- Bhutan General Information -
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
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 and lifestyles.
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
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 Sections.
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.