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The kingdom of Bhutan lies in the Himalayas and borders Tibet (China) to the north and India to the east, south and west. With an area of 47 000 km², the country is slightly larger than Switzerland.
Bhutan is predominantly mountainous. The north belongs to the High Himalayas with over 7 000 m high peaks, the highest are the Kula Kangri with 7 554 m and the Chomo Lhari with 7 314 m. To the south is the Vorderhimalaja, whose peaks lie between 2,000 and 4,000 m above sea level. The wide fertile valleys, which run from north to south, divide the landscape and are the most important settlement areas in Bhutan. In the extreme south of the country, on the border with India, lies the Duars Plain, which is an offshoot of the Ganges-Brahmaputra lowlands.
Although the country is relatively small, there are large differences in climate: In northern Bhutan there is a high mountain climate with zones of eternal ice and very different precipitation (on the southern slopes up to 5,000 mm, on the northern slopes partly less than 250 mm). The snowfall limit is about 5 500 m. The climate in the front Himalayas is cool and temperate with monsoon rains (rainy season May to September). In this area lies the capital Thimphu, where average January temperatures of 0 °C are measured, in July about 17 °C. The climate is very cold. The average rainfall in this area is about 1 000 mm. In the extreme south of the country, in the Duars plain, there is a subtropical Monsu climate. The average temperature in January is about 17°C, in July 28°C. The annual rainfall is 2 000 mm (rainy season May to September).
Flora and Fauna
The vegetation of the country differs according to the different climate zones. In total, more than two thirds of the country is forested: While deciduous monsoon forests can be found in the south of the country, coniferous and deciduous forests grow in the front Himalayas. Alpine mats grow from a height of about 4,000 m upwards.
The country offers a suitable habitat for animal species that have become rare in other countries, such as the collar bear and the rhinoceros. In the mountain regions, the snow leopard is endangered.
A total of 670_000 people live in the Kingdom of Bhutan. The largest and most important population group is the Bhotia (50%), over 35% of the population belong to Nepalese peoples. Members of Indian ethnic groups live in the south. The largest city is the capital Thimphu with about 70 000 inhabitants (agglomeration).
Buddhism in Lamaist form is the state religion in Bhutan, and about 75% of the population are followers of this religion. The second largest religious community is the Hindus (about 24 %), a religious minority is the Muslims (1 %). Dzongkha is the official language of the kingdom, Nepali and English are also spoken.
The population’s standard of living is very low, there is no state social security and the health system is inadequately developed. The per capita income is around 2,000 US dollars per year. Life expectancy averages 65 years and infant mortality is relatively high at around 5%. Overall literacy is only about 47% (women: 34%), although school attendance is free.
Bhutan has been a democratic constitutional monarchy since 2008. Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuk has been king since December 2006. The head of government (since July 2013 Tshering Tobgay) heads the cabinet, which must be appointed by the king. The legislature consists of two chambers: the National Council (upper house) with 20 elected and five elected representatives of the people and the National Assembly (lower house) elected by the people with 47 members.
The parties are the royalist “Druk Phuensum Tshogpa” (DPT, Peace and Prosperity Party) and the “People’s Democratic Party” (PDP). The country is divided into 20 districts (Dzongkhags).
Bhutan has long been one of the poorest countries in the world in terms of per capita income, but in recent years has benefited from economic growth averaging 8%. However, growing prosperity is unevenly distributed. Central and Eastern Bhutan have clearly lagged behind the western part of the country in terms of development. The country’s economy is closely linked to that of neighbouring India. Bhutan receives economic aid from India.
Agriculture generates 15 % of the gross domestic product (GDP), well over half of the working population work here, mostly in small subsistence farms. The main crops are rice, barley, maize and millet, and fruit and spices for export. Forestry is also important for exports. Sheep and cattle (including house yaks) are bred in livestock farming.
In Bhutan there are only a few industrial companies, besides the food and wood processing industry the production of cement is important. The country’s energy needs can be met by hydropower, and electricity is also exported to India and Bangladesh. The mineral resources available include hard coal, ores and slate, which are increasingly being exploited. The biggest problem in the development of the industrial sector is the lack of trained workers. In both exports and imports, India plays the most important role as a trading partner.
For a long time, tourism was of little importance to the Kingdom of Bhutan, but it has increased recently. At present it is the second largest source of income in the country. The most important countries of origin for visitors in 2012 were Japan, the USA, China, Thailand and Germany.
There are no motorways in Bhutan and the few developed roads are only suitable for low traffic. There is no railway line. The only international airport is located near the capital Thimbu. Currency is the Bhutanese Ngultrum (= 100 Chhertum).