Contributed by Jigme Dorji, Olivia Sylvester, Anna Varga

Bhutan has a rich biocultural heritage, but information about this country may be challenging to find. To help you prepare for your travels in 2014 to attend the 14th International Society of Ethnobiology Congress in Bhutan, we have provided you with some important facts.

Punakha Dzong: Bhutan’s first capital and now winter residence of Jekhempo (religious head) and Monks (10 km from workshop venue).

Punakha Dzong: Bhutan’s first capital and now winter residence of Jekhempo (religious head) and Monks (10 km from workshop venue).

1. Where is Bhutan?

Bhutan is a Himalayan country, landlocked between the Tibetan Autonomous Council of China in the North and the Indian state of Assam, West Bengal and Arunachal Pradesh in the South. Bhutan has a rich natural environment where about 70.46% of its geographical area is under forest cover and 2.93% under agriculture.

2. What is Bhutan’s capital?

Thimphu is the capital of Bhutan. Thimpu is 84 kilometres from Paro, Bhutan’s International Airport.

3. What is the government structure in Bhutan?

The government of Bhutan is a constitutional monarchy. King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck is the head of state and the head of the government is elected by the people.

4. What languages are commonly spoken in Bhutan?

Dzongkha is Bhutan’s national language and is commonly spoken in the West. Other common languages include: Sharchop in the East, Khengkha in Central Bhutan and Nepali in the South. English is also used in many places in Bhutan, such as in universities and other institutions.

5. How big is Bhutan?

Bhutan is 38,394 km2; it is similar to the size of Switzerland.

Typical monsoon view of mountains: from Dochula on the way to Congress and Emerging Ethnobiologists’ Pre-Congress Workshop venue.

Typical monsoon view of mountains: from Dochula on the way to Congress and Emerging Ethnobiologists’ Pre-Congress Workshop venue.

6. What are some common foods in Bhutan?

Rice and maize are staple foods in Bhutan. Bhutanese farmers practice traditional farming and most crops are grown organically. Typical Bhutanese dishes include: Ema Datsi (made from chili peppers and cheese), Kangchung, Sujha, Momo, Phaksha sikam, and Norsha Paa; tasting these dishes for the first time will be an exciting adventure for congress attendees.

7. What is the Happiness Index? 

Bhutan is well known for its use of a Gross National Happiness Index, used similarly to an indicator for progress. A study done by representatives from the University of Leicester ranked Bhutan eighth out of 178 countries in a metric they used called “subjective well-being”.

8. What does the name Bhutan mean? 

In Sanskrit, the name Bhutan means End of Tibet. Bhutan is also called Druk Yul, or Land of the Thunder Dragon.

9. Where can you find butter tea?

Butter tea is common in almost all Bhutanese homes and restaurants. A special form of butter tea made with Yak butter is available only in nomad communities.

10. What can you expect to see in Bhutan?

In Bhutan, expect to see many breathtaking landscapes, adorned with Dzongs (fortresses/monasteries), tracks of traditional farming and many typical villages. About 70% of Bhutan’s area is under forest cover and home to wildlife, including the following mammals and birds: royal Bengal tigers, Asian elephants, snow leopards, clouded leopards, hornbills, nuthatches, white-bellied herons and black-necked cranes (a winter visitor). More than 60% of Bhutan’s total geographical area is declared as protected. This area includes: five national parks, four wildlife sanctuaries and one strict nature reserve. The Royal Manas National Park has been recognized as a hotspot for felids, such as the common and clouded leopards.

11. What is the currency of Bhutan?

The Ngultrum is the Bhutanese currency and the value is equal to that of the Indian Rupee.

12. What is the population of Bhutan?

According to the World Bank in 2011, Bhutan had 738,267 inhabitants.

13. What is the national dress?

Men wear Gho and women wear Kira. When entering into a Dzong (a fortress), both men and women need to wear a scarf. The scarves for men are called Kabney and for women are called Rachu.

Bumthang valley: The Congress venue for 2014

Bumthang valley: The Congress venue for 2014

14. What commodities does Bhutan export?

Bhutan exports minerals, hydroelectricity, cash crops (oranges, apples, potatoes) and agro-products.

15. What is the weather like in Bhutan?

Bhutan has four seasons: Winter (December-February), Spring (March-May), Summer (June-August) and Autumn (September-November). Winter is extremely cold in most parts of Bhutan and snow falls in the areas 3000 meters above sea level. The 2014 ISE Congress will be in June, so expect pleasant weather.

16. What are the highest and lowest elevations of Bhutan?

The highest peak of Bhutan is Gangkar Puensum with an elevation of 7570 meters above sea level (24,836 ft). The lowest point is located in the Drangme Chhu, a river system in central and eastern Bhutan, at 97 meters above sea level (318 ft).

17. What Bhutan’s main national sport?


Want to learn more about Bhutan? Visit the Emerging Ethnobiologists Blog Series: Getting to Know Bhutan.

All photographs taken by Jigme Dorji