The Kingdom of Bhutan is located on the southern slopes of the eastern Himalayas, landlocked between the Tibet Autonomous Region to the north and the Indian states of Sikkim, West Bengal, Assam and Aurnachal Pradesh.
Bhutan’s pristine environment, high rugged terrains, snow capped mountains, deep valleys and swift rivers makes the country one of the biodiversity hotspots. The country’s unique culture, tradition and architecture are all derived from Buddhism.
Bhutan is known for measuring the country’s progress by Gross National Happiness indicator. While modernization is relatively a recent phenomenon, the country has achieved tremendous progress in development. Road construction only began in 1962, television and internet were made accessible only in 1999 and democracy was gifted from the throne 2008.
Because of the country’s unique development philosophy of Gross National Happiness, the Constitution mandates at least 60% of its forest cover for all time. Today, approximately 72% of the total land area of Bhutan is under forest cover and approximately 60% of the land area falls under protected areas comprising of 10 national parks and sanctuaries.
The climate in Bhutan varies with elevation, from subtropical in the south to temperate in the highlands and polar-type climate, with year-round snow in the north. Bhutan experiences five distinct seasons: summer, monsoon, autumn, winter and spring. Western Bhutan has the heavier monsoon rains; southern Bhutan has hot humid summers and cool winters; central and eastern Bhutan is temperate and drier than the west with warm summers and cool winters.
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.
The country was originally known by many names including Lho Jong (The Valleys of the South), Lho Mon Kha Shi(The Southern Mon Country of Four Approaches) Lho Jong Men Jong (The Southern Valleys of Medicinal Herbs)Mon was a term used by the Tibetans to refer to Mongoloid, non-Buddhist that inhibited the Southern Himalayas.
The country came to be known as DrukYul (The Land of the Drukpas) sometime in the 17th century. The name refers to the Drukpa sect of Buddhism that has been the dominant religion in the region since that period.
Buddhism was introduced in the 7th century by the Tibetan King Songtsen Gampo and further strengthened by the arrival of Guru Rimpoche. A Tibetan Saint, Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel, arrived in Bhutan in 1616 and has embarked on a mission to unify the country. He established a dual system of governance and rule of law in the country. Under his leadership Bhutan defeated as many as five Tibetan invasions.
The system collapsed 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 establish himself as Bhutan’s first hereditary King in 1907. His Majesty Ugyen Wangchuck became the first Druk Gyalpo (Dragon King) and instituted the Wangchuck Dynasty that still continues.
In 2006 Bhutan got its Constitution and the Fourth Druk Gyalpo, Jigme Singye Wangchuck has abdicated the throne and crowned the 5th Druk Gyalpo Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, the present monarch. His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo gifted the people with democracy. Bhutan witnessed its first ever parliamentary elections in 2008 where Druk Phuensum Tshogpa, a political party was elected to the rule the country. The second election was held in 2013 and People Democratic Party was given the mandate to form the government.
Despite Bhutan’ small population there has been unprecedented economic development in recent years and the country is now experiencing a rapid economic growth.
Rapid modernization has improved the living standard of the Bhutanese people. All villages now have access to basic amenities such as education, running water, basic healthcare and are connected by roads, electricity and telecommunication network including mobile phone service.
The country’s economy is primarily driven by hydropower and proceeds from the export of electricity to India are the major revenue source for the government. Bhutan has embarked on a ambitious target of reaping 10,000MW of hydropower by 2020, however due to financial constraints and environmental issues, it has been slashed by half. Today the country generates more than 1,600 MW of power, sufficient for lighting up all the homes, running same manufacturing industries along the southern border and surplus power is being exported.
Agriculture sector employees major chunk of labour force. Farmers supplement their income through the sale of animal products such as cheese, butter and milk. Farmers’ markets are common throughout the country, supplying the people with fresh, organic, local produce.
The main staple crops are rice, maize, wheat and buckwheat while cash crops are predominantly potatoes, apples, oranges, cardamom, ginger, and chilies.
Cottage and small industries in Bhutan are built around its rich biodiversity and unique tradition.
The Bhutanese Tourism Industry was first opened in 1974. Since then it has emerged as the largest foreign currency generator of the country and provides huge employment.
The Manufacturing sector is another major contributor to national revenue. Industries are mostly involved in production of cement, ferro silicon products, calcium carbide, ferro alloys, beverages, agro processing and wood based products.
With over 72% of the country under the forest cover and 60% of the land as protected areas, flora and fauna available in Bhutan will never cease to amaze the visitors. This is because of the country’s stringent conservation policies.
The country can be divided in three vegetation zones:
- Alpine (4,000M and above)
- Temperate (2,000M to 4,000M)
- Sub-tropical (150M to 2,000M)
Bhutan boasts of about 300 species of medicinal plants and about 46 species of rhododendrons. Some common sights for the visitors are the magnolias, junipers, orchids of varied hues, gentian, medicinal plants, Daphne, giant rhubarb, the blue and trees such as fir, pine and oaks.
A wide range of rare and endangered animals can also be found frequenting the dense jungles and high mountains of Bhutan. Snow leopards, Bengal tigers, the red panda, the gorals, langurs, Himalayan black bear, sambars, wild pigs, barking deer, blue sheep and musk deer, clouded leopard, one-horned rhinos, elephant, water buffalo, golden langur are some of the exotic animal species inhibiting the country.
Wide variety of bird species can also prove a treat for the bird watchers. The recorded number of bird species is over 670 and is expected to rise as new birds are discovered.
Bhutan is also home to about 16 bird species that are endangered worldwide. These include the White bellied heron, Pallas Fish eagle and Blyth’s King fisher and black necked crane.
Chillies are essential part of the Bhutanese cuisine that is characterized by its spiciness.
Rice is the staple diet and accompanies almost every meal in Bhutan. Side dishes consists of meat or vegetables. Pork, beef and chicken are the meats that are eaten most often. Vegetables commonly eaten include cabbage, cauliflower, asparagus, 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.
There are over 19 dialects spoken in the country and its prevalence depends on the geographical location of the communities.
The national language is Dzongkha, the native language of the Ngalops of western Bhutan. Dzongkha literally means the language spoken in the Dzongs, massive fortresses that serve as the administrative centers and monasteries. Two other major languages are the Tshanglakha and the Lhotshamkha. Tshanglakha is the native language of the Tshanglas of eastern Bhutan while Lhotshamkha is spoken by the southern Bhutanese of Nepali origin.
Other dialects spoken are Khengkha spoken by Khengpa and Bumthapkha spoken by people from Bumthang. Mangdepkah, which is spoken by the inhabitants of Trongsa and the Cho Cha Nga Chang Kha which is spoken by the Kurtoeps.
The upper yellow half signifies the secular power and authority of the king while the lower saffron-orange symbolizes the practice of religion and the power of Buddhism, manifested in the tradition of Drukpa Kagyu. The dragon signifies the name of the country (DRUK) and the color white is indicative of the purity of the country while the jewels in represent the wealth of the nation.
Archery was declared the national sport in 1971 when Bhutan became a member of the United Nations. Bhutan also maintains an Olympic archery team. Archery tournaments and competitions are held throughout the country.
Two vertical dragons with jewels on all sides. The jewel signifies the sovereign power while the dragons (male and female) represent the name of the country DrukYul.
The national bird Raven adorns the royal crown. It also represents the chief guardian deity of the country GonpoJarodongchen (raven headed Mahakala).
Takin is a rare mammal with a thick neck and short muscular legs. It lives in herds above 4000 meters on the north-western and far north eastern parts of the country.
Blue Poppy is a delicate blue or purple tinged blossom with a white filament. It grows to a height of 1 meter, and is found above the tree line (3500-4500 meters) on rocky mountain terrain. It was discovered in 1933 by a British Botanist, George Sherriff in a remote part of Sakteng in eastern Bhutan.
Cypresses are found in abundance and one may notice large cypresses near temples and monasteries.
Zorig Chusum: The Thirteen Traditional Crafts of Bhutan
During the reign of the fourth temporal ruler in the 17th century, Gyalse Tenzin Rabgye formally identified the 13 traditional arts and crafts that has been practiced in Bhutan since antiquity. The thirteen arts and crafts are categorized as follows:
- Dezo– Paper Making: Handmade paper made mainly from the Daphne plant and gum from a creeper root.
- Dozo– Stonework: Stone arts used in the construction of stone pools and the outer walls of dzongs, gompas, stupas and some other buildings.
- Garzo– Blacksmithing: The manufacture of iron goods, such as farm tools, knives, swords, and utensils.
- Jinzo– Clay arts: The making of religious statues and ritual objects, pottery and the construction of buildings using mortar, plaster, and rammed earth.
- Lhazo– Painting: From the images on thangkas, walls paintings, and statues to the decorations on furniture and window-frames.
- Lugzo– Bronze casting: Production of bronze roof-crests, statues, bells, and ritual instruments, in addition to jewelry and household items using sand casting and lost-wax casting.
- Parzo– Wood, slate, and stone carving: In wood, slate or stone, for making such items as printing blocks for religious texts, masks, furniture, altars, and the slate images adorning many shrines and altars.
- Shagzo– Woodturning: Making a variety of bowls, plates, cups, and other containers.
- Shingzo– Woodworking: Employed in the construction of dzongs and gompas
- Thagzo– Weaving: The production of some of the most intricately woven fabrics produced in Asia.
- Trözo– Silver- and gold-smithing: Working in gold, silver, and copper to make jewelry, ritual objects, and utilitarian household items.
- Tshazo– Cane and bamboo work: The production of such varied items as bows and arrows, baskets, drinks containers, utensils, musical instruments, fences, and mats.
- Tshemazo– Needlework: Working with needle and thread to make clothes, boots, or thangkas.