Bhutan

The Land of the Drukpas

ABOUT BHUTAN

The Buddhist Kingdom of Bhutan lies along the lofty ridges of the eastern Himalayas, bordered by China (Tibet) to the north and northwest, and by the Indian states of Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, West Bengal and Sikkim on the east, south and west respectively.With an area of 38,394 square km., Bhutan is comparable to Switzerland both in its size and topography.

The mighty Himalayas protected Bhutan from the rest of the world and left it blissfully untouched through the centuries. The Drukpa Kagyupa school of Mahayana Buddhism provided the essence of a rich culture and a fascinating history. The Bhutanese people protected this sacred heritage and unique identity for centuries by choosing to remain shrouded in a jealously guarded isolation. The kingdom is peopled sparsely, with a population approaching 552,996.

The country still retains all the charm of the old world, and travelers experience the full glory of this ancient land as embodied in the monastic fortresses, ancient temples, monasteries and stupas which dot the countryside, prayer flags fluttering above farmhouses and on the hillsides, lush forests, rushing glacial rivers, and – perhaps most important of all – the warm smiles and genuine friendliness of the people. Each moment is special as one discovers a country, which its people have chosen to preserve in all its magical purity.

HISTORY OF BHUTAN

The history of the kingdom dates back to the 8th century, with Guru Padmasambhava’s legendary flight from Tibet to Bhutan in 747 AD on the back of a tigress. The Guru began propagation of the Tantric form of Mahayana Buddhism. The country was unified under the Drukpa Kagyupa sect of Mahayana Buddhism in the early 17th century, by the religious figure, Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal. The Shabdrung codified a comprehensive system of laws and built dzongs which guarded each valley.

At the end of the 19th century, the Trongsa Penlop, Ugyen Wangchuck, who then controlled the central and eastern regions, overcame all his rivals and united the nation once more.

In 1998, the fourth King stepped down as head of state and handed over this function to a prime minister assisted by a cabinet of ministers. As part of the move towards democracy, the fourth King handed over his responsibilities to his son King Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuck in 2006. In 2008, the year that marked the centenary of the Kingdom, Bhutan made the transition from an absolute monarchy to a constitutional monarchy and held its first general elections, marking a new era in the political history of Bhutan.

Religion In Bhutan

Bhutan is the only extant Mahayana Buddhist kingdom in the world.

Bhutan is the only extant Mahayana Buddhist kingdom in the world that has adopted the Tantric form as its official religion. A majority of the Bhutanese people are Buddhist while people of Nepalese and Indian origin are Hindus. The teachings of this school of Buddhism are a living faith among its people. The air of spirituality is pervasive even in urban centers, where the spinning of prayer wheels, the murmur of mantras and the glow of butter lamps are still commonplace features of everyday life.

Bhutan’s religious sites and institutions are not museums, but the daily refuge of the people. Kingdom of Bhutan, is a landlocked country in South Asia at the eastern end of the Himalayas. It is bordered to the north by China and to the south, east and west by India. To the west, it is separated from Nepal by the Indian state of Sikkim, while farther south it is separated from Bangladesh by the Indian states ofAssam and West Bengal. Bhutan’s capital and largest city is Thimphu.

Bhutan’s state religion is Vajrayana Buddhism and the population, as of 2015 estimated as 770 thousand people, is predominantly Buddhist. Hinduism is the second-largest religion. In 2008, Bhutan made the transition from absolute monarchy to constitutional monarchy and held its first general election. As well as being a member of the United Nations, Bhutan is a member of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) and hosted SAARC’s sixteenth summit in April 2010.

Bhutan's state religion is Vajrayana Buddhism and the population, as of 2015 estimated as 770 thousand people, is predominantly Buddhist.

CULTURE & HERITAGE

Bhutanese tradition is deeply steeped in its Buddhist heritage.

Bhutan has a rich and unique cultural heritage that has largely remained intact because of its isolation from the rest of the world until the early 1960s. One of the main attractions for tourists is the country’s culture and traditions. Bhutanese tradition is deeply steeped in its Buddhist heritage. Hinduism is the second most dominant religion in Bhutan, being most prevalent in the southern regions.

The government is increasingly making efforts to preserve and sustain the current culture and traditions of the country. Because of its largely unspoiled natural environment and cultural heritage, Bhutan has been referred to as The Last Shangri-la. While Bhutanese citizens are free to travel abroad, Bhutan is viewed as inaccessible by many foreigners.

One of the most distinctive features of the Bhutanese is their traditional dress, unique garments that have evolved over thousands of years. Men wear the Gho, a knee-length robe somewhat resembling a kimono that is tied at the waist by a traditional belt known as Kera. The pouch t which forms at the front traditionally was used for carrying food bowls and a small dagger. Today however it is more accustomed to carrying small articles such as wallets, mobile phones and Doma (beetle nut).

Bhutanese still wear long scarves when visiting Dzongs and other administrative centers. The scarves worn vary in color, signifying the wearer’s status or rank. The scarf worn by men is known as Kabney while those worn by women are known as Rachus. Below is a brief breakdown of the different kabneys and their associated rank. The Rachu is hung over a woman’s shoulder and unlike the scarves worn by men, does not have any specific rank associated with its color. Rachus are usually woven out of raw silk and embroidered with beautiful rich patterns.

GROSS NATIONAL HAPINESS

GNH is a measurement of the collective happiness in Bhutan.

Economists the world over have argued that the key to happiness is obtaining and enjoying material development. Bhutan however, adheres to a very different belief and advocates that amassing material wealth does not necessarily lead to happiness. Bhutan is now trying to measure progress not by the popular idea of Gross Domestic Product but by through Gross National Happiness.

Three factors have exerted great influence on the course of Bhutan’s development. The first being continuous culture. As Bhutan was never conquered or colonialised, the country developed a culture relatively fee from outside influence, the institution of monarchy, and deep sense of nationhood. The second factor is the environment, which is protected by mountains, often difficult terrain.

Thirdly, Vajrayana Buddhism has given the country a view of the world on which the Third and Forth Kings based their policies of developing Bhutan’s potential in every field. This continuing development of Bhutan has been crytallised in a philosophy crafted by the Fourth King of Bhutan, His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck, known as Gross National Happiness (GNH) in the late 1980s.

The concept of GNH defines Bhutan’s development objective as improvement in the happiness and satisfaction of the people rather than growth of Gross National Product (GNP). GNH has been the overarching development philosophy of Bhutan as the concept has guided the country’s development policies and programs. GNH suggests that happiness is the ultimate objective of development. It recognizes that there are many more dimensions to development than those associated with Gross National Product (GNP), and that development should be understood as a total process that seeks to maximize happiness rather than purely economic growth.

The country believes that for a holistic development of the individual and society, it is essential that development achieves a sustainable balance between the economic, social, emotional, spiritual and cultural needs of the people. This has led to the declared objective of viewing development as a continuous process towards maintaining balance between the material and the intangible needs of individuals and society. The concept reminds the country that the means must always be considered in terms of the end and, therefore, every step in material development and change must be measured and evaluated to ensure that it will led to happiness, not just more development.

Having accepted that the maximum of Gross National Happiness (GNH) is philosophy and objective of the country’s development, it was felt necessary to more clearly identify the main areas, and create the condition to enable the people to attain greater happiness. Recognizing that a wide range of factors contribute to human well-being and happiness and that it may not be possible to exhaustively define or list everything for the purpose of its development planning, Bhutan has identified four major areas as the main pillars of GNH. These are economic growth and development, preservation and promotion of cultural heritage, preservation and sustainable use of the environment, and good governance.

Guided by the ideas of Gross National Happiness (GNH), Bhutan has been making steady progress in every sector toward the goal of modernization. Hydroelectric power, economically the most significant sector for Bhutan’s goal of self-sustaining development, has grown impressively. The education, social services and health sectors have made great strides forward and continue to be the most important social components of the country’s fiscal situation has been made in the development of human resources and the legal infrastructure.

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FLORA & FAUNA

Bhutan is one of the last remaining biodiversity hotspots in the world.

Nestled deep within the Himalayas, Bhutan is a treasure trove of biological diversity with an unparalleled richness of flora and fauna due to the varied altitudinal and climatic conditions present in the country. This fragile ecosystem has remained unspoiled due to the conservation efforts of the Bhutanese people and government. Today 60% of the kingdom’s total area has been designated as protected nature preserves.

Bhutan is the perfect destination for enthusiastic horticulturalists as it contains more than 60%of the common plant species found in the Eastern Himalayas. It also boasts of approximately 46 species of Rhododendrons and over 300 types of medicinal plants. Junipers, Magnolias, Orchids, Blue Poppies (the national flower), Edelweiss, Gentian, various medicinal herbs, Daphne, Giant Rhubarb, Pine and Oak trees are among the plants commonly found.
The kingdom is also home to a wide variety of animals. At higher altitudes you will come across snow leopards, blue sheep, red pandas, takin, marmots and musk deer. Leopards, gorals, gray langurs, Himalayan black bears, red pandas, sambars, wild pigs and barking deer are found in the temperate zones. The tropical forests in the south are a haven for clouded leopards, elephants, one horned Rhinoceros, water buffalos, golden langurs, gaurs, swamp deer, hog deer, horn bills and many other species. Bhutan is home to the highest altitude inhabiting Tigers in the world and they are commonly found throughout the country.

Visitors can experience the magnificent flora and fauna of Bhutan through sightseeing tours or by embarking on treks and hikes through beautiful virgin forests, pristine Himalayan Mountains and across sparkling crystal clear rivers fed by ancient mountain glaciers. Roads in Bhutan pass through the rich forests so travelers can experience the majestic natural environments of Bhutan.