10 Amazing Facts About Bhutan You Won’t Believe
The Kingdom of Bhutan is one of very few countries that are still considered fairly untraveled by foreign visitors. In fact, the Bhutanese government introduced strict tourism regulations involving a daily tourist fee of around $250 for anyone wanting to visit Bhutan in order to prevent mass tourism from destroying the country’s unparalleled natural wonders and deep-rooted Buddhist culture. However, all of this makes Bhutan an even more appealing travel destination and I was left speechless and yearning for more when I visited the country in October 2019. Here are 10 amazing facts about Bhutan you won’t believe.
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1. People in Bhutan don’t have surnames.
There are no family names in Bhutan. People usually only have two first names. However, many modern parents give their children three names with a name borrowed from the mother or father to resemble a family name.
It’s also customary for many parents to take their new-born child to the local monastery on an auspicious date to be blessed by a monk and bestow a meaningful name.
2. No Animals are harmed in Bhutan.
This is one of the many interesting facts about Bhutan that I especially like. The meat you eat in Bhutan doesn’t come from local animals. There are no slaughterhouses and farm animals are only used for dairy products and wool for clothing.
The meat you do get in Bhutan is all imported mostly from India. This is due to Buddhism being the official religion in the country and many people in Bhutan also live as vegetarians.
Cows and yak roam around freely and stray dogs and cats also are aplenty in Bhutan. Fishing (and hunting of all kind) is also strictly prohibited in Bhutan. But I heard rumors of nightly fishing activities going on.
3. Chopping Trees Is Illegal.
These laws also have their origin in Bhutan’s Buddhist roots. In fact, the government in Bhutan stipulates that the country must have at least 60 per cent forest cover. Chopping trees without a special permission is illegal and heavy fines and imprisonment are imposed on lawbreakers. Instead, the government encourages its citizens to grow trees for firewood and construction timber.
All of these regulations have resulted in Bhutan being the first country in the world to be carbon negative by absorbing more than 6 million tonnes of carbon per year.
4. Tuesdays are Dry Days.
During my 7-day Bhutan trip, I noticed that the Bhutanese really love to drink. In fact, Bhutan has a per capita adult consumption of 8.47 liters of pure alcohol; higher than the global average consumption of 6.2 liters. There are also more than 5,500 bars across Bhutan and several clubs, especially in the capital of Thimphu. Bhutan also produces a wide variety of liquor: beer, red wines, dessert wines and even whisky.
The local government in Bhutan implemented a stop-gap initiative to curb drinking by introducing “dry Tuesdays” where no bar or club serves alcohol on that day. Who knew that one of the many facts about Bhutan would involve alcohol?
5. The Bhutanese love cheese.
I was surprised to learn that people in Bhutan appreciate cheese making, especially spicy varieties. Bhutan’s national dish is called “ema datshi”, or chili cheese in English, and eaten with every meal. In this dish, long green chili peppers are cooked with local cheese to form a warm, gooey mixture of deliciousness.
Ema datshi is in the lower bowl in the middle in the picture on the right.
Besides ema datshi, Bhutanese love to snack on cheese cubes called chogo. They are super hard and take hours to consume.
6. They wear their traditional dress on a daily basis.
This is one of the facts about Bhutan that I find particularly interesting. While many countries bring out their traditional clothes for weddings, holidays and other special days, people in Bhutan still wear their traditional clothing every day. Of course, some will wear the occasional jeans and t-shirt but they swear by their traditional wear: gho for men and kira for women. My tour guide jokingly explains the gho is the world’s largest pocket because you can fit anything in the tied one-piece dress (yes, men in Bhutan wear dresses paired with long socks!). The female version consists of a long skirt and a blouse/jacket.
I loved seeing all the people around Bhutan, even in the capital city, wear the most beautiful varieties of gho and kira every day – so much so that I also got to try and wear it for a day!
7. There are no traffic lights in Bhutan.
Bhutan is the only country in the world without traffic lights. Instead, policemen in the Bhutanese capital Thimphu stand at major intersections and direct traffic.
With not more than 75,000 cars for the total population of 750,000, the roads are usually pretty empty in Bhutan.
A traffic light had previously been installed at the busiest intersection in Thimphu – but only lasted 24 hours. Then, it was replaced by a charming policeman who directs the traffic with flamboyant hand movements that remind of dance moves.
8. Marijuana Grows Wild… Everywhere!
This is one of the facts about Bhutan I learned pretty quickly during my Bhutan trip: there’s Cannabis growing everywhere! The people in Bhutan had been using the marijuana plant as food for their pigs but were not aware of the recreational use of Cannabis in the past.
My guide explained after more and more Bhutanese started studying at universities abroad, they realized what fun they could have smoking this curious plant.
While smoking Cannabis is illegal in Bhutan, you can still see wild marijuana growing everywhere around.
9. The Queen’s father is a pilot for Druk Air and still flies regularly.
Bhutan’s King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck’s father-in-law is a commercial airline pilot for Druk Air (one of the two airlines that fly to Paro airport in Bhutan). He still flies regularly so maybe you’re lucky and be flown to or from Bhutan by the Queen’s father!
The history of Bhutan is too complex to get into but their government is referred to as a unitary parliamentary constitutional monarchy. This means, they have a king but also a prime minister and parties that people can elect. The first democratic elections in Bhutan were held in 2007 after the King introduced democracy to the country.
10. Bhutanese people speak Dzongkha and are fluent in Nepali and Hindi.
Language facts about Bhutan definitely shouldn’t miss from this list! The solo official language in Bhutan is Dzongkha, or Bhutanese. This language is part os the Sino-Tibetan language family and is spoken by over half a million people in Bhutan. The Tibetan alphabet is used to write Dzongkha.
Besides Dzongkha, most people in Bhutan can also understand and fluently speak Nepali and Hindi. This is due to Nepal and India being neighboring countries of Bhutan and Nepali and Hindi TV and radio stations being broadcast and enjoying widely in Bhutan. The close trade relationship between Bhutan and India also makes it important for businesspeople in Bhutan to be fluent in Hindi.
Are you ready to visit Bhutan?
I loved my time in Bhutan and will definitely return to see more. Which of the above facts about Bhutan surprised you the most? To learn more about Bhutan, before to check out my Bhutan country page and Bhutan travel guide.
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