Mountains of Bhutan

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The mountains of Bhutan are some of the most prominent natural geographic features of the kingdom. Located on the southern end of the Eastern Himalaya, Bhutan has one of the most rugged mountain terrains in the world, whose elevations range from 160 metres (520 ft) to more than 7,000 metres (23,000 ft) above sea level, in some cases within distances of less than 100 kilometres (62 mi) of each other. Bhutan's highest peak, at 7,570 metres (24,840 ft) above sea level, is north-central Gangkhar Puensum,[1] close to the border with Tibet; the third highest peak, Jomolhari, overlooking the Chumbi Valley in the west, is 7,314 metres (23,996 ft) above sea level; nineteen other peaks exceed 7,000 metres (23,000 ft).[2] 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.

The mountains of Bhutan define its three main geographic zones: the Great Himalaya, the Lower Himalayan Range (or Inner Himalaya), and the Sub-Himalayan Range.[3][4] The snowcapped Great Himalaya in the north ranges from about 5,500 metres (18,000 ft) to peaks of over 7,500 metres (24,600 ft) above sea level, extending along the Bhutan-Tibet border. The northern region consists of an arc of glaciated mountain peaks with an arctic climate at the highest elevations. Watered by snow-fed rivers, alpine valleys in this region provide pasturage for livestock tended by a sparse population of migratory shepherds.[2] Spur-like mountain ranges of the Lower Himalaya, between 1,500 metres (4,900 ft) and 5,500 metres (18,000 ft), run northwest to southeast in western Bhutan, and northeast to southwest in eastern Bhutan.[5] These mountains, and especially their western valleys, make up the economic and cultural heart of the kingdom, including most of its dzongs. These mountainous areas are contrasted with the hilly Sub-Himalaya, with elevations of up to 1,500 metres (4,900 ft), and the lower Duars.[3] Many lower mountain ranges are composed of coarse granite sandstone, while rocks at the highest elevations consist of gneiss among upheaved strata of mica and talcose slate. Many ranges are abundant in limestone.[5]

Bhutan's valleys are carved into the Himalaya by its rivers, fed by glacial melt and monsoon rains. Much of the Bhutanese population is concentrated in valleys and lowlands, separated by the rugged southward spurs of the Inner Himalaya.[2][6][7][8][9]: 72, 84, 91  Despite modernization and development of transport in Bhutan, including a national highway system, travel from one valley to the next remains difficult.[10] Western valleys are bound to the east by the Black Mountains in central Bhutan, which form a watershed between two major river systems, the punatsangchhu (Sankosh River) and the Drangme Chhu. Central valleys are separated from the east by the Donga Range.[2][11][12] The more isolated mountain valleys protect several tiny, distinct cultural and linguistic groups.[13]

Bhutan controls several strategic Himalayan mountain passes including routes between Tibet and Assam. These routes, being the only way into the kingdom, along with centuries-old policies of isolationism, have gained Bhutan the nickname "Mountain Fortress of the Gods." Although the British established a protectorate over Bhutan and occupied its lowlands, the mountainous interior has never been successfully invaded.[14]

Great Himalaya[edit]

Mountains and valleys dominate the topography of Bhutan.
Mountains and valleys dominate the topography of Bhutan.

The mountains of Great Himalaya dominate the north of Bhutan, where peaks can easily reach 7,000 metres (23,000 ft). The tallest peaks range, from west to east, along northern Haa, Paro and Thimphu Districts; the bulk of Gasa District; northernmost Wangdue Phodrang District; and northern Bumthang and Lhuentse Districts. 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).[15] Some massive summits such as Gangkhar Puensum, Kula Kangri, and Tongshanjiabu lie in territory disputed among Bhutan and China. According to Bhutanese claims, these giants should be part of Gasa District. Other peaks of the Great Himalaya, such as Mount Jitchu Drake, lie squarely within Gasa.

The Great Himalaya contains most of the glaciers of Bhutan. This region contains the vast majority of Bhutan's 677 glaciers and 2,674 glacial lakes and subsidiary lakes, out of which 25 pose a risk of GLOFs.[16][17] The vast number of glaciers in Bhutan are classed as "valley" and "mountain glaciers," although significant numbers of "ice apron," and "niche glacier" types also exist.[18]: F323  Some glacial lakes, such as Thorthormi Lake in Lunana Gewog, are not single bodies of water but collections supraglacial ponds.[19]

Lower Himalayan Range[edit]

The Lower Himalayan Ranges, also called the Inner Himalaya, are southward spurs of the Great Himalaya, dominating the midsection of Bhutan. The Dongkya Range forms the trijunction of the Bhutan-Sikkim-Tibet border, separating Sikkim from the Chumbi Valley[5] The Black Mountains in central Bhutan form a watershed between two major river systems, the Mo Chhu and the Drangme Chhu. Peaks in the Black Mountains range between 1,500 metres (4,900 ft) and 2,700 metres (8,900 ft) above sea level. Eastern Bhutan is divided by another southward spur, the Donga Range,[2] whose valleys tend to be steeper ravines.[3][9]: 181 [20]

Unlike the Great Himalaya, there are no glaciers in the Inner Himalayan ranges, though some summits and upper slopes are covered with moraines.[21]

Black Mountains[edit]

The Black Mountains, lie to the east of the Sankosh River. Midway between Punakha and Trongsa, they separate western Bhutan from the ethnolinguistically diverse central regions and the densely populated eastern regions.[9]: 119, 181  The Black Mountains themselves spur ramifications to the southwest and southeast, reaching into Trongsa District.[3][5] Pele La pass at 3,350 metres (10,990 ft) is historically and modernly the most important pass in the Black Mountains.[9]: 84, 90, 152, 160–1 

The isolation of populations in the Black Mountain area has produced great linguistic and ethnic diversity:[9]: 181  [20] it is the home of the Lakha, Nyenkha, and 'Olekha languages,[22] representing distantly related Tibetan and East Bodish language groups.[23]

Between Trongsa and Jakar runs another mountain range, crossed by Yuto La pass (also called Yotong La). Continuing east, there is another ridge between Jakar and the Kuri Chhu valley, crossed by Ura La pass in Ura Gewog at 3,600 metres (11,800 ft).[9]: 84  [21]

Donga Range[edit]

The steep Donga Range separates Bumthang and Lhuentse Districts and forms the watershed between the Raidāk and Manas River systems. Northeastern portions of the Donga are known as Kurtoe (modern Kurtoe Gewog, historical Kurtoed Province). Thrumshing La pass, also called Donga Pass, provides the only road access across the Donga Range at 3,787 metres (12,425 ft).[5][21] The steep Rodang La further north provides non-motor communication, and several southerly passes including Thebong La are used by herders.[9]: 84  [21] At 20,965 feet (6,390 m), a major peak stands over Thrumshing La.[5][21]

To the east runs another lesser spur of mountains separating Lhuentse and Trashiyangse Valleys.[9]: 84 

Tawang Range[edit]

To the east of the Manas River system, the Tawang Range (also called Kollong)[5] forms the eastern boundary of Bhutan.[3] The Tawang Range originates in Tibet, to the northeast of Arunachal Pradesh.[24]

List of mountains[edit]

Mountain Metres Feet District
Gangkhar Puensum 7,570 24,836 Gasa[note 1]
Chomolhari Kang 7,046 23,117 Gasa[note 1]
Jitchu Drake 6,714 22,028 Gasa
Tongshanjiabu 7,207 23,645 Gasa[note 1]
Kula Kangri 7,538 24,731 Gasa[note 1]
Jomolhari 7,326 24,035 Thimphu
Kangphu Kang 7,204 23,635 Gasa
Liankang Kangri 7,535 24,721 Gasa[note 1]
Masang Kang 7,194 23,602 Gasa[note 1]
  1. ^ a b c d e f These territories are disputed.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Bhutan". World Factbook. CIA. 2011-03-22. Retrieved 2011-04-03.
  2. ^ a b c d e Public Domain This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain. Worden, Robert L (1991). Savada, Andrea Matles (ed.). Bhutan: A Country Study. Federal Research Division. The Land.
  3. ^ a b c d e Sinha, Awadhesh Coomar (2001). Himalayan Kingdom Bhutan: Tradition, Transition, and Transformation. Indus. pp. 19–22. ISBN 81-7387-119-1. Retrieved 2011-10-15.
  4. ^ Singh, Pratap; Haritashya, Umesh Kumar (2011). Encyclopedia of Snow, Ice and Glaciers. Springer. p. 518. ISBN 90-481-2641-X. Retrieved 2011-12-06.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g Hunter, William Wilson (1908). James Sutherland Cotton; Sir Richard Burn; Sir William Stevenson Meyer (eds.). Gazetteers of British India, 1833–1962. Imperial Gazetteer of India. Vol. 8. Clarendon Press. p. 154. Retrieved 2011-12-05.
  6. ^ Public Domain This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain. Worden, Robert L (1991). Savada, Andrea Matles (ed.). Bhutan: A Country Study. Federal Research Division. Population – Size, Structure, and Settlement Patterns.
  7. ^ White, John Claude (1909). Sikhim & Bhutan: Twenty-One Years on the North-East Frontier, 1887-1908. E. Arnold. pp. 3–6. Retrieved 2011-10-15.
  8. ^ Rennie, Frank; Mason, Robin (2008). Bhutan: Ways of Knowing. IAP. p. 58. ISBN 1-59311-734-5. Retrieved 2011-08-10.
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h Brown, Lindsay; Armington, Stan (2007). Bhutan (3 ed.). Lonely Planet. pp. 62, 105, 108, 113. ISBN 1-74059-529-7. Retrieved 2011-11-25.
  10. ^ Public Domain This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain. Worden, Robert L (1991). Savada, Andrea Matles (ed.). Bhutan: A Country Study. Federal Research Division. Transportation and Communications – Roads.
  11. ^ Public Domain This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain. Worden, Robert L (1991). Savada, Andrea Matles (ed.). Bhutan: A Country Study. Federal Research Division. River Systems.
  12. ^ Kumar, Bachchan (2004). Encyclopaedia of Women in South Asia: Bhutan. Encyclopaedia of Women in South Asia. Vol. 7. Gyan. p. 20. ISBN 81-7835-194-3. Retrieved 2011-10-15.
  13. ^ Brown, Lindsay; Armington, Stan (2007). Bhutan (PDF). Country Guides (3 ed.). Lonely Planet. pp. 182–183. ISBN 1-74059-529-7. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2011-06-07. Retrieved 2011-10-15.
  14. ^ Chandra Bisht, Ramesh (2008). International Encyclopaedia of Himalayas. Mittal Publications. p. 28. ISBN 978-81-8324-265-3.
  15. ^ "Bhutan". World Factbook. CIA. 2011-03-22. Retrieved 2011-04-03.
  16. ^ Tirwa, Badan (2008-01-19). "Managing health disaster". Thimphu: Bhutan Observer online. Archived from the original on 2011-01-20. Retrieved 2011-03-27.
  17. ^ Pelden, Sonam (2010-09-03). "Thorthormi water level brought down 43 cm". Bhutan Observer online. Archived from the original on 2011-01-19. Retrieved 2011-03-27.
  18. ^ Iwata, Shuji (2010). Richard S. Williams, Jr; Jane G. Ferrigno (eds.). "Glaciers of Bhutan — An Overview" (PDF). Glaciers of Asia: U.S. Geological Survey Professional Paper 1386–F. USGS.
  19. ^ Pelden, Sonam (2009-10-09). "Thorthormi water level brought down". Bhutan Observer online. Archived from the original on 2011-01-19. Retrieved 2011-03-27.
  20. ^ a b Carpenter, Russell B.; Carpenter, Blyth C. (2002). The Blessings of Bhutan. University of Hawaii Press. pp. 7–8, 27, 123. ISBN 0-8248-2679-5. Retrieved 2011-10-15.
  21. ^ a b c d e Karan, Pradyumna Prasad; Iijima, Shigeru; Pauer, Gyula (1987). Bhutan: Development amid Environmental and Cultural Preservation. Monumenta Serindica. Institute for the Study of Languages and Cultures of Asia and Africa. p. ii. Retrieved 2011-12-05.
  22. ^ Ramakant, Ramesh; Misra, Chandra (1996). Bhutan: Society and Polity. South Asia studies. Vol. 34 (2 ed.). Indus Publishing. p. 65. ISBN 81-7387-044-6. Retrieved 2011-12-05.
  23. ^ Moseley, Christopher (2007). Encyclopedia of the World's Endangered Languages. Curzon Language Family. Psychology Press. pp. 295, 314. ISBN 0-7007-1197-X. Retrieved 2011-12-05.
  24. ^ Deb, D. B; Gupta, G. Sen; Malick, K. C (1968). "A Contribution to the Flora of Bhutan". Bulletin of the Botanical Society of Bengal. 22. Botanical Society of Bengal: 170. Retrieved 2011-12-05.