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10 things you didn't know about Bhutan

Steeped in tradition whilst embracing modernity, and valuing national happiness above economic growth, the Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan is a land lik... Read more
10 things you didn't know about Bhutan

Steeped in tradition whilst embracing modernity, and valuing national happiness above economic growth, the Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan is a land like no other, but did you know...


1. Bhutan is known for its unique philosophy of Gross National Happiness (GNH)  

Bhutan's Gross National Happiness (GNH) index stands as a pioneering model that measures the country's prosperity by gauging its citizens' happiness levels over economic growth. This concept was first introduced in the 1970's by the fourth King of Bhutan, Jigme Singye Wangchuck, as a way to measure the country's progress and development. Bhutan's emphasis on happiness has led to policies and practices that prioritise the well-being of its people, such as free healthcare and education, sustainable tourism and the conservation of its environment and culture. Bhutan remains the only country in the world to officially implement GNH!


2. Bhutan is one of only 3 carbon-negative countries in the world

Bhutan, Panama and Suriname are the only carbon negative countries in the world. This means they absorb more carbon dioxide than they produce. In Bhutan this is due to its extensive forest cover as more than 70% of the country in covered in trees. Bhutan also offsets its emissions by exporting renewable energy. 


3. All tourists must pay a $100 SDF fee per day to be in the country

All international visitors to Bhutan are taxed a "sustainable development fee" of $100 a night, (this has been recently reduced following the rise to $200 after the pandemic!), to gain entry as part of its "high-value, low-impact" tourism policy. This will be on top of the costs of accommodation, guides and other services. The fee structure is designed to regulate tourism and ensure sustainable development while preserving Bhutan's unique culture, environment, and way of life. Additionally, visitors must travel with licensed tour operators to preserve the cultural heritage and environment.


4. Mountaineering is now banned, as the highest peaks are considered sacred

Bhutan has a law wherein mountaineers are prohibited from climbing a mountain higher than 6,000m as they are considered a home for gods and spirits. Gangkhar Puensum is the highest mountain in Bhutan and the highest unclimbed mountain in the world, with an elevation of 7,570m (24,836 ft).


5. The national animal is a cow, no wait, a goat?

The takin was named the national animal of Bhutan on 25 November 2005, due to its association with Bhutanese religious history and mythology. The legend has it that in the 15th century, a Tibetan saint, Drukpa Kunley, created the unique animal by fixing the head of a goat onto the body of a cow. The animal was then christened “Dong Gyem Tsey” – Takin.

The furry animal has a thick neck, arched nose and four short muscular legs, feeds on bamboo, lives at a height of 4,000m above sea level and can weigh up to 400kg. The Takin, in some ways, resembles a mountain yak found in Sikkim and Tibet; it moves around in herds in the northwestern and far northeastern parts of the Himalayan Kingdom.


6. The national sport of Bhutan is archery

Archery is played almost all over Bhutan and this tiny Himalayan Kingdom declared the game as their national sport in 1971, at the same time as Bhutan became a member of the United Nations. Although men are predominantly the participants in the sport, women make every effort to contribute and if not competing, they play a significant part in providing food and entertainment, dancing and singing to encourage the team. 


7. Bhutan was isolated entirely from the world until 1974


Tourism in Bhutan began in 1974 when the Government of Bhutan, in an effort to raise revenue and to promote Bhutanese culture and traditions to the outside world, opened its isolated country to visitors. In 1974 just 274 people visited Bhutan but over the years this figure has risen significantly over recent years. 


8. National dress is compulsory for Bhutanese citizens

One of the things that makes Bhutan stand out over other developing nations is their dress code. The traditional attire for men is the 'Gho', a knee-length, robe-like cloth which is wrapped around their bodies and secured with a belt. For women it's the 'Kera' or 'Kira', an apron like ankle-length dress which is deemed very comfortable to wear and easy to be dressed in. In order to preserve Bhutan's heritage, it was made mandatory for all citizens to wear their traditional outfits (Driglam Namzha) when visiting government offices, attending formal events, participating in religious ceremonies and during certain festivals. Many Bhutanese people choose to wear the national dress regularly as a symbol of cultural pride and identity.


9. Bhutanese Still Believe in the Existence of Yeti

The Yeti – the hairy creature of the Himalaya. It is a beloved topic of the folklore of the Himalayan regions of Nepal, Bhutan and Tibet. It is believed to roam the Himalaya mountains and is known in western culture as the Abominable Snowman. Superstition or not, the Yeti is featured on many stamps of Bhutan and was featured for the first time in 1966. The toughest hike in the world, located in Bhutan, is even named after the Yeti: The Snowman Trek!


10. Phalluses are painted on houses as a symbol of fertility and good luck

Phalluses are a common sight in Bhutan, where they are considered a symbol of good luck and protection against evil spirits. In Bhutanese culture, phalluses are seen as a representation of fertility, power and good fortune and they are often depicted in various forms of art, including paintings, carvings and sculptures. You'll see phalluses painted on the walls of houses, around doorways, hanging off rooftops, on signs and in window displays. 

One of the most famous examples of phallus art in Bhutan is the Chimi Lhakhang temple, which is dedicated to the "Divine Madman" or Lama Drukpa Kunley, a 15th-century Buddhist master who was known for his unorthodox teachings and sexual exploits. The temple is decorated with hundreds of wooden phalluses and it is believed that couples who visit the temple and receive a blessing from the resident monk will be blessed with fertility and good fortune.

A few other fun facts...

  • There are no traffic lights in the capital city of Bhutan.
  • Bhutan implemented a nationwide ban on plastic bags in 1999, becoming one of the first countries in the world to do so.
  • Bhutan was the last country to introduce TV in 1998.
  • Bhutanese people enjoy a unique beverage called "suja," which is a type of butter tea made with yak butter, salt and tea leaves. It is a staple drink in Bhutan and is often served during social gatherings and festivals.
  • Bhutan has never been conquered.
  • Bhutanese cuisine is characterised by its use of red rice, spicy chilies, and cheese.
  • Refusing food the first time is custom.
  • Polygamy is allowed in Bhutan. In fact, the fourth king of Bhutan Jige Singye Wangchuck married four sisters in one ceremony!


If you're eager to explore this captivating country first hand and discover its many wonders, delve into our array of Bhutan holidays below.


If you would like to know more about our Bhutan adventures, speak to our friendly sales team on +44 (0) 17687 73966 or USA/Canada toll-free 1888 630 4415 or email us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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