The Kingdom of Bhutan is a landlocked Country in South East Asia, located at the eastern end of the Himalayan Mountain Ranges and is bordered to the south, east and west by the Republic of India and to the north by China (Tibet). Bhutan is separated from Nepal by the Indian state of Sikkim. The Bhutanese call their country Druk Yul which means “the Land of the Thunder Dragon”.
Bhutan entered late into the global community opening her doors to the outside world in late 1950s and early 1960s during the reign of the Third Druk Gyalpo, His Majesty Jigme Dorji Wangchuck. Bhutan has been further propelled by the launch of planned socio-economic development in 1961 and subsequent developments in road networks, telecommunication, aviation and technology. Learning from the experience of the other countries, Bhutan has taken cautious step in development without compromising the needs of the future while also ensuring holistic development. This has come in the shape of Gross National Happiness (GNH) that tries to balance between material and spiritual needs of the country. It is operationalized through four pillar strategies of balanced and sustainable development, environmental conservation, cultural preservation and promotion and good governance. Bhutan government takes great measures to preserve the nation’s traditional culture, identity and the environment. To all these initiatives, in 2006 Business Week rated Bhutan the happiest country in Asia and the eighth happiest country in the world citing a global survey conducted by the University of Leicester in 2006 referenced to as the “World Map of Happiness”.
Bhutan is most peaceful country in Asia, ranking 8th in the world. People around the globe who are mentally tortured by metropolitan life come here to ease their stresses in this silent environment while inhaling fresh Himalayan air. We have the largest potential to sequester carbon as 72% of land is covered by green forest thereby remaining carbon neutral. So with this fact pollution-wise also we are cleanest in Asia.
Bhutan is the last and only country in the world where Vajrayana Buddhism is practiced as state religion. The religion founded in India by Lord Buddha which runs through the principles of non violence and sacrifice, reached Bhutan through the preaching of Guru Rinpoche, the precious master, in 746 AD. People around the world visit to make pilgrimage towards wonderful Buddhist holy sites.
Therefore, due to these unique qualities Bhutan is spotted as one of the top tourist destinations in the world by WONDERLUST based in London. Bhutan has been selected as one of three finalists in the Destination Stewardship category for the Tourism for Tomorrow Awards hosted by the World Travel & Tourism Council.
The landscape ranges from subtropical plains in the south to the Himalayan heights in the north, with some peaks exceeding 7,500 meters (24,300 ft). The population is predominantly Buddhist, with Hinduism being the second-largest religion. The capital and largest city is Thimphu. After centuries of direct monarchic rule, Bhutan held its first democratic elections in March 2008. Among other international associations, Bhutan is a member of the United Nations and the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) and has diplomatic relations with more than 50 countries.
History of Bhutan
Stone tools, weapons, elephants, and remnants of large stone structures provide evidence that Bhutan was inhabited as early as 2000 BC, although there are no existing records from that time. Historians have theorized that the state of Lhomeon (literally, “southern darkness”, a reference to the indigenous Mon religion), or Monyul (“Dark Land”, a reference to the Monpa, the aboriginal peoples of Bhutan) may have existed between 500 BC and AD 600. The names Lhomon Tsendenjong (Sandalwood Country), and Lhomon Khazhi, or Southern Mon (country of four approaches), are found in ancient Bhutanese and Tibetan chronicles.
The earliest transcribed event in Bhutan was the passage of the Buddhist saint Padma Sambhava (also known as Guru Rinpoche) in 746 AD. Bhutan’s early history is unclear, because most of the records were destroyed after fire ravaged the ancient capital, Punakha, in 1827. By the 10th century, Bhutan’s political development was heavily influenced by its religious history. However, there is no sufficient information stating that all historical records were available before the fire.
Until the early 17th century, Bhutan existed as a patchwork of minor warring fiefdoms, when the area was unified by the Tibetan lama and Drukpa leader Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal who left Tibet for Bhutan after succession dispute back in Ralung, Tibet. To defend the country against intermittent Tibetan forays, Namgyal built a network of impregnable Dzong (fortresses), and promulgated a code of law that helped to bring local lords under centralized control. Many such Dzong still exist and are active centers of religion and district administration. After Namgyal’s death in 1651, Bhutan fell into civil war. Taking advantage of the chaos, the Tibetans attacked Bhutan in 1710, and again in 1730 with the help of the Mongols. Both assaults were successfully thwarted, and an armistice was signed in 1759.
In the 18th century, the Bhutanese invaded and occupied the kingdom of Cooch Behar to the south. In 1772, Cooch Behar appealed to the British East India Company which assisted them in ousting the Bhutanese, and later in attacking Bhutan itself in 1774. A peace treaty was signed in which Bhutan agreed to retreat to its pre-1730 borders. However, the peace was tenuous, and border skirmishes with the British were to continue for the next 100 years. The skirmishes eventually led to the Duar War (1864-1865), a confrontation for control of the Bengal Duars. After Bhutan lost the war, the Treaty of Sinchula was signed between British India and Bhutan. As part of the war reparations, the Duars were ceded to the United Kingdom in exchange for a rent of Rs. 50,000. The treaty ended all hostilities between British India and Bhutan.
During the 1870s, power struggles between the rival valleys of Paro and Trongsa led to civil war in Bhutan, eventually leading to the ascendancy of Ugyen Wangchuck, the Poenlop (governor) of Trongsa. From his power base in central Bhutan, Ugyen Wangchuck defeated his political enemies and united the country following several civil wars and rebellions in the period 1882-1885.
In 1907, an epochal year for the country, Ugyen Wangchuck was unanimously chosen as the hereditary king of the country by an assembly of leading Buddhist monks, government officials, and heads of important families. The British government promptly recognised the new monarchy, and in 1910 Bhutan signed a treaty which provided that Bhutan’s foreign affairs would be guided by British India while it will not interfere in the internal affairs of the Country. The 1949 Treaty with independent India also stuck with the same provisions. After more than 50 years of mutual trust and cooperation, the two countries revised the treaty in 2007. The new Treaty envisaged that while two countries work in accord with mutual interest, the provision on Indian Government’s guidance on Bhutan’s Foreign Affairs.
Bhutanese economy has undergone rapid development since the launch of planned socio-economic development in early 1960s.
Urbanization is one characteristic feature of economic development in Bhutan. However, considerable number of people still resides in rural Bhutan yet with access to basic education, hospital enabled by road and telecommunication connectivity. The majority of Bhutanese have proper shelter to live in and they are self-sufficient. People living under poverty account for 12% of the total population of over 700, 000.
The Bhutanese economy is largely agricultural. Farmers supplement their income through the sale of animal products such as cheese, butter and milk. Markets for farm produce are common throughout the country, supplying the people with fresh, organic, local produce. Rice and maize are the staple crops of the Country in which rice is grown largely in western and south western while east is known for growing maize. Wheat and buckwheat are also grown in colder places in the country. Potatoes, apples, oranges, cardamom, ginger, and chilies are main cash crops grown across the country. A fruit based industry has been established in the capital and Samtse allowing farmers from the nearby areas to sell their produce and thereby earn additional revenue.
Bhutan’s rich biodiversity provides the country with ample forest resources coupled with rich cultural heritage has enabled for cottage industries have its place at the fast developing Bhutan. Abundance of canes, bamboo and other woods of quality have thrived the cottage industries that largely revolves around Thirteen Traditional Arts and Crafts, known as Zorig Chusum in local dialect. Craftsmen weave a number of beautiful and intricate items out of bamboo and cane including hats, backpacks, floor mats and traditional bowls. Besides this, embroidery and painting also hold significant place in the Country. These items are then sold to tourists or Bhutanese, supplying a secondary income source.
Bhutan opened door for tourism in 1974 with a group of Americans becoming the first to visit Bhutan as a tourist. Since then, it has become a major source of generation of hard currency and revenue for the country with tourists increasing every year. The government through the policy of “High Value, Low Impact” is committed to build a sustainable tourism industry that is not only financially viable but also limits the negative cultural and environmental impacts commonly associated with the culture of mass tourism. To this end, efforts have been made to ensure that even remote areas are able to reap the benefits of tourism while still respecting their traditions, culture and natural environment.
Fast flowing glacier-fed rivers through the steep gorge and valleys have given Bhutan the enormous potential to produce hydroelectricity. With the construction of several major dams, the power sector has undeniably been the biggest contributor to the Bhutanese exchequer. The Chukha Hydro Power Corporation, the Tala Hydro Power Corporation, the Baso Chu Hydro Power Corporation and the Kurichu Hydro Power Corporation, under the umbrella of Druk Green Power Corporation, are some of the existing mega projects in the country. The 1500 MW of power they generate, most of which is exported to our neighboring country India, barely scratches the surface of Bhutan’s untapped hydroelectric potential. With its abundant water resources, Bhutan still has the capacity to generate another 30,000 MW of electricity. However, the government is taking cautious step in the construction of new projects in order to minimize the impact upon the surrounding areas. Meanwhile, majority of the households, both in urban and rural Bhutan have been electrified improving sanitation at the same time reducing fuel wood consumption.
The Manufacturing sector is another major contributor to national revenue. With the industrial sector established in Pasakha, small scale industries such as cement plants, calcium and carbide, steel and Ferro silicon, Coca Cola and also wood based industries have started developing.
As a result of the recent economic development, Bhutan has one of the highest per capita incomes in South Asia at US$1,321. Despite this high level of growth and development, stringent regulations are put in place to protect Bhutan’s natural environment for posterity.
Bhutanese cuisine is one of the distinct characteristic of Bhutanese culture. Chilies are an essential part of nearly every dish and are considered so important that most Bhutanese people would not enjoy a meal that was not spicy. Rice is the main item of Bhutanese meals. It is supplemented by curry either meat or vegetables. Pork, beef and chicken are the meats that are eaten most often. Vegetables commonly eaten include Spinach, pumpkins, turnips, radishes, tomatoes, river weed, onions and green beans. Grains such as rice, buckwheat and barley are also cultivated in various regions of the country depending on the local climate.
Some of the most popular Bhutanese dishes are:
- Ema Datshi: This is the de facto National Dish of Bhutan. A spicy mix of chillis and the delicious local cheese known as Datshi. This dish is a staple of nearly every meal and can be found throughout the country. Variations on Ema Datshi include adding green beans, ferns, potatoes, mushrooms or swapping the regular cheese for yak cheese.
- Momo: These Tibetan-style dumplings are stuffed with pork, beef or cabbages and cheese. Traditionally eaten during special occasions, these tasty treats are a Bhutanese favourite.
- Phaksha Paa: Pork cooked with spicy red chillis. This dish can also include Radishes or Spinach. A popular variation uses sun-dried (known as Sikam). It is served during festivals, public events and occasions.
- Hoentoe: Aromatic buckwheat dumplings stuffed with turnip greens, datshi (cheese), spinach and other ingredients. It is popular among the communities and residents of Haa and Paro.
- Jasha Maru: Spicy minced chicken, tomatoes and other ingredients that is usually served with rice.
- Red Rice: This rice is similar to brown rice and is extremely nutritious and filling. When cooked it is pale pink, soft and slightly sticky.
- Goep (Tripe): Though the popularity of tripe has diminished in many countries it is still enjoyed in Bhutan. Like most other meat dishes, it is cooked with plenty of spicy chillis and chilli powder.
Bhutan is home for categorized into three main ethnic groups – the Tshanglas, Ngalops and the Lhotshampas.
The other minority groups are the Bumthaps and the Khengpas of Central Bhutan, the Kurtoeps in Lhuentse, the Brokpas and the Bramis of Merak and Sakteng in eastern Bhutan, the Doyas of Samtse and the Monpas of Rukha villages in Wangdue Phodrang. Together the multiethnic Bhutanese population number just over 700,000.
Tshanglas: The Tshanglas or the Sharchops as they are commonly known are considered the aboriginal inhabitants of eastern Bhutan. Tshanglas are according to historians, the descendants of Lord Brahma and speak Tshanglakha. They are commonly inhabitants of Mongar, Trashigang, Trashiyangtse, Pema Gatshel and Samdrup Jongkhar. Besides cultivation of maize, rice, wheat, barley and vegetables, the Tshanglas also rear domestic animals to supplement their living. Weaving is a popular occupation among their women and they produce beautiful fabrics mainly of silk and raw silk.
Ngalops: The Ngalops who have settled mostly in the six regions of western Bhutan are of Tibetan origin. They speak Ngalopkha, a polished version of Dzongkha, the national language of Bhutan. Agriculture is their main livelihood. They cultivate cereals such as rice, wheat, barley and maize along with a variety of other crops. In the regions of Thimphu and Paro apples are also cultivated as a cash crop. They are known for Lozeys or ornamental speech and for Zheys, dances that are unique to the Ngalops.
Lhotshampas: The Lhotshampas have settled in the southern foothills of the country. It is believed that they migrated from Nepal in the beginning of the 19th century, attracted by the employment opportunities provided by the many constructions works taking place in the kingdom. They speak Lhotshamkha (Nepali) and practice Hinduism. Their society can be broken into various lineages such as the Bhawans, Chhetris, Rai’s, Limbus, Tamangs, Gurungs, and the lLepchas. Nowadays they are mainly employed in agriculture and cultivate cash crops like ginger, cardamom and oranges.
Bumthaps, Mangdeps and Khengpas: The people who speak Bumtapkha, Mangdepkha and khengkha respectively inhabit the central areas of Bhutan spread in four districts of Bumthang, Trongsa, Zhemgang and Mongar. The Bumthaps cultivate buck wheat, potatoes and vegetables. A section of this population also rear yaks and sheep and produce fabrics of wool and yak hair. The Mangdeps depend on cultivation of rice, wheat, maize and vegetables besides rearing domestic animals. The khengpas are also dependent on agriculture much like the Mangdeps; however, they are also known for the bamboo and cane craft.
Kurtoeps: Kurtoeps inhabit the eastern part of the country. Specifically the district of Lhuentse and the villages are found spread along the banks of Kurichu. Khoma women are expert weavers and are known for their skill in weaving the grandiose Kishuthara.
Brokpas: The Brokpas are a semi nomadic community. They are settled in the two villages of Merak and Sakteng in Trashigang district in eastern Bhutan. They mostly depend on yaks and sheep for their livelihood and do not typically grow crops due to the high altitude and unfavorable climatic conditions. They speak a different dialect and have their own unique dress that is made of yak hair and sheep wool. They are also experts in cane and bamboo crafts.
Layaps: To the extreme north are the Layaps who speak layapkha. Like the Brokpas, they are semi-nomadic and their livelihood is dependent upon yaks and sheep. They use the products of their herd animals to barter rice, salt and other consumables with the people of WangduePhodrang and Punakha.
Doyas: A tribal community that has settled mostly in southern Bhutan. They are considered the aboriginal inhabitants of western and central Bhutan, who over the years migrated to and settled in the present areas in Dorokha. They have their own unique dialect and style of dress.
Monpas: The Monpas are a small community in Rukha under WangduePhodrang. Together with the Doyas they are also considered the original settlers of central Bhutan. They have their own unique dialect but it is unfortunately slowly dying out as they are now being absorbed into the main stream Bhutanese society.
Bhutanese society have evolved constantly to suit the needs of the time as well as to eliminate the discrimination and disparity among the people. Slavery was abolished by the Third King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck in the early 1950s through a royal edict. Efforts are being made to include all sections of people in mainstream policy making.
Among the people, the regard for Driglam Namzha, etiquette rooted in custom and tradition is profound. Greetings of “Kuzu Zangpo” , wearing Gho and Kira, the National Dress, offering felicitation scarves are some of the some of the etiquette that are part of Bhutanese way of life. The Bhutanese are a fun-loving people fond of song and dance, friendly contests of archery, stone pitching, traditional darts, and recently basketball and football. Social events such as weddings and religious holidays are opportunities friends and family to get together.
The openness of Bhutanese society is exemplified in the way our people often visit their friends and relatives at any hour of the day without any advance notice or appointment and still receive a warm welcome and hospitality.
The Bhutanese constitution guarantees freedom of religion and citizens and visitors are free to practice any form of worship so long as it does not impinge on the rights of others. Christianity, Hinduism and Islam are also present in the country while Buddhism continues to be the spiritual heritage of the Country.
The climate in Bhutan is extremely varied. This variation in the climatic conditions and average temperature can be attributed to two main factors, the vast differences in altitude present in the country and the influence of the Indian monsoons.
Southern Bhutan has a hot, humid sub-tropical climate that is fairly unchanging throughout the year. Temperatures can vary between 15-30 degrees Celsius. In the Central parts of the country the climate cools a bit, changing to temperate and deciduous forests with warm summers and cool, dry winters. In the far Northern reaches of the kingdom the weather is cold during winter. Mountain peaks are perpetually covered in snow and lower parts are still cool in summer owing to the high altitude terrain.
The Indian summer monsoon lasts from late-June through late-September and is mostly confined to the southern border region of Bhutan. It brings heavy rain and high humidity to the southern region. These rains bring between 60 and 90 percent of the western region’s rainfall.
Annual precipitation ranges widely in various parts of the country. In the northern border region to Tibet gets about forty millimeters of precipitation a year which is primarily snow. In the temperate central regions, a yearly average of around 1,000 millimeters is more common, and 7,800 millimeters 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 millimeters a month and increases steadily thereafter to a high of 220 millimeters in August for a total annual rainfall of nearly 650 millimeters.
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 to late June. The heavier summer rains last from late June through late September which is more monsoonal along the southwest border.
Autumn, from late September or early October to late November, follows the rainy season. It is characterized 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 meters. The winter northeast monsoon brings gale-force winds at the highest altitudes through high mountain passes, giving Bhutan its name – Drukyul, the Land of the Thunder Dragon.
Bhutan is known for her rich cultural heritage and its diversity. Dress, dialects, food habits and festivals forms the part of Bhutan’s culture and are part of everyday lives of the people. Gho and Kira are the National Dress of the Country while it has also retained the dresses of ethnic minorities residing in different parts of the country. Dresses of Bramis and Brokpas in the North East and Doyas of the South West bear its testimony.
Bhutanese culture is very much rooted in Driglam Namzha, the etiquette. Wearing of scarves – kabney for men and Rachu for women is essential during formal occasions. Greetings of ‘Kuzu Zangpo’, respect for elders, parents and teachers are highly regarded among others.
Festivals, particularly religious festivals, observed far and wide across the country are an important aspect of Bhutanese way of life. Every village is known for their unique festival though the most widely known is the annual Tshechu, meaning a religious festival. Dedicated and observed in honour of great personalities, Tshechus are the event for family and friends to get together. Mask dances performed in honour of the Great Buddhist Master Guru Rinpochhe is popular among the Bhutanese.
The uniqueness of Bhutanese way of life can be further testified in her food habits. Red rice, spicy pork, Ema Datshi and Momos (pork dumplings) are popular diet among the people whilst drinking the heady traditional rice wine known as Ara also retains its place in fast modernizing Bhutan.