About Bhutan

bhutan flag Bhutan is no longer an isolated Kingdom and today welcomes guests to discover its rich and unique cultural heritage which has largely remained intact. The scenic beauty with majestic virgin peaks, lush green valleys, fascinating architecture, hospitable people and a devout Buddhist culture make the Kingdom of Bhutan so special. 

The country is divided into several regions: Western Bhutan, Central Bhutan, Eastern Bhutan and Southern Bhutan.

Seven Dzongkhags (districts) form Western Bhutan. Chhukha is the commercial and the financial capital of Bhutan with two hydro power plants. Thimpu - the capital of Bhutan is amongst more developed Dzongkhang in the country. Paro, one of the most developed districts in the country, is known as the 'rice bowl' of the Kingdom due to fertile rice fields. Punakha, the former capital of Bhutan, continues to be the winter residence of the central monastic body. The second largest district in Bhutan Wangduephodrang has about 65% of land under forest cover and is famous for its fine bamboo work, slate and stone carvings. Haa, known as "the Hidden-Land Rice Valley" was the ancient centre of trade with Tibet. Gasa lies in the extreme north-west of the country.


Central Bhutan is believed to be the first inhabited part of the country. Trongsa is the central most district of Bhutan, where people survive on farming. Bumthang is the spiritual heartland of Bhutan and home to its most ancient and precious Buddhist sites. Lhuentse is one of the most isolated but historically important district that is known for several renowned pilgrimage sites. Zhemgang is one of the most inaccessible district in the country with 86% of its territory under forest cover that is very rich in biodiversity.


As an important trade route between India and Tibet in ancient times Eastern Bhutan is now the most densely populated region. Here the forests are thinner and the altitudes are lower than in the west. Monggar is the second largest town in the east. Trashigang, one of the largest districts in the country, was once the centre of important trade with Tibet but now is rich in tropical crops and fruits. Trashiyangtse, the newest Dzonghang, is endowed with a lot of natural beauty and biological diversity. Pemagatshel, known as "blissful land of lotus", is characterized by highly dissected mountain ranges, steep slopes, narrow valleys and rugged terrain. Samdrup Jongkhar has trade relations with India from across the border.


Southern Bhutan borders with India and is made up of Dagana (one of the remotest district in the country, 79% of the total area here are covered with forest), Samtse (district with developed horticulture, abundant natural deposits that are exported on a regular basis and several major mining and mineral based industries), Sarpang (is the commercial centre for the central Dzongkhangs that borders India) and Tsirang (is noted for its gentle slopes, mild climates, rich biodiversity and a high potential for the cultivation of cereal grains and horticultural crops). 

Bhutan belongs to the eastern Himalayas and probably has the greatest biodiversity among Asian countries. Its alpine forests are a natural habitat for a diversity of flora and fauna, including the most exotic species. Botanists consider Bhutan as one beautiful park with more than 60% of the common plant species of the eastern Himalayas: Orchids, Magnolia, Blue Poppies, Edelweiss, Primulas, carnivorous, high-altitude and medical plants. Bhutan is haven to a wide range of animals: Golden Langur, Elephants, Tiger, Gaur, Wild Water Buffalo, Hog Deer, Clouded Leopard, Blue Sheep, Yaks, Takin, Himalayan Black Bear, Red Panda and many others that are due to religious reasons neither hunt nor fish. The rich forests of Bhutan harbour 770 species of birds, 464 resident bird species and a great variety of endangered birds like the Satyr Pheasant, Peacock Pheasant, Raven and the Rufousnecked Hornbill. To preserve and protect such rich environment the country has designated 51 percent of its territory as protected areas (1 strict nature reserves, 4 nature parks, 4 wildlife sanctuary, biological corridors and conservation areas), introduced various programmes, established the National Environment Commission, trust funds and strengthened environmental conservation by many laws.


After hundred years of monarchy that has always been the leading force of change and unity democracy was initiated from the throne in April 2008.  In the same year Bhutan adopted its first written Constitution.

People
The majority of the Bhutanese are a homogenous group divided into three main ethnic groups: the Sharchops who live in the eastern Bhutan, the Ngalops who are settled in the western Bhutan and the Lhotshampas who live mainly in southern Bhutan. There are also a number of smaller groups and communities, many with their own dialects such as Layaps in the north-west, who lead a semi-nomadic lifestyle with livelihood dependent on yaks and sheep and have marriage custom of polyandry; Brokpas in the north-east who are semi-nomads too and wear felt hat made from yak hair; the Doyas in the south-west – a close-knit society that marry within themselves, worship local deities, are friendly, humble and loyal by nature; and the Monpas in central Bhutan – the first inhabitants of Bhutan who are homogeneous and close-knit community, originally hunters and food gatherers, still practice Bonism.

The Bhutanese are by nature physically strong, friendly, hospitable and with a good sense of humour. Men and women here have equal rights and opportunities. Monks in Bhutan are held in great respect and play an important role in community life.    
To reinforce Bhutan's identity government requires all citizens to wear the national dress in public areas. The traditional dress for Bhutanese men is the gho – a knee-length robe tied at the waist by a fabric belt. Women wear an ankle-length dress known as keyra around the waist, and fastened at the shoulders with silver brooches. On formal visits to a Dzong or an office men wear a scarf called kabney, women wear a sash called rachu which is hung over their left shoulder.

Traditional Bhutanese food always features spicy red and green chillies. The staple food in the lower regions is rice while at higher altitudes - wheat and buckwheat. Most Bhutanese chew doma (betel leaf and areca nut with a dash of lime). The offering of doma to someone is an act of friendship. Popular beverages include suja (salted butter tea), ara (home brewed alcohol) and beer.


Religion
With monasteries and prayer flags dotting every hill and valley, Bhutan is predominantly a Buddhist country. Buddhism came to Bhutan in its original form when Guru Padmasambhava visited the country and laid the foundation for the community of lamas (Buddhist teacher). Nowadays Vajrayana Buddhism is widely followed in Bhutan. It is the later form of Buddhism that recognizes the existence of numerous symbolic deities. Since its introduction, Buddhism has played a predominant role in shaping the social, political, economic and cultural evolution of the country and moreover its influence is visible in everyday life as well. People worship the Buddha, Guru and numerous tantric deities in daily prayers before the shrine room at home or in reciting prayers with the rosary or a prayer wheel. Bhutanese visit lamas, make offerings to monasteries, participate in wang (initiation), put up prayer flags, take part in religious festivals and perform rituals on all important occasions. Hinduism that co-exists with Buddhism is practiced in the southern regions. Some residue of Bon (animism and shamanism) still exists in some pockets of the country as a local culture.


Language
The national language in Bhutan is Dzongkha. Besides there are three other dominant languages: Bumthanghka, Tshanglakha, Lhotshamkha and over 19 different dialects. English is widely spoken in the main towns and is the medium of instruction in schools.


Architecture and art
Architecture is a significant feature of Bhutanese identity. Wooden surfaces of buildings such as beams, windows and doors are painted with various floral, animal and religious motifs and colours, each with a special signification. The best examples of traditional Bhutanese architecture are represented by Dzongs (castle-like ancient fortresses designed as oblong or square structures with a shrine in the core), goenpas (monasteries that are built like small villages consisting of two or more buildings covered with paintings arranged around a courtyard), Lhakhangs (temples in the monasteries usually surrounded by a paved path), choetens (or stupas built in honour of Boddhisattavas and are shaped to symbolize the five elements: earth, water, fire, air and ether) and traditional three-storied scattered farm houses built of timber, stone, clay and bricks without use of nails.

Bhutan's traditional culture is alive in its performing arts. Two main forms of folk dances and songs, Zhungdra and Boedra, are performed at all occasions. The dancers form a line or a circle and move in an intricate series of forward and backward steps accompanied by graceful arm movements.
Bhutan is a country of festivals, both secular and religious. The most popular religious ones are the dromchoe and tshechus. These dance festivals are marked by masked dancers in striking brocade costumes and take place in the courtyards of the dzongs, goenpas and choetens. The most popular festivals that attract foreign guests are held in Paro during spring and in Thimphu and Bumthang during autumn that includes exotic fire dances.

Name of the festival

City

Date

Punakha Dromchen

Punakha

15 to 19 February

Punakha Tsechu

Punakha

20 to 22 February

Takin festival

Gasa

21 to 23 February

Gom Kora

Trashigang

20 to 22 March

Paro Festival

Paro

23 to 27 March

Ura Festival

Bumthang

21 to 25 April

Nimalung Festival

Bumthang

16 to 18 June

Kurjey Festival

Bumthang

18 June

Haa Summer festival

Haa valley

6 to 8 July

Matsutake Mushroom festiva

Bumthang

24 and 25 August

Thimphu Drupchen

Thimphu

9 to 13 September

Wangdi Festival

Wangdiphodrang

12 to 14 September

Thimphu Festival

Thimphu

14 to 16 September

Tangbi Mani

Bumthang

18 to 20 September

Jambay Lhakhang Drup

Bumthang

18 to 22 October

Trashigang Festival

Trashigang

10 to 13 November

Trongsa Festival

Trongsa

2 to 4 January 2013/ 9 to 11 January 2014

Lhuntse Festival

Lhuntse

2 to 4 January 2013/ 9 to 11 January 2014

 

Bhutan is a country of festivals, both secular and religious. The most popular religious ones are the dromchoe and tshechus. These dance festivals are marked by masked dancers in striking brocade costumes and take place in the courtyards of the dzongs, goenpas and choetens. The most popular festivals that attract foreign guests are held in Paro during spring and in Thimphu and Bumthang during autumn that includes exotic fire dances.

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