Bhutan experienced one of the heaviest snowfalls in a decade


On December 29, 2021, Bhutan experienced one of the heaviest snowfalls since Gasa’s record of 12cm in 2018.

A week of bone-chilling cloudy weather conditions later, Bhutan saw the season’s first snowfall on 29th December 2021 in the valleys of Thimphu, Paro, Haa, Gasa and Bumthang Dzongkhag. Every Bhutanese in the area got snow-excited as it was the first heaviest snowfall with 9cm of snow accumulation in Thimphu - in almost a decade as far as I could remember. with the ones in the past few years being light to no snow in winter. All Ministries, agencies, and Dzongkhags in the areas affected by the heavy snowfall were closed for a day on 29th December but asked to continue to provide uninterrupted services as per the “Work-From-Home” protocols as per the direction from the Prime Minister’s Office to ensure safety. 

Memorial Chorten, Thimphu covered in snow

According to the information from the Department of Hydrology and Meteorology, the snow on 29th December 2021 settled 9cm in Thimphu and 24cm in Haa. Bumthang received the lowest amount of snow. It’s one of the heaviest snowfalls since Gasa’s record of 12cm in 2018. Bhutan being a mountainous country, first flurries are encountered while passing through the high passes to move from western to eastern Bhutan. However, there is nothing quite as magical as the first actual snowfall. A snowfall that settles in inches right at your doorstep. And this feeling of ecstasy was evident in people living in the places where it snowed. 

Snow-covered Thimphu in Bhutan

If you were up at 7am you are usually quite early for life in Thimphu – the capital city and one of the colder western regions that saw snowfall. Not on the snowfall day! You could hear cars buzzing to life at the wee hours of the morning to catch the snowfall in popular hangout places and viewpoints like Buddha Point, Sangaygang and some driving as far as Dochu La. Families with small children could be seen stomping in the snow, building a snowman and playing snowball fights by the side of the roads. Then there was the indoor experience, sitting on their balcony and sipping on suja or thuep (rice porridge) or changkey (fermented rice alcohol).

Photoshoot with snowfalls (Photo credit: tashi_chombal)

Playing in the snow

Social media platforms were flooded with pictures of the snowfall day – from glamorous pictures of people in gowns and dresses (talk about aesthetics!) to cozy sweaters and sweatpant pictures to maternity and newborns (and even pets!) experiencing their first snowfall pictures; Bhutanese did it all. Gone were the days of snuggle in time and a shift in a more active social life on snow day could be seen. The picture-perfect reel life called for support in real life from friends and family to get those shots and we could hope with an optimism that the time with loved ones outweighed everything.  

Figure 5: Many were out building snowmen in different parts of Bhutan

On the flipside, Bhutan and its mountains called for roads traversing from one side of the country to another on high altitudes. If the snow was heavy in the valley, it was heaviest on these peaks. Due to inclement weather and the snow resulting in the icy road, roads were closed to traffic and movement of vehicles restricted. The Department of Roads carries out de-icing work at this time. Till the roads were conducive for travelling, The Royal Bhutan Police and the Department of Roads could be seen issuing the notice of road condition updates through their social media platforms and also soliciting support from the general public to not travel at this time unless necessary. 

Talking about safety in such a situation the Prime Minister’s Office had written on the official Facebook page,

“…To the general public, the snowfall uplifts our spirit amid the pandemic. We have tendencies to go for rides or photoshoots outdoor. Please be careful. With all the positivity, we urge you to spend quality time with your loved ones. Stay warm and safe.”

While it continued to snow lightly in the morning of 30th December 2021 it moved on to a scattered rain as the day progressed and people got back to business and their ‘human life’ after a heavenly experience. Bhutan got back to reality with the announcement from the Royal Civil Service Commission, Royal Government of Bhutan on its Facebook page:

“As the situation of snowfall has improved, all civil servants are requested to return to their normal working schedule. The “Work-from-home” is lifted from today in all dzongkhags affected by snow. All concerned are requested to kindly cooperate. Drive with caution and stay safe.”

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