Deep in the Himalayan mountains where earth meets sky, lies the autonomous kingdom of Bhutan; a landlocked country in South Asia. “Druk Yul” in Bhutanese translates to “Land of the Thunder Dragon” Druk being the mythological Bhutanese dragon that is also featured on the national flag and is one of the national symbols of Bhutan. Based on a global survey in 2006, Business Week rated Bhutan to be the happiest country in Asia, also making it the eighth happiest country in the world. Having isolated itself for centuries from the outside world, Bhutan has held onto its ancient traditions and Buddhist culture. The Bhutanese monarchy has also explored the philosophy of “Gross National Happiness” (GNH), which attempted to define a balance between the material world and spiritual values.
Bhutan’s architecture is vastly influenced by its Buddhist heritage and adaptation to the landscape, which may be observed when visiting monasteries and temples. Dzong architecture is distinctive in its style, built as more of a fortress with towering walls and exterior structures which was the main accommodation area for the monks. Many traditional buildings display swastikas and phallic paintings, its symbolism meaning auspiciousness or good luck. One of the most sacred and religious temples is found on a cliff 914 metres above the Paro valley, known as “Paro Taktsang” or Tiger’s Nest.
There are numerous public holidays in Bhutan, many that circulate around various festivals, all of which possess a specific theme or focal point. During the winter season, the national holiday dates consist of National Day (December 17th), the winter solstice (January 1st, depending on the lunar calendar), and the lunar New Year (February or March). These colourful festivals (also known as “tsechu’s”), take place in Dzongs where masked dancers rehearse thoroughly for weeks cavorting to traditional music played live in the background. Most of these events are being held to celebrate the birth of the famous saint that acquainted Buddhism with the people of Bhutan.
For the first time the Himalayan Kingdom is hosting the Bhutan International Festival from February 14th-23rd in 2015. During these ten days, a series of events will take place which revolve around art, film, music, and culture. Losar, known in Tibetan to be “new year” is the most important holiday in Bhutan and is commemorated for 15 whole days, with the main festivities taking place on the first three days. This year’s rituals strive to mark the Year of the Wood Sheep, bidding farewell to all the undesired difficulties of the past year on the final evening of the year (Nyi Shu Gu). After having said goodbye, the good elements are invited into the homes and lives of the Bhutanese people. Other seasonal features include: Bhutan International Film Festival, the 35th birthday of His Majesty, Himalayan Regional Arts Festival, Thimpu International Music Festival, TEDx Youth, TEDxThimpu, Valentine week, the Marathon and Half Marathon. Both marathons end at the Punakha Dzong, after having journeyed miles through the magnificent rural countryside and nearby villages. All of the profits made through the marathons will be donated to help support Bhutan’s Youth and Olympic Sports programs.
The Bhutanese cherish nature and wildlife, and as a result outdoor activities are emphasised by the country’s landlocked state. Rafting and kayaking tours are available on the crystal clear rivers, many of which cater to beginners who wish to try out adventure sports for the first time. Hiking and trekking are also very popular where tourists may see the land’s natural beauty; even on horseback or mountain bikes if they please. Archery is Bhutan’s national sport; even maintaining an Olympic archery team. Competitions are held regularly in most villages, in which archers participate in verbal battles, allowing players to display intellectual skills, as well as their physical prowess.
Bhutan has sustained a rich cultural heritage, making its national identity distinct for its tourists. The adventure seeker may appreciate exploring the untouched land or experience Bhutanese culture by sampling the local cuisine or going to the many festivals held throughout the year. The first ever Bhutan International Festival alone may entice new visitors to journeying into the Land of the Thunder Dragon.
How does the Bhutan International Festival indicate growth in national tourism?