Bhutan sometimes seems like a fairytale kingdom. Perched high up in the Himalayas, this captivating country is often touted as ‘the world’s last Shangri-La.’ Ancient temple fortresses clinging to cliffsides, valleys carpeted in rhododendron, dizzying snow-capped peaks – the landscapes alone seem too beautiful to be true.
From our travels through Bhutan, we can confirm it holds a surprise around every corner – its interesting choice of tea, its unusual animals, its colourful festivals and its deep sense of spirituality.
Here, we give you 10 fun and interesting facts about Bhutan that will definitely make you want to go.
Fact 1 – Archery is insulting
The national sport of Bhutan turns the kingdom’s smiling subjects into foul-mouthed bullies. In the name of the competitive play, archers and their cheer squads on the sidelines hurl obscenities at their opponents. Even the Duchess of Cambridge was taunted with lewd jibes when she took part in a friendly archery contest last year.
Fact 2 – The national animal is unlike most things we’ve ever seen.
A type of furry goat-antelope, this ungainly yet adorable creature is native to the grassy hills and valleys of the Himalayas. Its exact taxonomy is unclear, local mythology states the Divine Madman (more on him later) put the head of a goat onto the body of a cow and brought the hybrid into being.
Fact 3 – Happiness is the truth
It’s one of Bhutan’s most well-known claims to fame – measuring ‘success’ on the happiness of its people rather than Gross Domestic Product. What does Gross National Happiness mean in real terms? Preserving culture, protecting the environment, promoting sustainable socio-economic development and ‘Good Governance.’
Fact 4 – It’s the land of the Thunder Dragon
Bhutan’s name in the local language is Druk Yul, which translates to ‘thunder dragon.’ Leaders are called druk gyalpo – ‘thunder dragon kings.’
Fact 5 – No smoke
Bhutan has banned the smoking and trade of tobacco in an act that went into effect in 2010, though bans on smoking tobacco date back as far as 1916. There are penalties for anyone found with tobacco in any form.
Fact 6 – There’s a war on plastic
Plastic bags have officially been a no-go in Bhutan since 1999 though the ban struggled in reality and had to be reinforced in 2005. Since then, progress has been slow, though there has been talking about a project that will use the country’s plastic waste to make roads.
Fact 7 – The Thimphu weekend market is the best place to ‘be a local’
You can browse the freshest organic seasonal fruit and veg you’ve probably ever seen, smell all the different types of incense, try some yak cheese, then head to the nearby handicrafts market to pick up souvenirs.
Fact 8 – Thimphu has no traffic lights
Thimphu is one of only two capitals in the world with no traffic lights (the other is Pyongyang). Bhutan is further trying to revolutionize the roads by encouraging the sale of electric cars, with the Nissan LEAF and Mahindra Reva introduced in 2015.
Fact 9 – There’s an extra season
Why settle for four when you can have more? The seasons are as follows: summer, monsoon, autumn, winter and spring. The west of Bhutan is hit by heavy monsoon rains while the south can get hot and humid in the summer. The centre of the country is the driest and temperate.
Fact 10 – The king is cool
Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck – the king of Bhutan – and his wife Jetsun Pema are adored across the country. The king is known as a humble leader, with an open-door policy that allows any citizen to request a private meeting.