Bhutan is a small land-locked monarchy in the heart of the Himalayan mountain range. It is bordered by Tibet to the north, and the Indian territories of Assam and West Bengal to the south and east and Sikkim to the west. Most of the population occupies the cultivated central uplands and Himalayan foothills. Dense forests can be found in the valleys of the Lower Himalayas, divided by the Wang, Sunkosh, Trongsa and Manas Rivers, while the south has large areas of semi-tropical forests, grasslands and bamboo jungles. Wildlife in Bhutan includes tigers, snow leopard, bear, water buffalo, elephant, deer, the rare golden monkey and more than 770 species of birds.
Bhutan, which translates as Land of the Thunder Dragon, gets its names from violent winter storms originating in the Himalayas. Climate and weather in Bhutan ranges from tropical in the southern plains, cool winters and hot summers in the central valleys, to severe winters in the Himalayas. High humidity, frequent heavy rains, flash flooding and landslides occur during the summer monsoon season (from late May to early October).
Bhutan's people consist of the Bhote, ethnic Nepalese, and tribes that originally migrated into and settled the country beginning in the seventh century AD. The official language is Dzongkha, but various dialects of Tibetan and Nepalese are also spoken. English is taught in schools. The Buddhist faith plays an important role in the cultural, ethical, and social lives of Bhutan's citizens. Bhutan is the only country in the world to adopt Mahayana Buddhism in its Tantric form as its official religion.
Bhutan's monetary unit is the ngultrum, which is equivalent to the Indian rupee. The rupee is also an official currency. Major credit cards are not widely accepted in Bhutan. Visitors are advised to carry cash or travelers checks. Most hotels and guest lodges are equipped with international direct-dial telephones and fax machines. Public telephones are almost nonexistent. Cell phones are not operable in Bhutan.
Independent travel is not permitted in Bhutan. Tourists are only admitted in groups prearranged with the Tourism Authority of Bhutan. Travel within the country is by motor vehicles only. Although not extensive, Bhutan's main highway system is made up of reasonably well-maintained, paved, two-lane roads. Traffic is rarely heavy, but sharp curves, narrow lanes and limited visibility in mountainous terrain make traveling slow and potentially hazardous. Bhutan has only one international airline, with limited space on aircraft for large pieces of luggage. Flights are restricted to daylight; inclement weather can delay or cancel flights.
There is relatively little crime and violence in Bhutan. Petty crime, such as pickpocketing and purse snatching, is occasionally reported. Recent ethnic tensions have forced many Nepalese who lived in southwestern Bhutan for several decades to flee to nearby Nepal. Clandestine political groups have also been attempting to destabilize the southern areas of Bhutan to gain greater influence and power for the Nepalese living in the area.