Bhutan is tucked away in the folds of the mighty Eastern Himalayas. It is a land locked country surrounded by on three sides by Indian states – Arunachal Pradesh in the east, Assam and West Bengal in the south and Sikkim in the West. The Tibetan autonomous region of China is in the North. The country lies between latitude 26 40″ and 28 20″ north and longitude 88 45″ and 92 10″ east.
Time for some country facts! Bhutan, officially known as the Kingdom of Bhutan. This landlocked country in South Asia is nestled in the eastern end of the Himalaya mountains bordered by India in the south, east and west and by China in the north. It’s regarded as one of the most isolated nations in the world mainly because the Bhutanese government has regulated foreign influences and tourism to a great extent in order to protect and preserve the nation’s identity, culture and eco-system.
Here are a few facts you may find interesting about this mysterious Kingdom in the Himalayas:
Bhutan is a democracy and constitutional monarchy. The Bhutanese monarchy was founded in 1907. It held its first democratic elections in 2008.
In 1910 Bhutan signed a treaty with the United Kingdom giving the UK control over its foreign affairs. It gained its independence in 1947, at which time India took over UK’s role and also returned to Bhutan land ceded to the British in 1865.
The United Nations recognized Bhutan as a country in 1974.
Origin of the name Bhutan may be derived from the Sanskrit Bhotanta which means “the end of Tibet,” or the Sanskrit Bhu-attan, meaning “highlands.”
Bhutanese call their home “Druk Yul,” which means “the Land of the Thunder Dragons,” because of the extremely powerful storms which constantly roar in from the Himalayas.
Its capital is Thimpu with a population of about 742,737 (2012). It is the only capital in the world without traffic lights. In fact when traffic lights were installed the people objected and the city reverted back to the use of white-gloved traffic police.
Until the 1960’s it had no roads, automobiles, telephone, postal system or electricity. Bhutanese had no access to TV or Internet until limited access was permitted in 1999.
Buddhism is the official religion with Hinduism the second popular faith.
Dzongka is the official language.
54.3% of adults and 76.2% of youth in Bhutan are literate.
The first foreign tourists were allowed into Bhutan in 1974.
Bhutan has the world’s highest unclimbed peak, Gangkhar Puensum, a mountain so sacred by the Bhutanese that the government has banned mountaineering on any peak above 19,685 feet.
Bhutan is the world’s only carbon sink, that is; it absorbs more CO2 than it gives out. It sells hydro-electrical power, making it the only country whose largest export is renewable energy. 72% of the country is forested. In fact, it’s in the country’s constitution to keep 60% of its land forested. Respect for the environment, the eco system and all species is a serious matter in Bhutan. Anyone caught killing an endangered species, faces the harsh sentence of life in prison.
Agriculture is its major industry with rice, fruit and dairy industry (yaks).
Rather than using the GDP as an economic index, Bhutan measures its overall “health” through the four pillars: sustainable development, environmental protection, cultural preservation, and good governance, which together form the Gross National Happiness or GNH. Not all was as happy as hoped when in the early 1990s riots erupted in the Nepalese community living in Bhutan after the King’s decree to have all Bhutanese follow traditional customs including dress and conduct. This led to the repatriation of about 40,000 Nepali-Bhutanese to Newark, New Jersey, USA in early 2010.
Plastic bags have been banned in Bhutan since 1999.
Bhutan is the only country to outlaw tobacco (effective 2004).
The “takin,” a goat-antelope, is Bhutan’s national animal.
The country’s two national sports are archery and darts. But unlike a regulation dartboard, theirs is much smaller and the darts heavy and quite lethal which are thrown over 20 meters toward the target.
All citizens officially become one year older on New Year’s Day. This way, no one forgets anyone’s birthday!
Need some good luck? Thinking of starting a family? Bhutanese have a long tradition of painting phalluses on their houses to serve as a symbol of fertility and good luck. All part and parcel of a nation that measures its annual success by its people’s rate of happiness! For a fun article and photos of houses adorned by phalluses go to this link: Phallus Alert: Fertility Blessings in Bhutan!
The National Flag: It is a rectangle divided diagonally. The upper diagonal is yellow and the lower orange. Along the line separating the two diagonals is a dragon facing away from the hoist side. Yellow signifies the secular tradition and authority of the King and orange the Buddhist spiritual tradition. The dragon represents the name of the kingdom.The white color of the dragon signifies purity and the jewels held in the dragon’s claws represent Bhutan’s wealth and security. The dragon’s snarling mouth symbolizes the Bhutanese guardian deities’ commitment to protect the nation.
National Emblem: Inside a circle is two crossed vajras placed over a lotus surrounded by two dragons on each side. The wish-fulfilling jewel is located above them. There are four jewels inside the circle where the two vajras intersect. They symbolize the spiritual and secular traditions of the country based on the spiritual undertakings of Vajrayana Buddhism. The lotus represents purity; the wish-fulfilling jewel is the sovereign power of the people and the two dragons, the name of the Kingdom.
National Anthem: “Druk Tsendhen” is the national anthem. It was first composed in 1953 and became official in 1966.
National Animal: The Takin (Burdorcas taxicolor) is an extremely rare mammal. It herds in steep and thick woods at an altitude of 4,000 meters. Legend has it that in the 15th century a Tibetan saint, Drukpa Kuenley popularly known as the ‘divine madman’ created this unique animal. It resembles a cow and a goat.
National Bird: The Raven (Corvus Corax Tibetanus) represents one of the most powerful deities of the country, Jarog Dongchen. It is believed that the guardian deities of the country had taken the form of a raven to guide and unify the country. It looks quite similar to the crow but the raven is much larger.
National Butterfly: Ludlow’s Bhutan Swallowtail, a rare endangered butterfly was declared as the National Butterfly in 2011. It was rediscovered in the country in 2009 after 75 years.
National Flower: Blue poppy (Meconopsis Grandis) is a rare flower and grows only in high altitudes. It is mostly found at an altitude of 3,500 to 4,000 meters. After enduring the harsh winter weather it blooms to its full beauty in the spring. The locals call it “Euitgel Metog Hoem.”
National Tree: The Cypress (cupressus torolusa) is locally known as ‘Tsenden.” It is associated with religious places and can be found near religious structures. The cypress grows between the altitude of 1,800 and 3,500 meters. It is an evergreen tree that grows up to a height of 45 meters. Its ability to survive on rugged terrain represents bravery and simplicity.
National Dress: Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel introduced the gho and the kira in the 17th century. The Bhutanese women wear an ankle length rectangular piece of dress called the Kira, which is held in place over the shoulder with a pair of koma (broach) and a hand woven belt known as the kera on the waist. Under the Kira, women wear a wonju (blouse). A toego (open jacket) is worn over the dress.
Bhutanese Dress: The men wear a gho, which is a long robe. It is worn till the knee, tied at the waist with a small hand woven kera (belt), above which a large pouch is formed. Wearing long socks and shoes completes the costume.
All Bhutanese are required to wear the kira and gho in offices and administrative centers. For all official purposes, men are required to wear a Kabney (scarf) and the women wear a Rachu (scarf) on their dress. The color of the Kabney designates the rank of a person.
National Game: Archery is the national game of Bhutan. The bow and arrow plays a significant role in many Bhutanese myths and legends. It was declared the national sport in 1971 when Bhutan became a member of the United Nations. The game is played during tournaments or leisure. It is also played during religious celebrations and local festivals. Over time the traditional bow made of bamboo has been replaced by compound bows. However, there are people who still play the traditional way.
National Day: December 17 is marked and celebrated as the National day. This was the day the first King of Bhutan was crowned at the Punakha Dzong in 1907.
National Language: Bhutan is a multi-lingual society. There are 19 different languages and dialects spoken in the country. Dzongkha, meaning the language of the fort, is the national language of Bhutan. It is widely spoken in the western region.
National Dish: Ema Datshi, chili and cheese stew, is Bhutan’s national dish. Bhutanese either use dried red chilies or green chilies to make this dish. It is very simple and fast to cook.
National Stadium: Changlimithang Stadium in Thimphu serves as the National Stadium. It is mostly used to celebrate national events, football and archery games. It was built in 1974 and refurbished in 2007. It can accommodate up to 25,000 people.
National Museum: The Ta-dzong in Paro which was established in 1968 is the National Museum of Bhutan. It houses extensive collections of over 3,000 works of Bhutanese art covering more than 1,500 years of Bhutan’s cultural heritage.
National development philosophy: Bhutan believes in the philosophy of Gross National Happiness. Sustainable development and happiness are emphasized more than gross national product. Each and every policy of Bhutan first has to go through a checklist that qualifies it to be passed as a Gross National Happiness policy.
Bhutan’s early history is steeped in Buddhist tradition and mythology. Bhutan’s medieval and modern history was a time of warlords, feuds, giant fortresses and castles. The visit of Padama Sambhava in 747 AD is the important landmark in the history of the country. The kingdom’s recent history begins with a hereditary monarchy that was founded in the 20th century and continued the country’s policy of isolationism. It was under the leadership of the third king that Bhutan emerged from its medieval past of serfdom and reclusion. Despite the speed of modernization, Bhutan has maintained a policy of careful, controlled policy of development in order to preserve its national identity. Though known as Bhutan to the outside world, to the Bhutanese, the country is known as Druk Yul, ‘land of the thunder dragon’. The people are known as the Drukpas.
Tibetan Buddhism was introduced in the 9th century when conflict in Tibet forced many monks to Bhutan bringing with them their religion. In the 12th century, the Drukpa school of Buddhism was formed and is still dominate in Bhutan today. The political and religious history of the country go hand in hand.
The early year of Bhutan the country was split with different groups and regions. In 1616 a Tibetan lama, Ngawana Namgyal, consolidated the country. in his time he repelled three invasion form Tibet and subjugated rival religions. He installed a law system and made himself ruler of Bhutan. This was the foundation of Bhutan’s systems today.
After Ngawana’s death, followed two hundreds years of war and infighting thus eroding Bhutan’s power. In 1885, Ugyen Wangchuck was again able to consolidate the country and take leadership. He formed close ties with India and Britain. Once officially elected as king and ruler in 1907, king Ugyen signed a treaty with Britain stating that British India would not interfere in the affairs of Bhutan, thus isolating the country form out side influences.
When Ugyen Wangchuck died in 1926, his son Jigme Wangchuck became the next ruler, and when India gained independence in 1947, the new Indian Government recognized Bhutan as an independent country. In 1949, India and Bhutan signed the Treaty of Peace and Friendship, which provided that India would not interfere in Bhutan’s internal affairs but would be guided by India in its foreign policy.
In 1952 Bhutan slowly began to emerge from isolation and became a member of the United nations in 1971. During this time, a new code of laws were established and so was the Royal Bhutanese army and a law court system. This was a huge step in the modern progression of Bhutan.
This paved the way for tourism to be developed in Bhutan. Along with this the education system and social systems was modernized.
Currently Bhutan is taken in refugees from India, but does not welcome them into the society, and are threatening military action to get them to leave. Also Bhutan is negotiating with Nepal to resolve a 13 year problem of Bhutanese refugees residing in Nepal. Bhutan does not want these people in Bhutan and Nepal is trying to send them home.
Bhutan is a landlocked country. It is positioned between Tibet in the north, the Indian states of West Bengal and Assam in the south and Arunachal Pradesh in the east. The Kingdom has a total area of about 47,000 square kilometers. It elongates across most climate zones; from the tropical jungles in the south, to the moderate heights of 2,000 to 2,5 00 meters in the centre up to the alpine range and the soaring Himalayan Mountains and glaciers of the north.
Bhutan is a land of towering snowcapped peaks, alpine meadows and densely forested hills and ravines affluent in exotic flora and fauna. From May to August, the hills are covered with an awesome variety of flowers decorated with waterfalls and streams gushing in wild abandon. Bhutan has a strip of plain land in the south, a network of valleys in the central parts and over 7, 000 meters high mountains in the north.
In the south, the Daurs Plain drops sharply away from the Himalayas into the large tracts of semi-tropical forest, savannah grassland and bamboo jungle. In this region, many people live and cultivate the land. This area is fed by many rivers and receives huge amounts of rain during the monsoon making the land fertile, though in the summer time it can be very hot and humid.
Great mountain ranges, rise in the North and included Mt Kula Kangri (24,784 ft/7,554 m), Bhutan’s tallest peak, the mountain range divides the country into forested valleys and pasture land. The perpetually snow-covered Great Himalayas are uninhabited, except for some Buddhist monks in scattered monasteries. Bhutan is drained by several rivers rising in the Himalayas and flowing into India. Thunderstorms and torrential rains are common; rainfall averages from 200 to 250 in. (508–635 cm) on the southern plains.
Valleys are greatly cultivated, especially around paro. They are fertilized and watered by the Sunkosh, Trongsa and Manas Rivers. Most people inhabit the valleys and it’s common for major cities in Bhutan to be on the valley floors.
Bhutan is a state governed by religion. It has very limited religious freedom due to immense government and social pressure not to express the desire to follow other faiths. Buddhism is followed by 70% of the population, while Hinduism is practiced by 25%. The rest are either Muslims or Christians.
The well-known religion is Drukpa Kagyupa which is the branch of Mahayana Buddhism. It has been institutionalized in the Dratshang (Central Monk body), headed by the Je Khenpo (Chief Abbot) who is selected from amid the many scholarly lamas and enjoys an equivalent status with the King. Bhutan is the only country in the world to have adopted Mahayana Buddhism in its Tantric form as its official religion. The rich cultural heritage of it has lingered amazingly untarnished. It is to a great degree not miscellany of the past but a living culture, where age-old traditions are vibrant and still continue to have clear significance in every day life of the Bhutanese people.
Though there are basic teachings which all forms of Buddhism follows, – –
-The individual existence is sorrowful, and consequence require deliverance.
-The belief in rebirth.
-The assumption of a moral natural law which rules the process of Karman and rebirth and is neither created by a deity nor supervised by him.
-The view the phenomenon world is without substance and is in a state of constant flux.
-The imperial person is considered without self, but as a combination of complex soulless factors, in which
-The goal of extinction of sorrowful personality is logically connected.
-Liberation is only achieved through extirpation of greed, hatred, and delusion, therefore gaining wisdom (enlightenment).
-The Buddha is regarded as a human teacher who had gained enlightenment, a transcendental being who had once been mortal.
Mahayana Buddhism differs from other forms of Buddhism.. In Mahayana, the main belief is idealism not realism, meaning things are seen as illusions. It also believes that all forms of rebirth are exactly the same in the cores of their soles, this is known as the eternal absolute compared to the true being that other forms of Buddhism believe in.
Mahayana Buddhists regard Gautama as a representation of the absolute, not as a natural teacher. It also believes that liberation does not come solely form yourself but it requires outside help and that final deliverance comes through others powers. The ultimate goal of Mahayana is to follow the guide lines of the religion to lead all beings to liberation compared with Hinayans belief that the ultimate goal is to reach nirvana. Mahayana’s believe that each person should help others to help the world and educate people to be selfless while Hiyanana follower’s attitude is to defeat the world by examining and revealing its elements and knowledge.
The essence of Mahayana Buddhology is that the universe is the savior and bestower of deliverance, it is master over space and time. That the life of Gautama(Buddha) was a projected illusion to help humankind understand and achieve knowledge for life. It doesn’t believe in the only one Buddha, but that there are as many Buddha’s as there are grains of sand.
Hinduism is one of the oldest practiced religions, with firm roots extending back 1000 years BCE. It is based on a number of holy books, most important of these is The Four Vedas, or books of “Divine Knowledge” which create foundations of Hindu philosophy.
The religion is broken up into a system of Castes. The extent and way in which a person practices Hinduism depends upon which caste a person belongs.
Dharma, Artha and Karma are the three aims in the life of Hindu. i) For filling ones duty to family and caste and gaining religious merit through having a wholesome life. (ii) The lawful making of wealth. (iii) Desire and satisfaction. A Hindu links these goals with the four stages they progress through in a full life.
(i)Child and student-this time is devoted to learning about life and education and correct social behavior from their parents and guru.
(ii) the house holder-at this time a person proves themselves by being able to manage a household and raise children, most importantly to bare a son.
(iii) meditation and solitude-once proven as a householder, a person is free to take up a life of celibacy and meditation.
(iv) finally in the latter stages of life a person renounces all possessions and ties in hope to achieve Moksha.
The main concern for most Hindus is to reduce bad karma and to hopefully gain points to be born with a higher status in their next life. This is achieved by worship and honest and charitable living within the restrictions imposed by a person’s caste. Most Hindus have a shrine in their homes dedicated to a chosen a Deity to which they perform a puja to everyday. Puja is an act of prayer and offerings to a god.
The main gods in Hindu are:
Vishnu– the preserver, restorer and protector. His job is to keep the world in order. Vishnu is a blue skinned, four armed deity normally found resting on a serpent or floating in the ocean. His vehicle is the half man half eagle Garuda.
Krishna– has many guises but normally he appears as a playful cow herder who seduces and dances with cow girls. Krishna possess the three routes to salvation, selflessness of action, knowledge and devotion to god.
Shiva– is revered as the source of the universe and as the destroyer, also know as the divine lord, the lord of dance, the source of all knowledge and the great god. In appearance he has 4-5 faces and holds a trident, is draped with a serpent and he has a third eye on his fore head. His animal vehicle is Nandi the bull.
Ganesh– the god of learning, success, prosperity and peace. He is the smiling elephant headed god.
Lakshmi– Is the embodiment of loveliness, grace and charm. She is the goddess of prosperity and wealth.
Durga– the great goddess with ten arms. She holds the head of a demon, a spear and other weapons. She is known as the demon slayer.
Bhutanese people are peaceful, good- natured, affable and fun – loving. In Bhutan you will find nineteen languages spoken by the people. The people are broadly described as the Ngalongs in the western and central regions. The first record of people settling in Bhutan is from some 1,400 years ago. The indigenous people of Bhutan are called Drukpa( the dragon people) and they comprise of three main subgroups – Sharchops, Ngalops and Lhotsampas. Drukpa people are of Mongoloid origin, they live in far flung villages, mainly breed cattle and cultivate land.
The sharchops are the oldest settlers in Bhutan, and inhabit the eastern region. Their origin can be traced to tribes form Burma and the north of India.
The Ngalops are of Tibetan origin and migrated into Bhutan, brining with them Buddhism, and a Tibetan form of art, culture and language. These people live in the northern regions, they are predominantly nomadic people, herding yaks and living in tents. They also have stone house to live in during the harsh winter season. They rely heavily on yaks wool, milk and butter. They mainly eat yak meat and barley.
The Lhotsmapas people are of Nepalese origin and they inhabit the southern plains. They are a farming people and came to Bhutan in the early 20th century. The brought with them the Hindu religion, though unlike in Nepal, Hindu and Buddhism does not mingle in Bhutan, it is kept separate. The Bhutanese government pressures these people to adopt the native dress and language of the country.
Or though each sub group speaks a different language, the official language spoken in Bhutan is called Dzongkha. Because Bhutan is an isolated and geographically rugged country, many of the villages are cut off from each other and have formed their own dialect of the language.
Bhutan is rare in the sense that for an Asian country, its men and women have equal rights and respect each other the same. Also all the population has equal rights to education and employment opportunities regardless of social rank. The people of Bhutan have a great sense of unity which in this day and age is very rare, this contributes to there overall sense of well being and national pride.
Bhutanese are very traditional people and the strive hard to maintain this. The women traditionally wear a Kira, which is made of colorful and finely woven fabric. Its is a loose fitting ankle length dress. The women also wear necklaces and jewellery fashioned from coral, pearls, turquoise and other stones. The men wear a Gho which is a woven long robe tied around the waist with a single cord.
The estimated population of the country is about 6,95,000 with the growth rate of about 3.1% per year. The country is still predominantly rural and about 85% of the people live in villages. More than 90% of population in Bhutan follows Buddhism as there only religion. The people of Bhutan are very warm and friendly. Also increasing number of tourist arrivals in Bhutan every year proves there unmatched hospitality. A large number of Bhutan’s population is engaged in tourism and travel related services.
Population of Bhutan in 2011
It is estimated that Population of Bhutan is 7,00,000 (7 Lakhs).
Three main ethnic groups constitute its population :
Sharchops: live in eastern part of country are recognized as the original inhabitants of Bhutan and are Indo Mongoloid origin.
Ngalops : are descendants of Tibetan immigrants who arrived in Bhutan from 9th century and settled in the west of country.
Lhotshampas: this Nepalese group, began settling in the south of Bhutan in the late 19th century. The Lhotshampa represents different Nepali speaking ethnic groups primarily – Brahman, Chettri, Gurung, Rai and Limbu.
Agriculture and livestock raising are still the main pillars of the economy, with 85% of the population dependent on these two sectors. Industry and mining are still in the first stage of development but are expanding rapidly.
The export of hydroelectric power provides 25% of government revenue. Hydroelectric power is Bhutan’s largest resource and is sustainable, renewable and environmentally friendly.
Bhutan also exports calcium carbide, wood products and cement. In other major export is agricultural product, including apples, oranges, cardamom, potatoes, asparagus, mushroom.
Tourism and Airline, although very important for earning foreign exchange, only constitute a small part of the gross national product.
Bhutan’s tourism sector is regarded as one of the most exclusive travel destinations in the world. Bhutan enjoys a reputation for authenticity, remoteness and a well-protected cultural heritage and natural environment.
Today tourism is a vibrant business with a high potential for growth and further development. The Royal Government of Bhutan adheres strongly to a policy of ‘High Value, Low Impact’ tourism which serves the purpose of creating an image of exclusivity and high- yield for Bhutan.
“To foster a vibrant industry as a positive force in the conservation of environment, promotion of cultural heritage, safeguarding sovereign status of the Nation for significantly contributing to Gross National Happiness.”
The tourism industry in Bhutan is founded on the principle of sustainability, meaning that tourism must be environmentally and ecologically friendly, socially and culturally acceptable and economically viable. The Royal Government of Bhutan recognizes that tourism is a world-wide phenomenon and an important means of achieving socioeconomic development particularly for a developing country like Bhutan. It believes that tourism, in affording the opportunity to travel, can help to promote a deeper understanding among people and to strengthen ties of friendship based on a deeper appreciation and respect for different cultures and lifestyles.
Towards achieving this objective, the Royal Government, has adopted a very cautious approach to growth and development of the tourism industry in Bhutan. Its tremendous potential as a truly indigenous industry and the clear comparative advantages Bhutan enjoys, are compelling reasons to promote Bhutan as a high-end tourist destination in a manner which accords with the tenets of Gross National Happiness.
Bhutan is a small independent kingdom in the Himalayas lying between Tibet and India, with a recorded avifauna of over 616 species. Only recently has it begun to open up to visitors. Over 72% of the land is still forested and 26% of the land is protected as National Parks. It is an ideal place to see a wide variety of birds that are impossible or difficult to see anywhere else. Unlike the other Himalayan countries, which suffer from much deforestation and environmental degradation, Bhutan’s richly diverse and beautiful forests are some of the best remaining forest habitats in the Himalayas – so much so that the country is considered to be the most important part of the high bio-diversity conservation hotspot known as the Eastern Himalayan hot-spot.
Bhutan is positioned at the junction of migrating birds and animals and is a treasure house for those who wish to discover different species of flora and fauna. The two distinctive climatic conditions, tropical rainforests in the south and the alpine in the north have permanent residents of many fauna and some are yet to be named.
Because of the lack of specialist in the field of flora and fauna, few thin books are available but not enough have been said and very few details. Of the few species that are unique to Bhutan are rhododendron kesangiai and Bhutanense and sixteen species of globally endangered birds.
Buddhism and nature are often considered as partners and the elements that are supporting the living beings are interdependent, the government of Bhutan has given a priority to preserve environment and received a medal from the UN for preservation in 2004.
Bhutan is visually and environmentally stunning and it is a living art. The difference of elevations from 250 mts in the south to more than 7500mts in the north are home to those migrating birds and animals and the nature is still intact today.
This has created an asset of environmental alcove to which local plants and animals have
adapted in a remarkable number and variety of ways and still flourishing. There are, more than 54 species of rhododendron, 770 species of mushrooms, 660 species of birds have evolved, considering the size of the country as same size as Switzerland. Bhutan is a dwelling for exotic mammals such as takin (a large, musk-ox-like animal), clouded leopards and red pandas. Bird species range from the cutia and boreal owl to the tiny black-throated parrotbill. Bhutan is a country full of natural wonders where people and nature live in harmony and respect each other.