Located in the Himalayas, Bhutan is a mountain kingdom wedged between China and India. In close proximity, but not directly bordering it are the kingdom of Nepal and the nation of Bangladesh. Both countries are separated from Bhutan by narrow strips of territory belonging to India. The native name for Bhutan translates into "Land of the Thunder Dragon."
Long considered one of the most isolated nations on the planet, urban areas of the kingdom have recently begun to develop cable networks, cellular phone capabilities, and gain access to the Internet. In contrast to many countries' development plans, Bhutan's policies focus on the happiness of their citizenry. Government officials call this their Gross National Happiness approach. Indeed, in a 2006 study of world happiness, Bhutan ranked eighth in the world.
In 2008, Bhutan transitioned from an absolute monarchy to a form of constitutional monarchy with its first democratic elections. The state religion is Bhuddhism, and the official language is Dzongkha. Bhutan is estimated to have just under 692,000 people within its borders.
In order to minimize ecological impact and cultural contamination, travel to Bhutan is relatively restricted. The government limits the number of tourists that can visit the kingdom each year. Those that do must do so via an official travel agency, that will arrange for a full-service tour. Food, travel arrangements, lodging, entertainment, and cultural exposure will all be planned for tour groups. This serves the dual purpose of allowing the government to limit contact with their citizenry and to maximize the experience of the tourists.
Most tourists that travel to Bhutan fall into one of two groups. First are the eco-tourists. Bhutan offers some of the most widely praised treks for seasoned hikers. These treks will take tourists through the subtropical forests and up into the Himalayas. The other major form of tourism comes from those who want to see the Bhutanese culture firsthand. Being such an isolated country gives many hardier tourists the chance to see sights that are not yet mainstream.
There is no travel to Bhutan during the winter months. The kingdom does not have a commercial passenger airport, and in the wintertime the overland route from India to Bhutan can be less than enjoyable. Additionally, tourists would be unlikely to enjoy the outdoor trekking conditions during the coldest time of the year in the Himalayas.
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