Bhutan is a small Himalayan Kingdom with a population of just over 790,000. An extended period of isolation from the global community has contributed in the emergence of a unique culture and tradition. The country’s nascent economy is offset by its rich cultural heritage in strengthening its sovereignty. Its proximity to India and Tibet and consequent use of Bhutan as a route by merchants and Buddhist practitioners from Tibet influenced the spread of Buddhism and inception of early trade with Tibet and India. The subsequent rise in the significance of Buddhism in the society shaped its culture to a great extent.
The commencement of national developmental activities ceased its self-imposed isolation and Bhutan gradually opened up to the world adopting global practices such as introducing modern education and public health services. Commemorating the coronation of the Fourth King, tourism first began in 1974.
The founding of Bhutan is credited to a Tibetan Buddhist Lama Ngawang Namgyal who came to Bhutan in 1616 fleeing religious persecution in Tibet. Upon arrival in Bhutan, he unified the whole country into one form and he institutionalized a distinct Bhutanese culture, unique from its neighboring countries to protect the country from external invasions. In the process, he also built many indestructible Dzongs (fortresses) on the most strategic locations which some even exist to this day. A code of law known as the Tsa-Yig was also brought to existence to bring local warlords under a centralized power. Later he was granted the honorific Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel. Zhabdrung translates to “at whose feet one submits” which emerged when people pledged total submission by paying tribute to his feet.
Later Zhabdrung passed away in 1651. His passing was kept a secret for 54 years fearing internal conflicts. After remaining unified for a long period, Bhutan fell back into civil wars and series of invasions from Tibet and wars with its southern neighbor which was then British India.
After many civil wars and power struggles, Ugyen Wangchuck who was then the governor of Trongsa valley defeated his rivals and unified the country as one. After which Bhutan witnessed the most significant event in its history which is forming a hereditary monarchy government. On December 17, 1907, Bhutan unanimously crowned Sir Ugyen Wangchuck as its first hereditary king.
The dawn of monarchy in Bhutan began with the crowning of Sir Ugyen Wangchuck in 1907. After his death in 1926, his son the second Druk Gyalpo of Bhutan king Jigme Wangchuck ascended to the throne the same year on August 21st. After a short reign of 25 years the king passed away. After which his son the 3rd Druk Gyalpo of Bhutan, King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck rose to the throne and led the country to great heights with establishments of modern schools and hospitals. The first motor road of Bhutan connecting India to Bhutan was also initiated by the 3rd King. Reigning for 20 short years from 1952 to 1972, the king succumbed to an incurable disease and died in Nairobi, Kenya in 1972. After the unfortunate demise of the 3rd king, the 4th Druk Gyalpo King Jigme Singye Wangchuck ascended to the throne at a tender age of 16 on 2nd June in 1972. The 4th Druk Gyalpo reigned for 34 years till he abdicated the throne in the favor of his eldest son King Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuck in 2006. The 5th Druk Gyalpo of Bhutan was crowned on 6th November 2008 by his father King Jigme Singye Wangchuck.
Politics and Democracy
With retiring from the throne, King Jigme Singye Wangchuck also introduced democracy to Bhutan and transferred most of his administrative powers to the Council of Cabinet Ministers and allowing for impeachment of the King by a two-thirds majority of the National Assembly. Bhutan’s political system got changed from absolute monarchy to Democratic Constitutional Monarchy. In 2008 Bhutan had its first national parliamentary elections in December 2007 and March 2008.
As of 2018, the estimated population of Bhutan is 817,054, which makes it the 164th most populous country in the world.
Ethnic groups and Religion
Most Bhutanese people belong to the Ngalops and Sharchops, or Western Bhutanese and Eastern Bhutanese. The Lhotshampa, or southerners, are a group primarily of Nepali origin. 75% of the population is Buddhist, most of which follow Vajrayana Buddhism, the state religion. 22% are Hindu, followed by 2% folk religion and 1% other religions.
Bhutanese people speak Dzongkha as their national language and official language.
Bhutan is located in the eastern Himalaya in continent Asia between two giants; China to the north and India to the south.
Thimphu is the capital of the Country with most of the population inhabiting the city. It is home to almost 100,000 of the country’s population. It may be the only capital city in the world without traffic lights and an airport of its own. It is an hour drive from the Paro International Airport. It is also the trade hub of the country.
Bhutan is a small mountainous country approximately 300km long and 150km wide with an area of 38,394 square kilometers.
Bhutan’s landscape ranges from lush subtropical plains in the south to the sub-alpine Himalayan Mountains in the north, where there are peaks in excess of 7,000 meters (23,000 ft). The country is enclosed by rugged mountains and vast valleys.
Bhutan local time is 6 hours ahead of GMT.
Bhutan Weather & Climate
The climatic weather of Bhutan is varied from region to region depending on the difference in the altitude and the air pressure from North Indian Monsoons.
Bhutan Climatic Zones
The southern part of Bhutan has hot and humid subtropical climate during the summers and in winter the climate remains fairly pleasant with warm air and no humid. The temperatures usually fall between 15-30 degrees Celsius. Whereas in the central part of Bhutan because of the temperate and deciduous forests, the climate changes from warm summers to cold winters with occasional snowfall. The northern part of Bhutan is almost covered in snow all year long with favorable summers with warm sun and harsh winters.
Seasons in Bhutan
Bhutan experiences 4 different Seasons in a year; spring, summer, autumn, and winter. The months of March, April and May are considered spring and during this period, the entire country is in full riot of the beautiful spring blossoms. The months of June, July and August are considered as summer and the monsoon season also falls during the summer. The months September, October, and November is considered as autumn and also the fall season. That is when the entire landscape turns golden and trees lose leaves. And lastly the months of December, January and February are considered winter. The central and the northern part of Bhutan experience snowfall.
Flora & Fauna
Bhutan is referred to as the world’s biological hotspot with countless numbers of endangered species inhabiting the natural forest of Bhutan. More than 770 species of bird have been recorded in Bhutan. More than 5,400 species of plants are found in Bhutan.
The wide range of altitude exposes Bhutan to a different climatic condition in a different region and this has gifted Bhutan with a rich biodiversity. Bhutan has a relatively undisturbed natural environment. The combination of delayed developmental activities and unwavering environmental conservation policies has further reinforced its conservation effort. The constitution of Bhutan mandates a minimum of 60% forest cover at all times. Today approximately 72% of the total land area is under forest cover. Majority of these areas have been identified and protected as national parks and sanctuaries.
Conservations & National Parks
Bhutan has over 800 million trees and over 71% of the total land area is under forest coverage and the constitution mandates that at least 60% of the land be under forest coverage for all times to come. The protected areas of Bhutan consist of national parks, nature preserves, and wildlife sanctuaries. The protected areas cover more than 42% of the kingdom consisting of five national parks, four wildlife sanctuaries and one nature reserve and an additional of 3307 sq km is designated as a set of connections of biological corridors linking all nine protected areas, hence placing 52% of the country’s area under some form of protection.
As of 2016, Bhutan’s GDP is at 2.237 billion USD. Bhutan’s largest export is hydroelectricity. Other contributors to the GDP of the country are agriculture, industry, mining, and tourism.
The currency of Bhutan is Ngultrum which is pegged at par with the Indian rupee. The symbol of the currency is Nu. And the code is BTN.
Bhutan opened its doors for tourism only a few decades ago after remaining in isolation for many years fearing exploitation of cultural and environmental values. Bhutan still seeks to preserve its unique culture and conserve it natural environment by mandating a tourism policy of high value and low impact so it imposes a daily fee of US$250 on tourists that covers tours, accommodation, transportation, and food. The industry accounts for 1.8% of GDP.
Paro Airport is the only international airport in the country with two Airlines operating flights to and from few destinations like India, Nepal, Thailand, Bangladesh, and Singapore. The national Carrier Druk Air and the privately owned by Tashi Group of Companies, Bhutan Airline are the only two airlines in Bhutan.
Since Bhutan is a mountainous country, the districts are only connected by roads. Bhutan is also connected to India by road through the Phuntsholing town which is linked to Jaigoan, West Bengal of India.
Gross National Happiness
Gross National Happiness was first coined in the 1970s by the Fourth King of Bhutan, His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck. The internationally acclaimed concept in its essence is measuring the collective happiness of its people to gauge the national progress rather than using the conventional measure of GDP. Gross National Happiness constitutes a set of national values that guide all its developmental activities. These values include socioeconomic development, cultural preservation, good governance and environmental conservation.
Mahayana Buddhism is the state religion. The ubiquity of ancient Buddhist monastery, temples, stupas and state-sponsored monastic institutions across the country suggests the enormity of its influence Buddhism has played in the Bhutanese society. Aside from providing spiritual guidance, Buddhism has also inspired social behaviors that form the basis of modern Bhutanese culture. Religion and culture hence remain inseparable and is greatly revered by the Bhutanese.
Tsechus are religious festival celebrated across the country. The festival honors Guru Rinpoche, a Buddhist saint who is believed to have introduced Buddhism to Bhutan. The monks perform a series of meticulously choreographed religion inspired dances. The sacred masked dances are believed to invoke deities to bless the congregation. The monks perform the dance wearing spectacular colorful silk costumes and an exquisitely crafted mask depicting deities from the Buddhist mythology. The visual aesthetics of the festival fascinates most tourists. Tsechus are organized in the courtyard within or around the great Dzongs (fortress).
The spiritual social event lasts several days. Locals celebrate the festival dressing ostentatiously and cooking sumptuous food for the event. The unfurling of a huge applique scroll painting (thangka) representing the Guru Rinpoche and his eight manifestations before the break of dawn marks the final day of most Tsechu. At sunrise, the thangka is withdrawn again and will not be displayed for another year.
Arts and Crafts
The spread of Buddhism across the country was accompanied by the proliferation of the construction of monasteries, temples, stupas and also the documentation of the doctrine. The architectural design and its aesthetics of these constructions were mostly dictated by Buddhist saints supposedly inspired from Buddhism. The key skill sets employed during the ancient era were recognized and institutionalized. The traditional arts and crafts artisans today play a critical role in preserving this heritage and ensuring the continuity and promotion of the skill sets.
The structural aesthetics and the interior design of a fortress embody the essence of the traditional arts and crafts of Bhutan. The interior of a fortress (Dzongs) is adorned with intricate murals. The wooden pillars providing structural stability are handcrafted into an exquisite woodwork. The inner sanctum is ornamented with meticulously sculpted clay statues gilded with gold and these statues are offered scarf made of premium fabric sewed by the best tailors in the country and the collection of sacred text penned with gold is a display of the amazing art of calligraphy passed down from generations. The exterior structure that houses all these artworks is equally focused. Traditional Bhutanese woodwork, masonry, metalwork, and paintings are highlighted in all Bhutanese architectures.