Bhutan – the Land of Thunder Dragon has remain isolated from the rest of the world in its pristine state, unspoiled by the outside influences, with untouched culture and tradition. Largely a mountainous region spread across an area of 38,894 sq km. Bordered by China (Tibet) in the North and by India in the south, the kingdom of the lost horizon spread its door to tourism in the year 1974.
Sequestered from the rest of the world, people of Bhutan have preserved their vibrant culture and rich flora and fauna. Culture being so distinctive in the world, Bhutanese people have managed to preserved their age-old traditions and its heritage, and environment in their immaculate state. This unique culture is a means of protecting the sovereignty of the nation. The distinctiveness of the culture and tradition is visible in everyday life of the Bhutanese. In other words its called the ‘Living Culture’.
Predominantly, people have practice Mahayana Buddhism that is reflected in almost every aspect of their lives. Landscape is dotted with various monasteries, prayer flags, and monuments. Bhutanese folks are known to be warm and hospitable in nature.
The topography of this kingdom is mostly mountainous, with 72% forested area. The Royal government of Bhutan has laid down many rules in order to protect the abundant natural flora and fauna. This includes maintaining a minimum of 60% of the land under the forest cover at all the times. The government also follows a policy of ‘high value-low impact tourism’ to protect its environment and culture. In 2013, the kingdom got enlisted amongst the top five places to visit by the New York Times and selected as the third finalist for the Tourism for Tomorrow Award 2013 by World Travels and Tourism Council.
With the growth rate of about 2.1% per year, the current population of Bhutan is about 7,00,000. 85% of still live in rural area. Mainly there are three group in this country. Sharchops, known to be the original inhabitants of Bhutan and reside in the eastern part and theynranked the highest in the population in the country. Inhabitants in the western region are known as Ngalops, the descendants from Tibetan in 9th century. The people settled in the south of this country are known as Lhotshampas, the Nepalese origin. They arrived in Bhutan by late 19th century.
Flora and Fauna
Bhutan being nestled deep within the Himalaya, is a home to many endangered species of flora and fauna. Bhutan is the perfect for enthusiastic horticulturist as it contains more than 60% of the common plant species found in the eastern Himalaya. Its also boasts of approximately 46 species of Rhododendrons and over 300 different types of medicinal plants. The kingdom has been termed as the ‘Valley of Medicinal Herbs’. In 1992, Bhutan has signed the United nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Rio de Janeiro. It was also identified by Norman Myers in 1998 as one of the ten Bio- diversity hot spot of the world.
The kingdom is also home to a wide variety of animals. In the southern tropical forests, you will come across Clouded Leopards, one horned Rhinoceros, Golden Langurs, Great Horn bills, Elephants, Water Buffalo, Swap Deer, and so many other species. At the higher attitudes, its heaven for Snow Leopards, Himalaya Black Bears, Blue Sheep, Red Panda, Takin, Musk Deer, Gorals, and Sambars. In the temperate zones, you can come across Wild Boars, Barking deer, Grey langurs, and Tigers. Bhutan is home to the highest altitude inhabiting Tigers in the world and sometime is also known as the ‘corridor of Tigers’.
During your trips, the road pass through the rich forest so travelers can experiences, the majestic natural environment of Bhutan.
Geography and Climate
Spread across an area of 38,394 sq.km, Bhutan is landlocked country situated on the southern slopes of eastern Himalayas with Indian and Tibet(China). This elevated land lies between latitudes 26o N and 29oN, and longitude 88o E and 93o E. The latitude ranges between 200m to 7000m contributing to the biodiversity and variation in the ecosystem. The topography mainly comprises of steep mountains, beautiful virgin forests, lush green valleys, pristine Himalaya mountains and across sparkling crystal clear rivers feed by ancient mountain glaciers, draining into the Indian plains. It experiences four seasons, distinctively, Spring, Summer autumn, and winter. It is hard to generalize the weather since the mountain climate various enormously from one region to other. With the variation of altitude, sometime can reach extreme of heat and cold within a day’s travel.
The most cultural tours take place in the central valleys( Paro, Thimphu, Punakha, Wangdue, Trongsa, Bumthang, Lhuntse, Mongar and Trashigang). In general, valleys of Punakha and Wangdue are western region and Lhuntse, Mongar and Trashigang are eastern region are with relatively lower altitude and warm comparing other valleys in this region.
Spring last from the mid March to mid June. The temperature are 20-25oc high during day time and 12oc by night. This is the most beautiful time of the year and as spring is the mother of all nature,and whole kingdom come to life with the spectacular flaming red, white , yellow and pink of the rhododendron and magnolia, and numerous other wildflower in full bloom.
Summer, starts from mid June to mid September, with most abundant rain in this region, however in most valleys the rain falls mainly in the late evening and at night. Temperature in the most valleys remains between 28-32oc during day and 18-20oc at night.
The most rewarding time to visit Bhutan is in Autumn, which last from mid September to mid December. Visitors can enjoy stunning views of snow-capped Himalayan mountains. The days remains lovely with crisp clear skies. Especially in October and November, the central valleys of Paro, Thimphu, Punakha, Mongar and Lhuntse – the terrence of paddy field are in golden color of ripe rice, and all the farm houses have red chilies drying on the their roof. The journey through different altitude and valley can come across- with mixture of beautiful colors. Temperature remain 20-25oc during the day and drops to 8-10oc by night.
Winter in Bhutan are quite dry with snow and lots of sunshine. Most of the time, skies are crystal clear and the best time to view the snow-covered peaks of some the high and the world highest unclaimed Himalayan mountain. Mid December to mid march is the winter in Bhutan. During the sunny days, the temperature is 12-16oc during daytime, which morning and evening are very cold. Temperature drops below freezing point at night.
The documented history of the kingdom begin in the 8th century with the legendary flight of Guru Padmasambhava from Tibet in 747 A.D, on the back of a tigress. The name Bhutan can be derived in the ways. In sanskrit, “Bhotan” mean “the end of Tibet” and “Bhu-uttan” refers to the “high land”. The native refers to it a Druk Yul- the land of Thunder Dragon.
With the arrival of Guru Padmasambhava, also know as Guru Rinpoche , in the valley of Paro, at the place called Takstang or tiger’s Nest and began the propagation of the tantric strain of Mahayana Buddhism. In the ensuing centuries, many great masters preached the faith resulting in full bloom of Buddhism by the middle ages and it became the predominant religion of this place.
It was under the Saint/administrator Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, who unified the country under Drukpa Kagyupa sect of Mahayana Budhhism in the early 17th century. The Zhabdrung Codified a comprehensive system of laws and built a chain of Dzongs which guarded each valley during unsettled time and now serving as the center of religious and administrative in different districts.
For next two centuries, the nation was once again caught up into multiple civil wars which led to the rise of regional governors. Towards the end of the 19th century, the governor of Trongsa, Sir Ugyen Wangchuck, who controlled the central and eastern regions, overcame all his rivals, was accepted as the overall leader. In 1907, he was unanimously crowned as the first King of Bhutan.
Presently, his great great grandson, king Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuck sits on the throne. The country now has the system of democratic monarchy. Bhutan is only the kingdom in the world left with Mahayana Buddhist. You can come across even in the urban centers where the spinning of prayer wheel, many people holding the wooden prayer beast (rosary), murmuring the mantra and glow of butter lamps are important practice of everyday life.
Bhutan’s religion sites and Buddhist institution are not museum, but the daily home of its people.
The first move towards a systematic scheme of governance came in 1616 with the arrival of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal. He introduced the dual system of governance with the Je Khenpo as the spiritual head of the nation and the Desi, as the head of the temporary aspects.
The fifth line in Wangchuck dynasty, His Majesty King Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuck is the head of the state. With a democratic Monarchy in the kingdom, he was ascended the Golden Throne on 9thDecember 2006 and the public coronation ceremony was held on 1st November 2008 coincided with the 100 years of monarchy in Bhutan.
In a more to ensure a more democratic governance of the country, the late Third king Jigme Dorji Wangchuck, instituted the National Assembly in 1953. Every gewog (block) has an elected member representing it in the National Assembly. As of now there are three main institution facilitating ease of governance in the kingdom are , the National Assembly, the National Council, the Judiciary and the council of Ministers and the sectoral Ministers. All this are a platform where the people’s representatives from the districts,block and village levels enacted laws and discussed issues of national important.
Bhutan is the world’s smallest and least developed countries. The economy is largely dependent on agriculture and forestry, which provide the main livelihood for the more than 60% of the population. Subsistence farming and raising livestock are main sector of agriculture. Industrialization and mining are at a building stage but showing rapid growth.
The economy is the closely aligned with India’s through strong trade and monetary links and dependence on India’s financial assistance. Bhutan’s most important sources of income is generated by exporting hydroelectricity to India and constitutes 25% of the government’s revenue. Other items being exported from Bhutan are calcium carbide, wood products, cement and agriculture products, such as apples, oranges, cardamom, potatoes, asparagus and mushroom.
Each economic program taken into account the government’s desire to protect the country’s environment and cultural traditions. Tourism and airline industry, the means of earning foreign exchange,form a very small part of the Gross National Product.
Arts and Crafts
Even though Bhutan is located between two of the populated countries of the world, it has always been politically independent. One of the most striking physical feature of Bhutan is its architecture and preservation of its native culture. The characteristic style and color of every building and houses in the kingdom is a distinct source of aesthetic pleasure. The Castle-like Dzongs, themselves imposing grand scale without the help of any drawing and nail, tapering walls and large courtyard- are outstanding and finest examples of Bhutanese architecture.
Here, people have highly valued their traditions and followed them religiously. Like its architecture, Bhutan’s art and painting are important aspects of Bhutan’s culture as they depict the spiritual depth of their life. Paintings on a wall, or one of the renowned colors pigments to give their work the subtle beauty an explanation of the values rather then depiction of facts. Bhutan also boasts in unparalleled wealth in its cottage industry. The thirteen arts and crafts are together known as Zorig Chusum. 1.Shing zo(woodwork), 2. Dho zo(Stonework), 3. Par zo(Carving), 4.Lha zo(painting), 5. Jim zo(sculpture), 6. Lug zo(casting), 7. Shag zo(wood turning), 8. Gar zo(blacksmith), 9. Troe zo(ornament making), 10. Thag zo(weaving), and 13. Tshem zo(tailoring,embroidery and applique)
One of the main attractions in the kingdom is its annual religious festivals known as TSHECHUS, are held on the 10th day of every month to celebrate to honor the great Indian saint Guru Padmasambhava, also known as “Guru Rinpoche”.
For local people, Tshechu is an occasion for reverence and blessing, feasting and socializing. More importantly, Tshechu is a veneration of one of these 12 episodes highlighted in the model of Buddha’s Shakyamuni’s life. Traditional dances are performed by monks and laymen during this festivals.
Two of the most popular Tshechus are held at Paro in the spring and Thimphu in the autumn, but there are varies other all the year round temples,Dzongs and monasteries throughout Bhutan. It is believed that one gets blessing by attending the ceremonies. Festival are also a time for people dressing well and an opportunity for our clients to experience its unique and extraordinary charm.
Culture and Traditions
Bhutanese culture is one of the distinctive cultures in the world. As a tiny country with a very small population the need to preserve culture and tradition is amplified. This unique culture is the means of protecting the sovereignty of the nation. The distinctiveness of the culture and tradition is visible in thr everyday life of the Bhutanese.
Birth: The birth of the child is always welccomed without difference on gender. The outsiders, normally do not visit the child for first three days as the house is considered polluted by kaydrip (defilement by birth). Thus, a purificaion ritual (lhabsang) is conducted in the house, after which the outsiders comr to the house to see the new born baby. gifts are bought for the newborn baby and the mother. the gifts range fro rice and dairy products in rural places and clothes an money in the urban.
The child is not immediately named. Generally, the names are given by the religious person. The child is taken to the temple of the local deity (natal deity) and the name associated with the deity is given. In some cases, the child is given the name of the days on which the child is born. The details out the time and date of the birth, predicts the future of the child, rituals to br executed at different stages in the life of the child as remedy to possible illness, problems and misfortune.
Traditionally, the culture of celebrating birthdays did not exist. However, it has now become popular especially amongst the town and city dwellers.
Funeral:Death is the most expensive affair as it does not mean the end. On the contrary, it is merely passing on to another life. Thus, many rituals are performed to help the departed soul get a better rebirth. Rituals are performed after the 7th day, 14th days and 21st day and the 49th day of the death. Cremationa are done only on a favorable day prescribed by the astrologer but in habitually before 7th day ritual. Elabrorate rituals are also conducted on the death anniversary for three consecutive years with eraction of prayers flags in the name of the deceased. the relatives and the people of the locality come with alcohol, rice, or other sundry items to attend these rituals.
Marriage: Until just few decades ago arranged marriages were common and many married among their relatives. In eastern Bhutan cross-cousin marriages were also once common. However, this practise is now becoming less common place among the literate masses and most marriage are based on the choice of the individuals. Marriage are simple affiars and usually kept low-key. However elaborate rituals are performed for lasting unions between the bride and the dridegroom. As the religious ceremony comes to an end, parents, relatives and friends of the couple present the newlyweds with traditional offerings of scarves along with gifts in the form of cash and goods.
In the western Bhutan, it was commonplace that the husband goes to live in his wife’s house after marriage while the practise in eastern Bhutan is for wife to move into the husband’s home. Of course, the newlyweds may also choose to live on thier own. Divorce is also an accepted norm nad carriwes no ignominy or disgrace within the country.