Bhutan is the land of the thunder dragon. Lying between China to the north and India to the south, the Druk Kingdom is a land of immense natural beauty with rich ancient culture and tradition. Bhutan is one of the few unexplored tourist destinations in the world. Often referred to as Shangri-La, Bhutan is a beautiful tourist destination. Buddhism is the national religion of Bhutan. Buddhism is believed to have been first introduced in Bhutan the 8th century B.C. The Bhutanese people love themselves to be called Drukpas. Dzongkha is the national language of Bhutan. The Tibetan origin people dominate the northern, eastern and western part of Bhutan, while the Nepalese origin people dominate the southern part. Bhutan was opened to the modern development in the 1960s after the years of self-imposed isolation with the building of the first schools, hospitals and roads. When Bhutan was closed to the outside world, the then Bhutanese government took these Nepali origin people to accelerate the development process. However, it is pity to say that more than 1, 00,000 Nepali origin Bhutanese people have been taking asylum in eastern districts of Nepal due to political crisis in Bhutan. In the new millennium, Bhutan stands as a unique nation that blends modernization with its tradition and culture.
History of Bhutan
Being a landlocked country, Bhutan’s history has always been influenced by its geography. The historical legends of Bhutan began with the visit of Guru Padmasambhava, who is believed to have come from Tibet in 747 A.D. After his arrival in the dragon kingdom, the Buddhist faith has played an important part in shaping the course of this country's history. The word " Bhutan" is derived from the Sanskrit word "Bhu Uttam", which means best land. It needs no mention that Bhutan's land is recognized as one of the best among the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) countries. The early explorers and envoys of the British government used to call Bhutan "Bootan". The Buddhists writers called her "Lho Mon" or "Mon Yul", which means " Paradise of the South" and "Land of the Moons" respectively. It is Druk or Druk Yul, Land of Thunder Dragon etc. to the inhabitants of Bhutan. From the available and surviving literatures and artifacts in a few ancient monasteries, the prehistoric era of Bhutan can still date back to 500 to 600 A.D .Its unique geographical situation secured it free from foreign invasion and allowed it to develop a strong degree of common identity despite the ethnic and linguistic diversity. The 17th century traced the unification of Bhutan under the charismatic leadership of Nawang Namgyal who took the honorary title of Shabdrung. In 1865, the Penlop of Tongsa named Jigme Namgyel bequeathed his son Ugyen Wangchuk that position. Therefore, the Wangchuk dynasty has been ruling this small kingdom till date. After King Jigmey Singe Wangchuk stepped down in December 2006, his son Jigme Kesar Namgyal is ruling the world’s last Shangri-La at present.
Flora and Fauna
Bhutan is best known for her richness in flora and fauna. The journey to Bhutan offers one the unique opportunity for being familiar with scenic beauty. There is no doubt that Bhutan is a storehouse of biodiversity. The Druk Kingdom is not only home to beautiful flowers and plants such as Rhododendron, Junipers, Magnolias, Orchids, Gentians, Daphne and the rear Blue Poppy and other some rare medicinal herbs and exotic mushrooms but also faunal diversity.
Bhutan boasts 500 species of birds. Some of them include Monal Pheasant, the Tragopan, wild Pigeons and doves, the rare Rufus-necked hornbill and the endangered Black-necked crane are the major fauna. The population of butterfly fauna is abundant in Bhutan. Bhutan holds a rich wildlife like- Snow leopard, Blue sheep, Musk deer, Takin, the Himalayan Black Bear, Tiger, Rhinoceros, Gaur, the Great Indian Water Buffalo, the Golden Langur and many more. Local fish and brown trout can be found in the northern rivers and the mountain lakes, while Mahseer can be found in the south-east rivers.
People & culture
The people of Bhutan are hardworking, simple, hospitable and straightforward. They can be categorized into three broad ethnic groups: the Sharchops, Ngalungs and those from Nepali origin. The Sharchops are believed to have been the earliest inhabitants of Bhutan. A majority of them have been living in the eastern parts of the Kingdom. The Nagalungs are the descendants of the Tibetan immigrants, who came to Bhutan from about the 9th century onward. They have been staying primarily in the western part. The people belonging to the Nepali origin are the third category of people. They have been living in the southern belt of Bhutan. When Bhutan was closed to the outside world and had no development, these Nepalese origin people were taken by the Bhutanese government to accelerate the developmental activities. However, it is pity to say that more than 100,000 Nepali origin Bhutanese were evicted from their own homeland by the Bhutanese government on charge of demonstrating for democracy and fundamental human rights. At present, they have been leading a pathetic life in the camps in eastern Nepal. The southern Bhutanese are the followers of Hinduism, while the Sharchops and Ngalungs follow Buddhism. The national language of Bhutan is Dhongkha and its national religion is Buddhism. More than 75 percent of the people in Bhutan have adopted agriculture as their main occupation. Until now, the culture and social life of Bhutan has remained unaffected by modernity.
The men's attire is called "Gho", while "Kira" is the attire of women. However, the Nepalese origin people wear "Gho" and "Kira" only when visiting offices. Jewelries are mostly made from pearls, corals turquoise, and agate set in well-crafted gold and silver.
Meat, cereals particularly rice, vegetables and herbs are the major food items in Bhutan. Meat dishes include mainly mutton, pork and beef, which are lavishly spiced with chilies. Salted butter tea is served to all the visitors as they enter any house. Other famous beverages include Chang, a local beer, and Arra, a type of sprite distilled from rice, maize, wheat or barley. As a customary greeting, "Doma" or betel nut is offered to every visitor.
Archery is the national game of Bhutan. So, it has gained popularity across the country. The Bhutanese people play it with zeal and enthusiasm throughout the year with the traditional bows and arrows. In Bhutan, the ancient and traditional art, music and dances of the different ethnic groups have been protected in an effective manner.
In this dragon kingdom, Tshechus are the main annual religious festivals of Bhutan that are celebrated to honour Guru Padmasambhava, also known as "Guru Rimpoche". Tshechus are considered as an occasion for reverence, feasting, socializing and blessing by the people. Staged at different times of the year in different parts of the Kingdom, Tshechu is a unique experience to the outsider. Apart from Tshechus, Dashain and Tihar are also celebrated in Bhutan. Primarily, Dashain and Tihar are celebrated by the Nepali origin Bhutanese.
Art and Craft
The Bhutanese people have a strong sense of aesthetics, art, craft and architecture. Primarily, Bhutan's art and craft is broadly influenced by the Tibetan art and craft. Dzongs, chortens and monasteries can be seen everywhere. Some of the Lhakhangs and Gompas are even made on high peaks. Basically, chortens are constructed in memory of an eminent lama or to ward off evil spirit. These structures are beautifully decorated inside and outside with woodcarvings and paintings in a riot of colours and patterns.
The walls of temples and shrines are decorated with the paintings and carvings of Buddha and various deities. The "Tashi Tagye" or eight auspicious signs are found painted on buildings. Thankas are hung on the walls for attractions. They offer the Thankas as souvenir when tourists pay their visit. Articles for daily use are not touched by the influence of modernization and commercialization. Traditional craftsmanship has been handed down from generation to generation. Craftsmen of Bhutan are skilled in bronze and precious metals, wood and slate carving and clay sculpture.