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Bhutan in a nutshell

The key factor in shaping of Bhutanese character and thought has been the basic teachings of Buddhism, whose eternal truths were first brought into the country from India by a priest known as Guru Rinpoche.

In the Buddhist perception, culture, tradition, beliefs and the environment are crucial part of daily life. As a Buddhist philosopher says, “Culture lies not in objects or monuments but in the mind and compassion towards all sentient beings”.

Bhutan’s unique cultural and traditions are highly valued by the population and are the crucial part of the nation’s identity. For a small nationlike Bhutan sandwiched between two giant countries, India and China. The preservation and promotion of its distinct cultural identity is seen as an important means for its survival. It was this identity that has protected and sustained Bhutan as a country.

The export of hydroelectric power to neighboring countries provides 49% of government total revenue. Hydroelectric power is Bhutan’s largest resource and is sustainable, renewable and environmentally friendly.

Agriculture and livestock is the main economy, with 85% of the population dependent on these two sectors. Industry and mining are at the first stage of development mainly happening in southern Bhutan.

Bhutan also exports calcium carbide, wood products and cement. In other major export is agricultural product, including apples, oranges, cardamom, potatoes, asparagus and mushroom.

Tourism and Airline, although very important for earning foreign exchange, only constitute a small part of the gross national product.

Bhutan is a landlocked country, about 312km long and 146km wide with an area of 46,500sqkm. Located between longitude 88045′ and 92010′ East and latitudes 26040′ and 28015′ North in the Eastern Himalayas, it is bounded by India in South and South-West and Tibetan autonomous region of China in the North and North-West respectively.

The entire country is mountainous, with elevation ranging from 100m along the southern foothills to the 7,515m of greater Himalaya. These two extremes frame a landscape which stretches from sub-tropical to arctic like conditions.

The Great Himalaya

Extending from Mt. Jhomolhari (7,315m) in the West to Gangkharpuensum (7,514m) near the center point of the northern border between Tibet and Bhutan, this region is virtually a snow zone where almost 21% of the land is under perpetual snow. This zone is represented by alpine forest and perpetually snow bound high summit of the Great Himalayan range.

The Inner Himalaya

This is the zone of Bhutan and lies among broad valleys and forested hillsides from 1,100m to 3,000m in elevation. All the major towns of Bhutan are situated in this zone.

The Southern foothills

This zone occupies the southernmost part of the country. The plains in the south of the country are part of the region known as Terai gang, which extends from Nepal to Bhutan. The average annual rainfall in this region generally reaches up to 200 inches resulting to luxuriant vegetation particularly tropical forests rich in wildlife, while at times hot, steamy and unhealthy tracts are other features of this zone.

Until the beginning of 20th century, Bhutan was ruled by dual system of administration known as “chheosi” which was initiated by zhabdrung in 1600. Zhabdrung created the office of the Druk Desi to look after the administration of the country and the Je Khenpo to manage religious matters.

His Majesty, King Jigme Gesar Namgyal Wangchuk, fifth in the Wangchuck dynasty is head of the state. His Majesty ascended the Golden Throne on 1st of Nov. 2008 since then steered the country firmly towards the objectives of economic self-reliance, cultural promotion, regionally balanced development, environment preservation and good governance.

The National Assembly: The Royal Advisory Council, the Judiciary, the Council of Ministers and the Sectorial Ministries are the organizations that play a crucial role in the governance of the Kingdom of Bhutan. At the district, block and village levels there are established mechanisms that ensure people’s participation in the decision making process.

National Assembly: Established in 1953 by His Late Majesty, King Jigme Dorji Wangchuk, the main functions of the National Assembly are to enact laws, approve senior appointments in government and advise on all matters of national importance. It normally meets twice a year and consists of 154 members comprising 105 elected representatives of the people, 10 representatives of the clergy and 39 nominated representatives of the government.

Judiciary: All the laws are codified. Minor offences are judged by the village head. Above them, the District Court have both original and appellate jurisdiction. Next higher court is the High Court followed by Supreme Court in Thimphu. The final appeal is made to the King who then delegates the Royal Advisory Council to investigate and ensure that the courts have dispensed justice in keeping with the laws of the country.

Council of Ministers and Central Secretariat: Bhutan took a major step in the direction of a modernized administrative system in 1968 when the National Assembly, at the request of the King, approved the formation of a Council of Ministers. The Ministers are responsible to the Cabinet which is an important decision making body, second only in importance to the National Assembly. The Cabinet is presided over by the King and consists of Ministers, Deputy Ministers and all Royal Advisory Councilors.

The name “Bhutan” appears to derive from the Sanskrit “Bhotan” meaning “the end of Tibet”. Though known as Bhutan to the outside world, the Bhutanese themselves refer to their country as Druk Yul or the Land of the Thunder Dragon. “Druk” means “Dragon”.

The documented history of the Kingdom begins with 747 A.D. with Guru Rinpoche who made his legendary trip from Tibet across the mountains flying on a tigress’s back. He arrived in Paro valley at Taktsang also known as Tiger’s Nest. Guru Rinpoche is not only recognized as the founder of the Nyingmapa religious school but also considered to be second Buddha. In the ensuing centuries, many great masters preached the faith resulting in full bloom of Buddhism by the middle ages. Although sectarian at first, the country was eventually unified under Drukpa Kagyupa sect of Mahayana Buddhism by saint/administrator zhabdrung in the 1700. Zhabdrung codified a comprehensive system of laws and built a chain of Dzongs which guarded each valley during unsettled times and now serving as the religious and administrative center of the region.

During the next two centuries civil wars broke out and the regional Governors became increasingly more powerful. At the end of 19th century, Trongsa Governor overcame all his rivals and soon was recognized as the overall leader of Bhutan. The Governor of Trongsa, Sir Ugyen Wangchuck, was elected as the first hereditary King of Bhutan in 1907.

The country has now the system of democratic monarchy. The monarchy has thrived ever since and the present King, His Majesty Jigme Gesar Namgyal Wangchuk, assumed the throne in 2008, the present king continued his father’s policy development  by actively pursuing industrial progress, country wide education and medical care and at the same time ensuring country’s cultural and natural heritage intact.

Nowhere in the Himalayas is the natural heritage richer than in Bhutan. In historical records, the Kingdom was known as ‘kingdom of Medicinal Herbs’, a name that still applies today. About 72.5 per cent of the country’s area is under forest coverage.

For centuries, Bhutanese have treasured the natural environment and have looked upon it as the source of all life. This tradition delivered Bhutan into the 20th century with an environment still richly intact. The country wishes to continue living in harmony with nature and to pass on this rich heritage to its future generations.

Fortunately for Bhutan, maintaining a balanced natural ecosystem remains the fundamental theme of its development process. The country’s development policies disregard sacrificing its natural resource base for short term economic gains and are consistent with the central tenets of sustainable development, environmental conservation and cultural values.

In 1998, Bhutan was regarded by Norman Myers as one of the ten bio-diversity hot spots in the world. It has been identified as the Centre of 221 global endemic bird areas. The country signed the Convention on Biological Diversity and United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. These conventions were ratified in 1995 at the 73rd session of the National Assembly. The Royal Government of Bhutan has also made a national commitment to uphold its obligation to future generations by charting a path of development called the ‘Middle Path’ this is the development which upholds both environmental and cultural preservation as an integral part of the development process.

The estimated population of the country is 650, 000 with the growth rate of 3.2% per year.  The country is still predominantly rural and about 81% of the people still live in villages.

Three main ethnic groups constitute its population:

Sharchops: live in eastern part of country are recognized as the original inhabitants of Bhutan and are Indo Mongoloid origin.

Ngalops:  Ngalops are descendants of Tibetan immigrants who arrived in Bhutan from 8th century and settled in the western part of the country.

Lhotshampas: this Nepalese group, began settling in the south of Bhutan in the late 1900. The Lhotshampa represents different Nepali ethnic groups primarily Brahman, Chettri, Gurung, Rai and Limbu.