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)  

The GNH index - unique philosophy of Gross National Happiness (GNH), measures its prosperity by gauging its citizens' happiness levels. 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.

2) Bhutan is the ONLY carbon-negative country in the world

Bhutan is the world’s only ‘Carbon Sink’ and more than 70% of the country is covered in trees. This large amount of tree cover helps Bhutan absorb more carbon dioxide than it produces. It also offsets its emissions by exporting renewable energy. 

3) All tourists must pay an $200 SDF fee per day, just to be in the country

All international visitors to Bhutan are taxed a "sustainable development fee" of $200 a night, (up from $65 per night pre-pandemic), to gain entry. This will be on top of the costs of accommodation, guides and other services and is a significant rise. The Himalayan Kingdom plans to use the visitor tax (called a Sustainable Development Fee) to fund healthcare, education and environmental infrastructure projects. The funds are also considered essential to sustain its distinct and vibrant Buddhist culture, which is openly and happily shared with newcomers.

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 7,570 metres (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 4000 meters above sea level, and can weigh up to 400 kgs. The Takin in some ways resembles a mountain yak found in Sikkim and Tibet and 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 unique culture and traditions to the outside world, opened its isolated country to foreigners. In 1974 just 274 people visited Bhutan but over the years this figure has rose significantly. In 2019 over 300,000 people travelled to this unique country.

Although open to international visitors, the Bhutanese government is aware of the environmental impact that travellers can have on Bhutan's unique and virtually unspoiled landscape and culture. In 2023, Bhutan's government restricted the level of tourist activity with a policy known as 'high value, low impact' and started to charge travellers the sustainable tourist fee of $200.

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 nicely 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. Women prefer to wear this outfit most of the time. In order to preserve Bhutan's heritage, it was made mandatory for all citizens to wear their traditional outfits (Driglam Namzha ) to display Bhutan's unique identity. 

9) Bhutanese Still Believe in the Existence of Yeti

The Yeti – the hairy creature of the mountains of Himalayas, is a beloved topic of the folklore of the Himalayan regions of Nepal, Bhutan and Tibet. It is believed to roam the Himalayas and known in western culture as the Abominable Snowman. Superstition or not, the Yeti is featured on many stamps of Bhutan. It was in the year 1966 that it was actually featured on the stamps of Bhutan for the first time. Belief in the yeti was relatively common and still is to this day. 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...

  • Bhutanese people love chillies.
  • There are no traffic lights in Bhutan - apparently they all drive 'very carefully'.
  • Bhutan was the last country to introduce TV in 1998.
  • Bhutan has never been conquered.
  • Refusing food the first time is custom.
  • Polygamy is allowed in Bhutan. In fact, the fourth king of Bhutan Jigme Singye Wangchuck is married to four sisters.


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