese paste) is the national dish of Bhutan. This is generally served with rice (white or red).

The famous fiery chillies of Bhutan
4) The people of Bhutan are passionate about 2 sports. One is Archery, their national sport and the other being soccer.

5) Both men and women love to chew betel nut, locally called as ‘Doma’. What I hate is that they spit is anywhere. Thankfully, the menace is lesser than in India and Myanmar.

6) The entire country of Bhutan is located in the Himalayas.

7) There is only one highway in the whole of Bhutan to handle road transport.

8) Most of the people of Bhutan know to speak Hindi (India’s national language) owing to their dependence on Indian TV.

9) Marijuana grows wild in a lot of places across Bhutan during certain times of the year. But, drugs are banned in Bhutan.

10) Because of the cold weather, the citizens of Bhutan love to drink alcohol right after breakfast. This is why, the government has a rule that states that alcohol be served only after 1 PM.

11) Cigarettes and cigarette smoking is banned in the whole country of Bhutan. However, smokers can be seen in pockets across Bhutan.

Bhutanese Monk walks the streets of Thimphu
12) A lot of Bhutan’s food provisions come from India and to a certain extent from Thailand.

13) Indian food is very easily accessible and available in Bhutan. This Indian food is primarily East Indian or West Bengal/Bihar food.

14) More than 65% of the country is covered with forests, making it one of the greenest countries in the world.

15) The main industry here in Bhutan is hydroelectric power plants. Due to this, they have surplus power and end up selling it to India, its friendly neighbor.

16) There are 2 airlines in Bhutan. One is Druk Air, its national carrier (and the only one that flies into India) and Tashi Air, which flies to Thailand and in the domestic circuit (to Bumthang).

17) Indian oil companies sell petrol and diesel in Bhutan, but their prices are cheaper in Bhutan than in India.

18) Visa and mastercards are accepted at most ATMs across Bhutan (especially Bank of Bhutan and Druk PNB).

19) The weekly vegetable market in Thimphu is so clean that they can even beat the cleanliness standards of an urban shopping mall from India.

Buddhist devotee and the prayer wheels of Changangkha Lakhang, Thimphu, Bhutan
20) There are some insects available in the higher mountain reaches of Bhutan that go for as much as USD 25,000 per kilogram in the international medical market. This has led to a lot of people in Central Bhutan becoming very rich in a short time.

21) The main crops of Bhutan are rice (white and red), potatoes (white and red), buckwheat and radishes.

22) The people of Bhutan love their cheese and red meat.

23) A photograph of the king and his wife can almost be seen everywhere.

24) The people of Bhutan are very devout and believe in offering daily prayers to the Buddha.

25) There are a lot of forms of Buddhism prevalent in Bhutan, but Tantric Buddhism is the one that is most commonly followed.

26) The whole country of Bhutan doesn’t have a bus service. Instead, they run Toyota Coaster vans for public commute. The tickets on these vans are real cheap, though the journey time is a bit more.

27) The people of Bhutan hardly cheat and follow prescribed fares and guidelines implemented by the government.

28) B Mobile and Tashi Cell are the two mobile operators of Bhutan.

Buddhist Monk studies at Simtokha Dzong, Bhutan
29) In a game of archery, the entire team dances and celebrates when their team member’s arrow has hit the target.

30) The people of Bhutan are very helpful to the tourist and always come forward to indulge in a conversation, helping with local tips and more.

31) Most of the year, this Himalayan country faces 2 seasons in a single day. It is cold in the mornings and night, warm and to certain extent hot during the day and the sun is especially bright during the day.

31) Both the men and women of Bhutan wear their national dress daily. The men wear a dress called the ‘gho’, while the women wear a kira.

32) Goods manufactured in Bhutan is slightly more expensive than similar ones manufactured in China, Bhutan or India due to higher minimum pay rates in Bhutan.

33) The Indian army patrols some of Bhutan’s borders with China.

34) The Border roads organization (Bro-Dantak) of India are responsible for building and maintaining the roads of Bhutan.

35) The whole country of Bhutan has less population than most of the Indian cities.

36) Liquor is very cheap in Bhutan. A bottle of wine costs 200 ngultrum, a big bottle of beer 50 ngultrums and their best whiskey (similar to bourbon) about 750 ngultrums.

37) Tourism is very restricted in Bhutan and except for India, Bangladesh and Maldives, the other countries need to pay $250 per day per person.

38) Most of the monasteries in Bhutan are situated on top of mountains or at cliff edges. It is believed that the arduous journey to the temple is supposed to act as a sin cleanser.

39) Bhutan and its forests are perfect for bird watching. The numbers and variety is mind boggling.

Elderly Woman offering prayers at Memorial Chorten, Thimphu, Bhutan
40) Like most of the mountain people of the world, Bhutanese mothers and fathers carry their babies tied behind them on their backs.

41) The cantilever bridges of Bhutan are quite a sight and so are its singing bridges, which offer great adventure.

42) The Bhutanese chai (tea) is very milky and sweet. However, their true local tea is suja or butter tea.

43) The Dzongs or the fortresses are where all the government activities take place. You can see departments like judicial, education, engineering and more.

44) All the kings of Bhutan hail from the Trongsa area.

45) The buildings of Bhutan do not have any nails in them and that’s why you will lots of round and large stones placed on their roofs. Their windows are also designed in such a way as to maximize sunshine.

46) As a country, Bhutan is laidback and hence things happen at a slower pace when compared to the world around it. This trait makes it ideal for those wishing for a relaxed holiday.

47) Bhutan has a lot of fast flowing rivers. While these offer great avenues for adventure sports, they are the bane of north east India and more so Bangladesh as they cause serious flooding downstream.

48) Except the inner sanctum of a temple, footwear is allowed in most other areas.

49) There is hardly any bureaucracy in Bhutan’s government. Things have been kept simple and transparent.

50) A lot of Bhutan’s fortresses and temples have caught fire in the past.

51) Momos are one of the most popular snacks across the country. Yak cheese comes a close second especially in the winter months.

52) The stamps of Bhutan are world famous and make for excellent souvenirs along with their woolen work (yatra), raw silk garments, bamboo work and antiques.

53) Most of the people of Bhutan send their kids to India and Thailand for higher education, but invariably all of them end going back to their home country to eke out a living.

Krathinchai and Tashi Deley!!



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