Bhutan FAQ

General Information
Bhutan History
Bhutan Economy
Bhutan Culture
Bhutan Climate
Bhutan people
Bhutan Festival
Bhutan Business
Bhutan Language
Bhutan Religious
Entertainment in Bhutan

General Information

Bhutan MapOn the roof of the world, shoe horned into the grand Himalaya, Bhutan, the thunder Dragon, is a fiercely independent kingdom. With an area slightly larger than Switzerland, there are only about 600,000 people. The name Bhutan appears to derive from the ancient Indian term "Bhotanta" which means the end of land of the Bhots, it could also extend from the Sanskrit word Bhu'uttan or highland.

The Kingdom lies east of Nepal and west of the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh. Located in the heart of the high Himalayan mountain range, Bhutan is a land-locked country surrounded by mountains in north and west. The rugged east, visited by few Western travellers, the high Himalaya in the northern steppes separates the kingdom from Tibet.

Spring is the most beautiful time of the year in the kingdom. The fierce cold that characterises the winter months tends to subside towards the end February (around Bhutanese New Year, Lhosar). At the height of spring, the end of March, the whole kingdom comes to life with the spectacular flaming red, pink and white of Rododendrom blossom.

Isolated from the outside world till the 1960s, Bhutan manages to retain all the charm of the old world. Like timeless images from the past,the traveller encounters the full glory of this ancient land through its strategic monastic fortresses known as Dzongs, numerous ancient temples, monastries and stupas which dot the countryside, prayer flags which flutter along the high ridges, wild animals which abundant in the dense forest, foamy white water falls which are like the real showers, and warm smiles of its friendly people. Each moment is special as one discovers a country which the people have chosen to preserve in its magical purity.

Bhutan History

Bhutan, is traditionally called ‘Druk Yul’. It is a land-locked country with no access to sea. It is located in the eastern Himalayas bordered by India in the south, east and west and by the Tibetan Autonomous Region of China in the north. It has an area of 46,500 Sq. Km. between latitudes 26 45 0 North and 28 10 0 North and between longitudes 88 45 0 east and 92 10 0 east. At its longest east-west dimension, Bhutan stretches around 300 kilometres and it measures 170 kilometre at its maximum north-south dimension. Bhutan shares about 1075 km of land boundaries with its neighbours - China 470 km, India 605 km. It is roughly the size of Switzerland.

The origin of Bhutan and its earlier history is unknown. Guru Padma Sambhava, an Indian saint made his legendary trip from Tibet to Bhutan at the end of eighth century.

Bhutan’s history is shrouded in mystery, prior to the arrival of yet another Tibetan Lama (monk), Zhabdrung Nawang Namgyal from Ralung Monastery of Tibet in 1616. After being threatened in Tibet, he escaped to Bhutan, in 1616.

Zhabdrung Nawang Namgyal

Before Zhabdrung Nawang Namgyal‘s arrival, numerous clans ruled in different valleys of Bhutan, having internecine war and quarrel among themselves and with Tibet. The arrival of Zhabdrung Nawang Namgyal is considered as the most important era in the history of Bhutan. Zhabdrung literally means, "at whose feet one submits". Over the next thirty years, he conquered and unified the country under his central leadership, which otherwise was fragmented into petty principalities, ruled over by the tribal feudal chiefs.

Zhabdrung established himself as the country's supreme leader. He ruled over Bhutan for thirty-five years until his retirement in 1651 A.D. During his reign of 35 years, he built dzongs (fortress), monasteries, and religious institutions. He established the Drukpa Kargyupa school of Tantric Mahayana Buddhism in Bhutan.

His reign was marked by the introduction of the unique dual system of governance called the Chhoesid. This new system was characterized by the sharing of power and authority between the Deb Raja or the Desi who was the head of secular affairs and the Dharma Raja or the spiritual head, called as Je Khempo . He also codified laws for the country. The laws were based on medieval theocratic principles called the Tsa-Yig. The successive ‘Dharma Rajas’ were the incarnations of the Shabdrung whereas the post of the Deb Raja was like that of the Prime Minister. In course of time, the Dharma Rajas preferring religious matters withdrew themselves into seclusion while the Deb Rajas consolidated their authority exercising sole responsibility over the secular affairs. The seventh and eighth Zhabdrung reincarnates ( avtars) died in 1931 and 1953.

The dual form of governance continued until the birth of the Wangchuk dynasty and establishment of hereditary Monarchy in 1907. Ugyen Wangchuck was elected as the first hereditary monarch of Bhutan on December 17, 1907. The present King Jigme Singye Wangchuck is the fourth hereditary king.

Bhutan Economy

Economy—overview: The economy, one of the world's smallest and least developed, is based on agriculture and forestry, which provide the main livelihood for 90% of the population and account for about 40% of GDP. Agriculture consists largely of subsistence farming and animal husbandry. Rugged mountains dominate the terrain and make the building of roads and other infrastructure difficult and expensive. The economy is closely aligned with India's through strong trade and monetary links. The industrial sector is technologically backward, with most production of the cottage industry type. Most development projects, such as road construction, rely on Indian migrant labor. Bhutan's hydropower potential and its attraction for tourists are key resources. The Bhutanese Government has made some progress in expanding the nation's productive base and improving social welfare. Model education, social, and environment programs in Bhutan are underway with support from multilateral development organizations. Each economic program takes into account the government's desire to protect the country's environment and cultural traditions. Detailed controls and uncertain policies in areas like industrial licensing, trade, labor, and finance continue to hamper foreign investment.

GDP: purchasing power parity—$1.9 billion (1998 est.)

GDP—real growth rate: 6.5% (1998 est.)

GDP—per capita: purchasing power parity—$1,000 (1998 est.)

GDP—composition by sector: agriculture: 38% industry: 38% services: 24% (1997)

Population below poverty line: NA%

Household income or consumption by percentage share: lowest 10%: NA% highest 10%: NA%

Inflation rate (consumer prices): 7.4% (1997 est.)

Labor force: NA note: massive lack of skilled labor

Labor force—by occupation: agriculture 93%, services 5%, industry and commerce 2%

Unemployment rate: NA%

Budget: revenues: $146 million expenditures: $152 million, including capital expenditures of $NA (FY95/96 est.) note: the government of India finances nearly three-fifths of Bhutan's budget expenditures

Industries: cement, wood products, processed fruits, alcoholic beverages, calcium carbide

Industrial production growth rate: 9.3% (1996 est.)

Electricity—production: 1.717 billion kWh (1996) note: exports electricity to India

Electricity—production by source: fossil fuel: 0.41% hydro: 99.59% nuclear: 0% other: 0% (1996)

Electricity—consumption: 246 million kWh (1996)

Electricity—exports: 1.475 billion kWh (1996)

Electricity—imports: 4 million kWh (1996)

Agriculture—products: rice, corn, root crops, citrus, foodgrains; dairy products, eggs

Exports: $99 million (f.o.b., 1997 est.)

Exports—commodities: cardamom, gypsum, timber, handicrafts, cement, fruit, electricity (to India), precious stones, spices

Exports—partners: India 94%, Bangladesh

Imports: $131 million (c.i.f., 1997 est.)

Imports—commodities: fuel and lubricants, grain, machinery and parts, vehicles, fabrics, rice

Imports—partners: India 77%, Japan, UK, Germany, US

Debt—external: $87 million (1996)

Economic aid—recipient: $73.8 million (1995)

Currency: 1 ngultrum (Nu) = 100 chetrum; note—Indian currency is also legal tender

Exchange rates: ngultrum (Nu) per US$1—42.508 (January 1999), 41.259 (1998), 36.313 (1997), 35.433 (1996), 32.427 (1995), 31.374 (1994); note—the Bhutanese ngultrum is at par with the Indian rupee

Bhutan Culture

Male DanceThe culture Bhutan is among the oldest, most carefully guarded and well preserved cultures in the world. Bhutan's culture is the only highlight of this small and less developed country.

Bhutan has three main ethnic groups: the Sharchop in the east, which originated from the tribes of northern Burma and northeast India; the Ngalops in the west, who introduced Buddhism to Bhutan after migrating from Tibet; and the Lhotsampas in the south, originally belonging to Nepal. Bhutan has a population of around 700,000.

Thimpu, the capital of Bhutan is one of the large towns in Bhutan. The major profession of the people of Bhutan is farming, who live in small rural villages. These villages are secluded and is accessible only by foot. But now, as the people are getting educated, they are migrating to towns in search of other occupations.

Dzongkha is the official language of Bhutan, but many regions in Bhutan still retain their native dialects due to their isolation. As people are receiving education, especially those in urban areas, are getting more familiar with the English language, which is also the medium of instruction in Bhutan.

The Tantric form of Mahayana Buddhism is the official religion of Bhutan. It is an important factor in the development of Bhutanese society. Bhutan villages are strewn with temples and religious structures, which are present along the roads and trails. One can also see many prayer flags on the hills and high passes. Almost all the homes in Bhutan have a special area where a small shrine is placed.

The national dress of Bhutan originated from the time of the first Shabdrung. The men in Bhutan wear a "gho," a long knee-length robe that is tied around the waist by a belt and the women wear a "kira," which is an ankle-length dress worn with a short jacket. To preserve the ancient customs from being influenced by the West, the Bhutanese government has made it compulsory for all Bhutanese to wear only their national dress in public.

Bhutan's national sport is Archery, which is played here with unique Bhutanese rules and equipment. The equipments like the traditional bows and arrows are made out of bamboo and the teams of archers shoot at targets only 30 centimeters in diameter from a distance of 120 meters. Each team has a noisy crowd of supporters who, as well as encouraging their own side and try to out off the opposition.

Rice and Chilies are the major features of Bhutanese diet. The chilies are considered as a vegetable and not just a spice. Bhutanese dishes are mostly fiery and meats like pork, radish (daikon) that is dried beef mixed with vegetables and yak meat, when it's in season, are widely eaten . A dish called "ema datse," which is chilies and cheese, is one of the favorite dishes in Bhutan.

Vegetables eaten in Bhutan are potatoes, fern, spinach, cabbage, cauliflower, and onions which are often cooked with a small bit of fresh cheese. Buckwheat is the main staple diet in central Bhutan, since it is situated at an altitude that is too high to grow rice. The Bumthang region of central Bhutan is known for its buckwheat pancakes and noodles. Beverages popular in Bhutan are butter tea (suja) and ara, is a spirit distilled from rice, wheat, or corn.

The Bhutanese architecture is characterized by structural designs and exterior paintwork (shapes, colors, and patterns), representing national identity and traditional meanings. Dzongs (fortresses), Gompas (monasteries), Chortens (shrines/stupas), Lakhangs (temples) and houses are some of the impressive and important structures in Bhutan.

Most of the monasteries and temples throughout Bhutan are built on steep hillsides and in other remote places. This ensures that the monks get a solitude and serenity. All the monasteries in Bhutan have some common features though they also have their own design. Monasteries here have a central chapel with statues and separate sleeping quarters for the monks. There are prayer wheels around the outside and a round gold-colored ornament on the roof. Temples are not very different from monasteries in design and look, the only difference between them is that they do not house a monk body.

The traditional Bhutanese houses are made out of mud, bamboo, and wood. The doors and windows of Bhutanese houses are decorated with animal, religious, or floral designs. The houses here are usually of three stories, in the ground floor cattle and other animals of the house reside, the second floor is for storage, and the third floor is the living quarters which often has a shrine. Hay, dry vegetables and meat are stored in the open-air area between the third floor and the roof. And the most important feature of Bhutanese houses is a prayer flag placed in the center of the roof.

Bhutan Climate

Bhutan has a wide range of climates, from the hot and humid jungles of the southern foothills to frigid snowcapped peaks in the north, which rise to 7,700 metres.

Broadly speaking, we can divide the climate of Bhutan into four seasons: Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter.

Spring begins by the end of February and lasts till the end of May. Summer starts by the end of May and lasts till the end of August. There is one more season that may be identified in between somewhere here. The rainy season starts by June and lasts till the middle or end of September. The rainy season more or less coincides with the summer season. The rainy season is vital for farmers to grow their crops like maize and rice, but it causes roadblocks due to landslides. Sometimes, you may be stranded on the highway for hours or for a few days due to roadblocks.

Autumn starts by October and lasts till the end of November. Winter lasts from December to February. In most places in Bhutan, it snows in winter except in Southern Bhutan. Even in the south, it is quite chilly in the morning and evening in winter.

Summer is quite hot everywhere. But in the south, it gets almost terribly hot. Spring is a good season. Rainy season is not much loved by the city dwellers.

Bhutan people

The inhabitants of Bhutan are warm, simple, hard working and open. They are peace loving and have a lively sense of humor. Bhutan's people fall into three broad ethnic groups. The Sharchops, believed to have been the earliest inhabitants of the country, live largely in the eastern regions. The Naglops are the descendants of Tibetan immigrants who came to Bhutan from about the 9th century onward, settling primarily in the west. The third sections of population are the Nepalese, who began to settle in the south towards the end of the last century.

Predominantly Buddhist, the Bhutanese practice the Drukpa Kagyupa sect of Mahayana Buddhism. Religion has saved the history of nation and continuous to play an important role in the life of the god faring and spiritual people. All over Bhutan evidence of this can be seen in many religious monuments and symbols that have been erected. Practically every Bhutanese home has an altar were daily religious observance are carried out by the family. Monks are held in high respects and play an active part in community life and in the government.

Bhutan Festival

It various times of the year, Bhutanese in towns and villages congregate to witness the masked dance festivals known as Tsechus. These colorful events draw thousands of locals, some of whom walk for days in order to attend. While the underlying purpose is spiritual, dances are more often like plays where good triumphs over evil or depict significant historical events

Paro Tshechu (April) The Tshechu is a festival honoring Guru Padmasambhava, "one who was born from a lotus flower." This Indian saint contributed enormously to the diffusion of Tantric Buddhism in the Himalayan regions of Tibet, Nepal, Bhutan etc. The biography of Guru is highlighted by 12 episodes of the model of the Buddha Shakyamuni's life. Each episode is commemorated around the year on the 10th day of the month by "the Tshechu."

The dates and the duration of the festivals vary from one district to another but they always take place on or around the 10th of the month according to the Bhutanese calendar. During Tshechu, the dances are performed by monks as well as by laymen.

The Tshechu is a religious festival and by attending it, it is believed one gains merits. It is also a yearly social gathering where the people, dressed in all their finery, come together to rejoice.

Thimpu Tsechu (September) It is an authentically traditional festival full with color, excitement and mystical power. The dancers recreate the myths and legends of Himalayan Buddhism in a swirl of color, music and mystery. You may see a magnificent procession that re-enacts the battle, masked dancers take on the aspects of peaceful and wrathful deities, fine clothes, beautiful jewels, galloping horsemen, archery contests, monks in antique silk robes and more. On the last morning, at the culmination of Bhutan's religious festival if you are lucky you might view the rare display of stunning 'Thangka' four-stories-tall silk scroll painting.

Bhutan Business

Almost all the working population is involved in agriculture, forestry or fishing. The economy is therefore mainly one of subsistence and dependent on clement climatic conditions. The main products are cereals and timber about 60 per cent of the land area is forested. There is some small-scale industry – contributing no more than 5 per cent of GDP – producing textiles, soap, matches, candles and carpets. Recent economic policy has concentrated on export industries, of which electric power generation and transmission is the major earner. Tourism and stamps are major sources of foreign exchange. India accounts for nearly 90 per cent of imports and nearly 70 per cent of exports. However, during the 1990s, Bhutan also developed valuable trading links with Bangladesh. Bhutan is a member of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation, which seeks to improve economic and commercial links in the region.

Business

Lightweight or tropical suit or a shirt and tie for the south. In the capital, a full business suit and tie are recommended. The best time to visit for business is October and November.

Bhutan Language

For centuries, the different valleys of Bhutan were isolated from each other by torrential rivers and deep gorges. As a result, most of these valleys developed their own dialects. At present, there are about 13 different dialects spoken in Bhutan.

However, there are three major languages: Dzongkha, Sharchopkha and Nepali. Dzongkha is mainly spoken in the west, Sharchopkha in the east and Nepali in the south. News are broadcast in these three languages from the Bhutan Broadcasting Service in Thimphu on short wave and FM.

Dzongkha is the national language of Bhutan. It has some similarity to Tibetan in speaking, while the alphabets are exactly same as Tibetan (but uses different style of scripts). It is also taught in schools and all students can speak Dzongkha and English. Although Dzongkha is a major subject in schools, English has taken precedence over Dzongkha in terms of students' interest and their literacy, because most of the subjects like mathematics, science and geography are taught in English.

If you can speak English, you should not have much problem communicating in Bhutan. If you are in a town, you will see that almost everybody can speak English. However, if you go to remote villages, it will be helpful if you can speak little bit of Bhutanese.

Here are a few important sentences in Dzongkha that may be helpful:

Hello (or greetings). Kuzu Zangpo.
How are you? Ga de bay ye?
What is your name? Chhoe gi ming ga chi mo?
My name is Peter. Nge gi ming Peter in.
I am from Australia. Nga Australia lay in.
Where is the toilet? Chhabsang ga ti mo?
How much is the cost of this item? Di gi gong ga dem chi mo?
Please reduce the cost a bit. Gong Aa tsi phab nang.
OK I will buy it. Toob, Nga gi nyo ge.
Thank you. Kadrin chhe.
See ya later. Shoo lay log jay ge.

Bhutan Religious

In terms of religion and faith, Bhutanese people practise Lamaist Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity and Animism. The Lamaist Buddhism is divided into two groups- Drukpa Kargyupa sect to which the King and other high government officials belong to and Nyingmapa Buddhism. The Sharchhop community in the east practise Nyingmapa Buddhism.

Entertainment in Bhutan

BHUTANESE LIFE STYLE

Most Bhutanese live on farms, in remote hamlets, amidst sylvan settings. The fast life that is both the badge and bane of modern living is alien to the season-paced lifestyle of these agrarian folk.

Bhutanese society is egalitarian in its apparel; regardless of social stratum, everybody dresses alike. The national dress is a distinctive one, finely woven from multicoloured, vibrant-hued wool, cotton or silk. The male attire is called a "gho" and the female, the "kira". Jewellery is primarily coral, turquoise, pearls and agate set in exquisitely crafted gold and silver.

The cuisine of the country is robust with lots of meat, cereals and vegetables, liberally spiced with chillies. Salted butter tea, called "suja", which may sit strangely on occidental tongues, is customarily and frequently served along with puffed or pounded rice and maize. Potent rice, wheat and barley wines are brewed locally.

Archery is the popular and perennial national sport played usually with bamboo bows and arrows. An integral part of most festivities, archery matches are gala affairs with music, dances, drinks and fun.

The ancient and traditional forms of music and dance of the different regions in Bhutan, usually loaded with sacred symbolism, have been scrupulously preserved. The gentle grace of the folk dances and the dramatic gusto of the energetic and resplendent masked dances are bound to leave a lasting impression on visitors.

MUSIC & DANCE

Bhutanese religious dances are called "CHAM" and there are a large number of them. Dancers wear spectacular costumes made of yellow silk or rich brocade often decorated with ornaments of carved bone. For certain dances, they wear masks, which may represent animals, fearsome deities, skulls, manifestation of Guru Rimpoche or just the simple human beings.

Religious dances can be grouped into three categories; INSTRUCTIVE OR DIDACTIC DANCES; which are dramas with a moral (Dances of the princes & princesses, the Dance of the stag and the hunting dogs, the Dance of the judgement of the dead), DANCES THAT PURIFY AND PROTECT A PLACE FROM DEMONIC SPIRITS (the dance of the master of the cremation grounds, the dance of the stags, the dance of the fearsome gods, the dance of the black hats, the dance of the Ging and the Tsholing) and DANCES THAT PROCLAIM THE VICTORY OF BUDDHISM AND THE GLORY OF GURU RIMPOCHE (all dances with drums, the dance of the heroes, the dance of the celestial beings, the dance of the eight manifestations of Guru Rimpoche).

Like the dances, religious music reflects a strong Tibetan influence. Music gives rhythm to the dances and religious ceremonies, and it punctuates the singing or recitation of the texts.