Bhutan is a small Himalayan country with 38,492km2, roughly the size of Switzerland, with rich culture and tradition, and amazing natural beauty located between India from the south and China from the north, so it’s also call as land lock country as it lies between two big nation. Bhutan presently has twenty district and Thimphu is one of the most develop urban city and capital of Bhutan with about 150,000 people residing. Bhutan’s culture and tradition has been recognize as one of the best living monuments and gift for the younger generation that many global organizations has been considering. The country presently has little more than eight hundred thousand (800,000) population living under the development philosophy of Gross National Happiness. Gross National Happiness has become Bhutan’s unique development philosophy since 1970s after His Majesty the fourth king of Bhutan, Jigme Singay Wangchuck introduced. Many travelers from corner of the globe has been attracted to Bhutan because of this unique philosophy, the way Bhutanese practice to survive in this rapidly changing world with lot of economic challenges, when every nation in the world take Gross Domestic Product as first priority in their development plan.
The unique culture and tradition of Bhutan on other hand has been keeping Bhutan very unique as compare to other countries in the world. As you land on Bhutan, you will see a smiley face of Bhutanese man and women wearing unique national dress call Gho and Kira (gho for man and kira for women). Although it may not look comfortable for you to see people dressed in gho and kira for your first time, but slowly you will feel amaze as its simple and more comfortable to wear. For your surprise, one more thing Bhutan has is their unique architecture design as living tradition.
On the hill of amazing natural beauty, the Archery is consider as their national game, Takin (Burdorcastaxicolor) national animal, Blue Poppy national flower, Cypress national tress, Ludlow’s Swallowtail national butterfly and Raven national bird. And very interesting thing is that, Cheese and Chili curry (Emadatshi) has become their national dish.
History of Bhutan
The name ‘Bhutan’ appears to derive from the Sanskrit ‘Bhotant’ meaning ‘the end of Tibet’ or from ‘Bhu-uttan’ meaning ‘high land’. Though known as Bhutan to the outside world, the Bhutanese themselves refer to their country as Druk Yul or the Land of the Thunder Dragon. ‘Druk’ meaning ‘Dragon’ and extending from the predominant Drukpa school of Tibetan Buddhism.
The documented history of the Kingdom begins with 747 A.D. with Guru Padsambhava also known as Guru Rinpoche who made his legendary trip from Tibet across the mountains flying on a tigress’s back. He arrived in Paro valley at Taktsang Lhakhang also known as Tiger’s Nest. Guru Rinpoche is not only recognized as the founder of the Nyingmapa religious school but also considered to be second Buddha. In the ensuing centuries, many great masters preached the faith resulting in full bloom of Buddhism by the middle ages. Although sectarian at first, the country was eventually unified under Drukpa Kagyupa sect of Mahayana Buddhism by saint/administrator Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal in the 17th century. Ngawang Namgyal codified a comprehensive system of laws and built a chain of Dzongs which guarded each valley during unsettled times and now serving as the religious and administrative centre of the region.
During the next two centuries civil wars intermittently broke out and the regional Governors became increasingly more powerful. At the end of 19th century, Trongsa Governor overcame all his rivals and soon afterwards recognized as the overall leader of Bhutan.The Governor of Trongsa, Sir Ugyen Wangchuck, was elected as the first King of Bhutan in 1907 by an assembly of representatives of the monastic community, civil servants and people.
The country has now the system of democratic monarchy. The monarchy has thrived ever since and the present King, His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck, the first King’s great grandson, commands the overwhelming support of his people. After assuming the throne in 1974, the present king continued his father’s policy of pragmatic development by actively pursuing industrial progress, country wide education and medical care and at the same time ensuring country’s cultural and natural heritage intact.
Until the beginning of 20th century, Bhutan was ruled by dual system of administration known as “chhosi” which was initiated by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal in 1651. Shabdrung created the office of the Druk Desi to look after the temporal administration of the country and the Je Khenpo to manage religious matters.
His Majesty, King Jigme Singye Wangchuk, fourth in the Wangchuck dynasty is head of the state. His Majesty formally ascended the Golden Throne on 2 June 1974 and since then steered the country firmly towards the objectives of economic self-reliance, cultural promotion, regionally balanced development, environment preservation and good governance.
The National Assembly, the Royal Advisory Council, the Judiciary, the Council of Ministers and the Sectoral Ministries are the organizations that play a crucial role in the governance of the Kingdom of Bhutan. At the district, block and village levels there are established mechanisms that ensure people’s participation in the decision making process.
National Assembly; Established in 1953 by His Late Majesty, King Jigme Dorji Wangchuk, the main functions of the National Assembly are to enact laws, approve senior appointments in government and advise on all matters of national importance. It normally meets twice a year and consists of 154 members comprising 105 elected representatives of the people, 10 representatives of the clergy and 39 nominated representatives of the government.
Royal Advisory Council; The main functions of this body are to make its advice available to the King and his Council of Ministers on all matters of national importance, the welfare of the people and the national interest of the Kingdom, to develop friendly and harmonious relations between the government and the people and to ensure that the laws and resolutions passed by the National assembly are faithfully implemented by the government and people. Formed in 1965, it consists of nine members, six representing the people, two from clergy and one nominee of the King.
Judiciary: All the laws are codified. Minor offences are judged by the village headmen. Above them, the District Court have both original and appellate jurisdiction. Next higher court is the High Court in Thimphu. The final appeal is made to the King who then delegates the Royal Advisory Council to investigate and ensure that the courts have dispensed justice in keeping with the laws of the country.
Council of Ministers and Central Secretariat; Bhutan took a major step in the direction of a modernized administrative system in 1968 when the National Assembly, at the request of the King, approved the formation of a Council of Ministers. The Ministers are responsible to the Cabinet which is an important decision making body, second only in importance to the National Assembly. The Cabinet is presided over by the King and consists of Ministers, Deputy Ministers and all Royal Advisory Councillors.
Population and People
The estimated population of the country is 6,50,000 with the growth rate of 3.1% per year. The country is still predominantly rural and about 85% of the people live in villages.
Three main ethnic groups constitute its population :
Sharchops : live in eastern part of country are recognized as the original inhabitants of Bhutan and are Indo Mongoloid origin.
Ngalops : are descendants of Tibetan immigrants who arrived in Bhutan from 9th century and settled in the west of country.
Lhotshampas : this Nepalese group, began settling in the south of Bhutan in the late 19th century. The Lhotshampa represents different Nepali speaking ethnic groups primarily – Brahman, Chettri, Gurung, Rai and Limbu.
Agriculture and livestock raising are still the main pillars of the economy, with 85% of the population dependent on these two sectors. Industry and mining are still in the first stage of development but are expanding rapidly.
The export of hydroelectric power provides 25% of government revenue. Hydroelectric power is Bhutan’s largest resource and is sustainable, renewable and environmentally friendly.
Bhutan also exports calcium carbide, wood products and cement. In other major export is agricultural product, including apples, oranges, cardamom, potatoes, asparagus, mushroom.
Tourism and Airline, although very important for earning foreign exchange, only constitute a small part of the gross national product.
Health and Education
The Kingdom has made great efforts to improve health facilities and provides a free health care to all its citizens. It has achieved a child immunization rate of nearly 100%, iodine deficiency has been eliminated and 50% of the population has access to clean water. Life expectancy has increased from 47.4 years in 1984 to 66 years in 1998. Infant mortality once highest in the world, at 142 per thousand births, had been halved to 70.7 per thousand births by 1998.
Until the 1950s, the only education available in Bhutan was from monasteries. While still monastic education continues to play an important role but western style education is expanded and now available throughout the country. Access to basic education has become the inalienable right of all Bhutanese and it is the key to the most of the nation’s ambitions. Literacy has increased from 28% in 1984 to 54% in 1998 and this is further enhanced through adult education programs.
Nowhere in the Himalayas is the natural heritage more rich and varied than in Bhutan. In historical records, the Kingdom was called the ‘Valley of Medicinal Herbs’, a name that still applies to this day. About 72.5 per cent of the country’s area is under forest cover.
For centuries, Bhutanese have treasured the natural environment and have looked upon it as the source of all life. This traditional reverence for nature has delivered Bhutan into the 20th century with an environment still richly intact. The country wishes to continue living in harmony with nature and to pass on this rich heritage to its future generations.
Fortunately for Bhutan, maintaining a balanced natural ecosystem remains the central theme of its development process. The country’s development policies disregard sacrificing its natural resource base for short term economic gains and are consistent with the central tenets of sustainable development, environmental conservation and cultural values.
In 1998, Bhutan was identified by Norman Myers as one of the ten bio-diversity hot spots in the world. It has been identified as the centre of 221 global endemic bird areas. The country signed the Convention on Biological Diversity and United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. These conventions were ratified in 1995 at the 73rd session of the National Assembly. The Royal Government of Bhutan has also made a national commitment to uphold its obligation to future generations by charting a path of development called the “Middle Path” – this is the development which upholds both environmental and cultural preservation as an integral part of the development process.
An astonishing array of plants grow in Bhutan : over 5400 species, including 300 species of medicinal plants and over 50 species of rhododendrons. Of the more than 600 species of orchid, most are commonly found up to 2,100m, although some hardy species thrive even above 3,700m.
Tropical evergreen forests growing below 800m are repositories of unique bio-diversity. The next vegetation zone are the subtropical grasslands and forests found between 900m and 1,800m. The tree rhododendron is found in this zone, along with forest of oak, walnut and sal, and numerous variety of orchid.
Temperate zone is a region of great diversity, largely influenced by the elevation. The tropical vegetation of the lower zones gives way to dark forests of oak, birch, maple, magnolia and laurel. Above 2,400 altitude is the home of spruce, yew, and weeping cypress, and higher still, growing up to the tree line, is the east Himalayan fir. Between the tree line and the snow line at about 5,500m are low shrubs, rhododendrons, Himalayan grasses and flowering herbs.
Bhutan’s national flower, Blue Poppy grows above the tree line 3,500 – 4,500m elevation and can be found atop some high passes from the far eastern parts of the country all the way across to the west.
Because of its unique setting and relatively un-exploited environment, Bhutan probably possesses the greatest biological diversity of any country of its size in Asia. It certainly contains some of the best remaining representatives of habitat types found in the Himalayas.
Along its southern border, the narrow tropical and subtropical belt supports the Asiatic elephant, greater one-horned rhinoceros, gaur, wild water buffalo, hog deer, tiger, clouded leopard, hornbill, trogon and other mammals and birds characteristic of indomalayan species. Only 150 kilometers to the north, high Himalayan fauna include the blue sheep, takin, musk deer, snow leopard, wolf and other species characteristic of the Palearctic realm.
So far as 770 species of birds have been recorded in Bhutan which reflects the Kingdom’s wide range of agro-ecological environments – from subtropical to alpine and its location at the northern edge of the Zoogeographical oriental region and the permeable and fluid border with China. Also country is famous for its over wintering populations (about 350 birds) of the vulnerable black-necked crane in the valleys of Phobjikha, Bomdeling and Gyetsa.
National Parks & Protected Areas
Bhutan’s history of isolation and policy of sustainable development provides decision makers with a unique opportunity to conserve the country’s natural and cultural heritage. As a first step in conserving its natural heritage, Bhutan has established a system of nine protected areas. The system sets aside approximately 26% of country’s total land area in national parks, nature reserves, wildlife sanctuaries and conservation areas.
Kingdom established its national park system to protect important ecosystems, and they have not been developed as tourist attraction. In many case people even won’t be aware that they are entering or leaving a national park or wild life sanctuary.
Jigme Dorji National Park
It is the largest protected area in the country, encompassing an area of 4,349 sq. km, covering the western parts of Paro, Thimphu and Punakha and almost entire area of Gasa district. The park is habitat of several endangered species including takin, blue sheep, snow leopard, musk deer, Himalayan black bear and red panda.
Royal Manas National Park
This 1,023 sq km park in south central Bhutan adjoins the Black Mountain National Park to the north and India’s Manas National Park and Manas Tiger reserve to the south. It is home of rhinoceros, buffalo, tiger, leopard, gaur, bear, elephant, wild dog, pygmy hog, hispid hare and several species of deer.
Black Mountain National Park
This reserve with an area of 1,723 sq km protect the range of hills that separates eastern and western Bhutan. Its plant life includes wide range of broad leaf species, conifers and alpine pastures. Animal life includes tiger, Himalayan black bear, leopard, red panda, goral, serow, sambar, wild pig and golden langur. The Phobjikha valley, wintering place of black necked crane, is included in this park.
Phipsoo Wildlife Sanctuary
This 278 sq km area is in southern border of Bhutan, about 50 km east of Phuentsholing and protects sal forests of the country. Several protected species thrive in the sanctuary including axis deer, chital, elephant, gaur, tiger, golden langur and hornbill.
Thrumshing la National Park
The 768 sq km Thrumshing la National Park lies between Bumthang and Mongar and protects temperate forests of fir and chir pine. It is known for its scenic vies, dense forests and alpine meadows. Presence of threatened species viz. rufous necked hornbill, Satyra tragopan, Ward’s trogon, chestnut breasted partridge is a noteworthy feature of this reserve.
Kulong Chhu Wildlife Sanctuary
With an area of 1, 300 sq km, this reserve is a large area of alpine tundra. The sanctuary protects the sambar and adjoins the Bomdeling conservation area, which is an important roosting place of black-necked cranes.
Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary
Its in easternmost part of the country protecting 650 sq km temperate forests of eastern blue pine and rhododendron. This sanctuary is established to protect the habitat of yeti.
Khaling Wildlife Sanctuary
Situated in far south-eastern Bhutan with an area of 273 sq km this sanctuary protects wild elephant, gaur, pygmy hog, hispid hare and other tropical wildlife.
Toorsa Nature Reserve
It is in western part of the Ha district where Toorsa river enters from Tibet. This 644 sq km reserve was established to protect the temperate forests of far west Bhutan.
Time to Visit Bhutan
This small Himalayan country is considered as one of the best destined place for tourist to visit in recent time due to its unique culture and tradition, and undisturbed natural environment. But Bhutan’s policy of high quality tourism will not change. The kingdom will maintain its cautious approach and will not open to mass tourism. The daily fee of USD $200 for low season and USD $250 for peak season still discourages backpackers and budget travelers, preventing an uneconomical overburden on the limited space and infrastructure of the country.
As most of the district festivals (Tshechu) falls in the season of Spring (March, April and May) and Autumn (September, October and November), and with favorable climatic condition, this two season are consider as peak tourist season in Bhutan.
In Bhutan Paro festival in the month of April and Thimphu festival in the month of September are grandly celebrated, so it is the time when we see lot of national and international visitor visiting for blessing.
Other than cultural sightseeing, Spring and Autumn season is also best for trekking in Bhutan. The Summer season in Bhutan is considered the time of heavy rainfall and most of the time days remains cloudy, so travelers might miss opportunity to take photographs. And even during winter season, most of the time temperature falls below zero degree Celsius, so it might be very difficult for most of the travelers coming from warm places.