Bhutan Geography and Population

Bhutan (Geography)

Bhutan is a mountainous country; it stretches from the southern lowlands, the so-called duars in the Brahmaputra Valley, to the over 7000 m high mountain peaks on the border with Tibet. Bhutan is sparsely populated. For centuries, the country chose to live in the isolation that the rugged terrain naturally invites. It was not until 1959 that Bhutan asked India for help in building the first roads and developing a modern school system. In 1961, with Indian help, the first development plan was drawn up, and since then the country has been in a rapid development from an almost totally isolated feudal society on its way to a modern state with associated institutions.


When Bhutan became a member of the UN in 1971, the population was estimated at 1.3 million. In 1990, the king acknowledged that the number was rather 600,000. A survey conducted by the Ministry of Health in 1994 confirmed this figure, and in 2005 the population was estimated at 672,000. A significant uncertainty is posed by a large number of Nepalese immigrants who have settled in the country since the 1940’s, or who work on employment contracts and are therefore actually resident without having Bhutanese citizenship. From 1984 to 2006, life expectancy increased from 47 years to an average of 63 years.

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Bhutan has a young population; approximately 40% are under the age of 15, and population growth is estimated to be 2 1/2 % per year. There is a rapid expansion of the health system, with assistance from Denmark, and population growth is expected to increase against the background of declining mortality. There are large differences in population density. It is relatively large and growing in the southern lowlands, while only a scattered population lives to the north. There are only a few and small towns.

Traditionally, education has played a significant role in the religious life of the country; still gets approximately 4000 monks their education in state-sponsored religious institutions. A modern school system started in 1959 with English as the language of instruction. In the 1990’s, approximately 70,000 school-seeking education, paid for by the state. There is a college in Bhutan under the University of New Delhi.


Bhutan can be geographically divided into three zones. The high Himalayas cover the area to the north. It is sparsely populated by nomads of Tibetan origin who breed yaks and have intensive agricultural production in high-lying, isolated valleys. For culture and traditions of Bhutan, please check animalerts.

The inner Himalayas consist of a series of fertile valleys at 1500-3000 m altitude. Here there is intensive rice production in the lower and wheat, buckwheat and potato cultivation in the higher lying valleys. There is also a large production of apples which has become a major export commodity to India and Bangladesh. The area is relatively densely populated and has historically been Bhutan’s center of power; up here is the capital Thimphu at 2400 m altitude.

The duars. The southern slopes and lowlands are the most densely populated region. Here on the steep southern slope of the Himalayas and in the Brahmaputra Valley live approximately half of the population. However, it is only a few km wide belt of the valley itself, which is located in Bhutan. In addition to rice, oranges, bananas and cardamom etc. are grown here, which are sold in the higher parts of the country and in India. Bhutan’s largest city Phuntsholing (40,000 residents) is located here as a trade and transportation hub to India. Several other district centers in the lowlands are growing rapidly.


approximately 85% of the population lives in the countryside, of which part in completely isolated mountain valleys with several days of hiking to the nearest road connection. They live on agriculture and cattle ranching (including yaks), largely for self-sufficiency. approximately 45% of GDP comes from agriculture (2002). Women traditionally have a strong position in agriculture, and in several ethnic groups inheritance law goes through the women’s line. Industry and mining have grown since the 1980’s, but remain of limited importance. Only a small part of the country is geologically mapped, but deposits of e.g. coal, copper, zinc, lead and marble are exploited. Canned food, cement and wood products are the main industries; in total, the industry contributes approximately 10% of GDP.

With its location on the southern slope of the Himalayas, Bhutan has enormous hydropower potential. The country’s first major hydropower plant, Chhuka, with a capacity of 336 MW started production in 1986. The plant is financed by India and 90% of the production is sold here; electricity has become Bhutan’s largest export commodity.

Infrastructure and tourism

Before 1960, Bhutan had virtually no roads; the journey to the capital Thimphu thus took place on donkey back. With Indian assistance, the road network has been expanded to 2300 km, of which 1800 km is paved. In 1983, Paro Airport was built 50 km west of Thimphu; from here, the national airline Druk Air has connections to neighboring countries.

Bhutan’s location in the Himalayas with magnificent landscapes, an almost unspoilt nature and a rich, well-preserved cultural heritage make the country an attractive tourist destination. But in the desire to keep its values ​​intact, the country pursues a particularly restrictive tourism policy. The number of tourists has been increasing from 1500 in 1990 to 7500 in 2000.