About Bhutan

About Bhutan

Bhutan is a landlocked   nation in the Himalayan Mountains, sandwiched between India and China in South   Asia. Historically Bhutan was known by many names, such as Lho Mon (southern   land of darkness), Lho Tsendenjong (southern land of the Tsenden cypress), and   Lhomen Khazhi (southern land of four approaches).

Bhutan is one of the most isolated and least developed nations   in the world. Nonetheless, it has been described as the happiest least developed   country on earth. Foreign influences and tourism are heavily regulated by the   government to preserve the country's traditional culture and national identity.   The landscape ranges from subtropical plains in the south to the Himalayan   heights in the north, with some peaks exceeding 7000 metres. Mahayana Buddhism   is the state religion and the population is predominantly Buddhist. Thimphu is   the capital and largest city.

Arts & Crafts

Bhutanese arts and crafts stand as a pulsating testimony to the country’s rich cultural heritage. Apart from its roots in the intrinsic religious significance, it possesses a boundless creativity in its style.

From the majestic fortresses (dzongs) to people’s homes, the country’s unique arts and crafts embody the common national consciousness. Its simplicity, use of rich natural colors, and the religious thematic undertones create a poignant expression of the human will to achieve perfection.

Although the style resembles that of Tibet, the country’s artisans have however departed from the dictates of easy influence to more experimental self-creativity. Thus, the themes and forms remain uniquely Bhutanese, heavily influenced by the country’s culture and religion.

Bhutan's thirteen traditional arts and crafts (Zorig Chusum) is a legacy from the 17th century masters. They include: Woodwork (Shing Zo), Stonework (Dho Zo), Carving (Par Zo), Painting (Lha Zo), Sculpting (Jim Zo), Casting (Lug Zo), Wood Turning (Shag Zo), Blacksmithy (Gar Zo), Ornament Making (Troe Ko), Bamboo Work (Tsha Zo), Paper Making (De Zo), Tailoring and Embroidery (Tshem Zo), and Weaving (Thag Zo).

The Institutes of Zorig Chusum, in Thimphu and Trashiyangtse, promote the country's arts and crafts. The two institutes have played a pivotal role in propagating the country's traditional arts and crafts. The very many cottage industries located around the country also engage in specific arts or crafts. Despite the imminent threat from the forces of globalization and liberal trade, the government of Bhutan has helped preserve these arts and crafts through various national initiatives.

For example, Zhemgang, in central Bhutan, is the main producer of bamboo products. Similarly, Trashiyangtse in the east produces paper and wooden bowls. Bumthang is known for its vegetable dyed wool textile called yathra, and Lhuentse for its pure silk weaving Kishuthara. And Thangka painting is almost a divine art with strict geometric proportions.

In the past, the arts and crafts hugely contributed toward the socioeconomic need of the people. It continues to remain a major source of cash income for the farmers of Bhutan. Above all, they continue to reflect the way of life and culture of Bhutanese people.

Culture and Tradition

In a recent survey organized by the University of Leicester in the UK, Bhutan   was ranked as the planet's 8th happiest place on earth. This can be contributed   to its unspoilt environment and rich cultural heritage. Bhutan has a rich and   unique cultural heritage that has largely remained intact due to its isolation   from the rest of the world until the early 1960s. One of the main attractions   for tourists is the country's culture and traditions. Bhutanese tradition is   deeply steeped in its Buddhist heritage. Hinduism is the second dominant   religion in Bhutan, being most prevalent in the southern regions among   Lhotsampas. Both religions co-exist peacefully and receive support from the   government and enjoy royal patronage. The government is increasingly making   efforts to preserve and sustain the current culture and traditions of the   country. Due to its largely unspoilt natural environment and cultural heritage,   Bhutan has aptly been referred to as the The Last Shangri-la by western media.   While the Bhutanese are free to travel abroad, Bhutan is seen to be inaccessible   to many foreigners. There is a widespread misperception that Bhutan has set   limits on tourist visas. However it is the high tourist tariff and requirement   to go on packaged tours that makes Bhutan an exclusive tourist destination.

The National Dress for Bhutanese men is the Gho, which is a knee-length robe   tied at the waist by a cloth (similar to Scottish Kilt) belt known as the kera.   Women wear an ankle-length dress, the kira, which is clipped at one shoulder and   tied at the waist. An accompaniment to the kira is a long-sleeved blouse, the   toego, which is worn underneath the outer layer. Social status and class   determine the texture, colours, and decorations that embellish the garments.   Differently coloured scarves and shawls are an important indicators of social   standings. Jewellery is mostly worn by women, especially during religious   festivals and public gatherings. To strengthen Bhutan's identity as an   independent country, Bhutanese law requires all Bhutanese citizens to wear the   national dress in public areas and as formal wear.

Rice, buckwheat, and increasingly maize, are the staple foods of the country.   The diet also includes pork, beef, yak meat, chicken, and mutton. Soups and   stews of meat and dried vegetables spiced with chillies and cheese are prepared.   Ema datshi, made very spicy with cheese and chilis, might be called the national   dish for its ubiquity and the pride that Bhutanese have for it. Dairy foods,   particularly butter and cheese from yaks and cows, are also popular, and indeed   almost all milk is turned to butter and cheese. Popular beverages include butter   tea, tea, locally brewed rice wine and beer. Bhutan is the only country in the   world to have banned the sale of tobacco.

Bhutan's national sport is archery, and competitions are held regularly in   most villages. It differs from Olympic standards not only in technical details   such as the placement of the targets and atmosphere. There are two targets   placed over 145 metres apart and teams shoot from one end of the field to the   other. Each member of the team shoots two arrows per round. Traditional   Bhutanese archery is a social event and competitions are organized between   villages, towns, and amateur teams. There are usually plenty of food and drink   complete with singing and dancing. Wives and supporters of the participating   teams cheer. Attempts to distract an opponent include standing around the target   and making fun of the shooter's ability. Darts (khuru) is an equally popular   outdoor team sport, in which heavy wooden darts pointed with a 10 cm nail are   thrown at a paperback-sized target ten to twenty metres away. Another   traditional sport is the digor, which can be best described as shot put combined   with horseshoe throwing. Football is an increasingly popular sport.

In 2002, Bhutan's national football team played Montserrat - billed as 'The   Other Final', the match took place on the same day Brazil played Germany in the   World Cup Final in Japan, but at the time Bhutan and Montserrat were the world's   two lowest ranked teams. The match was held in Thimphu's Changlimithang National   Stadium, and Bhutan won 4-0. A documentary of the match was made by the Dutch   filmmaker Johan Kramer. The football standard has improved with the national   team performing well in the region. In the recent SAFF game Bhutan played with   India in the semi finals. A tough match for India beating Bhutan 2-1 only at the   last minute of the extra time.

Rigsar is the new emergent style of popular music, played on a mix of   traditional instruments and electronic keyboards, and dates back to the early   1990s; it shows the influence of Indian popular music, a hybrid form of   traditional and Western popular influences. Traditional genres include the   zhungdra and boedra. Characteristic of the region is a type of castle fortress   known as the dzong. Since ancient times, the dzongs have served as the religious   and secular administration centres for their respective districts.

Masked dances and dance dramas are common traditional features at festivals,   usually accompanied by traditional music. Energetic dancers, wearing colourful   wooden or composition facemasks and stylized costumes, depict heroes, demons,   dæmons, death heads, animals, gods, and caricatures of common people. The   dancers enjoy royal patronage, and preserve ancient folk and religious customs   and perpetuate the ancient lore and art of mask-making.Inheritance in Bhutan   generally goes in the female rather than the male line. Daughters will inherit   their parents' house. A man is expected to make his own way in the world and   often moves to his wife's home.

Masked dances and dance dramas are common traditional features at festivals,   usually accompanied by traditional music. Energetic dancers, wearing colourful   wooden or composition facemasks and stylized costumes, depict heroes, demons,   dæmons, death heads, animals, gods, and caricatures of common people. The   dancers enjoy royal patronage, and preserve ancient folk and religious customs   and perpetuate the ancient lore and art of mask-making.Inheritance in Bhutan   generally goes in the female rather than the male line. Daughters will inherit   their parents' house. A man is expected to make his own way in the world and   often moves to his wife's home.

Economy

Though Bhutan's economy is one of the world's smallest, it has grown very   rapidly with about 8% in 2005 and 14% in 2006. This was mainly due to the   commissioning of the gigantic Tala Hydroelectricity project (1020 MW). As of   March 2006, Bhutan's per capita income was US$ 1,321 making it one of the   fastest growing economies in South Asia. Bhutan's standard of living is growing   faster than that of its neighbouring countries and is one of the highest in   South Asia. Bhutan's economy is based on agriculture, forestry, tourism and the   sale of hydroelectric power to India. Agriculture provides the main livelihood   for more than 80% of the population. Agrarian practices consist largely of   subsistence farming and livestock rearing. Handicrafts, particularly weaving and   the manufacture of religious art for home altars are a small cottage industry   and a source of income for some. A landscape that varies from hilly to ruggedly   mountainous has made the building of roads, and other infrastructure difficult   and expensive. This, and a lack of access to the sea, has meant that Bhutan has   not been able to benefit from significant trading of its produce.

Bhutan does not have a railway system, though Indian Railways plans to link   southern Bhutan to its vast network. The industrial sector is in a nascent   stage, and though most production is cottage-industry type larger industries are   being encouraged and some industries such as cement, steel, ferro alloy, etc   have been set up. Agricultural produce includes rice, chilies, dairy (some yak,   mostly cow) products, buckwheat, barley, root crops, apples, and citrus and   maize at lower elevations. Industries include cement, wood products, processed   fruits, alcoholic beverages and calcium carbide. Incomes of over Nu 100,000 per   annum are taxed, but very few wage and salary earners qualify. Bhutan's   inflation rate was estimated at about 3% in 2003 and averaged at 4.5% till 2006.   Bhutan's exports, principally electricity, cardamom, gypsum, timber,   handicrafts, cement, fruit, precious stones and spices. Main items imported   include fuel and lubricants, grain, machinery, vehicles, fabrics and rice.   Bhutan's main export partner is India, accounting for 87.9% of its export goods.   Bangladesh (4.6%) and the Philippines (2%) are the other two top export   partners.

Environment

Due to Bhutan’s location and unique geographical and climatic variations, it is one of the world’s last remaining biodiversity hotspots.

Bhutan pristine environment, with high rugged mountains and deep valleys, offers ecosystems that are both rich and diverse. Recognizing the importance of the environment, conservation of its rich biodiversity is one of the government’s development paradigms.

The government has enacted a law that shall maintain at least 60% of its forest cover for all time. Today, approximately 72% of the total land area of Bhutan is under forest cover and approximately 60% of the land area falls under protected areas comprising of 10 national parks and sanctuaries.

Flora & Fauna

Bhutan is one of the last remaining biodiversity hotspots in the world, forest cover has now increased to over 72% of the country, with 60% of the country under protection.

The array of flora and fauna available in Bhutan is unparalleled due to conservation and its wide altitudinal and climatic range. Physically, the country can be divided into three zones:

1. Alpine Zone (4000m and above) with no forest cover;
2. Temperate Zone (2000 to 4000m) with conifer or broadleaf forests;
3. Subtropical Zone (150m to 2000m) with Tropical or Subtropical vegetation.

Forest types in Bhutan are fir forests, mixed conifer forest, blue pine forest, chirpine forest, broadleaf mixed with conifer, upland hardwood forest, lowland hardwood forest, and tropical lowland forests. Almost 60% of the plant species found in the eastern Himalayan region are present in Bhutan.

Bhutan boasts of about 300 species of medicinal plants and about 46 species of rhododendrons. Some common sights for the visitors are the magnolias, junipers, orchids of varied hues, gentian, medicinal plants, Daphne, giant rhubarb, the blue and trees such as fir, pine and oaks.

A wide range of rare and endangered animals can also be found frequenting the dense jungles and high mountains of Bhutan. Due to the countries conservation efforts and its unspoiled natural environment Bhutan supports thriving populations of some of the rarest animals on earth and has thus been classified as one of the last biodiversity hotspots in the world.

Some high altitude species are the snow leopards, Bengal tigers that are found at altitude ranging 3000 to 4000 meters, the red panda, the gorals and the langurs, the Himalayan black bear, sambars, wild pigs, barking deer, blue sheep and musk deer.

In the tropical forests of Southern Bhutan one can come across clouded leopards, the one horned rhinoceros, elephants, water buffaloes and swamp deer. You can even find the Golden Langur, a species of monkey that is unique to Bhutan.

Bhutan also has a great variety of bird species. It is recognized as an area of high biological diversity and is known as the East Himalayan ‘hot spot’, the hub of 221 global endemic bird areas. The recorded number of bird species is over 670 and is expected to rise as new birds are discovered.

In addition, 57% of Bhutan’s globally threatened birds and 90% of the country’s rare birds are dependent on forests. Bhutan has about 415 resident bird species. These birds are altitudinal refugees, moving up and down the mountains depending upon the seasons and weather conditions. Of about 50 species of birds that migrate during the winters are the buntings, waders, ducks, thrushes and the birds of prey. Some 40 species are partial migrants and they include species such as swifts, cuckoos, bee-eaters, fly catchers and warblers.

Bhutan is also home to about 16 bird species that are endangered worldwide. These include the White bellied heron, Pallas Fish eagle and Blyth’s King fisher to name a few. Phobjikha valley in Wangdue Phodrang and Bomdeling in Trashi Yangtse are also two especially important locations of the endangered Black Necked Cranes.

As one of the ten global hotspots, Bhutan is committed to preserve and protect its rich environment through its government and environmental organizations. This commitment is apparent in the fact that the kingdom has the distinct honor of being one of the only nations whose forest cover has actually grown over the years.

Language

Bhutan is linguistically rich with over nineteen dialects spoken in the country. The richness of the linguistic diversity can be attributed to the geographical location of the country with its high mountain passes and deep valleys. These geographical features forced the inhabitants of the country to live in isolation but also contributed to their survival.

The national language is Dzongkha, the native language of the Ngalops of western Bhutan. Dzongkha literally means the language spoken in the Dzongs, massive fortresses that serve as the administrative centers and monasteries. Two other major languages are the Tshanglakha and the Lhotshamkha. Tshanglakha is the native language of the Tshanglas of eastern Bhutan while Lhotshamkha is spoken by the southern Bhutanese of Nepali origin.

Other dialects spoken are Khengkha and Bumthapkha by the Khengpas and Bumthap people of Central Bhutan. Mangdepkah, which is spoken by the inhabitants of Trongsa and the Cho Cha Nga Chang Kha which is spoken by the Kurtoeps. The Sherpas, Lepchas and the Tamangs in southern Bhutan also have their own dialects. Unfortunately two dialects that are on the verge of becoming extinct are the Monkha and the Gongduepkha.

Gross National Happiness

Economists the world over have argued that the key to happiness is obtaining and enjoying material development. Bhutan however, adheres to a very different belief and advocates that amassing material wealth does not necessarily lead to happiness. Bhutan is now trying to measure progress not by the popular idea of Gross Domestic Product but by through Gross National Happiness.

His Majesty the third Druk Gyalpo Jigme Dorji Wangchuck expressed his view on the goals of development as making “the people prosperous and happy.” With this strong view in mind, the importance of “prosperity and happiness,” was highlighted in the King’s address on the occasion of Bhutan’s admission to the United Nations in 1971.

While the emphasis is placed on both, prosperity and happiness, the latter is considered to be more significant. The fourth Druk Gyalpo emphasized that for Bhutan “Gross National Happiness,” is more important than “Gross National Product.” Thus, Gross National Happiness is now being fleshed out by a wide range of professionals, scholars and agencies across the world.

Druk Gyalpo Jigme Singye Wangchuck said that the rich are not always happy while the happy generally considered themselves rich. While conventional development models stressed on economic growth as the ultimate objective, the concept of Gross National Happiness is based on the premise that true development of human society takes place when material and spiritual development occur side by side to complement and reinforce each other.

The philosophy of Gross National Happiness has recently received international recognition and the UN has implemented a resolution “…recognizing that the gross domestic product [...] does not adequately reflect the happiness and well-being of people,” and that “…the pursuit of happiness is a fundamental human goal”.

People Society and Religion

Bhutanese people can be generally categorized into three main ethnic groups. The Tshanglas, Ngalops and the Lhotshampas.The other minority groups are the Bumthaps and the Khengpas of Central Bhutan, the Kurtoeps in Lhuentse, the Brokpas and the Bramis of Merak and Sakteng in eastern Bhutan, the Doyas of Samtse and finally the Monpas of Rukha villages in WangduePhodrang. Together the multiethnic Bhutanese population number just over 700,000.

Tshanglas: The Tshanglas or the Sharchops as they are commonly known, are considered the aboriginal inhabitants of eastern Bhutan. Tshanglasare according to historians, the descendants of Lord Brahma and speak Tshanglakha. They are commonly inhabitants of Mongar, Trashigang, Trashiyangtse, Pema Gasthel and Samdrup Jongkhar. Besides cultivation of maize, rice, wheat, barley and vegetables, the Tshanglas also rear domestic animals to supplement their living. Weaving is a popular occupation among their women and they produce beautiful fabrics mainly of silk and raw silk.

Ngalops: The Ngalops who have settled mostly in the six regions of western Bhutan are of Tibetan origin. They speak Ngalopkha, a polished version of Dzongkha, the national language of Bhutan. Agriculture is their main livelihood. They cultivate cereals such as rice, wheat, barley and maize along with a variety of other crops. In the regions of Thimphu and Paro apples are also cultivated as a cash crop. They are known for Lozeys, or ornamental speech and for Zheys, dances that are unique to the Ngalops.

Lhotshampas: The Lhotshampashave settled in the southern foothills of the country. It is believed that they migrated from Nepal in the beginning of the 19th century, attracted by the employment opportunities provided by the many constructions works taking place in the kingdom. They speak Lhotshamkha (Nepali) and practice Hinduism. Their society can be broken into various lineages such as the Bhawans, Chhetris, Rai’s, Limbus, Tamangs, Gurungs, and the lLepchas. Nowadays they are mainly employed in agriculture and cultivate cash crops like ginger, cardamom and oranges.

The Bumthaps, Mangdeps and Khengpas: The people who speak Bumtapkha, Mangdepkha and khengkha respectively inhabit the central areas of Bhutan. The Bumthaps cultivate buck wheat, potatoes and vegetables. A section of this population also rear yaks and sheep and produce fabrics of wool and yak hair. The Mangdeps depend on cultivation of rice, wheat, maize, vegetables, etc besides rearing domestic animals. The khengpas are also dependent on agriculture much like the Mangdeps, however, they are also known for the bamboo and cane craft.

Kurtoeps: Kurtoeps inhabit the eastern part of the country.  Specifically the district of Lhuentse and the villages are found spread along the banks of Kurichu.  Khoma women are expert weavers and are known for their skill in weaving the grandiose Kushithara.

The Brokpas and the Bramis: The Brokpas and the Bramis are a semi nomadic community. They are settled in the two villages of Merak and Sakteng in eastern Bhutan. They mostly depend on yaks and sheep for their livelihood and do not typically grow crops due to the high altitude zones they inhabit. They speak a different dialect and have their own unique dress that is made of yak hair and sheep wool. They are also experts in cane and bamboo crafts.

The Layaps: To the extreme north are the Layaps who speak layapkha. Like the Brokpas, they are semi-nomadic and their livelihood is dependent upon yaks and sheep.  They use the products of their herd animals to barter rice, salt and other consumables with the people of WangduePhodrang and Punakha.   

The Doyas: A tribal community that has settled mostly in southern Bhutan. They are considered the aboriginal inhabitants of western and central Bhutan, who over the years migrated to and settled in the present areas in Dorokha. They have their own unique dialect and style of dress.

Monpas: The Monpas are a small community in Rukha under WangduePhodrang. Together with the Doyas they are also considered the original settlers of central Bhutan. They have their own unique dialect but it is unfortunately slowly dying out as they are now being absorbed into the main stream Bhutanese society.
 

Society

Bhutanese society is free of class or a caste system. Slavery was abolished by the Third King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck in the early 1950s through a royal edict. Though, a few organizations to empower women were established in the past Bhutanese society has always maintained relative gender equality. In general our nation is an open and a good-spirited society.

Living in Bhutanese society generally means understanding some accepted norms such as Driglam Namzha, the traditional code of etiquette. Driglam Namzha teaches people a code of conduct to adhere to as members of a respectful society. Examples of Driglam Namzha include wearing a traditional scarf (kabney) when visiting a Dzong or an office, letting the elders and the monks serve themselves first during meals, offering felicitation scarves during ceremonies such as marriages and promotions and politely greeting elders or seniors.

Normally, greetings are limited to saying “Kuzuzangpo” (hello) amongst equals. For seniors and elders, the Bhutanese bow their head a bit and say “kuzuzangpo la” (a more respectful greeting). Recently, shaking hands has become an accepted norm.

The Bhutanese are a fun-loving people fond of song and dance, friendly contests of archery, stone pitching, traditional darts, basketball and football. We are a social people that enjoy weddings, religious holidays and other events as the perfect opportunities to gather with friends and family.

The openness of Bhutanese society is exemplified in the way our people often visit their friends and relatives at any hour of the day without any advance notice or appointment and still receive a warm welcome and hospitality.

Religion

The Bhutanese constitution guarantees freedom of religion and citizens and visitors are free to practice any form of worship so long as it does not impinge on the rights of others. Christianity, Hinduism and Islam are also present in the country.

Political System of Bhutan

The political system of Bhutan has evolved over time together with its tradition and culture. It has developed from a fragmented and a disoriented rule of the different regions by local chieftains, lords and clans into the parliamentary democracy we have in place today.

The first move towards a systematic scheme of governance came in 1616 with the arrival of Zhabdrung Nawang Namgyal from Tibet. He introduced the dual system of governance with the Je Khenpo as the spiritual head of the nation and the Desis, as the head of the temporal aspects. 

But a major breakthrough came about in 1907 when the people unanimously enthroned Ugyen Wangchuck as the fist hereditary King of Bhutan. He was the man who had proven his mettle by banding together the different Dzongpons and Penlops (governors of fortress), ending centuries of strife and bringing much needed stability and peace to the country. Since then, the country has been ruled by successive monarchs of the Wangchuck dynasty.

In a move to ensure a more democratic governance of the country, the Third King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck instituted the National Assembly (Tshogdu) in 1953. Every gewog has an elected member representing it in the National assembly. It became a platform where the people’s representatives enacted laws and discussed issues of national importance.

The establishment of the Royal Advisory Council (Lodoe Tshogde) in 1963 as a link between the king, council of ministers and the people was another move towards democratization. It also advised the king and the council of ministers on important issues and ensured that projects were implemented successfully.

The institution of Dzongkhag Yargay Tshogdu (District Development Assembly) in 1981 and Gewog Yargay Tshogchung (County Development Assembly) in 1991 by the Fourth King Jigme Singye Wangchuck was another move towards decentralization.

But the devolution of the power of the King in 1998 to the cabinet ministers was the highest form of decentralization. The King, thereafter, began to serve as the Head of the State while the government was managed by the Prime Minister.

In November 2001, on the advice of the Fourth king, a committee chaired by the Chief Justice of Bhutan, was formed to draft the constitution of Bhutan. The constitution was launched in 2008 and with it a parliamentary democracy introduced. The progression from Hereditary Monarchy to that of a Parliamentary Democracy has been a carefully managed process that culminated in 2008 when Bhutan held its first elections country wide. The Druk Phunsum Tshogpa was mandated by the people to head the new government with a major victory with 45 elected members, Lyonchen Jigme Y Thinley steered the government with just two opposition members from the People’s Democratic Party in 2008.The term of DPT (Druk Phuensum Tshogpa) has ended and people have chosen PDP (People’s Democratic Party) on 13th July 2013 as the new government.Today Tshering Tobgay is the Prime Minister of the new government.