- Capital: Thimphu
- Time Zone: GMT +6
- Area: 38,392 square kilometer (Size of Switzerland)
- Currency: Ngultrum (1 Nu = 1 Indian Rupee)
- Languages: Dzongkha, English and 18 local dialects
- Population: 634,982 (2005 Census)
- Life expectancy: 63
- Major export: Hydroelectricity
- Percentage of population involved in agriculture: 70%
- Forest Cover: 72.5%
- Country dialing code: +975
Ancient stone implements and other archaeological findings indicate that there were settlements in the country dating back to 2000 B.C. The chronicled history of the kingdom, however, begins with the advent of Buddhism in the 8th century.
In 747 A.D. the Buddhist saint, Padmasambhava, popularly revered in Bhutan as Guru Rinpoche or the Precious Master, visited the country and introduced Buddhism. In the 17th century, Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal (1594-1652), a leader of the Drukpa Kargyu school of Buddhism, consolidated the country and established the Chhoesi or dual system of government, whereby both the temporal and religious authority were separated and vested in the Druk Desi and Je Khenpo respectively. By the end of the 17th century, the country emerged with a distinct national and cultural identity as well as an unprecedented degree of political stability.
By the second half of the 18th century, the country witnessed a resurgence of political instability. The external threats in the latter half of the 19th century added a new dimension to the political quandary. It was against this background that the need for strong national leadership emerged. Peace and stability was restored with the enthronement of His Majesty King Ugyen Wangchuck as the first hereditary monarch of the kingdom in 1907.
The establishment of the monarchy ushered in a new era of peace and stability and most significantly unified the country under a central authority. It also set in motion a steady process of engagement with the outside world and laid the foundations for the country as a modern nation state.
The third King, His Majesty Jigme Dorji Wangchuck (1952-1972), instituted far-reaching political, social and economic reforms. He instituted the National Assembly, the High Court, and the Royal Advisory Council. He started the planned development process in 1961. He also guided Bhutan to membership in the UN in 1971.
Since his coronation in 1974, His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck, the fourth King, has dedicated himself to defining and realizing a long-term vision and direction for the country. He promoted an approach of development known as Gross National Happiness (GNH) which calls for careful balance between creation of material wealth and the spiritual, cultural and social needs of the society. He also pursued a process of democratization and involvement of the people in their own affairs from the national to the community level.
On 14 December 2006, His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck voluntarily abdicated the throne and handed over the responsibilities of the Monarch and the Head of State to the Crown Prince His Royal Highness Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck who has since assumed responsibilities as the Fifth King of Bhutan.
His Majesty the King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck was adorned with the Raven Crown at an ornate coronation ceremony in Thimphu on 6 November 2008, becoming the world’s youngest reigning monarch and head of the newest democracy.
Bhutan experiences four different seasons. Most tourist visit Bhutan in spring and autumn.
Spring is the time when Bhutan’s rich flora gets at it best as many and various flowers blossom. And during this time around the skies are clear and you can see towering snow-covered mountains of the Himalayas. Tourists say spring is the best season to visit Bhutan.
Even in spring Bhutan’s fierce winter, especially in high altitude would be over. Tourists who intend to visit during this time are advised to be equipped with some winter clothes.
Spring season starts from March and ends roughly in June. And another good time of the year – autumn – begins from September and lasts till the end of November.
However, Bhutan’s climatic conditions are different at different places and locations. It is because the country’s geography is mixed of mountains, plains, valleys, and hills.
Some places in Bhutan are as low as 100m and as high as more than 7,000m above the sea level.
Winters in Bhutan are cold and dry with most high lying places snow-covered. And summers are humid and experience heavy rains and frequent road blocks.
Bhutan has three different climatic zones: subtropical in the south, temperate in the central region, and alpine in the north.
Bhutanese arts and crafts stand a pulsating testimony to the country’s rich cultural heritage. Apart from its roots in the intrinsic religious significance, it possesses a boundless creativity in its style.
From the majestic fortresses (Dzongs) to people’s homes, the country’s unique arts and crafts embody the common national consciousness. Its simplicity, use of rich natural colors, and the religious thematic undertones create a poignant expression of the human will to achieve perfection. Although the style resembles that of Tibet, the country’s artisans have however departed from the dictates of easy influence to more experimental self-creativity. Thus, the themes and forms remain uniquely Bhutanese, heavily influenced by the country’s culture and religion.
Bhutan’s thirteen traditional arts and crafts (Zorig Chusum) is a legacy from the 17th century masters. They include: Woodwork (Shing Zo), Stonework (Dho Zo), Carving (Par Zo), Painting (Lha Zo), Sculpting (Jim Zo), Casting (Lug Zo), Wood Turning (Shag Zo), Blacksmithy (Gar Zo), Ornament Making (Troe Ko), Bamboo Work (Tsha Zo), Paper Making (De Zo), Tailoring and Embroidery (Tshem Zo), and Weaving (Thag Zo).
The Institutes of Zorig Chusum, in Thimphu and Trashiyangtse, promote the country’s arts and crafts.
The two institutes have played a pivotal role in propagating the country’s traditional arts and crafts. The very many cottage industries located around the country also engage in specific arts or crafts. Despite the imminent threat from the forces of globalization and liberal trade, the government of Bhutan has helped preserve these arts and crafts through various national initiatives.
For example, Zhemgang, in central Bhutan, is the main producer of bamboo products. Similarly, Trashiyangtse in the east produces paper and wooden bowls. Bumthang is known for its vegetable dyed wool textile called yathra, and Lhuentse for its pure silk weaving Kishuthara. And Thangka painting is almost a divine art with strict geometric proportions.
In the past, the arts and crafts hugely contributed toward the socio-economic need of the people. It continues to remain a major source of cash income for the farmers of Bhutan. Above all, they continue to reflect the way of life and culture of Bhutanese people.
Don’t be surprised if you come across a person who says “What can I do for you?” And “would you like to have something?” or “You can stay at my place tonight”.
These are some of the important gestures most Bhutanese usually show to strangers. The offers are genuine.
The Bhutanese are helpful and hospitable. They believe these are some social values that keep the social harmony intact and society together.
Family bond, friendship, love and respect relationship among elders and the young are human values that most Bhutanese are proud of to practice.
The people by nature are open, friendly and take crude jokes as humor. They are karmic conscious and firmly believe being good to living beings is a license to happy life, both in the present and next life.
And if you happen to put up a night at a Bhutanese home, especially in rural areas and asked “what for curry?” by your host, make sure you specified the vegetable. Most Bhutanese eat chili as vegetable.
Of the total population of about 0.7 million more than 75% live in the rural areas. Agriculture is the source of their livelihood. People in the west and south grow a plenty of paddy and is their staple. And those in the east and central regions live off maize, wheat, buckwheat, and barely.
Since urbanization is still new to Bhutan there are people living in highlands in the mountains. They rear yaks and cows and the dairy products are either bartered with day to day essentials or sold to buy them.
Bhutan’s population consists of three major ethic groups. They are Ngalong, Sharchop and Nepalese.
Ngalongs live in the western region, Sharchops in the east and Nepalese in the south.
Ngalongs are considered to be the origins of Mongoloid and Tibetans. Sharchops are supposed to be the earliest inhabitants of Bhutan. But their origins are still not known. And the Nepalese are the economic immigrants who settled in the country in the early 19th century.
The national language is Dzongkha. It is the mother tongue of the people living in the western region. But most Bhutanese can speak it.
Interestingly, most Bhutanese who attended school can speak English as it is used as the medium of instruction. Since English is spoken widely it is considered one of Bhutan’s selling points.
There are 18 dialects spoken in Bhutan. And some of the vernacular languages are under threat of extinction.
Bhutanese men wear the dress called gho. It is a robe pulled upward till the knee forming a fold at the waist. The fold is mocked at by foreigners as the biggest pocket in the world.
The dress Bhutanese women wear is known as kira. The dress is worn ankle length and resembles kimono. And the top women wear is called tego. The ghos and kiras are mostly woven with intricate designs.
Majority of the Bhutanese are Buddhists. There are people who follow other faiths like Hinduism and Christianity. Hinduism is followed by the minority ethnic group called Nepalese and Christianity by a few Bhutanese. And Buddhism is the state religion.
Bhutan is today known as one of the bastions of Tantric Vajrayana form of Mahayana Buddhism.
The ways of life and living of most Bhutanese are woven around the principles and tenets of Buddhism. That is why the two major sects of Buddhism – Drukpa Kayugpa and Ningmapa are state-sponsored.
Making it a secular state, the Constitution of the country grants a freedom to the people to choose their religious faith. However, the supreme law prohibits proselytizing.
In Bhutan religion is considered above politics. The religious figures do not participate in politics. They do not vote and are not allowed to field themselves as political candidates for elections. And religious personalities are restricted from having any political association.
This shows how much the religions are respected in Bhutan. However, there have been debates among some quarters of Bhutanese intelligentsia on if the religious community can be made immune to the impacts of political decisions.
The monastic institutions are spread all over the country. Most of the religious institutions are funded by the state and some function with the donations and contributions people make.
The centers of the 20 districts house both the district administrative machinery and the state monastic institution. This symbolizes a peaceful coexistence between religious values and modern governance principles.
The sight of an alter in every Bhutanese home, aesthetic architecture of several temples and monasteries, hills adorned with prayer flags, and chanting monks show how religious Bhutan is as a Buddhist community.
People of Bhutan consider the natural environment as a home to gods and goddesses. The belief explains the commitment of the country to protect its environment.
The Constitution mandates that at least 60% of the total area of the country to be under forest cover in all times to come.
Moreover, Bhutan’s development philosophy of Gross National Happiness recognizes the conservation of environment as one of its important pillars.
Whatever development activities the country carries out, the importance of its environment is at the heart of its development decisions. Most times, though a poor economy, the economic opportunities are forgone to protect the environment.
Today at least 72% of Bhutan’s total land area is under forest cover. And more than 50% of the total forest has been declared as the protected biodiversity corridors.
Bhutan is preserving its environment at a huge economic cost. As more than 72% of its population reside in rural areas depending on subsistence farming, they earn their livelihood from as meager as 6% of the total arable land.
The country’s economy is largely aid-fed. However, if it thinks certain modalities of assistance are going to cause damage to the environment, the country willfully declines it.
The protection and conservation of environment has been one of the significant national goals since the start of the modern development in the 1960s.
It is must for every development activity to pass an environment impact assessment. The stringent environment policy of the country creates an environment where the nature and mankind coexist in harmony.
Like any country in the world (mostly developing ones) Bhutan stands vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. The country’s river system is largely fed by glaciers in the Himalayas. In the wake of serious hazards brought about by global warming Bhutan’s rivers run the risk of dying any time soon.
To show to the rest of the world how even a small country like Bhutan can be environmentally responsible, it declared as a carbon-neutral country at COP 15 in Copenhagen Climate Summit in 2009.
Given its large verdant forest cover Bhutan is a home to rich flora and fauna including endangered species. The country has been ranked one of the top 10 biodiversity hot spots in the world.
Bhutan’s economy started to look beyond its borders only in the early 1960s. It was the time when Bhutan had its first five year development plan. Because of its self-imposed isolation for centuries the country’s economy remained small and traditional.
Still today the economy is more or less an agrarian. More than 75% of the total population depends on agriculture for their livelihood. And about 70% of the country’s labor force continues to be engaged in the agriculture sector.
The concept of modern economy is fairly new to Bhutan. It was only in the late 1980s that the government started to emphasize on the need to develop its private sector.
The private sector was then recognized as an engine of economic growth. Until then the economy was almost wholly state-run.
However, the economy is said to be growing really fast. Experts say that Bhutan’s economy is growing in a decade that other countries took about a century to achieve the same level of growth.
The scenario is a case of concern to the Bhutanese leadership. The leadership feels such a speedy economic development might entail cost in the future in the form of environment destruction, erosion of culture and other economic ills like a divide between the rich and poor.
That is why the government has adopted its development philosophy called Gross National Happiness. The development model has strong bearings on core values of egalitarianism. It claims that equity and justice should be the main result of economic growth.
The development philosophy recognizes the following four broad issues as its core pillars: Sustainable economic development, promotion and preservation of culture, conservation of environment, and good governance.
The economic activities, whatsoever, are discouraged to compromise the principles of above broad objectives.
The country’s private sector is still small and young. However, the sector’s growth has been slow and steady. A substantial percentage of labor force is being absorbed by the private sector.
Bhutan economy for the last several years has grown on an average at about 7.5% annually.
Indicating a transition from a traditional to a modern economy, the percentage contribution of the primary sector to the country’s Gross Domestic Product has been falling continuously. On the other hand, the secondary and tertiary sectors have been expanding quite fast.
Among the three sectors, the services sector has been a leading contributor to the overall economic growth.
Bhutan’s latest GDP stands at meager $ 1.2 billion.
As a mountainous country with abundant water resources Bhutan has a potential to generate 30,000MW of hydropower.
The major sources of income for the country are sale of electricity and tourism. And a substantial amount of development activities are funded by aids and grants from the development-partner countries.
Bhutan is seriously thinking of integrating its economy into the regional and global economies. The country is a member to a host of regional economic organizations and contemplating to join the World Trade Organization.
To ensure there is a guiding economic policy document, Bhutan in mid 2010 launched its first ever Economic Development Policy. The document is expected to be the economy’s road map. It seeks to steer the economy that will be within the parameters of Gross National Happiness philosophy.
Also, the government in 2010 revised the Foreign Direct Investment policy. The policy aims to attract foreign investments that will help develop businesses that could not take off because of lack of funds. And policy is quite liberal going to the extent of allowing land ownership to foreign investors.
Given a small population with limited natural resources, Bhutan seriously considers of making its economy a knowledge-based one. That is why unprecedented efforts are directed toward building world class educational, health and medical centers in the country.
The importance of research and development is felt today like never before. And several moves are made at the government and the private sector levels to collaborate with foreign economies in some critical development areas.
Bhutan strongly believes in a holistic economic development. Thus it has been very cautious in liberalizing its economy. The country considers rapid economic growth at the expense of its cultural and traditional values bad.
Toward this end, Bhutan has chosen Gross National Happiness as its economic development model. The country rejects the one-time profiting out of exploitation of its natural resources. This means Bhutan does not follow the GDP economic development principle.
The unique development philosophy attempts to strike a balance between material and spiritual wealth.
In most of the five-year plans the allocation of budget both in terms of current and capital is the highest in the social sectors – health and education.
Bhutan’s financial system is small which bears a strong correlation with its economic development level. The country has just four commercial banks and a dormant stock exchange. The two new commercial banks are not even a year old.
The scenario shows the country has not fully moved into a monetary economy. In a few pockets of Bhutan trade in goods for goods still exists.
The manufacturing base of the economy is still small. Main export goods are electricity, vegetable oil, fruits and some minerals. The export destinations are mainly the South Asian economies with India being the largest. And the country’s currency (Ngultrum) is pegged at par with that of Indian Currency (Rupee).
On the import front, including the essential consumer products and construction materials are brought mostly from India. However, Bhutan trades with dozens of other countries spanning as far as Europe and America.
Bhutan peacefully transitioned to democracy in 2008 after being under monarchy for exactly 101 years. The period of monarchy saw four progressive and visionary successive Kings. Today the country is experiencing an interesting phase in her history.
Bhutan’s political system is known as the constitutional monarchy where the King is the head of state and prime minister the head of government.
The Fourth King, His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck, introduced democracy amid resistance from the people. The people were reluctant to embrace the new polity. They said the country should continue to be led by the monarchy.
However, the King said a king is chosen by birth not by merit and Bhutan’s future lies in democracy. After this pronouncement His Majesty the King voluntarily abdicated his Throne in favor of his son in 2006.
The fifth King, His Majesty Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, officially ascended the Throne on 1 November 2008.
Bhutan’s parliament consists of two houses – the National Assembly and the National Council.
The members of the National Assembly are elected from 47 constituencies through popular ballot by the respective electorates.
And of the 25 National Council members, 20 are elected from every district while the other five are appointed by His Majesty the King. They can either be from the civil service or the private sector.
According to the Constitution, the election to the National Assembly should take place in two phases – Primary round and General round.
Among the political parties the two parties that get the highest and the second highest votes contest in the general round.
The majority winning party forms the government and the other becomes the opposition.
However, in the first ever elections in 2008 there were just two political parties running. Thus the primary round had to be skipped.
The election to the National Council is held separately. It is called the house of review.
The two political parties in the National Assembly today are Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT) and People’s Democratic Party (PDP).
In the last general election DPT won by overwhelming majority of 45 seats out of 47. Bhutan’s parliament perhaps has the smallest two-member opposition.
People who wish to run elections to the National Assembly and the National Council should possess an academic qualification of at least a university degree. Bhutan’s parliament is said to be the most educated, at least in the region.
The religious personalities are not allowed to participate as candidates and vote. The arrangement is said to have been made to keep the religion and politics separate. And in Bhutan religion is considered above politics.