- FLORA AND FAUNA
- HISTORY AND PEOPLE
- NATIONAL SYMBOLS
- RELIGIOUS ETIQUETTE
Bhutan is a land locked South – Asian country, covering an area of about 39,000 sq kms.
On its boundaries to the East, West and South lie the Indian States of Arunachal Pradesh, Sikkim and West Bengal / Assam respectively while to the North lies the Chumbi Valley.
The most common interpretation of how the country gets its name is that it is derived from Bhot-Stan, the land of the Bhotias ( in Sanskrit , people from Tibet were called Bhotia ) This was later corrupted by the early British explorers to Bootan or Bhotan.
Another Theory suggests that the name evolved from Bhot- anta (end of Tibet) or from Bhu- Uttan meaning Highland.
In the Dzongkha (local) language Bhutanese refer to their country as Druk- Yul (Land of the Thunder Dragon) and themselves as Drukpas.
Local time: Six hours ahead of GMT and half an hour ahead of Indian Standard Time
Climatic conditions vary vastly across the country. One can be in shorts and T shirt and within a few hours of travel need a warm jacket. There are also fluctuations in temperatures even at the same destination or general area.
Another peculiarity is that since each of the valleys is virtually an independent Eco system, there is no such thing as a general forecast or even an accurate local one!
The max temperature in the extreme south of Bhutan usually does not go above the 35 degree C at the peak of summer (may / june) and remains a comfortable 15 degree C at the height of winter (Dec/ Feb)
Temperatures in the central valleys where you would be spending most of your time is much lower – the summer max does not exceed 30 degrees and nights are in the 15 – 20degrees C
Bhutan experiences a reasonably heavy monsoon (June/ Sept ) particularly in the south where the average rainfall is around 350 cm per year.
The spring season (March 1st to May 30th) offers the visitor an amazing display of rhododendrons, magnolias and many other flowering shrubs in full bloom.
Almost 80% of Bhutan’s population is engaged in Agricultural activity and animal husbandry. Barring the fertile central valleys and the southern region bordering India, much of the land is too steep and thickly forested to allow large scale cultivation.
The principal crops are maize, rice, buckwheat, barley, wheat and millet with vegetables, potatoes and fruits supplementing the cereal crops.
Tourism is the second biggest contributor to the national GDP even though its full potential is yet to be realized. The country has been conservative in opening up its borders to visitors and even today prefers to restrict numbers in an effort to protect their distinct culture and traditions.
Following a unique philosophy of measuring the country’s progress by its Gross National Happiness (GNH) rather than GNP – Bhutan’s goal is an equitable spread of prosperity rather than skewed development in an ad hoc manner just for the sake of progress.
The country’s currency is the Ngultrun (Nu) which is officially pegged at the Indian Rupee.
Bhutan’s national flower is the elusive Blue Poppy which grows above the tree line at altitudes between 11,480 and 14,760 ft.
It flowers only once during its lifetime of several year and after producing seeds, withers and dies. This, combined with its locale implies that few people ever see one, thereby lending it a mysterious and elusive quality, almost at par with the rare snow leopard.
Bhutan’s forests are populated with a 165 species of mammals and the most common of these are the Himalayan black bear, sloth bear and a variety of deer such as Sambar and Barking deer.
The Raven is the national bird – it represents Garpo Jarodonchen , one of the country’s most important guardian deities.
It is also the only known habitat of the Golden Langur.
The Alpine region, you find yaks, the rare blue sheep (bharal) , the Himalayan Tahir ( a type of mountain goat ) as well as the rare TIbetan Gazelle and of course the snow leopard .
Bhutan is a veritable paradise for Bird watchers with around seven hundred species of birds.
The Takin is the National Animal.
Jigme Dorji Wangchuk became the King of Bhutan in 1952. He had been educated in India and England.
Viewed as an architect of modern Bhutan, King Jigme Dorji Wangchuk embarked on a plan that sought progress, prosperity and happiness while retaining the deeply spiritual and cultural traditions of his people. His achievements at home include creation of the National Assembly, formation of the army and police forces, establishing the high court and implementing the country’s first five year plan in 1961.
In 1972, after his untimely death at the young age of 44, he was succeeded by his 16 year old son Jigme Singye Wangchuk who has built a remarkable super structure on the foundations laid by his father.
He is the architect of the country’s policy on environmental conservation where ecological considerations have reigned supreme over economic ones.
Remarkably, although the policy requires that a 60% forest cover be maintained, over 70% is forested today.
He has now done an unprecedented first for any monarch in his prime – he relinquished the throne in December 2006 handing over all reins to Prince Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuk and then into the hands of the National Assembly from 2008.
The National Assembly meets twice a year and of its 150 members, 105 are elected by the people in their own villages. The King nominates 35 members while the clergy elects 10 members.
The High Court with 8 judges was established in 1968.
The Bhutanese are very religious and this is evidenced by the numerous Dzongs and monasteries that dot the landscape.
Bhutanese women enjoy equal position in society with the men folk. It is not uncommon for a man to move into his wife’s family home or share in the household chores.
Women often inherit property from their parents and traditionally the marriage ceremony is a private family affair.
Of all the rites of passage, the funerals are treated as very significant as they don’t just mark the passing of the soul but also the beginning of its journey to rebirth. Funeral rites last up to 21 days and can be very elaborate.
It is compulsory for the citizens to wear the Bhutanese national dress while attending Government offices, Schools and official ceremonies as also when visiting a dzong or a monastery.
The men folk wear a Gho; a long robe which falls just below the knee and is held in place by the kyera – a woven cloth belt wound tightly around the waist. The Gho comes in a variety of patterns and the plaid is very similar to the Scottish tartan.
The socks are worn long with covered shoes and a scarf (kabney) is draped over the left shoulder.
The women wear the Kira which is elegant full length wrap around dress made from beautiful hand woven fabric. It is caught at the shoulder by a pair of exquisitely worked silver clasps (koma) and belted at the waist by a Kyera.
The inner blouse is called Tonju and the jacket, tego completes the ensemble. The scarf (Rachu) is worn on the left shoulder while entering a religious place or government institution.
The jewellery is mostly of silver and precious stones such as Coral, turquoise and Zee, a rare etched agate.
This practice of wearing the national dress not only reinforces their identity but also ensures the continued importance of their traditional art of weaving by providing an assured market.
Bhutan’s rectangular national flag is divided diagonally – with the golden yellow upper half representing the secular power of the king and the lower orange part symbolizing the Buddhist faith. A white dragon in the centre represents the purity of the country and the jewels held in its claws depict the wealth and perfection of the nation.
The national emblem is circular and in its centre is a lotus with a double diamond thunderbolt placed above it. This is surmounted by a jewel and framed by two dragons. The lotus symbolizes purity, the jewels expresses sovereign power and the double diamond thunderbolt signifies the harmony between secular and religious power while the dragon represents the country’s name Druk- Yul.
Archery is the national sport of the Kingdom. Archery was declared the national sport in 1971, when Bhutan became a member of the United Nations.
It is played during public holidays in Bhutan, local festivals (tsechu), between public ministries and departments, and between the dzonkhag and the regional teams.
Archery in Bhutan is a way of socialization, communication, and development of relations between people
Close to 70% of the population follow the Buddhist faith while the balance follow Hindu beliefs mixed with a generous dollop of Buddhism.
Bhutan’s official religion is Drukpa Kagyu, a school of Mahayana Buddhism.
Wearing shorts or 3/4ths while visiting a Dzong or a Gompa is not allowed and shoes should be removed before entering the Lhakhang (prayer hall)
The “right” way of circumventing a Chorten or a Gompa is from left to right i.e in the clockwise direction.
Monks who act as your guide do not expect any monetary remuneration but contributions can be left in the donation box provided for the purpose.
Monasteries have rules pertaining to photography and in the interest of preserving these irreplaceable works of art, it is important to follow the regulations and refrain from touching the murals and other religious objects on display.
The visitor is expected to maintain the sanctity and tranquility of the environment.
The Gompa or “solitary place” is a building where monks can isolate themselves from the world to further their meditative process. Gompas are therefore built in remote locations.
The approach to a Gompa is lined with rows of fluttering prayer flags, gleaming white Chortens and Mani walls. People choose Mani stone preferably unusual and beautiful ones and etch them in Graceful calligraphy with mantras – the most common being “Om Mane Padme Hume “ (Hail the jewel in the lotus)
The stones are piled on each other and local belief holds that picking and carrying away one of these offerings of prayer brings bad Luck
Depending on the time of the day, the Gompa can be bee hive of activity but the overall aura is one of peace and tranquility.