HISTORY AND GEOGRAPHY
Bhutan has been an independent nation since time immemorial and history holds that the first settlers were the Monpas who migrated from Tibet and settled in Bhutan. The official recording of Bhutan's history begins with the arrival of an Indian saint, popularly referred as "Guru Padmasambhava" or Guru Rinpoche", acknowledged as the second Buddha by the Bhutanese. He was the one who flourished Buddhism to this tiny Himalayan kingdom in the 8th century and left many hidden treasures for the future prosperity of the kingdom.
The arrival of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal to Bhutan in 1616 AD is the most important transition in the history of Bhutan. Before his arrival, Bhutan was divided into many sectors and ruled by each sectoral head. However, after his arrival, he unified Bhutan as One with his charismatic and wise leadership. After his death, Bhutan was again characterized by regionalism with frequent civil wars and chaos.
It was only in 1907, after two centuries of civil wars that Bhutan unanimously chose to crown Gongsar Ugyen Wangchuck as Bhutan's first king and unite Bhutan as One again. Since then, Bhutan has been ruled and prospered under Wangchuck dynasty and still continues to do so.
The turning point in Bhutan's history came in 1998 when major political reforms were made by the Fourth King Jigme Singye Wangchuk in the kingdom.
King Jigme Singye Wangchuck in 1998 voluntarily gave up his absolute monarchy and all council of ministers were to be elected by the people rather than appointed by the king. In March 2005, the Constitution of the kingdom of Bhutan was released, indicating plans to shift to a democratic government from Monarchy government. In December 2006, King Jigme Singye Wangchuk abdicated his power in favor of his son, King Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuk. Since 2006, he is the head of the state and Present Prime Minister, elected in 2013, Lyonpo Tshering Tobgay is the head of the nation.
The total area of Bhutan is 38,394 sq. km divided into Twenty (20) districts. It is situated on the southeast slope of the Himalayas, bordered on the north and east by China and on the south and west and east by India. The landscape consists of a succession of lofty and rugged mountains and deep valleys. In the north, towering peaks reach a height of 24,000 ft (7,315 m).
CULTURE AND TRADITION
Bhutan is the only country in the world that practice Mahayana (tantric) Buddhism and it is the official religion. 75% of the Bhutanese follow and practice Mahayana Buddhism closely followed by Hinduism (22%), Christianity (2%) and Muslim (1%). As per the ancient history, Buddhism was first brought to Bhutan in 8th century by Guru Padmasambhava or Guru Rinpoche. Buddhism plays a very fundamental role in the cultural, ethical and sociological development of Bhutan and its people. The three main themes of Buddhism are detachment, impermanence and change.
The national dress worn by Bhutanese men and women, which is completely different from the rest of the world is what makes Bhutanese culture distinct and unique. The dress worn by the Bhutanese men, known as “GHO” is held till the knees. The dress is folded at the back and tied at the waist by our traditional belt known as “KERA” and the pouch that is formed in the front is used for carrying the wallet, mobiles and other items.
The dress worn by women, known as “KIRA” reaches till the ankles. It is also folded and tied at the waist by Kera. Women also has to wear thin jacket known as “Wonju” inside and “Tego” outside to look beautiful and stunning.
In keeping with the culture and tradition, it is mandatory for all Bhutanese to wear the national dress while visiting offices, Dzongs and other important centers. In addition to wearing the national dress, Bhutanese also has to wear a scarf, known as Kabney which is meant for the men and Rachu for the women.
The scarves worn by Bhutanese are different in color and it signify their status or rank. While the general Bhutanese men wear white plain scarf, the King and the Head Abbot, known as Je Khenpo wear yellow scarves. The ministers wear orange scarves, members of parliament wear blue, judges wear green and the district administrators wear red scarves with a small white strip that runs through.
Bhutan’s culture is very much alive and expressed in everything, including the language its people have been speaking for centuries. The official language of Bhutan is Dzongkha. It has been derived from the Sanskrit and Tibetan text. It is the dominant language in Western Bhutan and has been the language of government and education in Bhutan since 1971. While majority of the Bhutanese use Dzongkha for communication, there are other languages as well depending on the demographic location. People in the east speak Sharchop, Tshangpa and Khengpa while lhotsam is widely used by people in the southern Bhutan.
Traditionally and even today, most Bhutanese have the habit of eating together and eating with their hands. In rural areas and some urban houses, all family members sit cross-legged on the floor with food being served first to the head of the household. It is usually the women who serves food and in most cases the mother. Before eating, a short prayer is chanted and some food is offered as offerings to the spirits and deities.
Normally, Bhutanese dish consists of rice (red/white), a dish of chili and cheese known as Ema Datshi, pork or beef curry accompanied by butter tea (Suja).
TOURISM AND GROSS NATIONAL HAPPINESS ( GNH)
Tourism and GNH
Bhutan opened its door to the outside world in 1974 on the coronation of the Fourth King, Jigme Singye Wangchuk. Since then, Bhutan’s tourism sector has evolved itself into one of the most hot-spot and exclusive travel destinations in the world. Bhutan enjoys a reputation for its unique cultural identity, age-old tradition, natural beauty, authenticity and preservation and protection of vast natural environment.
The Tourism Policy of the Royal Government of Bhutan is “High Value & Low Volume “concept. This concept is very much relevant and practical for a small country like Bhutan who can’t afford to have high volume of low value tourists for security, cultural and environment reasons.
Founded on the principle of sustainability and guiding philosophy of Gross National Happiness (GNH) which demands the preservation and protection of cultural identity, protection of natural environment, socio-economic development and good governance, tourism sector must at all times be economically viable and sustainable, provide employment opportunities, culturally and socially acceptable and environment friendly. The Royal Government of Bhutan, in order to hold on to the reputation for cultural identity, natural beauty and environment, has from time to time kept the number of tourist arrivals to a reasonable and manageable level through regular regulated tourist tariff.
This all-inclusive tariff covers all food, accommodation (in a 3 star hotel/resort), transport and guide services. More importantly, a portion of the tariff (currently US$ 65) is taken by the government as Royalty that goes into providing free medical care and education for everyone in the country. All tour operators are subject to this all -inclusive rate.
These national symbols are established variously by law and tradition. While most laws codifying the national symbols of Bhutan such as the flag, emblem, and national anthem are modern, the tradition behind many of them is much older than the kingdom itself, deriving from Buddhist mythology. The druk thunder dragon is heavily associated with the Bhutanese state religion and has symbolized Bhutan ("Druk-yul") in particular since the late twelfth century. Traditional natural symbols, such as the raven and Himalayan cypress, possess not only admired characteristics, but religious meanings as well.