About Bhutan

Bhutan is a small Himalayan nation with a total are of 38,394 sq.km. Besides being bordered by the two giants of Asia, India and China, Bhutan or Druk Yul (Land of the Thunder Dragon) has always been able to safeguard its sovereign status. This can be attributed to the preservation of its age old customs and tradition which in turn has helped maintain its uniqueness as a country.

History

The history of Bhutan can be broken down into three important eras, namely the arrival of Guru Rimpoche, and Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel, and the formation of the Wangchuck Dynasty. Bhutan was a country that practiced the Bon faith. It was only after the arrival of the great Buddhist saint Guru Rimpoche that Buddhism was finally introduced in Bhutan. The practice of Tantric Form of Buddhism in Bhutan is mainly attributed to him.
Until the arrival of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel in the 16th century, Bhutan was ruled by warring warlords who held powers at different regional level. The first unification work of the country is attributed to Zhabdrung who brought peace through his unification works.
After the demise of Zhabdrung, Bhutan entered an era of uncertainties that had several feudal lords fighting for power. It was only in 1907, when Ugyen Wangchuck was enthroned as the first king of Bhutan that the country was ushered into a new era of peace and tranquility. Thus began the Wangchuck dynasty. The successive monarch of the dynasty put in place several developmental changes that cemented Bhutan’s place as a sovereign nation.

Geography

Bhutan is nestled between People’s Republic of China to the North and India to the East, West and South. The topography mainly constitutes of steep and high mountains with rivers running though its valleys. The elevation ranges from 200 meters in the southern plain to 7000 m in the northern mountains.

Climatic conditions

- Central Bhutan – semi-tropical weathers with cool winters
- Southern Bhutan – warm weather
- Northern Bhutan – harsh winters with snow

National Symbols

Bhutan is a unique country with a unique set of national symbols. These symbols besides having distinctive qualities reflect the deep rooted Buddhist beliefs.
The National Flag
The national flag, designed by Mayum Choying Wangmo Dorji in1947, features two colors divided diagonally, and a white dragon running between these two halves. The yellow color covering the first segment represents the secular power of the king while the orange color symbolizes the flourishing of the spiritual tradition. The white dragon placed in between is the guardian of the country representing the unique harmony between the spiritual and secular powers. Thus, the name Druk Yul or the land of the dragon. The dragon’s white color represents the purity and loyalty of its people, and the jewel clasped in its claws symbolize the wealth and prosperity.

The National Flower

Blue Poppy (Meconopsis grandis), the national flower of Bhutan, is one of the rarest of flowers in the world. This pretty but elusive flower is known to be able to endure harsh climatic condition growing at an altitude ranging from 3,500 to 4,500 meters.
The national Tree
Tsenden or Cyprus (Cupressus corneyana) is the national tree of Bhutan. The tree is considered sacred and greatly symbolic to the people of Bhutan. It is believed that its ability to grow in inhospitable areas represents bravery and simplicity of the Bhutanese.

The National Animal

The Takin (Burdorcas taxicolor), the national animal of Bhutan, was selected mainly for its uniqueness and association with spiritualism. It has a unique appearance that resembles both a goat and a cow. According to legend, the Takin was created by Drukpa Kunley (The Divine Madman) when he fixed the head of the goat to the skeleton of the cow, and brought it to life.

The national Bird

Jarog or the Raven (Corvus corax Tibetanus) is the national bird of Bhutan. The Bhutanese symbolizes the Raven to the chief guardian deity of Bhutan, Goenpo Jarodongchen. The reverence to the Raven is best exhibited by the fact that it is placed on the crown worn by the Monarchs of Bhutan.

The National dress

The national dress for the men is a knee-length robe tied with a belt, called a gho, while for Women it is a large cloth called a kira which is worn over colorful blouses called wonju. The kira comes up to the ankle and is tied with a belt. A short silk or brocade jacket called toego is then worn over the kira.
Bhutanese are required to wear the national dress while visiting government offices and monasteries.

The National Sports

The game of archery is the National Sport of Bhutan, since the year 1971. In olden days, the game of archery was played using bows and arrows made out of bamboo. With access to modern equipments, imported compound bows have fast replaced its bamboo counterparts as an ideal option. However, the game of archery using the traditional bamboo bows and arrows are still played.
The game is accompanied by dancers who are in a way like the cheerleaders.

The National Butterfly

Ludlow’s Bhutan Swallowtail (Bhutanitis ludlowi) was recently re-discovered in Bhutan and named as the national butterfly. This endangered species of butterfly was first discovered in 1933 by Frank Ludlow and George Sheriff of Great Britain, and was known to have become extinct until its recent rediscovery. Today, Ludlow’s Bhutan Swallowtail can only be found in Bhutan

GNH – not just a mere concept

Gross National Happiness (GNH) is the development philosophy followed by the Royal Government of Bhutan. His Majesty the fourth King Jigmi Singye Wangchuck is the person credited with the conceiving of this noble development philosophy.
In a time where discontentment and relative unhappiness is on the rise, GNH is slowly garnering much acclaim from the western countries. GNH is increasingly being accepted by the thinking world as an alternative development model based on a more holistic and sustainable basis.
The four pillars of GNH are:
1) Sustainable and Equitable Socio-Economic Development.
2) Preservation and Promotion of Culture and Traditions.
3) Conservation of the Environment.
4) Good Governance.

People & Society

Bhutanese mainly comprises of three types ethnic groups, namely the Ngalop – Dzongkha speaking northern Bhutanese, the Sharchops or the eastern Bhutanese and the people from the southern foothills of Nepali descent, the Lhotshampa. Then there are other indigenous or migrant tribes like the bjobs from the north, Brokpas from the north-east, Dakpa from the central and the Doyas of the southern foothills of Bhutan.

Economy

Bhutan is an agrarian society and farming continues to play an integral part in the livelihood of its people. The main exports from Bhutan constitutes of potatoes, oranges, apples, and other farm produce. Forestry contributes to about 15% to the gross national product.
However of recent, there has been a phenomenal growth in the industrial sector. Bhutan has a huge potential for hydropower, and much emphasis is provided on harnessing it. At present, Bhutan exports electricity to India earning the much needed foreign revenue. This revenue from hydropower will only improve after the completion of the hydropower plants that are currently being developed.
After hydro power, Tourism sector is the highest foreign revenue generator for the country. Then there is the budding manufacturing and construction sector which will contribute to the economy of Bhutan.

Tourism Policy : Responsible tourism

Tourism in Bhutan has abided by the high value, low volume policy, since it first started in 1974. This was done to restrict the in-flow of tourists which would have overburdened the limited infrastructure of the country, and more importantly to safeguard Bhutan’s rich cultural heritage. The government had the farsightedness to realize the need for adoption of such policy that would enable Bhutan to achieve the overall objective of opening up to tourism without compromising on the cultural and natural wealth. This in-turn helped Bhutan in catering to the need of the tourists, thereby creating a name for itself as one of the top travel destinations.
Tourism Council of Bhutan, over the years, has upgraded their services targeted at catering to the needs of the tourists while continuing to preserve the rich culture and tradition of the country.

Culture and Tradition

The rich Culture and Tradition of the country has been preserved over time and a great emphasis is laid of the promotion and safeguarding of it. The culture and tradition is best showcased in the Bhutanese code of conduct and way of life, in the grand festivals called Tshechus, in the religious practices, in the beautiful national symbols, traditional songs and dances, reverence to nature, grand Bhutanese art and architecture, folklore, and the Bhutanese cuisine.

Religion

In ancient times, Bhutanese followed the practice of bonism. People gradually converted to Buddhism after the arrival of prominent Buddhist saints like Guru Rimpoche, Phajo Drugom Zhigpo , and Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel.
Today, majority of the Bhutanese follow the tantric form of Mahayana Buddhism with two main types of practices, of that of Drukpa Kagyupa and Nyingmapa Buddhism. Then comes Hinduism mainly practiced by the Lhotshampas. Of recent there are a few converts who have opted to practice Christianity.

Environment

Bhutan is the only country that has passed a law that mandates for 60% forest coverage for all times to come. This is mainly attributed to the deep rooted Buddhist belief of following a code of peaceful co-existence with nature.
At present Bhutan has 72.5% present forest coverage with 26% of the total land as protected area and 9 % as biological corridor. This vast forest coverage is in fact growing. If a tourist desires to visit the protected areas, a special permit has to be sought from the concerned agencies with a letter routed the concerned tour operator like …………………………

Political system

After the enthronement of the first Druk Gyalpo (king) Gongsar Ugyen Wangchuck in 1907, Bhutan entered into the realm of monarchy, which saw the birth of a new era ushered in peace and tranquility. The successive monarchs followed in the footstep bringing in progress and many reforms that cemented Bhutan’s place as an independent nation. Bhutan was to enter into yet another era, when the fourth Druk Gyalpo, His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck selflessly passed on the power to the people, embracing constitutional democracy.
After a comprehensive consultation with the public, the draft constitution of Bhutan was distributed to the people in 2005.
In 2008, after following due electoral process, Druk Phuensum Tshogpa took hold of the office as the first elected government of the country with People’s Democratic Party as the opposition. Thus, Bhutan became the youngest democracy in the world.

Architecture

Bhutan’s architecture sees a huge influence of the Buddhist religion and is best portrayed in the monumental Dzongs and the traditional mud houses. What mainly separates this architecture from that of the rest of the world is the unique but eye catching painting, distinct windows and the fact that no nails were used to build the ancient buildings. However, the new buildings are built using modern methods while maintaining some prominent attributes of the ancient ways. These attributes can today be seen in the paintings and incorporation of the distinctive features of the traditional windows. The Bhutanese law mandates that every building be roofed, and therefore one will not come across a building with open terrace.

Cuisine or Eating habits

Indulging in the Bhutanese cuisine can be an adventure in itself, one that is not recommended for the faint hearted. Of late, Bhutanese cuisine especially the fiery Ema Datshi has been garnering much fame, best portrayed by the fact that it was served to Mr. Barrack Obama, the President of America.
Bhutanese dishes mainly comprises of dried meat, fiery chilies (of all possible kinds), Bones, fermented cheese, dried vegetables, and hardened cheese. The hotness levels of these dishes in the tourist standard hotels, however, are toned down to suit the taste buds of the tourists.
Besides the occasional tasting episodes, it is recommended that you stick to the continental dishes.

 

 

Central Bhutan

TRONGSA:  Elevation 2,316m

About four hour’s drive from Wangduephodrang is the central district of Trongsa, the ancestral home of Bhutan’s royal family, from where the first two kings ruled the kingdom.

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Western Bhutan

THIMPHU:  Elevation 2,320m

Thimphu is the capital of Bhutan with a population of approximately 100,000 people.  Thimphu became the capital in 1961, and the town is the largest in Bhutan.

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East & South

For those with enough time on their hands, venture into eastern Bhutan for something quite different.  This is the land of the Sharchops, who speak their own language and nurture their own culture and weave beautiful textiles.

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