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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.