Bhutan's Trongsa Dzong, or Trongsa fortress. Wedged between India and Tibet on the southern slopes of the Himalayas, Bhutan is a tiny nation rich with ancient Buddhist traditions and breathtaking mountain landscapes.
The spectacular Taktsang, or Tiger's Nest, Monastery in Bhutan's Paro Valley is a venerated site in the nation's Vajrayana Buddhist tradition. The world's only Vajrayana Buddhist country, Vajrayana Buddhism is thought to have been brought to Bhutan in the 8th century by the guru Padmasambhava. Takstang Monastery was built in 1692 around a cave in which, according to legend, Padmasambhava meditated for three months after being flown there from Tibet on the back of a tiger.
A Bhutanese girl in traditional dress. Bhutan is the only country in the world whose government measures its people's happiness. King Jigme Singye Wangchuck introduced the concept of Gross National Happiness, declaring it more important than GDP, in 1972. GNH quantifies quality of life based on four measures: environmental conservation, promotion of traditional cultural life, democratic reform, and economic gains.
Colorful prayer flags fluttering on a hillside overlooking Thimpu, the capital of Bhutan. Prayer flags, a feature of Himalyan Buddhism, are used to bless the area in which they are hung, a centuries-old tradition thought to predate Buddhism itself. The smaller rectangular lung ta flags come in sets of five colors that are traditionally hung in a specific order.
The Lingzhi Yügyal Dzong was built in 1668 to protect the border between Tibet and Bhutan. Found throughout Bhutan, dzong, or fortresses, are centuries-old structures that share an architectural style in which high, inward-sloping walls and towers surround a complex of courtyards, temples and offices. Today they serve as focal points for community life, housing administrative offices and monasteries and holding religious festivals.
Recounting folk stories of heroes and demons, traditional Bhutanese dances known as chaam feature performers in colorful costumes and elaborately constructed masks. Chaam are typically performed at festivals accompanied by traditional music.