Bhutan - The Land
of The Thunder Dragon
Mystery surrounds Bhutan's distant past, as priceless irretrievable
documents were lost in fires and earthquakes. In the 8th century
CE, Guru Rinpoche (Padmasambhava or second Buddha) made his legendary
trip from Tibet to Bhutan on the back of a flying tigress to subdue
the evil spirits who hindered Buddhism. And after defeating them,
he blessed them as guardians of the doctrine. Introducing Tantric
Buddhism to Bhutan. Taktsang or Tigers Nest in the Paro Valley
is where he landed and remains one of most sacred places in Bhutan.
Guru Rinpoche (Precious Master) is the father of the Drukpa Kagyu
school of Tantric Mahayana Buddhism practiced in Bhutan. Sgabdrung
Ngawang Namgyal, a Tibetan lama of the Drukpa School, arrived in
Bhutan in 1616. He introduced the present dual system of religious
and secular government, creating and building the system of Dzongs
through out Bhutan. Shabdrung unified the country, and established
himself as the country's supreme leader and vested civil power
in a high officer known as the Druk Desi. Religious affairs were
charged to another leader, the Je Khenpo (Chief Abbot of Bhutan).
For two centuries following Shabdrung's demise, civil wars intermittently
broke out, and the regional penlops (governors) became increasingly
more powerful. This ended when an assembly of representatives from
the monastic community, civil servants and the people, elected
the Penlop of Trongsa, Ugen Wangchuck, the First King of Bhutan
in 1907. The monarchy has thrived ever since, and the present king,
His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck, fourth in line, commands an
overwhelming support for his people.
The Kingdom of Bhutan lies in the eastern Himalayas, between Tibet
to the north and the Indian territories of Assam and West Bengal
to the south. The Kingdom has a total area of about 47,000 square
kilometers. Located in the heart of the high Himalayan mountain
range, Bhutan is a land-locked country surrounded by mountains.
The sparsely populated Greater Himalayas, bounded to the north
by the Tibetan plateau, reach heights of over 7,300 meters, and
extend southward losing height, to form the fertile valleys of
the Lesser Himalayas divided by the Wang, Sunkosh, Trongsa and
Manas Rivers. Monsoon influences promote dense forestation in this
region and alpine growth at higher altitudes. The cultivated central
uplands and Himalayan foothills support the majority of the population.
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.
Early records suggest scattered clusters of inhabitants had already
settled in Bhutan when the first recorded settlers arrived 1,400
years ago. Bhutan's indigenous population is the Drukpa. Three
main ethnic groups, the Sharchops, Ngalops and the Lhotsampas (of
Nepalese origin), make up today's Drukpa population. Bhutan's earliest
residents, the Sharchops reside predominantly in eastern Bhutan.
Their origin can be traced to the tribes of northern Burma and
northeast India. The Ngalops migrated from the Tibetan plains and
are the importers of Buddhism to the kingdom. Most of the Lhotsampas
migrated to the southern plains in search of agricultural land
and work in the early 20th century.
Bhutan's official language is Dzongkha. Given the geographic isolation
of many of Bhutan's highland villages, it is not surprising that
a number of different dialects have survived. Bhutan has never
had a rigid class system. Social and educational opportunities
are not affected by rank or by birth. Bhutanese women enjoy equal
rights with men in every respect. To keep the traditional culture
alive Bhutanese people wear the traditional clothing that has been
worn for centuries. Bhutanese men wear a 'gho,' a long robe tied
around the waist by a belt. The women's ankle length dress is called
a kira, made from beautifully colored and finely woven fabrics
with traditional patterns. Necklaces are fashioned from corals,
pearls, turquoise, and the precious agate 'zee' stones which the
Bhutanese call 'tears of the gods'.
Bhutan is the only country in the world to retain the Tantric
form of Mahayana Buddhism (Drukpa Kagyu) as the official religion.
The Buddhist faith has played and continues to play a fundamental
role in the cultural, ethical and sociological development of Bhutan
and its people. It permeates all strands of secular life, bringing
with it a reverence for the land and its well being. Annual festivals
(tsechus and dromches) are spiritual occasions in each district.
They bring together the population and are dedicated to the Guru
Rinpoche or other deities. Throughout Bhutan, stupas and chortens
line the roadside commemorating places where Guru Rinpoche or another
high Lama may have stopped to meditate. Prayer flags dot the hills,
fluttering in the wind. They allow Bhutanese people to maintain
constant communication with the heavens.
WAY OF LIFE
While urban settlements have sprung up with the process of modernization,
the majority of Bhutanese people still live in small rural villages.
The Bhutanese diet is rich in meat, dairy, grain (particularly
rice) and vegetables. Emadatse,dish made of chili, cottage cheese
and herbs) is considered, unofficially, the national dish with
many interpretations to this recipe throughout the country. Meat
dishes, mainly pork, beef and yak, are lavishly spiced with chilies,
and it is common to see bright red peppers drying on rooftops in
the sun. Salted butter tea, or suja, is served on all social occasions.
Chang, a local beer, and arra, a spirit distilled from rice, maize,
wheat or barley, are also common and widely favored. Doma or betel
nut, is offered as a customary gesture of greeting. The Bhutanese
way of life is greatly influenced by religion. People circumambulating
the chortens with prayer beads and twirling prayer wheels are a
common sight. Every Bhutanese home has a special room used for
prayers - a chosum.
The form of government in Bhutan is as unique as the country.
It is the only Democratic Theocracy in the world. His Majesty King
Jigme Singye Wangchuck is Bhutan's fourth king. A very special
man who has endeavoured to keep the culture and traditions of his
county intact while listening to the voice of his people. As one
of the six goals of development of The Royal Government of Bhutan
is people's participation and decentralization of the government.
Bhutan is divided into 20 dzongkhags, or districts, each with
its own representative elected every 3 years. The Tshogdu, or National
Assembly has 154 members who fall into 3 catagories. The largest
group with 105 members are the Chimis. Representatives of Bhutan's
20 dzongkhas. The regional monk bodies elect 12 monastic representatives
who also serve a 3 year terms. Another 37 representatives are civil
servants nominated by the king. They include 20 Dzongdas, (district
officers or mayors), ministers, secretaries of various government,
and other high ranking officials. The National Assembly meets in
Thimpu once each year.
TOURISM IN BHUTAN
The Royal Government of Bhutan recognizes that tourism is a world-wide
phenomenon and an important means of achieving socioeconomic development
particularly for developing countries like Bhutan. It also recognizes
that tourism, in affording the opportunity to travel, can help
in promoting understanding among peoples and building closer ties
of friendship based on appreciation and respect for different cultures
There are, however, problems associated with tourism which, if
not controlled, can have devastating and irreversible impact on
the local environment, culture and identity of the people. Realizing
these problems and the fact that the resources on which tourism
is based are limited, 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 number of tourists visiting
Bhutan is regulated to a manageable level because of the lack of
Towards achieving this objective, the Royal Government, since
inception of tourism in the year 1974, has adopted a very cautious
approach to growth and development of the tourism industry in Bhutan.
In order to minimize the problems, the number of tourists has been
maintained at a manageable level and this control on number is
exercised through a policy of government regulated tourist tariff
and a set of administrative requirements explained in the following
Tourism in Bhutan was privatized by the Royal Government of Bhutan
in 1991. Today it is a vibrant business with 33 private operators
at the helm of affairs. The Royal Government of Bhutan adheres
strongly to a policy of low volume, high value tourism.