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Bhutan Country Profile
Bhutan is a kingdom roughly the size of Switzerland lying on the Eastern Himalayas with Tibet (China) on the north and India to the south. Since it has been cut off from the rest of the world by the Great Himalayas, a unique culture and tradition based on gentle Buddhist beliefs have evolved over time. One tourist described the country as having one foot in the medieval times and one foot in modern world!!
Bhutan has been an independent country since times immemorial. The people who first settled in Bhutan are sharchops or Tsanglas. They are believed to have come from Indo-China region of modern Myanmar. Ngaalops, settling the western fertile valleys of Bhutan, have their origin in Tibeto-Mongol region. The third ethnic group, Lhotshampa (who are of Nepalese origin), migrated during the turn of 20th century in search of agricultural lands and employment as hired farm hands and road workers.
Buddhism was brought to Bhutan by Guru Padmasambava in the 7th century AD. Late form of Buddhism had been introduced in Tibet, and later it was brought to Bhutan by numerous lamas over the high mountains.
Little is known about the country before the 8th century. Probably, little one-valley kingdoms existed during the period. As Bhutan has many deep valleys, there would have been quite a number of little kingdoms.
After Buddhism was introduced into Bhutan, a number of well known Buddhist lamas came to Bhutan. These lamas came to Bhutan and they would establish a following in Bhutan. They would build a monastery and most of the people in the valley would follow that sect.
So, when Zhabdrung Nawang Namgyel, the Drukpa Kaygud religious leader came to Bhutan in 1616, unified the country between 1620-1650 AD.
In 1907, the first Hereditary King of Bhutan, Ugyen Wangchuck was enthroned in Punakha Dzong by the unanimous decision of the people, the monk body and the officials. The era of peace and tranquility had dawned in Bhutan.
First motor-vehicle came to Bhutan in 1961 with the construction of highway to Thimphu. First air services to the country was started in 1983 with a 17 seater Donier. Passengers used to play cards in the lawn outside of the small air terminal as they waited for their flight.
Tourism was opened in 1974. Although Bhutan has potential to earn from the industry, the government is wary of back packers and hordes of tourists that have altered the culture and environment of neighbouring countries. Only about 7,000 tourists visit the country annually because of the government policy of “Low Volume, High Value” tourism.
Overwhelming majority of Bhutanese are Buddhist, practicing the Tibetan Lamaism sect. Hindus make up around 10% of the population. Bhutanese are deeply religious people. Numerous temples, monasteries and learning centre are found in Bhutan. Prayer flags flutter on hills, chortens dot the village landscape. Most of the Buddhist precepts are underlying the state’s law as well as day to day conducts of the people.
Culture and Tradition
Buddhism plays a central role in Bhutanese lives. Bhutanese culture and tradition are, therefore, closely related to the religion. Men wear Gho – a knee length robe – and women wear Kira – a sheet like clothe piece.
Festivals – Tshechus and Losars
Tshechus are religious festivals conducted by monastic bodies of different regions on auspicious occasions. The teachings of Lord Buddha are enacted through mask dances for three-five days in the courtyard of the dzongs or monasteries. People attend these Tshechus in their best clothes, with picnic baskets.
Losar, on the other hand, is celebrated on Lunar New Year. People cook special dishes and wear new clothes. It is time for family get-together. Men play archery or darts while women sing and dance. Day-long archery matches are held between rival villages.
Comparatively, in the Himalayan region Bhutanese are the big builders – be it commoners house or national/religious buildings. Dzongs monastic fortresses- built to safeguard a valley in 17th Century are fine examples of Bhutanese architecture. Bhutanese houses are built from mud and stone, with wooden shingle roof. Although the sturdy structure can have anywhere from one to four storeys, Bhutanese never used iron nails in their buildings.
You can attribute such architectural landscapes in Bhutan to the fact that Bhutan has abundance of timber and other natural resources. Moreover, the community would build each other’s houses in some kind of bartering of labour within the community. This tradition allowed for building of large houses in the villages.
Nature and Environment
Buddhist respect for life, a national policy of strict forest conservation and sparse population have contributed to the country’s impressive forest cover of 72%. In spite of the small size of the country, due to altitudinal range from 200 m to over 8000 m, the ecosystem of this small nation supports more than 165 mammals, 612 species of birds and many 5,000 plants. Bhutan is rightly called the Jewel of the Eastern Himalayas and is one of the biodiversity hotspots of the world.
Pure mountain air, crystal blue skies and pristine vegetation cover are every environmentalist’s dream. Since government disallowed mountain climbing, now Bhutan has the highest unclimbed mountain in the world.
Come and set foot on the last Shangrila with Alpine Bhutan Travel!!