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Bhutan - The Country

Bhutan is a small country in the heart of Himalaya. Druk Yul, as the country is called is the land of the thunder Dragon. The capital of Bhutan is Thimphu. The country is landlocked with India bordering three sides whereas in the North the towering mountains of the Chomolhari range provide the frontier with the Chumbi Valley of Tibet. Except for the southern part of the country, rest of Bhutan is mountainous, pristine beauty of which attracts travelers to this country.

In 1907 a hereditary monarchy was established in the country uniting the deferent groups into the Kingdom of Bhutan. During the next few decades India became independent from British occupation whereas Tibet was taken over by the Chinese. This meant dramatic changes for Bhutan. The kingdom singed treaty of friendship with India whereas it closed to traditional trade routes with Tibet. The status till date remains quite the same. Currently the Kingdom is moving forward under the leadership of its king Jigme Singe Wangchuk.

Tourism in the country is highly controlled by the government. Visit by foreigners is expensive and controlled by the government. Indian tourists can have easier access to the Kingdom. naturebeyond organizes regular customized tours to Bhutan with both international as well as Indian guests. This activities include adventure as well as leisure tours.

People of Bhutan

The people of Bhutan are called Drukpas, derived from the name of the country, DRUK YUL, land of the Thunder Dragon. The Drukpas consist of a variety of ethnicity who are mainly categorized into three broad ethnic groups.

The Sharchops are believed to be the earliest inhabitants of Bhutan. Apparently Indo-Mongoloid in origin, the question of their exact origin or how they reached Bhutan, remains unsolved. Today the Sharchops live largely in the eastern regions. The second group, known as the Ngalops, are the descendants of Tibetan immigrants who migrated to Bhutan since the ninth century onwards, settling primarily in the west. The third section of the population are the nepalese, who began to settle in the south towards the end of the nineteenth century.

Rugged, mountainous terrain and extremes of climate have made the Bhutanese a hardy, well-built people, accustomed to hard work. Despite the strong martial spirit which has enabled them to retain their national independence and sovereignty over the centuries, they are peaceful and fun-loving.

As much as 85% of Bhutan's population live on subsistence farming, scattered throughout the countryside in sparsely populated villages across rugged mountainous terrain. In the lower valleys rice remains the staple diet whereas maize, wheat, buckwheat are more common in higher valleys. The people farm on narrow terraces cut into the slopes of the mountains. Topography largely determines the settlement patterns.

History of Bhutan

Being a landlocked country, the history of Bhutan has always been influenced by its geography. The known history of Bhutan begins with the legends of the visit of Padma Sambhava, believed to have come to Bhutan from Tibet in 747 AD.

Guru Padma Sambhava is known to be the founder of Buddhism in the country. The Nyingmapa sect, literally which means ' The old Sect' of Himalayan Buddhism was founded by Padma Sambhva. The turmoil in Tibet and related migration to Bhutan started first in the 836-842 AD. This lead to several rival sects challenging the authority of the Nyingmapa sect.
Although the natural frontiers of Bhutan kept outsiders away, the country was not unified till the 17th century. There were a number of independent principalities, each associated with the major ethnic and religious groups who had settled in the central valleys after migrations from the north. The descendants of the migrants today form the largest part of the population in Bhutan.

By the 14th century a number of families emerged in the region who owed their position to religious prestige. The best known among them are the descendent of the saints of Nyingmapa sect. In Tibet on the other hand, the Yellow Hat Gelugpa sect, headed by the Dalai Lama, had extended its power as far as the Ralung Monastery near Lhasa. Ngawang Namgyal, a drukpa sect lama had to take refuge to Bhutan in 1616. Soon Ngawang Namgyal ensured support from families of his own sect and went on to build a series of Dzong (monastery castle) throughout the country. These Dzongs became the center of religious and civil authority and remains a major symbol of Bhutanese culture and tradition till today.

Ngawang Namgyal won victory over the Tibetans in 1639 and assumed the title of Shabdung. He unified the kingdom and established a dual theocratic system of government with himself as the first Shobdung Rimpoche. He also established an intricate and comprehensive system of governance in the country. By the time of his death in 1651, the whole of western Bhutan was united under his authority. Within the next few years, more parts of Bhutan was unified. During the rule of Ngawang Namgyal there were several unsuccessful invasion attempts from Tibet by the King of Tibet as well as Mongol leaders. This also cemented the need for uniting the country against a common enemy.

Death of Ngawang Namgyal lead to chaos in the country, although a new Shabdung was choosen, the power of the central authority was vastly diluted. During the coming years there were wars fought with the Bhitish and the Cooch kings of Coochbehar. But the Bhutanese Border remained broadly unchanged.

During the early part of the 20th century the power balance in the country was divided with the Penlop of Paro and Tongsa having the strongest political clout in the country. During the expedition of Younghusbend to Tibet, the Penlop of Tongsa, Ugyen Wangchuck, came out in its support and thus came closer to the British. Later Ugyen Wangchuck was appointed by civil and monastic representatives the hereditary monarch of Bhutan, with the title Druk Gyalpo, Precious Ruler of the Dragon People. Ugyen Wangchuck was succedded by his son Jigme Wangchuck in 1926 who ruled until his death in 1952. The next monarch of the country was Jigme Dorji Wangchuck who ruled the country between 1952 and 1972. Since his death his son Jigme Singye Wangchuck is ruling the country till date.

Festivals of Bhutan

The Dzongs are the centre of social and cultural activity in Bhutan. Almost every town worth a deko has its own Dzong where festivals are held every year. The objective of these festivals is to ward off evil through music, songs, dance and rituals. The common dance forms include masked dance, fire dance and sword dance. The dances are held in the main courtyards of the Dzongs.

Apart from the normal Buddhist festivals such as the Lhosar, the annual festivals are celebrated with great fanfare in Bhutan. The most famous of these festivals is the Tsechu festivals held on the 10th day of the lunar calendar. The festival commemorates the deeds of Guru Padmasambhava or Guru Rimpoche. The guru is known to have introduced the Nyingma school of Buddhism which is dominant in Bhutan. Normally these festivals last for 5 days. A tentative calender of the festivals are given below.

Bhutan Festival Calender
Punakha Punakha Domche February
Trashi Yangtse Chorten Kora March
Trashigang Gom Kora March
Paro Paro Tshechu March
Bumthang Ura Tshechu April
Bumthang Nimalung Tshechu July
Bumthang Kurje Tshechu July
Wangduephodrang Wangdue Tshechu September
Bumthang Tamshingphala CHOEPA October
Thimphu Thimphu Drupchen September
Thimphu Thimphu Tshechu October
Bumthang Thangbi Mani October
Bumthang Jambay Lakhang Drup November
Bumthang Prakhar Tshechu November
Mongar Mongar Tshechu November
Trashigang Trashigang Tshechu December
Trongsa Trongsa Tshechu December
Lhuntse Lhuntse Tshechu December

Languages Spoken in Bhutan

Bhutan's official language is Dzongkha, a dialect similar to Tibetan, which has acquired many distinctive national characteristics, particularly in pronounciation. Dzongkha is written in classical Ucan script. Since the sixties, English has been the medium of instruction in secular schools, while Cheokay, classical Dzongkha, is used in traditional and monastic schools. Nepali is spoken in the south.

Given the geographic isolation of many of Bhutan's highland villages, it is not surprising that a number of different dialects have survived. It is estimated that in eastern Bhutan alone there are as many as eleven vernaculars, and it is not unusual for people from one region to have difficulty communicating with those from another. As roads and modern methods of communication open up these areas the teaching of Dzongkha has become one of the government's educational priorities.

Ethnic dress in Bhutan

Nowhere is Bhutan's democratic spirit more readily apparent to the visitor than in the national dress. Men wear a kho, known in the south as Boku, a long robe tied around the waist by a slim belt, or Kera. The folds in the front form a pouch which is used as a pocket, and a cotton or silk vest with broad white cuffs is worn underneath. At the waist is a small sword for chopping betel nuts, meat or wood. All men, from the King to the most humble of his subjects, wear this same costume.

The women's ankle-length robe is called a kira. Made from beautifully coloured, finely woven fabrics - each valley has its own traditional pattern - the kira is fastened at the waist with a wide kera and at the shoulders with silver brooches. Necklaces are fashioned from corals, pearls, turquoises and precious agate eyestones which the Bhutanese call 'tears of the gods'.

These traditional robes are almost always worn, but today it is only at festivals that one sees the handsome knee-length boots of embroidered cloth with soft leather soles. They have largely been replaced by Western-style shoes.

Map of Bhutan

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