Bhutan, a tiny country situated in the eastern Himalayas and landlocked between world’s two most populous nations – India to the south and China to the North, is a Buddhist Kingdom with a population of about 700,000 people. With its pristine environment, well preserved traditions and land of a Gross National Happiness, Bhutan is one of the top travel destinations in the world.
|Language||Official language is Dzongkha. English is widely spoken.|
|Religion||Vajrayana stream of Mahayana Buddhism (also known as Tantric Buddhism)|
|Currency||Bhutanese Ngultrum (1 Bhutanese Ngultrum = 1 Indian Rupee)|
|Electricity||230 V, 50 Hz|
|Power Socket||Type D / F / G|
|Altitude||Between 98 m to 7570 m above sea level|
|No. of Districts||20|
|National Day||17 December|
|National Animal||Takin (Budorcas Taxicolor)|
|National Bird||Raven (Corvus Corax Tibetanus)|
|National Flower||Blue Poppy (Mecanopsis Grandis)|
|National Tree||Cypress (Cupresses Corneyana)|
It is believed that Bhutan was inhabited as early as 2000 B.C. due to the presence of early stone implements discovered in the region.
Initially Bonism was the dominant religion in the region that would come to be known as Bhutan. Buddhism was introduced in the 7th century by the Tibetan King Songtsen Gampo and further strengthened by the arrival of Guru Rimpoche, a Buddhist Master that is widely considered to be the Second Buddha.
The country was first unified in 17th century by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel. After arriving in Bhutan from Tibet, he consolidated his power, defeated three Tibetan invasions and established a comprehensive system of law and governance. His system of rule eroded after his death and the country fell into in-fighting and civil war between the various local rulers. This continued until the Trongsa Poenlop Ugyen Wangchuck was able to gain control and with the support of the people established himself as Bhutan’s first hereditary King in 1907. His Majesty Ugyen Wangchuck became the first Druk Gyalpo (Dragon King) and set up the Wangchuck Dynasty that still rules today.
In 2008 Bhutan enacted its Constitution and converted to a democracy in order to better safeguard the rights of its citizens. Later in November of the same year, the currently reigning 5th Druk Gyalpo Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck was crowned.
Gross National Happiness
The term Gross National Happiness (GNH) was coined in 1972 by Bhutan's 4th King Jigme Singye Wangchuck, who has opened Bhutan to the age of modernization, soon after the demise of his father, King Jigme Dorji Wangchuk. He used the phrase to signal his commitment to building an economy that would serve Bhutan's unique culture based on Buddhist spiritual values. The concept of GNH was articulated to indicate that development has many more dimensions than those associated with Gross National Product. The GNH philosophy places the individual at the centre of all development efforts and thus recognizes that people not only have material needs but also spiritual and emotional needs as well. It asserts that spiritual and emotional needs cannot and should not be defined exclusively in material terms.
The four main pillars of Gross National Happiness are:
1. Equitable and equal socio-economic development,
2. Preservation and promotion of cultural and spiritual heritage,
3. Conservation of environment, and
4. Good governance which are interwoven, complementary, and consistent.
These pillars embody national and local values, aesthetics, and spiritual traditions. The concept of Gross National Happiness is now being taken up by the United Nations and various other countries.
Bhutan is a landlocked country, approximately 300 km long and 150 km wide, with an overall size of 38,394 km2. It is situated along the southern slopes of the Himalayan range between the parallels 26° 30′ of north latitude and 88° 45′ and 92° 25′ of east longitude. Bhutan is surrounded by mountains in the north and west. It is on the south of the Tibetan hinterland and on the north of the Indian territories of Assam and West Bengal. Located in the Heart of the Himalayan mountain range, virtually the entire country is mountainous, and ranges in elevation from 98 m to the 7,570 m Gangkhar Puensum peak on the Tibetan border. It can be divided into three major geographic, the high Himalaya of the north, the hills and valleys of the centre, and foothills and plains of the south.
The people of Bhutan can be divided into three main ethnic groups: The "Sharchops", who live in the east of the country and are believed to be the original inhabitants; The “Ngalongs”, who live mostly in western Bhutan and are the descendants of Tibetan immigrants who arrived in Bhutan from the 9th century; The “Lhotshampas”, settled in the south of Bhutan in the late 19th century, representing Nepali-speaking groups. Bhutan is one of the least densely populated countries in the world, with 79 percent of the people living in rural areas. Whereas Buddhism is the main religion in the Northern and Eastern Bhutan, Southern Bhutanese are mainly Hindus.
The national language of Bhutan is Dzongkha and literally Dzongkha means the language spoken in the dzongs and administrative centers in all the districts of Bhutan. But the Dzongkha was the language spoken by the people of Western Bhutan. Besides these, there are two major languages spoken by the people of Bhutan. They are Sharchokpa, language spoken in the Eastern Bhutan and the Nepali, language spoken in the Southern Bhutan. There are also as many as 19 major languages which have survived in the country, in the isolated villages and valleys which are cut off from neighboring areas by high mountains barriers.
Bhutan is the only country to maintain Mahayana Buddhism in its Tantric Vajrayana form as the official religion. The main practicing schools are the state sponsored Drukpa Kagyupa and the Nyingmapa.
Buddhism was first introduced by the Indian Tantric master Guru Padmasambhava in the 8th century. Until then the people practiced Bonism a religion that worshipped all forms of nature, remnants of which are still evident even today in some remote villages in the country. With the visit of Guru Padmasambhava, Buddhism began to take firm roots within the country and this especially led to the propagation of the Nyingmapa (the ancient or the older) school of Buddhism.
Phajo Drugom Zhigp from Ralung in Tibet was instrumental in introducing yet another school of Buddhism – the Drukpa Kagyu sect. In 1222 he came to Bhutan, an event of great historical significance and a major milestone for Buddhism in Bhutan, and established the Drukpa Kagyu sect of Buddhism, the state religion. His sons and descendants were also instrumental in spreading it to many other regions of western Bhutan.
By far the greatest contributor was Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal. His arrival in 1616 from Tibet was another landmark event in the history of the nation. He brought the various Buddhist schools that had developed in Western Bhutan under his domain and unified the country as one whole nation-state giving it a distinct national identity.
The Buddhism practiced in the country today is a vibrant religion that permeates nearly every facet of the Bhutanese life style. It is present in the dzongs, monasteries, stupas, prayer flags, and prayer wheels punctuate the Bhutanese landscape. The chime of ritual bells, sound of gongs, people circumambulating temples and stupas, fluttering prayer flags, red robed monks conducting rituals stand as testaments to the importance of Buddhism in Bhutanese life.
Agriculture and livestock raising are the mainstay of the economy. They contribute about 45% to the Gross National Product (GNP). Agriculture is still the main source of livelihood for about 89% of people living in the rural areas of Bhutan. About 62% of women are involved in agriculture and their contribution is substantial. The farms are mostly narrow pieces of land cut into terraces on hill slopes. Forestry contributes 15% to the GNP and industry and mining 10%.
Bhutan's largest export is hydroelectricity. The country has a potential to generate 30,000 MW of hydropower. Power is supplied to various states in India.
The castle-like dzong, with their gently tapering walls, classic lines, large courtyards and beautiful galleries, are among the finest example of Bhutanese architecture, containing large monasteries inside, and set in commanding position on hilltops and at the confluence of rivers. Dzongs are also the administrative centres of their districts. But the most common architectural sights in Bhutan are chortens or stupas which are small shrines built to house sacred relics.
Arts & Crafts
Reflect the unique spirit and identity of the Himalayan kingdom. The art of Zorig Chosum – or the thirteen arts and crafts of Bhutan – remains very much alive today. They include carpentry, blacksmithing, weaving, sculpting, and many more. There are two institutes of Zorig Chosum where these traditional arts and crafts are being taught today – one in the capital, Thimphu, and the other in Trashiyangtse in Eastern Bhutan.The arts and crafts continue to thrive despite a small tourist market. Much of this is due to the government’s support and emphasis on the preservation of culture and tradition.
Food and Drinks
Traditional Bhutanese food always features spicy red and green chilies, either dried or fresh. Most Bhutanese love eating spicy food. The national dish, ema datsi, is a dish of ema (chili) cooked in datsi (cheese). Staple diet is red rice, buck-wheat, wheat and maize. Although there is plenty of white rice, the Bhutanese prefer a locally produced red variety. A common snack food is gesasip, corn (maize) that has been fried and beaten. Zow is rice that is boiled and then fried, its sometimes mixed with sugar and butter. Meat includes pork, beef, chicken, and yak meat. Bhutanese frequently drink sud-ja, tea with salt and butter, which is more like soup then tea. Sugar tea is called ngad-ja. Liquor is easily available in bars with the exception of Tuesday (dry day). The legal drinking age is 18 years and above. The famous locally brewed rice wine is called ara.