While they may appear similar at first glance, Bhutan and Tibet are two very different places, with each having its own unique culture. Landscapes, terrain, scenery, and the many tourist attractions are also very different in Bhutan to Tibet, and the only thing they have in common is the Tibetan Buddhist religion, and even that has its differences. So if you are thinking of a trip to the Himalayas and have the chance, a visit to both destinations is recommended.
Where is Bhutan and Tibet?
Bhutan and Tibet actually share a border that is hundreds of kilometers long, but have no other common ground outside this. While Bhutan and Tibet are neighbors, there is no overland crossing between the two popular destinations, and no direct flights between Paro and Lhasa.
Lying in the far west of China, Tibet is ringed on two sides by the mighty Himalaya Mountain Range, which includes several of the world’s highest mountains along its vast borders. A vast plateau land, Tibet is bordered in the north by Xinjiang and Qinghai provinces, and to the east by Yunnan, Sichuan, and Gansu provinces of China.
Bhutan lies in the southern Himalayas, along the southern border of Tibet, and sits on the slopes of the world’s highest mountain range on the edges of the Qinghai Tibetan plateau. While Tibet covers the northern border of Bhutan, the rest of the country borders with various states of India, including West Bengal and Assam.
Difference between Tibet and Bhutan
There are a number of differences between Bhutan and Tibet, from landscape and topography to flora and fauna, and from weather and climate systems to the culture and the people.
Altitude and geographic features are the main differences between Bhutan and Tibet. Tibet lies on a high-altitude plateau, which is generally flat, with high mountains rising from it across most of the region. Covered with a multitude of lakes and mountains, Tibet is a land of high mountains and desolate deserts, tundra landscapes, and vast open plains and prairies.
The Thimphu Valley is located in the western part of Bhutan.
Bhutan in contrast, is a land where the altitude and climate varies, from the high mountain climates of the Himalayas to the lowland regions of the southern borders, and gradually descending between the two. This descending topography causes a wider range of climates, with altitudes from around 7,000 meters in the northern mountains, descending through 2,000-3,000 meter valleys, to the lowland areas near the border with India that lie just a few meters above sea level. Bhutan also has a much higher area of denser forests than Tibet, which extend from the Himalayan slopes all the way to the Indian border.
Different Weather and Travel Season
The weather in these two destinations also differs, as do the main tourism and travel seasons. In Bhutan the weather is more changeable, with the higher areas having a more alpine mountain climate of snow in the winter and rain in the summer, and the lower areas being more monsoon-affected and wetter, but not as cold in the winter months. Bhutan does have a four-season monsoon climate, with mild spring and autumn seasons, harsher winters in the north than in the south, and wetter monsoons in the south than in the north.
The best time to hike to Tiger’s Nest Monastery is spring and autumn.
The tourist seasons in Bhutan are normally in spring and autumn, from March to May and September to November. These are the times when the weather is generally warm and dry, though you might still need some warm sweaters and jackets in the early spring and late autumn. Summer is the monsoon in Bhutan, and the lower areas below 4,000 meters see a lot of rain through July and August. Winter is colder in Bhutan than the rest of the year, and while it is dry, the snows can block passes, making travel harder.
Tibet, on the other hand, has a very different climate, though still with four seasons and a monsoon. The main difference is the temperature and quantities of rain. Spring and autumn are generally dry months, with little rain and good sunshine throughout, though these are only the shoulder seasons. Summer in Tibet is the peak season for tourism, despite it also being the monsoon season. However, with little rain actually falling on the plateau due to the shadow effect of the mountains, summer is not as wet, especially in the remote areas.
During the time from April to October, one can visit the Shigatse city for the best views there.
Winter is just as dry as in Bhutan, but is a lot colder, with many of the temperatures during the day falling to well below freezing across the plateau. Days can still be bright and sunny, but the intense cold takes the warmth off the day a little. Winter is the low season in Tibet for tourism, and is the cheapest time of year to travel. Generally, the best time to visit Tibet is from April to October.
Different Tour Highlights
Touring is very different in Bhutan to Tibet, and while both destinations require you to be on pre-arranged tours, the sights and attractions are very different. The type of attractions, while almost all being of Buddhist origin, are hugely different in Bhutan and Tibet, with monasteries being the main attractions in Tibet, and the Dzongs or fortresses being more prominent in Bhutan.
The magnificent Potala Palace is the representative of Tibet.
There is also a huge difference in the style of architecture of the two destinations. Tibetan architecture in the buildings is influenced heavily by China and India, while in Bhutan, the architecture is born of the kingdom’s location in the heavily-wooded slopes of the southern Himalayas, and has a more gothic look. Much of the architecture of Bhutan has huge similarities to European and Alpine architecture, though neither Bhutan nor Europe have ever influenced the other.
Touring around the different destinations is also very different. In Tibet, you can travel long distances across vast plains and prairies, wind your way up mountains and down into valleys, and follow the courses of the various rivers, but always be able to view the panoramic sight of the Himalayas for huge distances.
Punakha Dzong is the most beautiful Dzong in Bhutan.
In Bhutan, the open prairies are less prominent, and while you do have high mountains with winding roads, the slopes are mostly covered with trees, giving a very different scene to the landscape. There are also none of the desolate arid landscapes of the plateau, with the lush forests of the hillsides replacing them in Bhutanese tours.
Different Culture and Customs
Tibetan Buddhism is predominant in both Tibet and Bhutan, having been introduced to the isolated kingdom of Bhutan in the 8th century by the Indian Buddhist sage, Padmasambhava. Traveling from Tibet, he brought the Tibetan Vajrayana style of Buddhism to the Bhutanese kings and people, though that is where the similarities end.
Tibetan Buddhism is Bhutan's state religion.
Culture in both locations may be based in their Tibetan Buddhist religion, but it is very different in form. Many of the rituals and ceremonies of Tibet are lost in translation in Bhutan, and have changed so much over the centuries that they appear to be from very different sources.
Ganden Monastery is one of the "great three" Gelug university monasteries of Tibet.
And while in Tibet, family is important, it is governed mainly by the womenfolk, whereas Bhutan has a male-dominant society and culture. And whereas Tibetans work hard for their family and prosperity, in Bhutan, there is more of a desire for the family unit to preserve the landscape and look after nature than work for profits.
Travel to Tibet and Bhutan Together to Enjoy More in One Trip
If you are considering which of these amazing destinations to visit, then it is possible to visit them both together and enjoy and understand them more. A trip to Bhutan and Tibet in one go is a great way to understand their similarities and differences, the two unique cultures, and learn how thy have diverged from the same basic religion after 1,200 years. And with such similar yet different landscapes, cultures, and traditions to explore, you can be sure you can get the best of both worlds.
Bhutan and Tibet may share Tibetan Buddhism and their border along the line of the Himalayas, but that is where their similarities diverge into their own unique cultures, landscapes, and traditions. There are more differences that you might think between these two amazing Himalayan destinations, so why not go and try out both, and see the difference for yourself.
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