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Situated in the East Himalayas of South Asia, the Kingdom of Bhutan is a landlocked country surrounded by India and the Chinese Autonomous Region of Tibet.

The Bhutanese terrain is characterized by steep mountains, with swift rivers forming deep valleys before draining into the plains of India. Approximately 70% of Bhutan is forested, and its constitution requires that a minimum of 60% of the country be forested.

Northern Bhutan includes the Eastern Himalayan Mountains, with its alpine shrub and meadows, with glaciated mountain peaks and extremely cold temperatures at its highest elevations, the highest level being the Gangkhar Puensum, the highest unclimbed mountain in the world. At the lower points, where the Manas River crosses the border into India, alpine valleys serve as pasture for livestock.

In Central Bhutan are the Black Mountains that form a watershed dividing the Mo Chhu and the Drangme Chhu rivers. In this area, mountain rivers have formed deep gorges in the lower mountain regions. In this part of the country are subalpine conifer forests, at the higher elevations, and broadleaf forests at the higher altitudes. The Manas, Raidak, Sankosh, and Torsa rivers flow through Bhutan's central region, in which most of the country's population resides.

Subtropical broadleaf forests cover the Shiwalik Hills of South Bhutan. At the base of the foothills are the Duars Plain, most of which are in India. A rugged terrain, wildlife, and dense vegetation characterize the northern Duars, while the southern Duars has heavy savannah grass, mixed jungle, freshwater springs, and mountain rivers that drain into the Brahmaputra River in India.

Bhutan's climate varies with the elevation of the land, ranging from subtropical in the south, to temperate in the highlands, to polar cold and year-round snow in the higher elevations. There are five seasons: spring, summer, monsoon, fall, and winter.

The main ethnic groups of Bhutan are the Ngalops and Sharchops, who are also known as the Western Bhutanese and the Eastern Bhutanese, respectively. The Lhotshampa, or Southern Bhutanese, once made up more than 40% of the country's population, but they have been forcibly expelled from Bhutan since the late 1980s, and have been mostly resettled as refugees in Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom, the United States, and other countries, although small numbers have returned to settle in uninhabited areas of South Bhutan.

Vajrayana Buddhism is the state religion of Bhutan, and the choice of 65-75% of the Bhutanese people. Most of the remainder are followers of Hinduism, with all other religions accounting for fewer than 1% of the population. The constitution of Bhutan provides for freedom of religion, but proselytizing is forbidden.

Bhutanese is the official language of Bhutan, and the common language of most of its people. Dzongkha is the native language of about a quarter of the population, specifically those in the northwestern part of the country. Bhutan has a literacy rate of just under 60%.

Largely isolated from the world under the mid-1900s, Bhutan has a unique culture. Until the 1960s, Bhutan had no national currency, no telephones, no hospitals, no post offices, and no tourists. Even today, while Bhutanese citizens are free to travel, much of the country is not accessible to most foreigners. Although entrance to the country is free for citizens of Bangladesh, India, and the Maldives, other foreigners must sign up with the services of a Bhutanese tour operator at costs that are considered are prohibitive for most travelers.

In 2010, Bhutan became the first country in the world to ban smoking and the sale of tobacco.

Bhutan is a constitutional monarchy and a parliamentary democracy, with a parliament that consists of the King, the National Council (upper house), and the National Assembly (lower house). Candidates for the National Council cannot be members of any political party.

To international observers, Bhutan is considered the least corrupt country in South Asia, and it prides itself on its environmental consciousness. Its government has enacted a number of environmental policies to address climate change while, at the same time, improving the lives of its citizens. While taking a cautious approach to technology, electric cars are replacing fuel-driven vehicles, and the country is making the most of hydroelectric power, so as not to emit large amounts of greenhouse gases. Bhutan claims to absorb more carbon than it produces, due to its conservation policies, but also to the fact that its forests, covering more than 70% of its land mass, acts as a carbon sink, absorbing millions of tons of carbon.

Bhutan's economy is one of the smallest in the world. Its chief exports are electricity, spices, and minerals. Bhutan recently banned the export of timber.


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