Bhutan, a Buddhist kingdom on the Himalayasâ€™ eastern edge, is known for its monasteries, fortresses (or dzongs) and dramatic landscapes that range from subtropical plains to steep mountains and valleys. In the High Himalayas, peaks such as 7,326m Jomolhari are popular trekking destinations. Paro Taktsang monastery (also known as Tigerâ€™s Nest) clings to cliffs above the forested Paro Valley.
The independence of Bhutan has endured for centuries, and the territory was never colonized in its history. Situated on the ancient Silk Road between Tibet, the Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia, the Bhutanese state developed a distinct national identity based on Buddhism. Headed by a spiritual leader known as the Zhabdrung Rinpoche, the territory was composed of many fiefdoms and governed as a Buddhist theocracy. Following a civil war in the 19th century, the House of Wangchuck reunited the country and established relations with the British Empire. Bhutan fostered a strategic partnership with India during the rise of Chinese communism and has a disputed border with the People's Republic of China. In 2008, it transitioned from an absolute monarchy to a constitutional monarchy and held the first election to the National Assembly of Bhutan, that has a two party system characterizing Bhutanese democracy.
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Thimphu, Bhutanâ€™s capital, occupies a valley in the countryâ€™s western interior. In addition to being the government seat, the city is known for its Buddhist sites. The massive Tashichho Dzong is a fortified monastery and government palace with gold-leaf roofs.
Paro is a valley town in Bhutan, west of the capital, Thimphu. It is the site of the countryâ€™s only international airport and is also known for the many sacred sites in the area. North of town, the Taktsang Palphug (Tigerâ€™s Nest) monastery clings to cliffs above the forested Paro Valley.
Punakha is a town in the Himalayas of Bhutan. It's known for the Punakha Dzong, a 17th-century fortress at the juncture of the Pho and Mo Chhu rivers. The fortress hosts the Punakha Tshechu, a religious festival featuring masked dances and music. In the surrounding Punakha Valley, temples include the fertility-focused Chimi Lhakhang and the hilltop Khamsum Yulley Namgyal Chorten, which has river and mountain views.