Welcome to The Kingdom Bhutan.
Many eastern classics and books of wisdom have
referred to the Himalayas as the abode of the gods and home to the
immortals. These descriptions did not stem merely from the majesty and
grandeur of the natural surroundings but perhaps alluded to a special
environment where communion with the divine was possible through
contemplation and meditation. And so since time immemorial, ascetics,
scholars, philosophers and pilgrim have been drawn irresistibly to
these remote and rugged mountains in their personal search for wisdom,
inspiration, solitude and happiness.
is a country nestled in the eastern
Himalayas. The country has been visited by a great many saints,
mystics, scholars and pilgrims over the centuries who not only came
for their personal elucidation, but blessed the land and its people
with an invaluable spiritual and cultural legacy that has shaped every
facet of Bhutanese lives. Visitors and guests to the country will be
surprised that the culture and the traditional lifestyle is still
richly intact and at the degree to which it permeates all strands of
modern day secular life. From the traditional woven garments to the
prayer flags on high mountain slopes, from the built environment to
the natural environment, from the religious mask dances to the folk
dances, this cultural heritage is proudly evident and offers a unique
The Bhutanese have treasured
their natural environment as it is seen as a source of all life and
the abode of the gods and spirits. Buddhism has been the predominant
religion since the 7th century and has inculcated deeply the value
that all forms of sentient life, not just human life, are precious and
sacred. Given such a prevailing ethos which respects the natural
environment, it is not surprising that the Bhutanese have lived in
harmony with nature and that the nation has its environment still
pristine and intact today. The country has been identified as one of
the 10 bio-diversity hot spots in the world and as one of the 221
global endemic bird areas. Its eco-systems harbours some of the most
exotic species of the eastern Himalayas with an estimated 770 species
of birds and over 50 species of rhododendron, besides an astonishing
variety of medical plants and orchids. Bhutan also has a rich wildlife
with animals like the takin, snow leopard, golden langur, blue sheep,
tiger, water buffalo and elephant.
It is to safeguard this rich natural
environment and culture, that the country has consciously adopted a
controlled tourism and development policy. In 1997, just over 5,000
tourists entered the country and the numbers in the coming years are
not expected to increase greatly. For the few who do travel to Bhutan,
there are a wide variety of activites-from the Snowman trek to
kayaking down the Mochhu; from witnessing the colorful festivals in
the fortresses to the panoramic mountain flight on Druk Air.
We hope that visitors who make the journey to Bhutan enjoy their
experience and return home with glowing memories.
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surrounds Bhutan's distant past, as priceless irretrievable documents
were lost in fires and earthquakes. In the 8th century CE, Guru
Rinpoche (Padmasambhava or second Buddha) made his legendary trip from
Eastern Bhutan to Western Bhutan on the back of a flying tigress to
subdue the evil spirits who hindered Buddhism. After defeating them,
he blessed them as guardians of the doctrine. thus introducing Tantric
Buddhism to Bhutan. Taktshang or Tigers Nest in the Paro Valley is
where he landed and today it remains one of most sacred places in
It is believed that the name Bhutan is derived from the Sanskrit 'Bhotant',
meaning 'the end of Tibet', or from 'Bhu-uttan', meaning 'high land'.
Historically the Bhutanese have refered to their country as Druk Yul,
'land of the thunder dragon'. Bhutanese refer to themselves as Drukpa
Guru Rinpoche (Precious Master) is the father of the Drukpa Kagyu
school of Tantric Mahayana Buddhism practiced in Bhutan. Shabdrung
Ngawang Namgyal, a Tibetan lama of the Drukpa School, arrived in
Bhutan in 1616 CE. He introduced the present dual system of religious
and secular government, creating and building the system of Dzongs
throughout Bhutan. Shabdrung unified the country, and established
himself as the country's supreme leader and vested civil power in a
high officer known as the Druk Desi. Religious affairs were charged to
another leader, the Je Khenpo (Chief Abbot of Bhutan). For two
centuries following Shabdrung's demise, civil wars intermittently
broke out, and the regional Penlops (governors) became increasingly
more powerful. This ended when an assembly of representatives of the
monastic community, civil servants and the people, elected the Penlop
of Trongsa, Ugyen Wangchuck, the First King of Bhutan in 1907-1926.
The monarchy has thrived ever since, and the present Fourth King, His
Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck (1972 to present), commands the
overwhelming support for his people.
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Kingdom of Bhutan lies in the Central Himalayas, between Tibet to the
north, the Indian territories of Assam and West Bengal, to the south
and east, and Sikkim to the west. The Kingdom has a total area of
about 47,000 square kilometers, about the size of Switzerland. Located
in the heart of the high Himalayan mountain range, Bhutan is a
land-locked country surrounded by mountains. The sparsely populated
Greater Himalayas, bounded to the north by the Tibetan plateau, reach
heights of over 7,300 meters (23,950ft.), and extend southward losing
height, to form the fertile valleys of the Lesser Himalayas divided by
the Wang, Sunkosh, Trongsa and Manas Rivers. Monsoon influences
promote dense forestation in this region and alpine growth at higher
altitudes. The cultivated central uplands and Himalayan foothills
support the majority of the population. In the south, the Duars (the
gates) Plain drops sharply away from the Himalayas into the large
tracts of semi-tropical forest, savannah grassland and bamboo jungles.
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is the only country in the world to retain the Tantric form of
Mahayana Buddhism (Drukpa Kagyu) as its official religion. The
Buddhist faith has played and continues to play a fundamental role in
the cultural, ethical and sociological development of Bhutan and its
people. It permeates all strands of secular life, bringing with it a
reverence for the land and its well being. Annual festivals (tshechus
and dromchoes) are spiritual occasions in each district. They bring
together the population and are dedicated to the Guru Rinpoche or
protective deities. Throughout Bhutan, chortens or stupas (receptacle
for offerings) line the roadside commemorating places where Guru
Rinpoche or another high Lama may have stopped to meditate. Prayer
flags dot the hills, fluttering in the wind. They allow Bhutanese
people to maintain constant communication with the heavens.
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Way of life
urban settlements have sprung up with the process of modernization,
the majority of Bhutanese people still live in small rural villages.
Small family farms are the predominante way of life and the farmer the
most common occupation. As the altitude rises, crops give way to
cattle and yak breeding with herds grazing in the high pastures.
The Bhutanese diet is rich in meat and poultry, dairy, grain
(particularly rice-red and white) and vegetables. Emadatse (chili
pepper and cheese stew) is considered the national dish with many
interpretations to this recipe throughout the country. Poulry and meat
dishes, pork, beef and yak, are lavishly spiced with chilies, and it
is common to see bright red peppers drying on rooftops in the sun.
Salted butter tea, or suja, is served on all social occasions. Chang,
a local beer, and arra, a spirit distilled from rice, maize, wheat or
barley, are also common and widely favored. Doma or betel nut, is
offered as a customary gesture of greeting. The Bhutanese way of life
is greatly influenced by religion. People circumambulating (kora) the
chortens with prayer beads and twirling prayer wheels are a common
sight. Every Bhutanese home has a special room used for prayers, a
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The form of government in Bhutan is as unique as the country. It is
the only Democratic Monarchy in the world. His Majesty King Jigme
Singye Wangchuck is Bhutan's fourth king. A very special man who has
kept the culture and traditions of his county intact while listening
to the voice of his people. One of the six development goals HM King
Jigme Singye Wangchuck has expressed is:
People's participation and
decentralisation in the government.
Inherited from Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyel's administrative system of
the 17th century.Bhutan is divided into 20
Dzongkhags (dzong districts or states,
see map above), each with its own elected 3 year representative, a
Dzongdag (district chief). In 1988, four Dzongde (zones) were set up
as administrative units between the district level and the central
government. A group of four districts make up one zone, which is
headed by the Dzongde Chichab (Zonal Administrator) with authority
over the district chiefs in the area. All districts are divided into
blocks, administrative units that include several villages. At the
block level, government orders are transmitted through an elected
representative the Gup (village headman).
The Tshogdu, or National
Assembly has 154 members who fall into 3 catagories. The largest group
with 105 members are the Chimis. Representatives of Bhutan's 20
dzongkhags. The regional monk bodies elect 12 monastic representatives
who also serve 3 year terms. Another 37 representatives are civil
servants nominated by the king. They include 20 Dzongdags, (district
administrators or mayors): The old term for Dzongdag is Penlop
(Governor), the first king was the Penlop of Paro and Thimphu)
ministers, secretaries of various government and other high ranking
officials. The Tshogdu meets in Thimphu twice each year and is
presided over by an elected speaker. The speaker may also call special
sessions during emergencies. The Tshogdu body passes all the kingdom's
legislation by a simple majority vote.
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A Gift of Bhutan
In a changing world, the Venerable Yongten Gyaltshen, The Dorji Lopen
(one of the ministers in the monk body directly below the Je Khenpo or
the Head Abbot of Bhutan) composed a
to share with the people of the world. We are honored by his effort,
and thank him for his contribution.
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National Symbols of
national flag of
Bhutan is divided diagonally and depicts a white dragon (druk) across
the middle. The upper part of the flag is yellow, representing the
secular power of the king, while the lower part is orange, symbolizing
the Buddhist religion.
The national emblem,
contained in a circle, is composed of a double diamond-thunderbolt (dorji)
placed above a lotus, surmounted by a jewel and framed be two dragons.
The thunderbolt represents the harmony between secular and religious
power. The lotus symbolizes purity; the jewel expresses sovereign poer;
and the two dragons, male and female, stand for the name of the
country which they proclaim with their great voice, the thunder.
National Day is celebrated
on December 17 and commemorates the ascension to the throne of Ugyen
Wangchuck, the first king of Bhutan.
The national flower
is the blue poppy, found in the high altitudes. The
is the cypress, which is often associated with religious places. The
is the raven, which adorns the royal crown. It represents the deity
Gonpo Jarodonchen, one of the most important guardian deities of
Bhutan. The national animal
is the takin, an extremely rare bovid of the ovine-caprine family.
Found in heards in the very high altitudes (13,000 ft and over),
living on a diet of bamboo.
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records suggest scattered clusters of inhabitants had already settled
in Bhutan when the first recorded settlers arrived 1,400 years ago.
Bhutan's indigenous population is the Drukpa. Three main ethnic
groups, the Sharchops, Ngalops and the Lhotsampas (of Nepalese
origin), make up today's Drukpa population. Bhutan's earliest
residents, the Sharchops (people of the east) reside predominantly in
eastern Bhutan. Their origin can be traced to the tribes of northern
Burma and northeast India. The Ngalops migrated from the Tibetan
plains and are the importers of Buddhism to the kingdom. Most of the
Lhotsampas migrated to the southern plains in search of agricultural
land and work in the early 20th century. The current population is
Bhutan's official language is Dzongkha. Given the geographic isolation
of many of Bhutan's highland villages, it is not suprising that a
number of different dialects have survived. Bhutan has never had a
rigid class system. Social and educational opportunities are not
affected by rank or by birth. Bhutanese women enjoy equal rights with
men in every respect. To keep the traditional culture alive, Bhutanese
people wear the traditional clothing that has been worn for centuries.
Bhutanese men wear a gho, a long robe tied around the waist by a small
belt called a kera. A woman's ankle length dress is called a kira,
made from beautifully colored and finely woven fabrics with
traditional patterns. Necklaces are fashioned from corals, pearls,
turqoise, and the precious agate eye stones which the Bhutanese call
'tears of the gods' or dzi beads.
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Department of Tourism.
Royal Government of Bhutan.