1. General Information: Bhutan,the very name is evocative, at once both delicate and scared as the word trips off the tongue. In its own way Bhutan is better known as last Shangri-La or land of the Thunder Dragon. Bhutan is a landlocked country between two great countries, China at the north and India to the south. Bhutans’ population is approx 700000 people nestling above the swirling clouds like some ethereal destination,a retreat from the busy world. Each dawn greeted by the chants of buddhist monks, a magnet for those in search of tranquility. A Buddhist nation with rich and unique culture, profound architecture, particularly those that are religious with iconography mostly manifested in monasteries and Dzongs.
It is difficult to describe Bhutan’s nature and landscape, with government’s policy of preserving 60% forest cover in all times, it have rich bio-diversity. Therefore, Bhutan Heron Travels feels privileged to take you on a magnificent tour, such as cultural and trekking through this beautiful country with snow-capped mountains, lush valleys, enchanting villages, cascading rivers and warm hearted people. A country full of contrasts and drama, meadows bursting with flowers and songs of diversity of birds, its a nation that has learned to adapt to forces of nature.
a. Religion: Bhutan is the only country to maintain Mahayana Buddhism in its Tantric Vajrayana form as the official religion. The main practicing schools are the state sponsored Drukpa Kagyupa and the Nyingmapa. Whereas Buddhism is the main religion in the northern and eastern Bhutan , Southern Bhutanese are mainly Hindus.
The Tantric Buddhism is based on the same fundamental beliefs as other forms of Buddhism: that the consequences of actions in previous lives, or Karma, force all beings to reincarnate. All human effort should aim towards enlightenment, which means release from the cycle of incarnations into the state of Nirvana, annihilation of the suffering which accompanies all existence. This state of non-suffering leads to the idea of the Absolute, or the Void, a state in which there is no distinction between a subject of its thoughts.
Indeed, the sensory world of ‘things’ has only a phenomenological existence and possesses no true reality except on the plane of Relative Truth. The phenomena have no intrinsic being despite the illusion of reality that they project and do not exist on the Absolute Truth.
Nevertheless, Mahayana Buddhism, and therefore Tantric Buddhism, recognizes a pantheon of symbolic deities and bodhisattvas, or ‘Buddhas-to-be’. These enlightened beings have attained the option of Nirvana but they voluntarily decline it and reincarnate in the world of humans in order to help others.
b. Facts and Figures:
i. Total Land area: 38,394 square kilometres
ii. Forest coverage: 72.5 %
iii. Altitude range: from 200metres to 7500metres above sea level
iv. Inhabitants: about 0.7million people
v. Language: “Dzongkha”is the national language, but English is also widely spoken
vi. Religion: “Drukpa Kadju” (Mahayana Buddhism)
vii. Currency: Ngultrum (equal to Indian Rupee)
viii. Capital: Thimphu (Western Bhutan)
ix. National Tree: Cypress(Cupressus torulosa) a broadly pyramidal tree to 35m seen near temples
x. National Flower: Blue Poppy (Meconopsis grandis)Rich blue or purple grows in high-altitute
xi. National Bird: Rave (Corvus corax) a large heavy jet black high-altitute crow
xii. National Animal: Takin(Budorcas taxicolor) A size of a cow, head resembles goat
xiii. National Game : Archery(Made of bamboos)
2. people and culture: 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 the Monpas of Rukha villages in Wangdue Phodrang. Together the multiethnic Bhutanese population number slightly more than 6,00,000.
a. Tshanglas: The Tshanglas or the Sharchops as they are commonly known are considered the aboriginal inhabitants of eastern Bhutan. Tshanglas or the descendants of Lord Brahma as claimed by the historians speak Tshanglakha and are commonly inhabitants of Mongar, Trashigang, Trashi Yangtse, 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 of women. They produce beautiful fabrics mainly of silk and raw silk.
b. Ngalops: The Ngalops who have settled mostly in the six regions of western Bhutan are of Tibetan origin. They speak Ngalopkha, the polished version of Dzongkha which is the national language of Bhutan. Agriculture is their main livelihood. They cultivate rice, wheat, barley, maize etc, among others. In the regions of Thimphu and Paro apple is also cultivated as cash crop. They are known for Lozeys, or ornamental speech and for Zheys, dances that are unique to the Ngalops.
c. Lhotshampas: The Lhotshampas who have settled in the southern foothills are the latest to settle in the country. It is generally agreed that they migrated from Nepal in the beginning of the 19th century mostly coming in as laborers. They speak Lhotshamkha which is the Nepali language and practice Hinduism. One can find various castes of Lhotshampas including Bhawans, Chhetris, Rai’s, Limbus, Tamangs, Gurungs, and the lepchas. They essentially depend on agriculture and cultivate cash crops such as like ginger, cardamom, oranges, etc.
d. The Bumthaps, Mangdeps and Khengpas: The people who speak Bumtapkha, Mangdepkha and khengkha respectively inhabit the central pockets 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 also depend on agriculture similar to the Mangdeps. However, they are also known for the bamboo and cane craft.
e. Kurtoeps: Kurtoeps are the other category of people in the east. They inhabit 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.
f. 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 livelihood. Living in the high altitude zones they hardly take up agriculture. 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.
g. The Layaps: To the extreme north are the Layaps who speak the layapkha. Like the Brokpas, they are also semi nomads whose source of livelihood is dependent on yaks and sheep the products of which they barter with the people of Wangdue Phodrang and Punakha with rice, salt and other consumables.
h. The Doyas: These are the other tribal community and are settled mostly in southern Bhutan. They are considered the aboriginal inhabitants of western and central Bhutan, who over the years settled in the present areas in Dorokha. They have a dialect of their own and dress in their own unique style.
i. Monpas: The Monpas are a small community in Rukha under Wangdue Phodrang. Together with the Doyas they are also considered the original settlers of central Bhutan. They speak a different dialect unique to their own but one that is slowly ding as these people are now being absorbed into the main stream Bhutanese society.
3. flora and fauna: Physically, Bhutan can be divided into three zones: Alpine Zone (4000m and above) with no forest cover; the Temperate Zone (2000 to 4000m) with conifer or broadleaf forests; and the Subtropical Zone (150m to 2000m) with Tropical or Subtropical vegetation. Because of its wide altitudinal and climatic range, the flora and fauna is diverse and rich.
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 that is found in the eastern Himalayan region can be found in Bhutan as well.
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 poppy which is the national flower and tropical trees such as pine and oaks.
A wide range of animal could also be found frequenting the jungles of Bhutan. Some high altitude species are the snow leopards, the Bengal tigers that are found at altitude ranging 3000 to 4000 meters, the red panda, the gorals and the langurs, the Himalayan black bear and sambars, the wild pigs and the barking deer, the blue sheep and the musk deer. In the tropical forests of Southern Bhutan one can come across the clouded leopards, the one horned rhinoceros, elephants, golden langur that is unique to Bhutan, the water buffaloes and the swamp deer.
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’ situated as it is at the hub of 221 global endemic bird areas. The recorded number of bird species is over 670 and there are chances that this number could still go up.
In addition, 57% of Bhutan’s globally threatened birds and 90% of the country’s restricted rare birds are dependent on forests. Bhutan has about 415 resident bird species. These inhabitant 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 in winters are the buntings, waders and ducks, thrushes and the birds of prey. Some 40 species are partial migrants and they include species such as swifts, cuckoos, the bee-eaters, fly catchers and the warblers.
Bhutan is also home to about 16 bird species that are endangered worldwide. These include the White bellied heron, Pallas Fish eagle, Blyth’s King fisher to name a few. Phobjikha valley in Wangdue Phodrang and Bomdeling in Trashi Yangtse are also two important places in Bhutan that is visited by the endangered Black Necked Crane.
As one of the ten global hotspots Bhutan is all set to preserve and protect the rich environment through environmental organizations.
Some of the proactive organizations are the:
a. National Environmental Commission
b. Royal society for protection of nature clubs throughout the country.
c. Department of Forestry Services.
d. Nature Conservation Department
e. Bhutan Trust Fund.
f. Donor Organization.
g. Association of Bhutan Tour Operators.
4. arts and crafts:
a. Zorig Chusum: The thirteen traditional crafts of Bhutan. Though the thirteen traditional arts and crafts were practiced right from the immemorial times, it is commonly understood that it was formally categorized during the reign of Gyalse Tenzin Rabgay, the fourth temporal ruler of Bhutan. The thirteen arts and crafts are categorized as follows:
i. Shing zo: When considering the history of human dwellings, the use of timber predates the use of stones. Evidence of buildings framed with timber can be found in many countries, including even the pyramids of Egypt. Most virgin primeval forests that existed were used for structural framework and this began to develop into an art. Large temples were built simply using timber and without any metal fasteners. Instead, they were joined together using notches with thick pegs and nails made of wood, and these wooden structures were designed to last for centuries. Slowly, in many countries, woodwork became a profession and the craftsmen became the engineers, architects, carpenters and builders of their age. However, by the mid-nineteenth century, this craft began to disappear from many parts of the world as mechanization of works began when many industries appeared.
While most people across the world are trying to rediscover and learn the secrets of this old tradition, the Bhutanese still practice this ancient art termed shingzo. The master craftsman known locally as Zow chen and Zows are instrumental in fashioning intricate designs that goes into the construction of our fortresses-the Dzongs, our palaces, our temples and monasteries and the traditional Bhutanese farm houses. The Dzongs that have its origin in the 17th century features some of the most elaborate wood works and designs that draw appreciation not only from the Bhutanese populace but from outside visitors as well.
People interested in becoming carpenters serve as apprentice under a master carpenter for a few years till they develop the confidence to practice the skills on their own. Master carpenters are found all over the kingdom and for every important structure to be raised they are called upon to contribute. A master carpenter who is still revered today is the Zow Balep, whose architectural skills can still be witnessed today in the ancient fortress of Punakha Dzong.
ii. Do zo: Do zo as it is widely known is an old craft that is still being practiced today by the Bhutanese. Just as the many temples and palaces that have been built in stone the world over, the Bhutanese temples, Dzongs, the Chortens or the stupas and the farm houses are all built of stones. Indeed no construction ever takes place without the use of stones. Classic examples of stone work are those of Chorten Kora in Tashiyangtse in eastern Bhutan and Chendebji chorten in central Bhutan.
iii. Par zo: Par zo or carving is another traditional art that has been perfected by the Bhutanese. The major carvings are carried out on stone, wood and slate. The traditional designs crafted on these materials create some distinctive art works.
Since Bhutan has been blessed with an abundant variety of wood, woodcarving is seen in a variety of forms. The wooden masks that feature during the annual religious festivals are all carved out of wood besides the many traditional motifs that are engraved on the Bhutanese houses and on Dzongs. Besides, a unique wood carving that draws attraction are the phalluses of various sizes and shapes that are hung on the four corners of the Bhutanese houses and stuck onto the main entrance of the door ways. These carved wooden phalluses are also displayed by the Acharyas- the clowns during the religious festivals as a sign to bless the spectators and drive away the evils and misfortunes.
Another important art that is being practiced is the art of slate carving. The master craftsman is known as Do Nag Lopen and the material used is the slate found in abundance in both western and Eastern Bhutan. While slate carving is not as diverse as stone and wood work, yet one can come across many religious scriptures, mantras and images of deities being carved onto slates besides the religious figures. Slate works are fund mostly in religious places such as Dzongs, temples and chortens.
Another important craft that has survived in Bhutan is the stone carving. While it is certainly less evident, yet the water driven grinding mills are classic examples of stone works. The huge grinding mills are still used by people in the far flung villages of Bhutan. One can also come across hollowed – out stones used for pounding grains and troughs for feeding cattle and horses.
iv. Lha zo: Bhutanese paintings represent the quintessential of the Bhutanese art and craft tradition. An old art that has been practiced since antiquity, painting captures the imagery of the Bhutanese landscape. The work of master painters known as Lha Rip are reflected in every architectural piece be it the massive Dzongs, the temples and the monasteries, the nunneries and the stupas or a modest Bhutanese home. Indeed, paintings and the varied colors and hues epitomize the Bhutanese art and craft.
The art of painting is revered and painters are believed to accumulate merit. Young novices are taught by the master Lha Rips and the huge scrolls of thangkha or thongdrols that depicts religious figures and displayed during religious festivals are some classic works. A mere sight of these huge scrolls is believed to deliver us to nirvana. Thus, it brings merit not only to the believers but for the painters as well.
v. Jim zo: Jim zo or clay work is an ancient craft having been practiced and passed on over the centuries. This art work preceded other sculpture works such as bronze or other metal works. Statues of deities, gods and goddesses and other prominent religious figures in fact exemplify clay work in Bhutan. Every monastery, temple and the Dzongs have in them installed clay statues from where pilgrims and devout Buddhists draw their inspiration from. The master craftsmen are known as Jim zo lopen and the skill is imparted to the young novices through vigorous trainings spread over the years.
Besides the clay statues, the tradition of clay potteries is still alive though much of the potteries are now being used as show pieces and flower vases. While the art of modeling statues are confined to men, the art of pottery is normally the handiwork of women. While we find three distinctive types of clayware: earthenware, stoneware and the china-clayware, in Bhutan, we find only the first type, the earthenware.
What is required for success in the work on clay is the composition of clay by using balanced materials, skills in shaping the wet clay and firing to the correct temperature. The baked items were then coated with lac to render them waterproof. While this tradition is almost dying the women of Lhuentse and Paro still try and keep this tradition alive.
vi. Lug zo: The period in history between the Stone Age and Iron Age is known as the Bronze Age because bronze was commonly used to cast containers such as cups, urns, and vases. People also shaped bronze into battle-axes, helmets, knives, shields, and swords. They also made it into ornaments, and sometime even into primitive stoves. Bronze was developed about 3500 BC by the ancient Sumerians in the Tigris-Euphrates valley. Historians are unsure of how this alloy was discovered, but they believe that bronze may have first been made accidentally when rocks, rich in copper and tin, were used to build campfire rings. As fire heated these stone, the metals may have melted and mixed, forming bronze. This theory is supported by the fact that bronze was not developed in North America, where natural tin and copper ores are rarely found in the same rocks. Bronze appeared in both Egypt and China around 2000 BC.?The earliest bronze castings were made in sand, and this method is still used today, even for casting bells. However, clay and stone moulds were developed later on. Clay is usually used nowadays for making bells.
Bronze casting in Bhutan was introduced only in the 17th century and was mainly spread through the visiting Newari artisans that came from Nepal. The Newars of Nepal were first invited by Zhabdrung Nawang Namgyal to cast bronze statues and religious items such as bells and water offering bowls. It was through these artisans that the art was introduced and today, a lot of Bhutanese people are into bronze casting.
Another village that practices wood turning is the small village in eastern Bhutan known as Khengkhar. The villagers here are known for producing traditional wooden wine containers known as jandup.
vii. Gar zo: The art blacksmithing began with the Iron Age when primitive man first began making tools from iron. Thus, the art of crafting the crude metal found in certain type of rocks and soil into a usable implement has been around for a long time. Some of the tools that man used were spear or arrow-tips, crude axes and knives as well as agricultural implements.
Iron smelters were small furnaces built from rock that could withstand repeated heating. These furnaces looked like bee-hives with an opening at the top and an entrance on the side. The furnace was filled with iron-ore and charcoal and then set to fire. When the temperature rises above 2,800 Fahrenheit, the iron flows and forms balls, which are later hammered and made into various implements.
Black smithy in Bhutan began sometime in the late 14th century and it is believed that it was introduced by a Tibetan saint known as Dupthob Thangtong Gyalpo. He has been revered as the master engineer for his skill in casting iron chains and erecting them as bridges over gorges. In Bhutan, he is supposed to have built about eight suspension bridges and one can still come across a bridge over Paro Chu linking the highway to the famous Tachog lhakhang in Paro. One can also come across the remains of these once highly used iron chains in Trashigang and at the National Museum in Paro.
While black smithy is almost a dying art, yet one can still come across the Tibetan settlers especially in Trashigang practicing this art.
viii. Troe ko: Ornaments are widely used by the Bhutanese women and the tradition of making ornaments is still vibrant in Bhutan. Master craftsmen who skill in shaping beautiful ornaments are regarded as Tro Ko Lopen. Using precious stones such as corals and turquoise, silver and gold, these master craftsmen shape out ornaments such as necklaces, bangles, earrings, rings worn on fingers, brooches, amulets to contain ritual objects, traditional containers to carry the much chewed beetle nuts, ritual objects and many more.
ix. Tsha zo: Most of the forests in Bhutan are richly stocked with bamboos and canes of various species. Taking advantage of the abundant natural resources, people have mastered their skills in weaving cane and bamboo products. Widely known as Tshar Zo, this art is spread throughout the country products such as baskets, winnowers, mats, containers known as Palangs and bangchungs are all made of bamboo. However, the people of Kangpara in eastern Bhutan and the Bjokaps of Central Bhutan are pioneer master craftsmen. Their products are now sold out to tourists earning them an additional income.
x. De zo: Paper-making is another art that has found roots in Bhutan. People engaged in producing the traditional Bhutanese paper or De zo are known as Dezop. Traditional papers were widely used in the past and most of the religious scriptures and texts were written on Dezho’s using traditional Bhutanese ink and at times in gold. While the presence of readily available modern paper has overtaken the market, yet people still produce Deshos which is used as carrying bags, wrappers for gifts and even used as envelopes. The art still continues in Trashiyangtse where the raw material is readily available.
xi. Tshem zo: Tzhem zo or the art of tailoring is a popular art amongst the Bhutanese. This art can be broadly classified as Tshem drup or the art of embroidery, lhem drup or the art of appliqué and Tsho lham or the art of traditional Bhutanese boots. The art of embroidery and appliqué are normally practiced by the monks. Using this art they produce large religious scrolls known as Thangkas that depicts Gods and Goddesses, deities and saints.
Traditional boots are normally the work of Bhutanese lay men. These boots worn by officials during special functions and gatherings are made of leather and cloth. While boot making is n old craft, its origin is unknown. Special craftsmen in the villages also make simple boots from uncured leather. However, this is a vanishing practice in the villages though it has picked up recently in the urban centers with support from the government.
The third category is the simple tailors that skill in sewing the Bhutanese traditional dresses known as Gho and Kira.
xii. Thag zo: An integral part of the Bhutanese life is the textile. As such the art of weaving is widely practiced in Bhutan. However, women of eastern Bhutan are skilled in weaving and some of the highly priced textiles are all woven by them. In the past, textiles were paid as tax to the government in place of cash and people from western Bhutan travelled all the way to Samdrup Jongkhar to buy woven textiles. Textiles are woven of cotton, raw cotton and silk and intricate motifs are woven into the cloth.
Khoma village in Lhuentse is famous for Kushithara, while Rahi and Bidung are known for bura textiles namely Mentsi Matha and Aikapur. One type of cotton fabric woven in Pemagatshel is the Dungsam Kamtham. Decheling village in Samdrup Jongkhar is known for their cotton fabric as the Decheling Kamtham derived from the name of their village.
Adang village in Wangdue Phodrang is known for textiles such as Adang Mathra, Adang Rachu and Adang Khamar while the Bumthaps in central Bhutan are kown for Bumthap Mathra and Yathra, both textiles woven out of Yak and sheep hair. People of Nabji and Korphu in Trongsa are known for textiles woven out of nettle fibers. Weaving is also a vocation amongst the Brokpas of Merak and Sakteng. Men contribute in spinning wool into threads. They weave from yak hair and sheep wool.
There are four types of looms that are used by the Bhutanese weavers. They are the blackstrap looms, the horizontal fixed looms, the horizontal framed looms and the card looms. The predominant type is the back strap loom and is used mostly by weavers from eastern Bhutan. They are set up on the porches or in thatched sheds to protect weavers and the cloth from the sun and rain. Card looms and horizontal frame looms are also used. The back straps are the indigenous looms while the horizontal frame looms and the card looms made their entry into Bhutan from Tibet.
5. Bhutanese economy: Bhutanese economy is characterized by its small size given its small population size. With the majority of the Bhutanese people illiterate and residing in rural areas, about 31% of the population still lives under poverty line. However, in general all Bhutanese have a shelter and are self – sufficient to a large extent. With rapid modernization the living standard of the people has also stared to grow in the recent years and every village have now access to basic amenities such as Schools, Basic Health Units, feeder roads and electricity. Plans are also underway to connect even the remotest villages with a good net work of telecommunication and mobile phones.
Bhutanese economy is dominantly agrarian. With a bulk of the population being farmers, agriculture is the main stay of their sustenance followed by a large extent with animal husbandry. Animal products such as cheese, butter and milk not only form a major diet for the farmers but also contribute to their income. With many farmers groups and cooperatives being encouraged by the Ministry of Agriculture and Forest, people have been encouraged to set up cooperative stalls where they can easily market their farm products.
The main crops are rice, maize, wheat and buckwheat while cash crops are predominantly potatoes, apples, and citrus such as oranges, cardamom, ginger, and chili. With the setting up of a fruit based industry in the capital, farmers from the nearby areas are able to market their fruit products and thereby earn additional revenue.
Given the rich bio-diversity, Bhutanese have also been able to tap the forestry resources. Cane and bamboo works therefore form a source of income. Various cane and bamboo products now find their way into the market that is usually bought by the urban dwellers and the tourists.
In the recent years, however, a major contributing factor to the Bhutanese economy has been the tourism industry. Since its opening in 1975, the country has made significant expansion in tourism industry. It not only generates the much needed revenue for Bhutan, but to an extent has been able to create employment for most Bhutanese graduates and the educated lot.
But undeniably, the power sector has been the biggest contributor to the Bhutanese exchequer. The Chhukha Hydro Power Corporation, the Tala Hydro Power Corporation, the Baso Chu Hydro Power Corporation and the Kurichu Hydro Power Corporation under the umbrella of Druk Green Power Corporation are some of the mega projects that churn out about 1500 MW of power, most of which are exported to our neighboring country India. With abundant water resources, Bhutan still has the capacity to generate about 30,000 MW of electricity.
Another sector that contributes to the revenue is the contribution from the manufacturing sector. With the industrial sector established in Pasakha, some of the small scale industries that have cropped up are cement plants, calcium and carbide, steel and Ferro silicon, coca cola and also wood based industries.
As a result of the economic development, with US $ 1,321, today we have one of the highest per capita incomes in South Asia.
6. bhutan history: The recorded history dates as far back as the 6th century A.D., while the real historical period started with the introduction of Buddhism from 7th century A.D. Since then, Buddhism has largely shaped the history of Bhutan and the way of life of its people. But it was not until the visit of Guru Rimpochey (also known as Padma Sambhava) in 747 A.D., that Buddhism took firm root in the country. It is believed that Guru Rimpochey came flying on the back of a tiger and landed in Taktsang, Paro, where the Taktsang monastery, one of the most revered sacred sites and the most distinguished religious and historical icon of Bhutan, stands today. The Kurjey Lhakhang in Bumthang is another important revered site of pilgrimage where Guru Rimpochey had meditated, subdued the evil spirits and left the imprint of his body on a rock.
In the 13th century the spiritual master, Phajo Drugom Zhingpo arrived. He was the precursor of the Drukpa Kagyu tradition of Mahayana Buddhism which ultimately gained pre-eminence in the country. Many saints and religious figures, over the years, helped shape Bhutan’s history and develop its religion of which the Tertons (Treasure discoverers) played an important role who were pre-destined to unearth the ters (relics) hidden for posterity by Guru Rimpoche and other saints. Among the Tertons, Pema Lingpa, born in the Tang valley of Bumthang (central Bhutan), occupies the most important place in the Bhutanese history. His discovery of ters from a lake called Mebartsho (The Burning Lake) in Bumthang is the most famous event. He not only discovered religious texts and arte-facts but also composed dances and created arts which have become one of the most important constituents of the cultural heritage of Bhutan. Mebartsho is also a most visited and famous sites in Bhutan today.
With the arrival of Shabdrung Rimpochey (the precious jewel at whose feet one submits) opened the most dynamic era in the history of Bhutan. The religious and secular powers were not clearly delineated until the 17 Century when Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, the great leader of the Drukpa school of Mahayana Buddhism, established the dual system of government–the temporal and theocratic–with Je Khenpo (chief abbot) as the religious head and the temporal leader known as the Desi. He was not only a great spiritual personality and a statesman but also left his indelible legacy as a great architect and a builder. The Shabdrung constructed numerous Dzongs, monasteries, and religious institutions bringing people from all walks of life under one faith and firmly instituted Drukpa Kagyu as the state religion.The first Dzong that he built, Simtokha Dzong in 1627, stands majestically as one of the sentinels of the Bhutanese identity, a few miles away from present day Thimphu.
The Shabdrung’s dual system of government, ruled by 54 Desis and 60 Je Khenpos, steered Bhutan from 1651 until the birth of the Wangchuck dynasty and establishment of hereditary Monarchy in 1907. The earliest notable relics visible of the history of Bhutan, today, are the two monasteries, the Kyichu Lhakhang in Paro and Jambay Lhakhang in Bumthang which were built in the 7th Century A.D. Little is known about Bhutan of that period. At the end of 19th century, the Trongsa Penlop, Ugyen Wangchuck, who then controlled the central and eastern regions, overcame all his rivals and united the nation once again. He was unanimously accepted as the first hereditary monarch of Bhutan in 1907. Thus the first king was crowned and the Wangchuck dynasty began. Over the following four decades, he and his heir, King Jigme Wangchuck, brought the entire country under the monarchy’s direct control. Upon independence in 1947, India recognized Bhutan as a sovereign country.
7. bhutan geography: The princely Kingdom of Bhutan is a landlocked country, about 300 km long and 150 km wide encompassing an area of 46,500 square kilometers. Located between longitude 88045’ and 92010’ East and latitudes 26040’ and 28015’ North in the Eastern Himalayas, it is bounded by India in South and South-West and Tibetan autonomous region of China in the North and North-West respectively.
Virtually the entire country is mountaineous, and ranges in elevation from 100m along the indian border to the 7,554m Kulha Gangri peak on the Tibetan border. These two extremes frame a landscape which stretches from sub-tropical to arctic like conditions. The maximum East-West stretch of the country is approximately 300 km and north-South about 150 km.
a. Physiography: Talking in geomorphologic terms, Bhutan is distinctively divisible into three lateral zones from South to North. Incidentally, this zonation is more or less applicable to meteorological, ethnographical and geographical divisions of the country.
b. The Great Himalaya: Extending from Mt. Chomolhari (7,314m) in the West to Kulha Gangri (7,554m) near the center point of the northern border between Tibet and Bhutan, this region is virtually a snow-wilderness zone where almost 20% of the land is under perpetual snow. This zone is represented by alpine meadows and perpetually snow bound high summit of the Great Himalayan range.
c. The Inner Himalaya: This is the largest physiographic region of Bhutan and lies among broad valleys and forested hillsides from 1,100m to 3,000m in elevation. All the major towns of Bhutan are situated in this zone such as Paro, Thimphu, Punakha, in western Bhutan, Trongsa and Bumthang in central Bhutan and Mongar, Trashigang in eastern Bhutan.
d. The Southern foothills: Also called as Himalayan foothills, this zone occupies the southern most part of the country. The plains in the south of the country are part of the region known as Terai, which extends from Kashmir, through Nepal, to Bhutan. The average annual rainfall in this region generally reaches up to 200 inches resulting to luxuriant vegetation particularly tropical forests rich in wildlife, while at times hot, steamy and unhealthy tracts are other features of this zone.
e. Drainage: Rivers play an important role in Bhutan’s physical, economic, social and cultural geography. Their enormous potential for hydroelectric power has helped in shaping the national economy. Since the central Himalayas of Bhutan receives the full brunt of the monsoon so the rivers are larger and have created much broader valleys than rivers further to the west in Nepal and India. In their upper reaches, most Bhutanese rivers have created large fertile valleys such as those of Paro, Punakha, Thimphu and Bumthang. As the rivers pass through the centre of Bhutan, the valleys become steeper and narrower, and roads have to climb high on the hillside. The principal rivers of the country are; Am-mo-chhu, Paro Chhu, Wang Chhu, Puna-Tsang Chhu, Mangde Chhu, Pho Chhu, Mo Chhu, Dangme Chhu, Manas Chhu and Changkhar Chhu.
f. Meteorology: Bhutan’s climate varies widely depending upon elevation. In the southern region it is tropical, with a monsoon season and eastern part is warmer than the west. The central valleys of Punakha, Wangduephodrang, Mongar, Trashigang and Lhuntshi enjoy a semi-tropical climate with cool winters, whereas Paro, Thimphu, Trongsa and Bumthang have relatively harsher climate including snowfall in winter.
In the valleys where most tourist activities are concentrated, the winters (mid-November to mid-March) are dry with daytime temperatures of 16 – 18 degree centigrade while evening and early morning are cold with night time temperature sometimes falling below zero.
Spring lasts from mid-March to the beginning of June, with temperatures warming gradually to 27-29 degree centigrade by day and about 18 degree centigrade at night. However, cold spells are possible up until the end of April, with a chance of new snow on the mountains above the valleys. Strong, gusty winds start blowing almost every day from noon to early evening. The first storms break, and they become more and more frequent with the approach of the monsoon which arrives in mid-June.
The country receives abundant rain especially in the south, as it gets full face of monsoon coming from the Bay of Bengal. To which its mountains form a barrier. At the end of September, after the last of the big rains, autumn suddenly arrives and sky gets clear, a brisk breeze picks up and temperature starts falling towards freezing at night although bright sunshine continues to keep the days warm. Autumn is the magnificent season that lasts until mid-November and it is the best time to visit this fascinating mountain Kingdom.
8. Government: Until the beginning of 20th century, Bhutan was ruled by dual system of administration known as “chhosi” which was initiated by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal in 1651. Shabdrung created the office of the Druk Desi to look after the temporal administration of the country and the Je Khenpo to manage religious matters.
His Majesty, King Jigme Singye Wangchuk, fourth in the Wangchuck dynasty is head of the state. His Majesty formally ascended the Golden Throne on 2 June 1974 and since then steered the country firmly towards the objectives of economic self-reliance, cultural promotion, regionally balanced development, environment preservation and good governance.
The National Assembly, the Royal Advisory Council, the Judiciary, the Council of Ministers and the Sectoral Ministries are the organizations that play a crucial role in the governance of the Kingdom of Bhutan. At the district, block and village levels there are established mechanisms that ensure people’s participation in the decision making process.
a. National Assembly: Established in 1953 by His Late Majesty, King Jigme Dorji Wangchuk, the main functions of the National Assembly are to enact laws, approve senior appointments in government and advise on all matters of national importance. It normally meets twice a year and consists of 154 members comprising 105 elected representatives of the people, 10 representatives of the clergy and 39 nominated representatives of the government.
b. Royal Advisory Council: The main functions of this body are to make its advice available to the King and his Council of Ministers on all matters of national importance, the welfare of the people and the national interest of the Kingdom, to develop friendly and harmonious relations between the government and the people and to ensure that the laws and resolutions passed by the National assembly are faithfully implemented by the government and people. Formed in 1965, it consists of nine members, six representing the people, two from clergy and one nominee of the King.
c. Judiciary: All the laws are codified. Minor offences are judged by the village headmen. Above them, the District Court have both original and appellate jurisdiction. Next higher court is the High Court in Thimphu. The final appeal is made to the King who then delegates the Royal Advisory Council to investigate and ensure that the courts have dispensed justice in keeping with the laws of the country.
d. Council of Ministers and Central Secretariat: Bhutan took a major step in the direction of a modernized administrative system in 1968 when the National Assembly, at the request of the King, approved the formation of a Council of Ministers. The Ministers are responsible to the Cabinet which is an important decision making body, second only in importance to the National Assembly. The Cabinet is presided over by the King and consists of Ministers, Deputy Ministers and all Royal Advisory Councillors.