Geography of Bhutan

The Kingdom of Bhutan is a sovereign nation, located towards the eastern extreme of the Himalayas mountain range. It is fairly evenly sandwiched between the sovereign territory of two nations: first, the People's Republic of China on the north and northwest. There are approximately 477 kilometres of border with that nation's Tibet Autonomous Region. The second nation is the Republic of India on the south, southwest, and east; there are approximately 659 kilometres with the states of Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, West Bengal, and Sikkim, in clockwise order from the kingdom. Bhutan's total borders amount to 1,139 kilometres. The Republic of Nepal to the west, the People's Republic of Bangladesh to the south, and the Union of Myanmar to the southeast are other close neighbours; the former two are separated by only very small stretches of Indian territory.

Bhutan is a very compact nation, but with just a small bit more length than width. The nation's territory totals an approximate 46,500 square kilometres. Because of its inland, landlocked status, it controls no territorial waters. Bhutan's territory used to extend south into present-day Assam, including the protectorate of Cooch Behar, but, starting from 1772, the British East India Company began to push back the borders through a number of wars and treaties, severely reducing Bhutan's size until the Treaty of Sinchula of 1865, when some border land was ceded back. Later, many of these territories were permanently lost to British India under the Treaty of Punakha.



Political geography

Bhutan is divided into 20 dzongkhags (districts), and further into 205 gewogs (village blocks). Gewogs are in turn divided into numerous thromdes (municipalities) for administration.

Natural geography

The Himalaya mountains of Bhutan dominate the north of the country, where peaks can easily reach 7,000 metres (22,966 ft); the highest point in Bhutan is Gangkhar Puensum, which has the distinction of being the highest unclimbed mountain in the world, at 7,570 metres (24,840 ft). Weather is extreme in the mountains: the high peaks have perpetual snow, and the lesser mountains and hewn gorges have high winds all year round, making them barren brown wind tunnels in summer, and frozen wastelands in winter. The blizzards generated in the north each winter often drift southward into the central highlands.

Strategic location

Bhutan, situated between India and China, is a potential Sino-Indian battleground; India currently has more political influence in the nation. This stems from two things: the fact that after the British granted sovereignty to their South Asian possessions, Bhutan, a protectorate, was never put under the administration of India, except for its Foreign Relation Policies under the Indo-Bhutan Treaty of 1949. The Indian Army patrols Bhutan's frontiers and has played a major role in the development of the country's road infrastructure. Additionally, the Government of India continues to provide approximately 60% of Bhutan's government finances.

The second reason comes from the aggression against Tibet by China from 1949 to 1959; the Tibetans have strong cultural, historical, and religious connections to Bhutan.

Bhutan controls several strategic mountain passes through the Himalayas, allowing travel between Tibet and Assam. These passes are also the only way into the kingdom, and, coupled with its centuries-old policies of isolationism, it has been called the "Mountain Fortress of the Gods." The heartland of Bhutan has never been successfully invaded; the British, while establishing a protectorate over the nation, did so with threats to the low-lying territories below the highlands.

Climate

Bhutan's climate is as varied as its altitudes and, like India's, is affected by monsoons. Western Bhutan is particularly affected by monsoons that bring between 60 and 90 percent of the region's rainfall. The climate is humid and subtropical in the southern plains and foothills, temperate in the inner Himalayan valleys of the southern and central regions, and cold in the north, with year-round snow on the main Himalayan summits.

Temperatures vary according to elevation. Temperatures in Thimphu, located at 2,200 metres (7,218 ft) above sea level in west-central Bhutan, range from approximately 15 to 26 °C (59.0 to 78.8 °F) during the monsoon season of June through September but drop to between about −4 and 16 °C (24.8 and 60.8 °F) in January. Most of the central portion of the country experiences a cool, temperate climate year-round. In the south, a hot, humid climate helps maintain a fairly even temperature range of between 15 and 30 °C (59 and 86 °F) year-round, although temperatures sometimes reach 40 °C (104 °F) in the valleys during the summer.

Annual precipitation ranges widely in various parts of the country. In the severe climate of the north, there is only about 40 millimetres (1.6 in) of annual precipitation—primarily snow. In the temperate central regions, a yearly average of around 1,000 millimetres (39.4 in) is more common, and 7,800 millimetres (307.1 in) per year has been registered at some locations in the humid, subtropical south, ensuring the thick tropical forest, or savanna. Thimphu experiences dry winter months (December through February) and almost no precipitation until March, when rainfall averages 20 millimetres (0.79 in) a month and increases steadily thereafter to a high of 220 millimetres (8.7 in) in August for a total annual rainfall of nearly 650 millimetres (25.6 in).

Bhutan's generally dry spring starts in early March and lasts until mid-April. Summer weather commences in mid-April with occasional showers and continues through the premonsoon rains of late June. The summer monsoon lasts from late June through late September with heavy rains from the southwest. The monsoon weather, blocked from its northward progress by the Himalayas, brings heavy rains, high humidity, flash floods and landslides, and numerous misty, overcast days. Autumn, from late September or early October to late November, follows the rainy season. It is characterised by bright, sunny days and some early snowfalls at higher elevations. From late November until March, winter sets in, with frost throughout much of the country and snowfall common above elevations of 3,000 metres (9,843 ft). The winter northeast monsoon brings gale-force winds down through high mountain passes.


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