Official name: Kingdom of Bhutan
Area: 47,000 square kilometers (18,147 square miles)
Highest point on mainland : Kula Kangri (7,553 meters/24,781 feet)
Lowest point on land: Drangme Chhu (River) (97 meters/318 feet)
Hemispheres : Northern and Eastern
Time zone: 5:30 P.M. = noon GMT
Longest distances: 306 kilometers (190 miles) from east to west; 145 kilometers (90 miles) from north to south
Land boundaries : 1,075 kilometers (668 miles) total boundary length; China, 470 kilometers (292 miles); India, 605 kilometers (376 miles)
Territorial sea limits: None
1 LOCATION AND SIZE
Bhutan is a small, landlocked country in the Himalaya Mountains, between China and India in Southern Asia. To the north and northwest, it borders the Chinese autonomous region of Tibet (Xizang Zizhiqu); to the south and southwest, the Indian states of West Bengal and Assam; and to the east, the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh (formerly the NorthEast Frontier Agency). Bhutan has an area of 47,000 square kilometers (18,147 square miles), making it slightly more than half as large as the state of Indiana.
2 TERRITORIES AND DEPENDENCIES
Bhutan has no territories or dependencies.
Bhutan has three distinct climates, corresponding to its three topographical regions. The Duārs Plain areas in the south have a hot, humid, subtropical climate, with heavy rainfall. Temperatures generally average between 15°C (59°F) and 30°C (86°F) year-round. Temperatures in the valleys of the southern foothills of the Himalayas may rise as high as 101°F (40°C) in the summer. The central Inner Himalayan region has a temperate climate, with hot summers, cool winters, and moderate rainfall. Temperatures in the capital city of Thimphu, located in the western part of this region, generally range from about 15°C (59°F) to 26°C (79°F) between June and September (the monsoon season), falling to between -4°C (25°F) and 16°C (61°F) in January. The high mountains of the Greater Himalayas in the north have more severe weather than the regions to the south. At their highest elevations, they are snow-covered year-round, with an arctic climate.
Like other aspects of Bhutan's climate, rainfall varies by region. The northern Himalayas are relatively dry, and most precipitation falls as snow. The Inner Himalayan slopes and valleys have moderate rainfall, averaging between 100 and 150 centimeters (39 and 59 inches) annually. Rainfall in the subtropical southern regions averages between about 500 centimeters and 750 centimeters (197 and 295 inches) per year. The greatest amount of rain falls during the summer monsoon season, from late June through the end of September.
4 TOPOGRAPHIC REGIONS
All of Bhutan is mountainous except for narrow fringes of land at the southern border where the Duārs Plain, the lowland of the Brahmaputra River, protrudes northward from India. The rest of Bhutan can be divided into two mountain regions: the Lesser Himalayas, or Inner Himalayas, which extend from the Duārs Plain through the central part of the country; and the snow-capped peaks of the Great Himalayas in the far north.
5 OCEANS AND SEAS
Bhutan is landlocked.
6 INLAND LAKES
There are no notable inland lakes in Bhutan.
7 RIVERS AND WATERFALLS
All of Bhutan's numerous rivers flow south through gorges and narrow valleys, eventually draining into the Brahmaputra River in India. The headwaters of most streams are in the regions of permanent snow along the Tibetan border. None of the rivers in Bhutan is navigable, but many of them are potential sources of hydroelectric power.
Bhutan contains four main river systems. The Tongsa River and its tributaries, the Bumtang and Drangme Rivers (river names in Bhutan are often followed by Chu or Chhu, which means river), drains the area east of the Black Mountain watershed. West of the Black Mountains, the drainage pattern changes to a series of parallel streams, beginning with the Sankosh (or Puna Tsang) River and its tributaries, the Mo Chhu and Pho Chhu. These two waterways flow southward to Punakha; there they join the main river, continuing their southward course into the Indian state of West Bengal. Farther west is the third major system, the Wong Chhu and its tributaries. These flow through west-central Bhutan, joining to form the Raigye Chhu before flowing into West Bengal. Still farther west is the smallest system, the Torsa Chhu (called the Amo Chhu farther north), which flows through the Chumbi Valley before entering India.
There are no notable desert regions in Bhutan.
9 FLAT AND ROLLING TERRAIN
The Duārs Plain, which lies mostly in India, extends northward across Bhutan's border in strips 10 to 15 kilometers (6 to 9 miles) wide. The northern edges of these plains, which border the Himalayan foothills, have rugged terrain and porous soil. Fertile flatlands are found farther south. At the southern edge of the Inner Himalayas, sloping down to the Duārs Plain, are low, densely forested foothills called the Siwalik (or Southern) Hills.
10 MOUNTAINS AND VOLCANOES
The mountains of Bhutan are known for their dramatic differences in elevation. Elevations vary from approximately 305 meters (1,000 feet) in the south to almost 7,620 meters (25,000 feet) in the north—in some places as close together as 100 kilometers (60 miles). The snowcapped Great Himalayas rise along the Tibetan border, stretching across Bhutan in a belt about 16 kilometers (10 miles) wide. Four peaks in this range have elevations above 6,096 meters (20,000 feet). The highest is Kula Kangri, north of Gasa Dzong, at 7,553 meters (24,781 feet). Next in height is the country's most famous peak, picturesque Chomo Lhari, which towers over the Chumbi Valley at an elevation of 7,314 meters (23,997 feet).
Spurs extending southward from the Great Himalayas make up the north-south ranges of Bhutan's Inner, or Lesser, Himalayas. The fertile valleys between its peaks form the watersheds of Bhutan's major rivers. The dominant range in this system is the Black Mountain Range, which divides the country almost exactly down the middle from north to south and forms the water-shed between the Sankosh and Drangme Chhus (Rivers). Its peaks range from 1,500 to 2,700 meters (4,922 to 8,859 feet) above sea level.
Several strategically important passes follow the major river courses through the valleys of Bhutan's Himalaya Mountains. Formerly of great significance for trade, they now serve as escape routes for Tibetan refugees.
11 CANYONS AND CAVES
There are no notable canyons or caves in Bhutan.
12 PLATEAUS AND MONOLITHS
There are no notable plateaus or monoliths in Bhutan.
13 MAN-MADE FEATURES
A 90-meter (295-foot) suspension bridge at Chazam, spanning the Dangmechu River, was opened on March 16, 2001. It is the most extensive single-span bridge of this type in the Himalayas.
14 FURTHER READING
Dompnier, Robert. Bhutan, Kingdom of the Dragon. Boston: Shambhala, 1999.
Hellum, A. K. A Painter's Year in the Forests of Bhutan . Edmonton: University of Alberta Press, 2001.
Zeppa, Jamie. Beyond the Sky and the Earth: A Journey into Bhutan . New York: Riverhead Books, 1999.
The Kingdom of Bhutan. http://www.kingdomofbhutan.com/ (accessed June 22, 2003).