Bhutan is a very small country located in the heart of the Eastern Himalayas. Some call it the Last Shangri-la, some the last Buddhist kingdom, and most recently, it has been raved as the country of Gross National Happiness. To the Bhutanese, it is known as “Druk” from “Druk-yul” – the land of the thunder dragon.
Bhutan is a very small country located in the heart of the Eastern Himalayas. Some call it the Last Shangri-la, some the last Buddhist kingdom, and most recently, it has been raved as the country of Gross National Happiness. To the Bhutanese, it is known as “Druk” from “Druk-yul” – the land of the thunder dragon. The history of Bhutan dates back to the origins of Buddhism, hence, people in Bhutan are deeply spiritual. They have lived in harmony with the rich nature and environment with which have evolved a unique identity resplendent with rich culture and tradition. To this day the country is guided by the development philosophy of the Gross National Happiness.
Area: 38,394 sq. km
Population: 742,737 (2012 estimate)
Altitude: 590.55ft to 24,770.34ft above sea level
Local time: 6 hrs ahead of GMT
Currency: Bhutanese Ngultrum (pegged with the Indian Rupee)
National Language: Dzongkha
National Flower: Blue Poppy
National Animal: Takin
National Sports: Archery
Art and crafts :
No places more comprehensively embody traditional Bhutanese arts and crafts than dzongs, the imposing monastic fortresses that appear throughout the landscape. Within their massive walls and measured beams are found items ranging from the most basic and functional to ones of spectacular beauty. Particularly striking are the paintings and statues representing important religious figures. Many intricate and colorful illustrations serve as allegories, dramatizing the continuing struggle between good and evil.
Bhutanese art and craft possesses three main interrelated characteristics: it is religious, it is anonymous and it corresponds to a certain uniformity of style. As such, items possess no intrinsic aesthetic function, and are instead interpreted as outward expressions of the holistic Buddhist religion. The distinction between more ornate (what one might consider artistic) forms and more practical applications is therefore somewhat blurred. All craftsmen would be considered artisans (scrupulously following tight traditional conventions) rather than artists (who might place greater emphasis on innovation). The Bhutanese style has over centuries been significantly influenced by Tibetan designs, whilst developing its own definite forms and themes.
The strength and vitality of Bhutan’s traditional Buddhist culture is in clear evidence throughout the land in its arts and crafts. This heritage is seen in both the ancient and the more modern structures, images and artifacts. What is particularly remarkable is the overall sense of regularity, where there appear to exist only superficial differences between the old and the new. Craftsmen maintain age-old techniques to perpetuate a rich artistic tradition. Unlike many places, in Bhutan the arts and crafts on sale are not made specifically for the tourist market, but are widely used by Bhutanese in both daily life and more direct religious practice.
With Bhutan’s entry into the modern world many traditional techniques are coming under threat. Particularly with regard to the more practical items used in daily life, cheaper foreign imports are gradually substituting for local handicrafts. Moreover, younger Bhutanese are increasingly becoming more interested in pursuing different career paths. With a view to preserving the country’s rich artistic traditions, the Royal Government has begun various initiatives to help promote such methods, which are seen as valuable parts of the country’s heritage.
Flora and Fauna :
Bhutan is one of the last remaining biodiversity hotspots in the world; forest cover has now increased to over 72% of the country, with 60% of the country under protection. The conservation efforts and the wide altitude and climate range, have contributed to a wide array of flora and fauna. Essentially the country can be divided into three zones: alpine, temperate and sub-tropical. Owing to that, fir, mixed conifer, blue pine, chirpine, broadleaf mixed with conifer, hardwood are the major species of forest types. With about 300 species of medicinal plants, Bhutan also has a variety of about 46 species of rhododendron. Magnolias, orchids, junipers, gentian, Daphne and giant rhubarb can be seen commonly in the country.
Bhutan also has a wide range of rare and endangered animals dwelling in the high mountains and dense jungles. The conservation efforts and the unspoiled nature support thriving populations of some of the rarest animals on earth. Bengal tigers have been found in an altitude ranging from 3000 to 4000 meters, while the snow leopards live in the high-altitude cold mountains. The red pandas, the golden langurs-this a species of monkey unique to Bhutan, the gorals, the Himalayan black bears, wild bears, barking deer, sambars, blue sheep and musk dear are also some of the rare animals living in the Eco-system. Additionally, down south, the tropical forests house the clouded leopards, rhinoceros, elephants, water buffalos and swamp deer.
A great variety of bird species are also found in Bhutan. It is recognized as the East Himalayan ‘hot spot’ with a hub of 221 global endemic bird areas housing over 670 species of bird species, and the numbers will increase as new species are discovered. From birds that migrate during winter like the buntings, waders, ducks, thrushes and birds of prey; to a great variety of partial migrant species such as swifts, cuckoos, bee-eaters, fly catchers and warblers. Furthermore, 16 endangered species like White bellied heron, Pallas Fish eagle, Blyth’s King fisher and the Black Necked cranes make home in Bhutan.
Bhutan has always committed to preserve and protect its rich environment. Now as one of the global hotspots, Bhutan is strengthening its commitment through various government and environmental organizations, such as the National Environmental Commission (NEC) and the Royal Society for Protection of Nature Clubs (RSPN), to name a few. These organizations are mandated to conserve the environment and preserve the rich bio-diversity.
Bhutan’s economy has been growing rapidly in recent years. Development efforts by the government and rapid modernization have brought about increase in raising the living standard of the Bhutanese people. Today most Bhutanese enjoy the basic amenities such as basic healthcare, education, connected by roads and electricity. The telecommunication services have also reached even the remotest communities with people able to avail mobile services.
Despite the small population, the growth has been very rapid. More than 70% of the population live in rural communities and depend on agriculture and livestock rearing for their income. Therefore the economy is predominantly agriculture driven with people living on subsistence farming growing rice, maize, wheat, buckwheat, millet, barley, potatoes, mustard, chilies and vegetables. The income is also supplemented by selling animal produce like milk, cheese and eggs. These fresh, local and organic produce are sold through farmer’s markets that are common all around the country. Potatoes, apples, oranges, cardamom, ginger and chilies are some of the main cash crops. Although the agriculture produce is not enough for our own consumption, the government has been prioritizing the agricultural sector to make Bhutan self sufficient.
Today the export of hydro-power to India and tourism are two of the highest revenue earners for Bhutan.
One of the major sources of Bhutan’s revenue is from the revenue generated from the hydro-power sector. Bhutan’s fast flowing rivers provides enormous potential to generate hydroelectricity. Major dams were constructed and hydro-power projects were commissioned, preceded by the Chukha Hydro Power Cooperation and followed by the Tala Hydro Corporation, the Baso Chhu Hydro Power Corporation and the Kirichu Hydro Power Corporation. The Druk Green Power Corporation oversee these power corporations that generate a combined 1500 MW of power, of which, most are exported to India. Considering the abundant water resources, Bhutan has untapped hydroelectric potential with the capacity to generate another 30,000 MW of electricity. However, it is of the utmost importance for the government to tread slowly in consideration of the impact of hydro-power related construction projects to the surrounding environment.
Cottage Industries :
Numerous cottage industries have cropped up over the years, tapping into Bhutan’s rich biodiversity.
One of Bhutan’s abundant resources is the forests through which we have a thriving cane and bamboo handicraft industry. Our talented craftsmen weave intricate designs out of bamboo and cane including hats, backpacks, floor mats, containers and traditional bowls. These items are mainly sold to tourists or Bhutanese people.
The Manufacturing sector is also booming. It started with the cement factory located in southern Bhutan. Now a thriving industrial sector has also been established in Pasakha with small scale industries such as Calcium and Carbide, and Steel and Ferro silicon. Additionally soft drink (Coca Cola), wood based industries, and food based manufacturing industries have been initiated. Therefore it is without argument that this sector is also a major contributor to the national revenue.
Perhaps this rapid economic development has contributed to making Bhutan, a country in the South Asia region with one of the highest per capita incomes at US$1,321. Despite the potential of even higher rate of economic development, Bhutan continues to adhere to preserving the natural environment. Which mean Bhutan will not aim to develop the country at the cost of our natural environment? Therefore Bhutan’s policies are backed by stringent regulations to help protect Bhutan’s natural environment.
Culture and Religion :
Bhutan is renowned for its rich culture and heritage. Everyone who steps into Bhutan for the first time notices the beautiful mountainous landscape and then the people in their colorful national dresses, the traditional houses with green/red roof tops, the amazing majestic fortresses, beautiful paintings and sculptures, among many others.
Bhutanese women wear ankle length dress (kira) tied around by a traditional hand-woven belt (kera), accompanied by the inner (wonju) and outer (tego) jackets. Men wear a longish knee-length robe (gho) tied around by a belt too. These dresses are hand-woven fabric with traditional patterns/designs.
Architecture wise Bhutanese structures of the Dzongs (fortress), houses, the temples and chortens (stupas) have a strong religious influence. The castle like Dzongs is the finest example of the Bhutanese architecture. They are characteristically designed with traditional motifs, tapering walls, large courtyards and beautiful wall paintings of religious figures.
The traditional arts and craft that have been practiced for generations and passes down for ages is what are known as the ‘Zorig Chusum’. There are thirteen of them; painting, carving, sculpture, calligraphy, carpentry, gold, silver and black smiting, bamboo work, weaving and embroidery, pottery, masonry, paper and incense productions.
The national sport of Bhutan is Archery. It is a very popular sport, played at a distance of 100 meters from the target. Few other traditional sports are darts (‘khuru’) and quots (‘degor’). Popular international sports such as football, basketball, taekwondo, cricket, table-tennis, tennis, and volley ball are also played in Bhutan.
Traditional songs, dances and music are also part of Bhutan’s rich cultural heritage. Soft, palatable music from the traditional musical instruments are really pleasant and somehow portrays the unique Bhutanese culture. The songs and music fall under any of the three categories: ‘boedra’, ‘zhungdra’ and ‘rigsar’ (modern). According to the type of songs and music the moves of the dances are choreographed that are very slow, bit faster or fast, but consisting usually of very simple and flowing dance sequences.
The predominant religion practiced in Bhutan is Buddhism. Buddhism took firm roots when it was first introduced by Guru Padmasambhava, an Indian Tantric Master, in the 8th century. Since then Bhutan has been blessed by numerous learned Buddhist masters through different periods with which Buddhism spread all over the country and grew from strength to strength. In fact Bhutan is considered as the last stronghold of Vajrayana Buddhism. Therefore Buddhism has influenced much of Bhutan’s culture and tradition; starting from the way of life, the architecture, the national flag, the national attire, monasteries, prayer flags, and much more. It permeates in nearly every facet of the Bhutanese life style. Apart from Buddhism, the second most practiced religion is Hinduism