Bhutan

Mystery surrounds Bhutan's distant past, as priceless irretrievable documents were lost in fires and earthquakes. It could be inhabited as early as 2000 BC, but with archeological proof, it is still obscure. Buddhism first was introduced in Bhutan in 7th Century by Tibetan King Songtsan Gampo. In 8th century, Padmasambhava ( popularly known as Guru Rinpoche or second Buddha) - Indian Buddhist master made his legendary trip to Bhutan riding 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 and introduced Tantric Buddhism in Bhutan. Taktsang or Tigress Nest in the Paro Valley is where he landed and remains one of most sacred places in Bhutan.

Guru Rinpoche ( Precious Master) who established the first school of Nyingmapa sect in Bhutan  is the father of Tantric Mahayana Buddhism widely practiced in Bhutan. Shabdrung 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 throughout 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.

GEOGRAPHY

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 landlocked country.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 and promotes dense forest  in this region.  The cultivated central highlands and Himalayan foothills support the majority of the population. In the south due to the sharp drop of altitude away from the Himalayas, the land has large tracts of semi-tropical forest, savannah grassland and bamboo jungle.


PEOPLE

It is obscure that when the first settlement in Bhutan started. It is strongly believed that the first recorded settlers arrived 1,400 years ago in Bhutan from north. Bhutan's indigenous population is the Drukpa. Three main ethnic groups, the Sharchops, Ngalops and the Lhotsampas (of Nepalese origin), made 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 does not entertain rigid class system. Social and educational opportunities are equal to all and no discrimination among the population. 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'.
 

RELIGION

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.

GOVERNMENT

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 the fourth king is 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 categories. The largest group with 105 members are the Chimis. 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 worldwide phenomenon and an important means of achieving socio - economic 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 of infrastructure.

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.

Bhutan Fact Sheet

Location  :  Southern Asia, between China and India
Total Area  :  47,000 sq km., land: 47,000 sq km., water: 0 sq km
Terrain    :  mostly mountainous with some fertile valleys and savanna
Climate    :  varies; tropical in southern plains; cool winters and hot summers in central valleys; severe winters and cool summers in Himalayas
Population  :  2,279,723
Ethnic groups  :  Bhote 50%, ethnic Nepalese 35% (includes Lhotsampas - one of several Nepalese ethnic groups), indigenous or migrant tribes 15%
Religion :  Lamaistic Buddhist 75%, Indian- and Nepalese - influenced Hinduism 25%
Languages  :  Dzongkha (official), Bhotes speak various Tibetan dialects, Nepalese speak various Nepalese dialects
Festivals :  Tibetan New Year, shoton festival, Bathing Festival
Currency  :  BTN; INR

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