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Bhutan Geography: Everything Travelers Should Know

  Written by : Swotah travel

   Sep 22, 2022


Bhutan Geography: Everything Travelers Should Know

In the early days of 1974, a small country in the Himalayas made headlines worldwide. Bhutan, the land of the thunder dragon, had opened its borders to travelers for the first time in its history and was ready to show off its many charms to an eager international audience. There was just one catch: very few people knew anything about this little-known nation.


To help remedy that situation, I have put together a comprehensive guide to everything travelers should know before visiting Bhutan.  Here you will find information on Bhutan's geography in detail. 


Physical geography

Bhutan is a landlocked country in Southeast Asia, located between India to the south and east and China to the north. With an area of 38,394 square kilometers, the capital is located in the northwest part of the country and is divided into 20 districts or fungus, which technically translates to fortress areas. 

The country's average elevation is 3,280 meters, making it one of the highest countries in the world. Over 70% of Bhutan is covered by forest, and almost 30% is designated National Parks or Protected Areas. The Bhutanese landscape is rugged and mountainous, with glaciers and river valleys. 


Bhutan is incredibly isolated from the rest of the world. In fact, they only have one international airport. Pato airport in the town of Pato is known for its world-famous Tiger's Nest monastery built on a cliff with a 900 m drop. Located about 22 miles away from the airport , this is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Bhutan. 



The flag is divided diagonally into two separate parts. The yellow and the orange. In the middle is a large black and white dragon. The yellow represents the civil tradition and temporal authority of the king. Typically kings will wear yellow scarves on their guards, and the orange represents Buddhism. The dragon draws the thunder dragon from Bhutanese mythology. The strap between the two colors signifies the equal importance of the country's civic and monastic traditions through the dragon is white to signify the purity of inner thoughts and deeds and is carrying four jewels in each claw to signify the wealth and wealth security of the country.



Deu Despite the isolation and mandated cultural rules, the people of Bhutan are without a doubt some of the most notably distinct and intriguing inhabitants of the earth. First of all. Although the numbers are debatable, modern estimates put the country at a population of around 800,000 people, about half of them identify as and 22% as a similar shark shop or the eastern people. This can also include the indigenous tribes found within Bhutan, and 28% identify as Champa or the southern people, mostly in Nepalese origin. 

Most of the people in Bhutan, about 70% identify with either the Kagyu or the enigma branches of Buddhism, and the remaining about 28% identify with Hinduism. Mostly the pampas in the south. The official language is Zanga. However, about 53 other Tibetan-based languages and dialects are spoken throughout the country. Bhutanese people are very intent on maintaining their nationalism and identity

Glaciers of Bhutan

Glaciers are often seen on mountaintops and flanks along the main topographical ridge of the Bhutan Himalayas and on plateaus and ridges extending south from the central Himalayan divide. The majority of the world's glaciers are found in river basins, where rivers flow from north to south. However, Bhutan also includes the northern flank of the main division in the country's north, an area known as the Northern Basin, where rivers run from Bhutan northward toward China's Autonomous Region of Tibet.


The upper valleys of the southernmost valley glaciers are narrow and steep, whereas those on the northern side have broad and sloping accumulation regions. Wachey Glacier in Pho Chhu basin holds the record for the longest glacier in Bhutan at 20.1 km, as of the 2001 report. Coming in at a close second, Table Mountain's Northern Basin boasts the largest single glacier basin area-wise at 99.7 km2. The accumulation areas of the Table Mountain glaciers form an ice field on the north sides of the mountain, which is known as the North Slope.



There are 567 glacial lakes discovered throughout the four river basins of Bhutan, with a combined surface area of 55.04±0.055 km2. Glacial lakes in Bhutan make up 19.03% of the total number of water bodies and 0.14% of the country's land area.

These glacier lakes can be categorized according to their location and function. Location-wise, they are either found in the main valley glaciers or on the flanks of the mountains. Concerning function, some glacial lakes fill up with melted water and become sources of rivers, while others simply act as reservoirs for excess water during the rainy season.


Due to climate change, glaciers in Bhutan are melting at an alarming rate. This is especially worrisome because Bhutan is a water-stressed country; about 60% of its population relies on agriculture, which depends on glacial meltwater for irrigation.


As a result of this rapid glacial melting, the water level in many of Bhutan's glacial lakes has been rising steadily. In some cases, this rise in water level has caused lakes to burst their banks and flood nearby villages. 


The most dangerous lakes are found in Phochu sub-basin, with 157 glacial lakes, of which nine are potentially hazardous. Thorthomi is the largest glacial lake, located at the headwater of the Phochu basin and covering 4.20km2 in area.

Dangmechu has the least number of glacial lakes, with only nine. The survey mentioned that 13 glacial lakes in the Wangchu basin are in good shape.



All of Bhutan's rivers are fed by glaciers and snowmelt, making them highly seasonal. The country has four main river basins: the Drangme Chhu, Raidak, Sankosh, and Manas.


The Drangme Chhu basin is the largest in Bhutan and covers about one-third of the country's total area. The Raidak basin is located in eastern Bhutan and is the second largest basin in the country. The Sankosh basin is located in central Bhutan and is the third largest basin.


The Manas basin is located in western Bhutan and is the smallest of the four basins. Despite its small size, Bhutan is of great importance because it is home to the country's only airport, Paro International Airport.


Bhutan's rivers are an important source of hydropower. As of 2016, Bhutan's four main river basins had a total hydropower potential of 30,000 megawatts (MW). Of this potential, only about 12% had been developed.


Bhutan's geography is characterized by its high mountains, which comprise most of the country.  There are also several large rivers, including the Bhutanese river system, which flows through the country.  The country is also home to many glaciers, a major water source for the country's population.  However, due to climate change, these glaciers are melting at an alarming rate, which is causing some concern for the future of Bhutan's water supply. 


In conclusion, Bhutan is a beautiful and fascinating country with a complex and diverse geography.  Travelers to Bhutan will surely find plenty to explore and enjoy in this unique corner of the world.



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