Bhutan is a small kingdom located at South Asia with total size of 38,394 square km. It is the smallest country to be entirely located within the Himalayan mountain range, bordered by China to the north and India to South, East and West.
With an estimate population of 7,68,577 (2016), Bhutan is 4th least populous country in Asia and 2nd least in its region (South Asia), next to Maldives.
Bhutan Transitioned from absolute monarchy to a constitutional monarchy in the year 2008 and held its first ever parliamentary election in the same year. 5th king Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuck is the present ruler of Bhutan and Mr. Tshering Tobgye is the present Prime Minister of Bhutan.
Bhutan is divided into 20 districts and Thimphu is its capital. Bhutan throughout its course of history was never colonized but there were waves of civil wars going on until the house of Wangchuck reunited the country in 19th century and its first hereditary King, Gongsa Ugyen Wangchuck (2nd great grandfather of present king) was appointed in the year 1907.
Bhutan opened very late to Tourism. It only began in the year 1974. Since then, the industry has been developing rapidly and has become one of the main contributors to Bhutan’s economy. It all begun with 287 tourist arrival in 1974. Now Bhutan receives an average of 50,000 international tourists and 100,000 regional tourists (Indian, Bangladeshis and Maldivians) annually.
To have minimal impact on its pristine environment and unique culture and tradition, Bhutan has adopted high value and low volume tourism policy; meaning all the visitors to Bhutan have to pay minimum daily tariff of $250 during peak season (March, April, May, September, October and November) and $200 during lean season (December, January, February, June, July, and August). However this price covers accommodation, meal, transportation, guide services, entrance fees and all government related taxes.
Adventure activities in Bhutan are limited to cycling and white water rafting but Bhutan offers some of the best cultural sightseeing and trekking tours in the world.
Till date, no sites in Bhutan are included in UNESCO world heritage site list but few wild life sanctuaries, Dzongs and Monasteries are declared tentative sites for UNESCO inclusion.
Festival known as Drametse Nga Cham; mask dance of drums, which originated from place called Drametse under Mongar district has been registered to UNESCO intangible cultural heritage list.
Bhutan though a small country is divided into three climatic zone, tropical in the south, temperate in the central and polar type, year round snow in the north. Bhutan experiences all four seasons in a year; Summer in June, July and August, Autumn in September, October and November, Winter in December, January and February and Spring in March, April and May.
During summer, Bhutan receives heavy rainfall (monsoon) and during winter, northern region receives moderate to heavy snowfall.
Temperature in Bhutan varies hugely from region to region and from season to season. During winter months, temperature drops below freezing in northern region and averages around 15 Degree Celsius in the south. During summer, temperature in northern region averages between 10 to 15 Degree Celsius and Southern regions in between 25 to 35 Degree Celsius.
Spring and autumn seasons are the best seasons for visiting Bhutan.
Currency of Bhutan is Ngultrum (BTN), which officially is peg to Indian Rupee (INR). Indian rupees are also accepted as a legal tender in Bhutan.
With GDP of only 2 billion, Bhutan’s economy is amongst the lowest in world but amongst the top 3 fastest growing in the world. Its per capita income is USD $ 2879 as of 2016.
Bhutan’s economy depends on hydro electric sale, Agriculture, Industry and Tourism. As of year 2016, agriculture sector constitutes 17% of GDP, Industry 42% and Services 41%.
Agriculture provides livelihood to about 55% of the population but agrarian practices are limited largely to subsistence farming. While industrial sectors are growing each day, Bhutan as of now is focused on Hydro power development. The country has potential of generating 30,000 MW of hydro power but till date it is able to generate only 5000 MW. However with some mega hydro projects at its near completion, Bhutan’s economy is expected to grow much bigger.
Bhutan has three primary ethnic groups; Ngalops, Sharchops and Lhotsampas. In general, people of western Bhutan are referred to as Ngalops, eastern as Sharchops and southern as Lhotsampas.
Dzongkha is the official language of Bhutan and its alphabets have been derived from Tibetan alphabets. Around 24 dialects are spoken in Bhutan and among this Dzongkha, Sharchopkha and Lhotsamkha are the three primary languages spoken in Bhutan. Dzongkha are usually spoken by Ngalops (people of west), Sharchopkha by Sharchops (people of south) and Lhotsamkha by Lhotsampas (people of south).
Buddhism is the state religion of Bhutan. It was introduced in 7th century by Tibetan king Songtsen Gampo with the invitation of great Buddhist saint Guru Rimpoche from Nepal.
Around three quarter of the population is Buddhist and one quarter practice Hinduism. Around 0.5% of population practices Christianity.
There are numbers of traditional sports that Bhutanese people have practiced throughout generations. These sports are played more as celebration, rather than as competitive sports. Amongst these are archery and Khuru (dart game), which Bhutanese people play today during celebrations such as Bhutanese new years, public holidays and weekends.
Archery is the national game of Bhutan. Its playing style is totally different from that of international competition. Archery in Bhutan is played between two teams. Two wooden targets (1 feet wide and 3 feet high) are set at 120m apart. Each player gets two arrows, which they take turns to shoot at one direction and then to opposite direction. First team to reach a set target (this varies 15, 20, 25 etc.) wins the match.
However younger generations are picking up their interest in games like soccer, cricket, racket sports (tennis, Table tennis, Badminton) and combat sports (Karate, Taekwondo, Boxing and Mix martial arts). With few wins over its neighboring countries, Bhutan has improved its ranking from rock bottom to mid 160s in terms of FIFA ranking and future of soccer in Bhutan is looking bright.
Bhutanese cuisine offers a variety of dishes that includes both dried and fresh vegetables and meat. Bhutanese love to have chili and cheese in almost all their vegetarian dishes. Rice is a mandatory item in Bhutanese food and the specialty of Bhutanese food is showcased by families during festivals, ceremonies and social gatherings. From the hot ema datshi (chilli and cheese curry), to sikam and shakam (dried pork and dried beef) popular among all Bhutanese, there is putta and khuli (barley noodles and barley pan cake); Bhutanese food habits leaves a mouth watering experience. Different delicacies are found in different places of Bhutan, the food habits in Bhutan are surely rich in taste and in nutrients.
Some of the popular drinks Bhutanese people enjoy are the Butter Tea (salty), locally brewed rice wine (Ara) and rice beer (Bangchang).
Art and Architecture
Art and Architecture also has an important place in Bhutanese culture. It is deeply rooted in Buddhist philosophy and is illustrated through Zorig Chusum (The Thirteen Traditional Arts and Crafts), Dzong architecture, Chortens (stupa) and Lhakhangs (monasteries). All Bhutanese art and architecture is vested in the theme of a harmonious coexistence of human beings and the environment that surrounds them. They form an essential part of Bhutanese culture and lifestyle.
Bhutan’s architecture remains distinctively traditional. By law construction of houses and buildings should follow the way of using wood works around the windows and roofs. Dzongs in Bhutan are built without using a single nail.