Choki Traditional Art School
Choki Art School
CHOKI TRADITIONAL ART SCHOOL
"Empowering the unprivileged youth as custodians of distinct culture"
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HISTORY l GEOGRAPHY l ECONOMY l DISTRICTS l TOWNS l DEMOGRAPHIC l CULTURE

Bhutan MapBhutan 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.

History

Stone tools, weapons, elephants, shankar sharans and remnants of large stone structures provide evidence that Bhutan was inhabited as early as 2000 BC. The earliest transcribed event in Bhutan was the passage of the Buddhist saint Padmasambhava (also called Guru Rinpoche) in the 747 CE. Bhutan's early history is unclear, because most of the records were destroyed after fire ravaged Punakha Dzong, the ancient capital in 1827. Until the early seventeenth century, Bhutan existed as a patchwork of minor warring fiefdoms when the area was unified by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal. To defend the country against intermittent Tibetan forays, Shabdrung built a network of impregnable Dzongs (fortresses), and promulgated a code of law that helped to bring local lords under centralized control. Many such dzong still exists.

During the 1870s, power struggles between the rival valleys of Paro and Trongsa led to civil war in Bhutan, eventually leading to the ascendancy of Ugyen Wangchuck, the ponlop (governor) of Tongsa. From his power base in central Bhutan, Ugyen Wangchuck defeated his political enemies and united the country following several civil wars and rebellions in the period 1882–1885.

In 1907, an epochal year for the country, Ugyen Wangchuck was unanimously chosen as the first hereditary king of the country by an assembly of leading Buddhist monks, government officials, and heads of important families. In 1953, third King His Late Majesty Jigme Dorji Wangchuck established the country's legislature – a 130-member National Assembly – to promote a more democratic form of governance. In 1965, he set up a Royal Advisory Council, and in 1968 he formed a Cabinet. In 1971, Bhutan was admitted to the United Nations, having held observer status for three years. In July 1972, Jigme Singye Wangchuck ascended to the throne at the age of 16 after the death of his father, Jigme Dorji Wangchuck.In 1998, King Jigme Singye Wangchuck introduced significant political reforms, transferring most of his administrative powers to the Council of Cabinet Ministers and allowing for impeachment of the King by a two-thirds majority of the National Assembly. In 1999, the government lifted a ban on television and the Internet, making Bhutan one of the last countries to introduce television. In his speech, the King said that television was a critical step to the modernization of Bhutan as well as a major contributor to the country's Gross National Happiness (Bhutan is the only country to measure happiness) but warned against the misuse of television which may erode traditional Bhutanese values. Some believe it has indeed affected Bhutan in a negative way.

A new constitution was presented in early 2005 which will be put up for ratification by a referendum before coming into force. In December 2005, His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck announced that he would abdicate the throne in his son's favour in 2008 . On December 14, 2006, he stunned his countrymen by announcing that he would be abdicating immediately. Bhutan will now enter a new era of democracy, starting with its first elections in 2008. Government The 'Druk Gyalpo'(King of Druk Yul) is head of state. Executive power is exercised by the Lhengye Zhungtshog, the council of ministers. Legislative power is vested in both the government and the National Assembly. On the 17th of December 2005, the 4th King announced to a stunned nation that the first general elections would be held in 2008, and that he would abdicate the throne in favour of his eldest son, the crown prince. Now as the country is preparing to usher historic changes by introducing the parliamentary democracy in 2008, works are in full swing and political parties are now legal. The two parties who contested in the first general elections are the Druk Phuensum Tshogpa and The People’s Democratic Party. The Druk Phuensum Tshogpa party (DPT) is the first elected government under the new political system and People’s Democratic Party (PDP) as the opposition party.The Judicial power is vested in all the courts of Bhutan. The Chief Justice is the administrative head of the Judiciary.

Geography [TOP]

The northern region consists of an arc of glaciated mountain peaks with an extremely cold climate at the highest elevations. Most peaks in the north are over 23,000 feet (7,000 m) above sea level; the highest point is claimed to be the Gangkhar Puensum, which has the distinction of being the highest unclimbed mountain in the world, is higher at 24,835 feet (7,570 m). Watered by snow-fed rivers, alpine valleys in this region provide pasture for livestock, tended by a sparse population of migratory shepherds.

The Black Mountains in central Bhutan form a watershed between two major river systems: the Mo Chhu and the Drangme Chhu. Peaks in the Black Mountains range between 4,900 feet and 8,900 feet (1,500 m and 2,700 m) above sea level, and fast-flowing rivers have carved out deep gorges in the lower mountain areas. Woodlands of the central region provide most of Bhutan's forest production. The Torsa, Raidak, Sankosh, and Manas are the main rivers of Bhutan, flowing through this region. Most of the population lives in the central highlands. In the south, the Shiwalik Hills are covered with dense, deciduous forests, alluvial lowland river valleys, and mountains up to around 4,900 feet (1,500 m) above sea level. The foothills descend into the subtropical Duar plains. Most of the Duars is located in India, although a 6–9 mile (10–15 km) wide strip extends into Bhutan.

The southern Duars has moderately fertile soil, heavy savannah grass, dense, mixed jungle, and freshwater springs. Mountain rivers, fed by either the melting snow or the monsoon rains, empty into the Brahmaputra river in India. Data released by the Ministry of agriculture showed that the country had a forest cover of 72% as of October 2005. The climate in Bhutan varies with altitude, from subtropical in the south to temperate in the highlands and polar-type climate, with year-round snow, in the north. Bhutan experiences four distinct seasons: summer, autumn, winter and spring. Western Bhutan has the heavier monsoon rains; southern Bhutan has hot humid summers and cool winters; central and eastern Bhutan is temperate and drier than the west with warm summers and cool winters.

Economy [TOP]

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.

Districts of Bhutan [TOP]

There are twenty dzongkhag in Bhutan. Large dzongkhags are further divided into subdistricts known as dungkhag. At the basic level, groups of villages form a constituency called gewog and are administered by a gup, who is elected by the people.

1.         Bumthang
2.         Chukha
3.         Dagana
4.         Gasa
5.         Haa
6.         Lhuntse
7.         Mongar
8.         Paro
9.         Pemagatshel
10.       Punaka
11.       Samdrup Jongkhar
12.       Samtse
13.       Sarpang
14.       Thimphu
15.       Trashigang
16.       Trashiyangste
17.       Trongsa
18.       Tsirang
19.       Wangdue Phodrang
20.       Zhemgang

Cities and towns

Jakar, the admistrative headquarters of Bumthang District and the place where Buddhism entered Bhutan.
Mongar, the eastern commercial hub of the country.
Paro, site of the international airport.
Punakha, the old capital.
Phuentsholing, Bhutan's commercial hub.
Thimphu, the largest city and capital of Bhutan.
Trashigang, the most populous district in the country.
Trongsa, in central Bhutan which has the largest and the most magnificient of all the dzongs in Bhutan.

Demographics of Bhutan [TOP]

Among the Bhutanese people, several principal ethnic groups may be distinguished. The second dominant group is the Ngalops, a Buddhist group based in the western part of the country. Sharchops ("Easterners"), the dominant group are associated with the eastern part of Bhutan. The Lhotsampas (Southerners) comprise of roughly 20% of total population and are early immigrants with Nepalese origins. The national language is Dzongkha. The script, here called Chhokey ("Dharma Language"), is identical to classical Tibetan. In the schools, English is the medium of instruction and Dzongkha is taught as the national language. The literacy rate is 53% in 2006. The country has a median age of 22.3 years . Bhutan has a life expectancy of 66 years for males and 66.7 for females.

Culture of Bhutan [TOP]

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.

Bhutan has numerous public holidays, most of which centre around traditional seasonal, secular and religious festivals. They include the winter solstice (around January 1, depending on the lunar calendar), the lunar New Year (February or March), the King's birthday and the anniversary of his coronation, the official end of monsoon season (September 22), National Day (December 17), and various Buddhist and Hindu celebrations.

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.

This 'About Bhutan' has been compiled from Wikipedia with factual editings done by the Boonserm Research Team .

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