Highest country in the world
Bhutan is the highest country on our planet with an average altitude of 3,280m. If Tibet were a sovereign country, then it would of course easily eat Bhutan for brekkies at an absolutely incredible average elevation of 4,380m.
In terms of mean elevation, Bhutan ranks #4 at 2,220m after Tajikistan (3,186m), Kyrgyzstan (2,988m), and Nepal (2,565m) and before Lesotho (#5 at 2,161m), Andorra (#6 at 1,996m), Afghanistan (#7 at 1,884m), Chile (#8 at 1,871m), and perhaps surprisingly China (#9 at 1,840m).
Left picture (c) The Planet D, where uncredited either free stock photography or BSqB
For comparison, the United States are at 760m, France at 375m, and the United Kingdom and India both have a mean elevation of roughly 160m.
In the towns, policemen will politely but firmly remind you to use the zebra crossings, should you forget.
Big game hunting? See what happens when you kill a chicken.
The killing of animals for consumption has been banned by the government, unless where someone would face severe malnutrition or starvation otherwise.
Many Bhutanese people eat little meat. Perhaps surprisingly, a significant percentage of the population eat a lot of meat, and so do the vast majority of foreigners visiting the country.
Even many monks enjoy a bit of chicken with their rice at times, just like Buddha did before them or the Dalai Lama does today, on occasion.
This means that Bhutan imports enormous amounts of meat from neighbouring countries, mainly India, to satisfy the demand.
Not the best place to go, if you have always been into trains ever since you were a child: Bhutan is one of only eleven territorial (as opposed to city/mini) non-island states worldwide that has no railways. The other ones are: Guinea-Bissau, Kuwait, Libya, Niger, Oman, Qatar, Rwanda, Somalia, Suriname, and Yemen.
Free healthcare & education
Truly exceptional for a developing country, Bhutan offers free healthcare to everyone, even visitors. Education, including university education, is also free.
Adventures on the Scoville Scale
Tradition dictates that you are not allowed to accept any food offered to you on the first attempt. You are supposed to politely decline the offer. However, on the third attempt you are permitted to accept. Considering that Ema Datshi, the national chilli cheese dish, is roughly ten million times hotter (fact!) than anything you have ever eaten, make sure you are up for it. (On tours you will always find plenty of milder, very tasty food, though.)
Hot for the Himalayas
Talking hot, one of the biggest surprises to foreigners are the unexpectedly high temperatures.
Before we started to do our research, we were expecting it to be cold in a Himalayan Kingdom in late winter/early spring, which is when we visited earlier this year, but much of the time and up to elevations above 3,000m we were running around in T-shirts and still getting a bit sweaty. (Check our travel advice, though, and be prepared for any weather.)
Himalayan mountain dolphins
Well, they are not actually called mountain dolphins, but river dolphins, and they reach Bhutan through tributaries of the Brahmaputra. They are blind by nature, but there is no suggestion that they simply got lost on their way to the corner store. The stock photo shows regular dolphins, not river dolphins.
No X Æ A-12s, Tarzans, Lucys or Alfies
It is not the parents who name their child, it is the local priest. Usually the priest chooses a name associated with deities or the day on which the child was born. The lama then proceeds to draft a sophisticated horoscope for the newborn, which is thought to outline to some extent, the future of the person. The horoscope also determines which rituals have to be performed on the child and when. Many local first names like Tshering (“long life”; “tshe” means “life” and “ring” means “long”) or Sonam (“merit”) are not gender-specific, it is usually the middle name that is.
In some parts of the country, the deceased are not cremated or buried, but instead left on the top of mountains to be devoured by vultures. The practice has its origins in the belief that this will make the transition into the next life easier.
Define “remote”, well, here you are
Bhutan was completely closed off to foreigners until the 1960s. Foreign journalists and travellers were only allowed in on a more regular basis from the mid-1970s.
No mullah for men
Inheritance is passed down to the eldest daughter, not the eldest son.
Stamps used to be a main export
Until 1960 Bhutan had no postal services. Then the country went the opposite direction and stamps became one of the major sources of foreign currency income, as collectors worldwide were queuing to get their hands on the sticky bits of paper.
Today, the sale of stamps plays hardly any role as source of income, even though Bhutan offers a special service where you can have fully recognised stamps printed with your face on them (yes, that’s us there on the stamp).
Life without Netflix is possible
Bhutan was one of the last countries in the world to permit the use of television and internet in 1999. No, this is not a typo.
Money, money, money
The Himalayan Kingdom only introduced paper money in 1974, when the Ngultrum became the official currency. It still is today. Before the mid-seventies, the country still relied heavily on barter.
“Can I check your ID please?” If you look under 25, expect to be asked for your ID.
Bhutan has an extremely young population: 50% are below the age of 25. This is nothing compared with Niger, admittedly, where over half the population are below 15, but it is amazing when you consider that Asia has many of the oldest populations in the world.
Are Bhutanese bilingual? Far from it.
Despite its small size there are roughly 15 local languages with various sub-dialects still spoken as first language within Bhutan besides its only official language Dzongkha, the language of the fortress or dzong. Dzongkha, a language initially only widely spoken in the western region, became the official language in 1971.
Some of the tribal languages are spoken by less than 1,000 people each.
Young people have a good command of English, because it is the main language of instruction at the country’s schools. Hindi is also understood by most Bhutanese as a result of the popularity of Bollywood movies.
Cool name, and that’s not the end of it.
Bhutan’s Western name comes from the Sanskrit word “Bhoṭa-anta”, which means “End of Tibet.” Not a wholly unreasonable name, considering its close historic & cultural ties with Tibet and the immediate geographic proximity. Locals, in their own language, call their country “Druk-Yul” or the “Land of the Thunder Dragon.”
For Part I of Bhutan Travel Trivia click here.
Generally looking for more information? Check out our posts about our one-week stay in Bhutan, about Punakha Festival, or about Tiger’s Nest. For other travel inspiration and adventure, feel welcome to eyeball our posts about the time we learned how to row Venetian style, our weekend trip to Norfolk, or the time we checked out a jetlev.