National symbols of Bhutan – Travel Bhutan to Discover them


Bhutan is a small country between two giants in Asia; China in the north and India in the south. Many people wonder how it, just like a dot on global map, survives between the two largest economies.

The story of success in its national symbols and unity of people in upholding them with interest and dedication under benevolent leadership of their kings.

In this article, I will explain in brief some national symbols of Bhutan. I will also give travel destinations in Bhutan to actually see these national symbols in real.

Motithang Zoo for National Animal of Bhutan, Takin

Takin is a rare strange looking animal. Bhutanese believe that Lam Drukpa Kuenley (Divine Madman) created it by joining skeleton of a cow and head of a goat. So Takin is a cow with the head of a goat.

National animal of Bhutan in zoo

Takin in Motithang Takin Preserve. Pic courtesy: wikiwand

In wild, Takins live above altitude of 4000+ meters. This means in Bhutan, they are in alpine places like Laya, Lingshi and Jigme Dorji Wangchuk National Park.

But tourists visiting Bhutan don’t have to travel those cold places to see Takins. Motithang Takin Preserve at Thimphu has few.

Travel Phobjikha for national flower, Blue Poppy

Phobjikha valley in central Bhutan is not only popular with Black-necked Cranes but also Blue Poppy, the national flower of Bhutan.

Blue Poppy, Bhutan's National Flower.

Blue Poppy, Bhutan’s National Flower. Pic courtesy: 123countries

If you enter from Paro International Airport you can travel Chelela pass to see Blue Poppy growing in abundance. In Thimphu, we can also see it growing sparsely in Dochula pass.

Habitats of Bhutan’s National Bird, Common Raven.

Common Raven, a black bird is the national bird of Bhutan. Raven is very much part of Bhutanese history. It represents one of the principle deities of Bhutan.

National Bird of Bhutan.

National Bird of Bhutan. Pic courtesy: Tourism Council of Bhutan

The Royal Crown has head of Raven on the top signifying power of the deity in protecting the king and people of Bhutan.

The raven lives in higher altitude alpine places. In Bhutan they are seen in cold places like Thimphu, Bumthang and Haa.

Thimphu Tashichho Dzong for National flag of Bhutan

It’s not only in Thimphu you can see the national flag of Bhutan. It will be seen hoisted in front of district administrative offices, schools and other public offices from 9.00am to 5.00pm. In Thimphu, it flutters on a tall towering metallic pole in front of Tashichho Dzong.

Thimphu tshechu

Thimphu Tashichho Dzong

Though the design of Bhutan’s national flag has evolved few times in the past, present flag has a dragon flying outward on the diagonal line from the lower left-hand side.

National flag of Bhutan in front of a monastery

National flag of Bhutan in front of a monastery

The dragon signifies state religion of Bhutan and two equal parts (orange and yellow) represent spiritual and temporal of a governance system introduced by Zhabdrung.

Bhutanese foods for National curry, Ema Datsi

In an international scale, people from Bhutan are known to love chilies a lot. Indeed, for Bhutanese chili isn’t a spice. Chili is consumed as a vegetable.

Red dry chili in Bhutan

Red dry chili is just one version of chili in Bhutan to prepare Ema Datshi

In Ema Datshi, national curry of Bhutan, the two main ingredients are chili (ema) and cheese (datshi). The curry made out of the two is Ema Datshi. We can use dry chilies with fresh cheese or vice versa.  Some also prepare it using hot-water soaked and dried chilies.

Ema Datshi curry of Bhutan.

Ema Datshi curry of Bhutan. Pic courtesy: Happymaruko

However, in either of the combination, taste of Ema Datshi will remain same – hot and spicy. Industrially prepared modern cheese doesn’t give good Ema Dashi. Local cheese is better.

Thimphu Archery playground for National Game, Archery

When you troll in and around Thimphu or any other places in Bhutan, you may come across people in a group or two playing shooting of arrows of small straightened bamboo and bows of hard matured bamboo, you are actually seeing Bhutanese playing their national game archery.

Traditional bow and arrow made of bamboo.

Bhutan’s traditional bows and arrows. Pic courtesy: Bhutan Highlights

Visit traditional archery ground in Thimphu Changlimithang. Almost every day, there will be two teams playing. Playing archery is part of Bhutanese society. They play to celebrate, see off or welcome.

Compound bows in Bhutan

Bhutanese men using compound bows and arrows

However, today with availability of complex compound bows and arrows, many elite Bhutanese men are opting to purchase them instead of using traditional bows and arrows. But some are playing both.

Places in Northern Bhutan for National Tree, Cypress

One of the ancient names of Bhutan is ‘Lho Tshenden Keypai Jong’ which in loose translation is a ‘southern land of cypress.’

Kurje Lhakhang

A tall majestic cypress tree stands behind main temple in Bumthang Kurje

Cypress trees grow near temples, monasteries and also in schools emitting sweet smell.  One such tree is behind Bumthang Kurje Lhakhang. People believe it has grown out of walking staff of Guru Padmasambhava.

People burn leaves and twigs of cypress trees to welcome new people. In small chortens, trunk of a cypress is used as pillars to hold other nangtens (relics) inside.

Bhutan’s Public offices for National Emblem, Royal Crest

Royal Crest is the national emblem. Locally it’s called as ‘Druk Khatab’ as it has two dragons facing each other with a crossed Vajra in the middle. Two dragons, one male and other female, represent protective deities of Bhutan.

The vajras represent harmonious co-existence of secular powers and religious essences. Jewel at the top represents supremacy of sovereign power in protecting Buddhism.

You can see Royal Crest in official documents of Bhutan and also in front of some dzongs and temples. These days it’s also available in wooden models as gift items.

Grand celebrations in Bhutan for National song

In Bhutan, if you attend any national holiday celebrations you’ll see students or civilians marching in lines around a ground. During this march, a song played in background is the national song of Bhutan.

You can travel Bhutan on National Day, Coronation Day or Birth Anniversary of King and enter a celebration venue to observe the march and also hear the National Song of Bhutan.

National Day of Bhutan, December 17 every year

On 17th December 1907, Trongsa Poenlop Ugyen Wangchuk became the first king of Bhutan with starting of hereditary monarchy system.

Unity and harmonious existence gradually came in Bhutan since then. Bhutanese felt proud and thought they made the right choice.

Program during national day celebration in Bhutan.

A program during national day celebration. Pic courtesy: CNN

Therefore, Bhutanese celebrate National Day every year to pay tribute to past kings and their leaderships. They also promise to remain loyal to their country.

Travel Bhutan for its National Dress, Gho & Kira

What makes Bhutan distinct from other countries in the world is its national dress – gho for men and kira for women. Gho is like a robe worn rising to knee-length tied by a belt.

Bhutanese men in gho playing khuru game

Bhutanese men in gho playing khuru game

This forms a pocket above waist that goes all round from left-front to right-front. It’s the biggest pocket in the world. Men also put on kabney which patterns differ on ranks and positions.

Bhutanese women in national dress Kira

Bhutanese women in national dress Kira

Women wear Kira which is like an ankle-length wrapper with a coat-type outer known as Tego and inner one as Wonju. It’s usually in Kira; Bhutanese women show off their weaving skills and talents with intricately beautiful patterns.

Bumdeling Park for Ludlow’s Bhutan Swallowtail

It was only in February 2012 that Ludlow’s Bhutan Swallowtail became one of the national symbols of Bhutan. It was rediscovered in Bumdeling Wildlife Sanctuary.

This type of dragon fly is only in that part of Bhutan. That is why it’s almost impossible to see them personally by tourists. And the worst is it is not seen anywhere in this planet.

Butterffly Ludlow’s Bhutan Swallowtail.

Ludlow’s Bhutan Swallowtail. Pic courtesy: Bhutan Butterflies Org

The choice will be either to travel all the way to Trashiyangtse Bumdeling to see it physically or remain just looking at its various photos over internet.

Interact with Bhutanese to know Dzongkha

Dzongkha is the national language of Bhutan. It’s in the nature of sino-tibetan and people who know Tibetan will also understand at least 50-60% of Dzongkha. Also both have same alphabets.

You can learn basic communication dzongkha terms and sentences from any Bhutanese. DrukAir and Bhutan Airlines give basic greeting and conversation Dzongkha terms in their in-flight magazines.

An assembly for National Anthem of Bhutan

National anthem of Bhutan is a six stanza poetic recitation. Bhutanese sing as a prelude in almost all national events. Bhutan Broadcasting Service (BBS) also plays its audio-visual.

Students sing National anthem in morning assembly.

Students sing anthem in morning assembly. Pic courtesy: Sabrina

The anthem is ‘Druk Tshenden’ meaning ‘The Thunder Dragon Kingdom’. It won’t make sense if I give its original lyrics. However, in English:

In the Thunder Dragon Kingdom adorned with sandalwood
The protector who guards the teachings of the dual system
He, the precious and glorious ruler, causes dominion to spread
While his unchanging person abides in consistency
As the doctrine of the Lord Buddha flourishes
May the sun and peace of happiness shine on the people!

If you want to hear and see personally how Bhutanese sing it, attend any of National events or morning assembly of any schools in Bhutan.

Recommend to read following travel experiences and more exciting travel stories from Bhutan:

About Author

An auditor by profession, but a traveller, blogger and photographer by passion. This site was created to share travel stories of various destinations within Bhutan and also travel tips of travelling to Bhutan. Read More>>

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