Until recently, the tiny Asian kingdom of Bhutan remained tucked away in total isolation from the rest of the world. That segregation helped to preserve its deep Buddhist traditions, importance of the family and pristine landscapes. It’s also made it a fascinating country to study. Here are a few facts you may find interesting about this mysterious Kingdom in the Himalayas:
1. The United Nations recognized Bhutan as a country only in 1974.
2. The word “Bhutan” translates to “Land of the Thunder Dragon.” It earned the nickname because of the fierce storms that often roll in from the Himalayas.
3. Bhutan is the first country in the world with specific constitutional obligations on its people to protect the environment. Among its requirements: At least 60 percent of the nation must remain under forest cover at all times making it the world’s only ‘Carbon Sink’, that is; it absorbs more Carbondioxide (CO2) than it gives out.
4. Rather than using the GDP as an economic index, Bhutan measures its overall “health” through the four pillars: sustainable development, environmental protection, cultural preservation, and good governance, which together form the Gross National Happiness or GNH.
5. Thimpu is one of just two capital cities in Asia that does not have a single traffic light. (The other is Pyongyang, North Korea.) There was such public outcry when local officials installed a single signal that it was quickly removed, and a traffic officer was re-assigned to the intersection.
6. Bhutan is the only nation in the world where the sale of tobacco is banned.
7. At 24,840 feet, Gangkhar Puensum is the highest point in Bhutan—and the highest unclimbed mountain in the world.
8. Bhutanese manners dictate that you are to refuse food whenever it’s offered to you. The tradition is to say the words “meshu meshu” and cover your mouth with your hands. You can give in, though, after two or three offers.
9. Anyone found guilty of killing a highly endangered and culturally sacred black-necked crane could be sentenced to life in prison.
10. Bhutan is one of the last countries in the world to introduce television to its people. The government lifted a ban on TV—and on the Internet—only 11 years ago.
11. Bhutan is overwhelmingly Buddhist, with a large Hindu minority, but remains deeply superstitious. Traditional homes have carved wooden erect phalluses protruding from the main door lintels to ward off evil spirits. A heavy emphasis is placed on Buddhist teachings and Bhutanese receive free education from the government.
12. All citizens officially become one year older on New Year’s Day. This way, no one forgets anyone’s birthday!
13. Bhutan’s national sport is a form of archery in which rival teams face each other across a field, and fire sharp arrows at one another, while each team waves its arms to distract their opponents. Players battle it out wearing national costume.
14. The national animal of Bhutan is the takin, an animal so unusual it is in a class all of its own, Budorcas taxicolor. Bhutanese believe their most popular saint, known as the divine madman (1455-1529), created it.
15. Bhutan is the happiest country in Asia, and the eighth in the world, despite widespread poverty and illiteracy. A survey pointed to the landlocked Himalayan kingdom’s beautiful mountain scenery, isolated culture and strong sense of national identity as reasons for the contentment of its citizens.