Bhutan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and the Maldives

The Kingdom of Bhutan

Bhutan map
Bhutan map
CBS Sunday Morning: Bhutan, the mountain kingdom

Landlocked and mountainous, the small Kingdom of Bhutan is remotely located next to the high Himalayas between China and India. Bhutan’s independence has endured for centuries. It has never been colonized in its history. Situated on the ancient Silk Road between Tibet, the Bhutanese state developed a distinct national identity based on Buddhism.

The Silk Road is a network of trade routes that connected the East to the West from the 2nd century BC to the 18th century. Marco Polo, an Italian merchant and explorer travelled the Silk Road between 1271 and 1291.
TED-Ed: The Silk Road: Connecting the ancient world through trade – Shannon Harris Castelo

In South Asia, Bhutan ranks first in economic freedom, ease of doing business, and peace, and is the least corrupt country in the region as of 2016.

The mountain peaks of Bhutan reach more than twenty-three thousand feet. It’s is about half the size in physical area of the US state of Kentucky and has fewer than one million people. The southern plains are warm, with subtropical weather, but the higher altitudes of the snow-capped mountains have polar-type climates.

Haa Valley, Bhutan

The local people call their country the “Land of the Thunder Dragon” because of the harsh storms they experience. Bhutan has large areas of natural habitat that have not been disturbed by human activity. The natural environment and the unique heritage and culture of the people make Bhutan an attractive destination for world travelers.

The terrain is some of the most rugged in the world, characterized by huge variations in altitude. This great geographical diversity combined with equally diverse climate conditions contributes to Bhutan’s outstanding range of biodiversity and ecosystems. Animals like rhinos, clouded leopards and the sloth bear live in the tropical lowlands, while tigers, barking deer, red pandas and wolves live in the north.

Red pandas are about the size of a domestic cat. They forage in the trees.
Sloth bears eat fruit, ants, and termites.
Nat Geo Wild: Clouded Leopard Cubs Grow Up | India’s Wild Leopards
Note: These cubs were released in India, but these cats live in Bhutan as well.

The takin is Bhutan’s national animal. It’s related to the sheep, even though it looks like a musk ox. The legend of the ‘golden fleece’, searched for by Jason and the Argonauts in Greek mythology, may have been inspired by the lustrous coat of the golden takin.

Bhutan is a small country without much industry or high-tech corporate involvement. Forestry and agriculture are the main economic activities, which account for approximately 60 percent of the country’s population. Grazing livestock and subsistence agriculture are the primary types of farming. Increasing the country’s modest infrastructure is hampered by its high mountains and remote location. India is Bhutan’s main trading partner and has played an important role in the country’s development and economic situation.

Visitors from places other than India and Bangladesh must agree to strict requirements set by the suppliers of Bhutanese tourism, including large daily fees just to be in the country. Tourism is increasing in Bhutan but remains highly selective in its requirements and regulations. These measures are to ensure that the environmental health of the country remains intact and that there is minimal cultural impact from outsiders.

Buddhism is the state religion and is followed by about 75 percent of the population. Hinduism is the second-largest religion and is followed by the other 25 percent of the population. One of the principles of the government in regulating development projects has been the concept of gross national happiness (GNH), a guide to find the balance between economic well-being and emotional well-being for the people of Bhutan. The stern measures regarding development have protected the country from serious environmental degradation and have helped to sustain the lifestyles of the Bhutanese people. Some measures may appear harsh to outsiders, but the country is implementing these measures to promote the health and well-being of its people. For example, tobacco products are banned from being sold in the country. Bhutan also doesn’t allow any fast food restaurants, so there are no Mc Donalds or Starbucks.

Democratic elections are becoming standard after centuries of rule by a monarchy. The intent of the transition is to provide the people with more direct control of their government and country.

Interesting points about the culture of Bhutan include the issue of marriage. Marriages based on love are becoming more common in the cities, while arranged marriages remain a tradition in many of the smaller villages. Under the current legal system, women have the right to inheritance. Homes and personal possessions are passed down through a family’s female children. Traditionally, male children do not inherit. Men are expected to earn their own livelihood and if they get married will most often live in the wife’s house.

Archery is the national sport of Bhutan. Most villages regularly hold archery competitions, which usually include festivities of serving food and conducting community events.

World Archery: Archery in Bhutan: It’s in the blood

The Kingdom of Nepal

Map of Nepal
Map of Nepal

Bordering the highest mountain range in the world, the Himalayas, the country of Nepal is isolated from any seacoast and buffered from the outside world by India and China. Nepal is about the same size in physical area as Bangladesh, and is home to almost thirty million people. More than 80 percent of its people work the land in a region that is suffering from severe deforestation and soil erosion. Trees are cut down to build houses, to cook food, and to keep warm. Without trees to hold the soil, the monsoon rains wash soil from the mountain fields into the valleys. The combination of the fast-growing population with the loss of food-growing capacity means it is only a matter of time before a major crisis occurs in Nepal.

Two-thirds of the Nepali workforce is employed in agriculture but productivity is low, as most of it is done with traditional methods and manual labor.

Nepal has an abundance of tourist attractions, Mt. Everest being its best known. In addition, there are hundreds of ancient temples and monasteries. Swift flowing streams and high-mountain terrain support a modest trekking industry. Visitors to Nepal have an opportunity to glimpse a rich culture that few outsiders can witness. The downside is that tourism demands an investment in infrastructure and services. Such investments direct funds away from schools, medical clinics, and public services needed by the Nepalese people. Income from tourism is needed and always welcome, but the trade-off with investments is a difficult choice to make. Tourism in Nepal is not as restrictive as that of Bhutan, and the unique physical and cultural landscapes will continue to draw travelers from throughout the world.

National Geographic: Everest Tourism Changed Sherpa Lives | National Geographic

Tourism to Everest has created a problem. Mt. Everest accumulates about 50 tons of new trash a year and human waste is polluting native water sources. Warning: There is one bad word in the following video:

Adam Ruins Everything – How Tourists Turned Mount Everest into a Dump | truTV

Hinduism is the main religion in Nepal, but a blend of Buddhism is more prevalent in the north. The guardian deity of Nepal is Shiva. Pashupatinath Temple, the world’s most significant Shiva worship site, is located in the capital city of Kathmandu. This Shiva temple is not only a UNESCO World Heritage Site but a major destination for Hindu pilgrims from around the world. Buddhist and Hindu beliefs often mix in Nepal. There are certain situations where the same deities and temples can be honored or worshipped by members of both religions.

Pashupatinath Temple
Pashupatinath Temple

In a different part of Nepal, Lumbini—near the city of Bhairahawa (Siddharthanagar), on the border with India—is another UNESCO World Heritage Site, this one focusing on the birthplace of the Siddhartha Gautama, the founder of Buddhism. Prince Siddhartha Gautama was born about 563 BCE, near Lumbini. The city has recognized the prince with a number of monasteries and temples built in his honor. An entire development zone is restricted to nothing but monasteries and temples. No other commercial or public buildings—such as hotels, shops, or businesses—can be constructed in the zone. The different branches of the Buddhist faith each have their own specific designated sections of the zone. Lumbini is a major pilgrimage site for Buddhist believers from around the world.

In the late 1700s, local states of Nepal were consolidated into the one kingdom and ruled by monarchy. The kingdom was ruled by royal families until the mid-1900s. Nepal has been free of British influence since 1947, but has had trouble establishing a stable central government. The royal family in charge of the kingdom was replaced in 1951, and further democratic reforms were made in 1990. Communist partisans from China have been active in insurgent activities. Frequent protests and civil unrest have caused political instability, which has discouraged tourism and has depressed the economy even further. The Maoist Communist movement and other opposition political parties held mass protests, culminating in a peace accord. Ensuing elections created the establishment of a federal democratic republic. The first president of Nepal was sworn into office in 2008. There is still much tension in the country between those loyal to the royal family and those wanting the royal family to be dissolved. Without a stable government, economic and political progress in Nepal will be a serious challenge.

Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka location on the globe
Sri Lanka map
Sri Lanka map
Lonely Planet: 12 things you shouldn’t miss in Sri Lanka – Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel

Sri Lanka is a beautiful island about half the size of Nepal. The island has a warm, tropical type A climate, with forested hills and mountains in the center. Rivers flow from the center outward to water the farm fields of rice and other crops. The best farmland in located in the Sinhalese-controlled areas of the southwestern portions of the island. Cinnamon is native to the island and has been cultivated since colonial times as an important export. Coconuts, coffee, and tea are also important export products.

Directly and indirectly, over one million Sri Lankans are employed in the tea industry. A large proportion of the workforce is young women and the minimum working age is twelve.

The island is home to various national parks, four biosphere reserves, and several wild elephant herds as well as leopards, deer, monkeys, and a fairly large amount of other animals and plants for a country that is small in size.

Sri Lanka has the potential to become a major tourist destination with high incomes and a hub for international trade. Factors working against Sri Lanka reaching its potential are not based on its physical geography or location, but rather they are linked back to colonialism and cultural or ethnic divisions between the Sinhalese majority and the Tamil minority.

Sinhalese people from somewhere in northern India moved to the island of Sri Lanka about 2,500 years ago. The Sinhalese brought with them Buddhism and the Sinhala language, which belongs to the Indo-European language family. Sinhala script is written from left to right and looks like this:

සිංහල අක්ෂර මාලාව

They established themselves on the island for centuries. Sri Lanka was first colonized by Portugal, then Holland. When the British colonized South Asia, they took control of Sri Lanka. It was called Ceylon at that time and changed its name to Sri Lanka in 1972. The higher elevations of the center of the island were excellent for tea production; British colonizers established tea plantations there. To work the plantations Britain brought thousands of additional Tamil laborers from southern India across the Polk Strait to Ceylon. Most of the Tamil speak a Dravidian language and follow the Hindu religion.

When the British were forced out of South Asia and left Ceylon, the Tamils remained on the island. The Tamils now make up only 10 percent of the population and live mainly in the northeastern region of the island. They have been pressuring the Sinhalese majority to split the island politically and grant them independence. An insurgent civil war was waged for decades between the Tamil guerillas—called the Tamil Tigers—and the Sinhalese government. About sixty to eighty thousand people died in this conflict. Originally only controlling the Jaffna Peninsula, the Tamil Tigers later made claims on a large portion of the northeastern part of the island. The Tamil Tigers created a government in the north called Eelam and wanted to legitimize it. The Sri Lankan president announced an end to the civil war in 2009, and the Tigers admitted defeat at that time. This civil war devastated Sri Lanka’s tourism industry and discouraged foreign investments, further reducing economic opportunities for the island.

The Tamil Tigers laid claim to a large portion of the eastern part of the island but did not control it. The only Tamil-controlled areas were in the far north, including the Jaffna Peninsula and a small area around it.

Sinhalese cuisine is one of the most complex cuisines of South Asia. As a major trade hub, it draws influence from colonial powers that were involved in Sri Lanka and by foreign traders. Rice, which is consumed daily, can be found at any occasion, while spicy curries are favorite dishes for lunch and dinner.

Puttu with seafood - Puttu is made from steamed cylinders of ground rice with coconut shavings.
Puttu with seafood – Puttu is made from steamed cylinders of ground rice with coconut shavings.
Kokis is a deep-fried, crispy Sri Lankan food made from rice flour and coconut milk. Although considered as a traditional Sri Lankan dish, it is believed to have come from the Dutch.
Kokis is a deep-fried, crispy Sri Lankan food made from rice flour and coconut milk. Although considered as a traditional Sri Lankan dish, it is believed to have come from the Dutch.
Idiyappam (string hopper) is a really popular dish enjoyed by all the Kerala people. It is made from rice flour. The flour is first made into a dough by mixing with hot water and then it is squeezed using a rice noodle maker. then is is steamed using a pressure cooker.
Idiyappam is made from rice flour. The flour is first made into a dough by mixing with hot water and then it is squeezed using a rice noodle maker. then is is steamed using a pressure cooker.
Medu vada is a Sri Lankan Tamil breakfast or snack item made from a batter of black lentils.

The Maldives

Maldives map
Maldives map
Lonely Planet: Introducing the Maldives

Just north of the Equator in the Indian Ocean to the southwest of India lie the Maldives, a group of low-lying islands that consists of twenty-six atolls encompassing a territory of only about 115 square miles. Within the atolls are approximately 1,200 small islands, of which about 200 are inhabited. Portugal controlled the Maldives from 1558 during their colonial expansion into Asia. Holland took over from the Portuguese in 1654. The Maldives became a British protectorate in 1887, which lasted until 1965, when independence was achieved. Three years later the country became a republic. The Maldives is a country with many extremes. It is Asia’s smallest nation in both physical area and population. The island nation has the smallest physical area of any country with a majority Muslim population. The average elevation—four feet, eleven inches above sea level—is the lowest in the world for any country.

Malé, capital of Maldives

Fishing and tourism are the chief methods for Maldivians to earn a living. Tourism has increased in recent years. The many islands and atolls are attractive destinations for world travelers. The first tourist resort opened in 1972. Since that time, dozens of world-class resort facilities have opened for business across the archipelago. Tourism is the country’s number one means of gaining wealth. The coral reefs that make up the island chain are excellent for diving and water sports. The tropical climate and miles of sandy beaches provide for an attractive tourism agenda.

The Maldives is an example of an entire country that could be in danger of flooding because of climate change if polar ice melts and sea levels rise. Concerns over the future of the islands gave reason for the president of the country to announce a plan in 2008 to purchase land in other countries in case sea levels rise to a point where the Maldives are no longer habitable. The purchase of land from tourism receipts would provide a place for the Maldivians to move in case they had to evacuate the islands. 

Drew Binsky: 5 Things You Didn’t Know About THE MALDIVES

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Next: 8.4: East Asia

Additional information and image credits:

Sri Lanka control areas
Bhutan map
By OCHA, CC BY 3.0,
Bhutan info
SIlk Road
By Belsky – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,
Marco Polo
Haa Valley in Bhutan
By No machine-readable author provided. Greenmnm69 assumed (based on copyright claims). – No machine-readable source provided. Own work assumed (based on copyright claims)., CC BY-SA 2.5,
Wildlife of Bhutan
Red panda
By Greg Hume – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,
Sloth bear
By Asiir –, Public Domain,
By Eric Kilby from Somerville, MA, USA – Takin Standing, CC BY-SA 2.0,
Takin info
Nepal map
Public Domain,
Pashupatinath temple
By Q-lieb-in – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,
Women in fields
By Dskoich – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,
Sri Lanka globe location
By User:Connormah – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,
Sri Lanka map
By OCHA, CC BY 3.0,
Women picking tea
By Christophe Meneboeuf – Own workMore photos related to Sri Lanka on my photoblog:, CC BY-SA 3.0,
Tea info
By Indi Samarajiva – originally posted to Flickr as Pittu At Omax, CC BY 2.0,
String hoppers
By Viewfinder18 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,
By Chamal N – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,
Medu v
By Lubnakarim06 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

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