Bhutan, a tiny Himalayan kingdom in the Indian subcontinent, is known for its spectacular natural landscapes and peace-loving and content people. The country is endowed with natural wealth in the form of lofty mountain peaks, dense forests, a diversity of flora and fauna, unique cultures untouched by time, and lots more. Surprisingly, Bhutan does not have a single UNESCO World Heritage Site. However, the country itself has outstanding universal value as it teaches the world how to revere nature and co-exist with other forms of life while at the same time being happy and content with life. Some of the destinations in Bhutan that are on the tentative list of UNESCO World Heritage Site have been described below.
8. Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary
Located in eastern Bhutan in the Trashigang Dzongkhag, the Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary is a pristine natural habitat covering an area of around 740.60 square km. The sanctuary is known for its flora diversity including 35 species of Rhododendrons, and 203 tree species. Several threatened species like the red panda, wild dog, common leopard, capped langur, must deer, etc., also live in the sanctuary. 147 species of birds and 20 species of mammals are found in the area. The Brokpas, a semi-nomadic human culture also exists here. The age-old practices of these people seem to be frozen in time. The co-existence of this unique human culture with the wild flora and fauna lends uniqueness to the Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary and deems it an ideal candidate to be a World Heritage Site.
7. Bumdeling Wildlife Sanctuary (BWS) -
The BWS is located in northeastern Bhutan where it occupies an area of 1520.61 square km. It features a wide variety of ecosystems ranging from warm broadleaved forests to Alpine Meadows. Many rivers flow through this sanctuary with villages and agricultural lands being located downstream of these rivers. The yak-herder communities living in BWS practice traditional crafts like handmade paper, wooden bowl, bamboo belt, etc., production. The BWS is also one of the world’s major winter roosting habitats of the endangered black-necked crane. Ludlow's Bhutan Swallowtail, an endemic butterfly, is also found in this sanctuary. 100 mammalian species, 432 bird species, 130 butterfly species, and many other species of invertebrates are also found in the BWS.
6. Jigme Dorji National Park (JDNP)
Another natural area of great universal value, the JDNP is located in the country’s north-western part where it occupies an area of 4,316 square km. It is extremely rich in both biological and cultural diversity. One of Bhutan's conservation jewels, the JDNP is home to numerous endangered species of plants and animals like the tiger, musk deer, snow leopard, etc. The Layap semi-nomadic community also resides in the area and practice a culture distinct from all. It is the world’s only national park where the tiger shares its habitat with the snow leopard. Large populations of the Bhutan takin also survive here. The JDNP is also called the "the trekker's paradise” as it offers excellent trekking opportunities to foreigners and nationals through its near-pristine landscape of high mountains, forests, and valleys.
5. Tamzhing Monastery
The Tamzhing monastery is a religious site located in the Bumthang district of Bhutan. It serves as the principal seat of Pema Lingpa, one of the five treasure discoverer kings as designated by Guru Padmasambhava. The latter introduced Buddhism in Bhutan and is regarded as the founder of Tantric Buddhism. The monastery was built in 1501 by Pema Lingpa. It is famous for its unique collection of murals, statues, and other art and artifacts related to Buddhism. The connection of the monastery to important historical figures and the fact that it is the origin of the sacred Peling dance traditions lends outstanding universal value to the site.
4. Royal Manas National Park (RMNP)
Eight different cat species in the same protected area, the world’s highest tiger density, and a spectacular landscape of immense scenic beauty are some of the outstanding values of the RMNP in Bhutan. This national park in the eastern Himalayas is one of the 10 global biodiversity hotspots. It has a wide range of habitats ranging from tropical to temperate. Many globally threatened species like the tiger, rhinoceros, pygmy hog, Asiatic water buffalo, etc., are protected within the limits of the RMNP.
3. Sacred Sites associated with Phajo Drugom Zhigpo and his descendants
Phajo Drugom Zhigpo is a legendary figure in Bhutanese history. He arrived in Bhutan from Tibet in the 13th century to introduce the Drukpa-Kagyud Buddhist tradition in the country. After his death, his descendants help spread the religion in Bhutan. Several sites were identified and blessed by Phajo Drugom Zhigpo to be used as centers of learning of the Drukpa-Kagyud School. Today, 12 sites have been identified as integral to the spread of the Buddhist tradition and include fortresses, cliffs, and caves. These sites allow historians to study the evolution and spread of Buddhism in Bhutan and trace the link between the people of Bhutan and Tibet.
Tourists to Bhutan almost always visit one or more of its dzongs. In fact, the entire country has a complex of dzongs or fortified buildings. These dzongs were the principal seats of Buddhism in the past. These buildings were built in Bhutan by the clergies of different Tibetan Buddhist schools. Today, they have both a religious and administrative role. The history of these dzongs provides an in-depth knowledge of the country’s culture and history. These buildings also protect a large number of treasures of great value including ancient Buddhist scriptures, artwork, sculptures, and more. Since the dzongs were built on the higher ground like hilltops overlooking a valley, they also provided military vantage to the then rulers of the country.
1. Ancient Ruin of Drukgyel Dzong
This tentative World Heritage Site is considered to be Bhutan’s most beautiful archaeological site. It is located in the upper Paro Valley. The Drukgyel Dzong was built in 1649 to protect the kingdom against foreign invasions. Even today, despite a fire destroying most of the property, the ruins of the Dzong act as a force that bind the people of Bhutan to their rich history and culture.
Learn about some of the most interesting facts about Bhutan here.