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About Bhutan - The Land of the Thunder Dragon


Bhutan is a tiny Himalayan landlocked country. It is mapped to the north of South Asia. It is situated on the eastern Himalayan mountain area. The area of the nation is 38,394 square kms. The size is comparable to that of Switzerland. The population of the country is roughly Seven hundred thousand. Spiritually and culturally, the small Buddhist


Himalayan nation offers extensively rich insights. The country remained isolated until recent times. It was only in 1974 that the first group of tourists from America visited the remote Bhutan. The isolation enabled the country to maintain unique cultural features. The architectures such as fortresses and monasteries sustained throughout the entire land are evidenced extension of the country’s deep Buddhist beliefs and practices. The vigorous and colorful festivals, arts, crafts, paintings, symbols and unique national dress, to name a few, are some other astounding features of the indigenous Bhutanese culture. The Buddhist heritage and the cultural practices are magnificently woven throughout the tapestry of the people’s lives. In fact, the safeguard against the nation’s distinctive culture is echoed in its constitution, a feature exclusive to the Bhutanese constitution.

Another remarkable feature of this tiny nation is its fiercely guarded environment. The country hosts extremely rich and varied natural heritages. Bhutan has pledged to strictly conserve, protect and sustain its environment. The seriousness of the pledge is voiced in the country’s constitution. It’s a constitutional explicit requirement to maintain minimum sixty percent forest coverage for all times. This is another distinguishing feature exclusive to the Bhutanese constitution. With roughly seventy percent of the land covered with the forest today, it is one of the highest in the region. The commitment to protecting the environment has given the country a pristine landscape, breath taking sceneries, crystal clear streams, fresh air, stunning deep valleys, reserved parks and phenomenal variety of animals, birds and plants. It also offers excellent adventure trekking.

The economy of the country is largely based on agriculture. Approximately, 80 percent of the country is involved in agriculture. The general literacy rate is 63%. Health and education are provided free to the people. In 2008, the country successfully transitioned into a Democratic Constitutional Monarchy after the voluntary surrender of the power by the Fourth King of Bhutan. Other modern features such as internet, television, cell phones and ATMs are also recent introductions in Bhutan.

Bhutan is an extraordinary land that has seamlessly blended modernity into its deeply rooted traditional society without compromising the nation’s unique socioeconomic, cultural and the political systems. A visit to Bhutan, one of the top tourist destinations, promises lifelong inimitable experiences to the visitors. We, Pathway to Bhutan Travel Agent take immense pleasure in helping you unfold the rare experiences the last Shangri-La has to offer.

 

History

It is believed that Bhutan was inhabited as early as 2000 B.C. due to the presence of early stone implements discovered in the region.

The country was originally known by many names including Lho Jong, ‘The Valleys of the South’, Lho Mon Kha Shi, ‘The Southern Mon Country of Four Approaches’, Lho Jong Men Jong, ‘The Southern Valleys of Medicinal Herbs and Lho Mon Tsenden Jong, ‘The Southern Mon Valleys where Sandlewood Grows’. Mon was a term used by the Tibetans to refer to Mongoloid, non-Buddhist peoples that populated the Southern Himalayas.

The country came to be known as Druk Yul or The Land of the Drukpas sometime in the 17th century. The name refers to the Drukpa sect of Buddhism that has been the dominant religion in the region since that period.

Initially Bonism was the dominant religion in the region that would come to be known as Bhutan. Buddhism was introduced in the 7th century by the Tibetan King Songtsen Gampo and further strengthened by the arrival of Guru Rimpoche, a Buddhist Master that is widely considered to be the Second Buddha.

The country was first unified in 17th century by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel. After arriving in Bhutan from Tibet he consolidated his power, defeated three Tibetan invasions and established a comprehensive system of law and governance. His system of rule eroded after his death and the country fell into in-fighting and civil war between the various local rulers. This continued until the Trongsa Poenlop Ugyen Wangchuck was able to gain control and with the support of the people establish himself as Bhutan’s first hereditary King in 1907. His Majesty Ugyen Wangchuck became the first Druk Gyalpo (Dragon King) and set up the Wangchuck Dynasty that still rules today.

In 2008 Bhutan enacted its Constitution and converted to a democracy in order to better safeguard the rights of its citizens. Later in November of the same year, the currently reigning 5th Druk Gyalpo Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck was crowned.

 

Culture

While Bhutan is one of the smallest countries in the world, its cultural diversity and richness are profound. As such, strong emphasis is laid on the promotion and preservation of its unique culture. By protecting and nurturing Bhutan’s living culture it is believed that it will help guard the sovereignty of the nation.


Eatting Habits

Traditional Bhutanese eating habits are simple and, in general, food is eaten with hands. Family members eat while sitting cross legged on the wooden floor with food first being served to the head of the household first. It is usually women who serve the food and in most cases, the mother.

Birth

The birth of a child is always welcomed. In Bhutan extended family and guests are discouraged from visiting during the first three days after the birth. On the third day, a short purification ritual is performed after which visitors are welcomed to visit the new born and mother.

Funeral

Death signifies re-birth or a mere passing on to a new life. In keeping with the traditions, elaborate rituals are performed to ensure a safe passage and a good rebirth. The 7th, 14th, 21st and 49th days after a person’s death are considered especially important and are recognized by erecting prayer flags in the name of the deceased.

Marriage

Until just a few decades ago arranged marriages were common and many married among their relatives. In eastern Bhutan cross-cousin marriages were also once common, however, this practice is now becoming less common place among the literate masses and most marriages are based on the choice of the individuals.


 

Language

Bhutan is linguistically rich with over nineteen dialects spoken in the country. The richness of the linguistic diversity can be attributed to the geographical location of the country with its high mountain passes and deep valleys. These geographical features forced the inhabitants of the country to live in isolation but also contributed to their survival.

The national language is Dzongkha, the native language of the Ngalops of western Bhutan. Dzongkha literally means the language spoken in the Dzongs, massive fortresses that serve as the administrative centers and monasteries. Two other major languages are the Tshanglakha and the Lhotshamkha. Tshanglakha is the native language of the Tshanglas of eastern Bhutan while Lhotshamkha is spoken by the southern Bhutanese of Nepali origin.

Other dialects spoken are Khengkha and Bumthapkha by the Khengpas and Bumthap people of Central Bhutan. Mangdepkah, which is spoken by the inhabitants of Trongsa and the Cho Cha Nga Chang Kha which is spoken by the Kurtoeps. The Sherpas, Lepchas and the Tamangs in southern Bhutan also have their own dialects. Unfortunately two dialects that are on the verge of becoming extinct are the Monkha and the Gongduepkha.

 

Sports

Archery, the Game of Bow and Arrow is the National Sports of Bhutan. Unlike the archery played in Olympic, Bhutanese play this game over the yard of 145 Meters between the two target, which are roughly at height of one meter and 15 CM width. A team can be built with players of 9 or more but in odd digits as it is very much believed that Odd number provide a healthy, safe and enjoyable match within the match.

Traditionally, the archery games were played using the hand-made bamboo bow and arrow, which today is confined by the modern bow and arrow imported all the way from US, Canada, Europe and popular bow manufacturers around the globe, never the less, Bhutan still continues to keep the culture of bamboo bow and arrow with constant match organization and with special prizes for the winner.

 

Spirituality & Wellness

Bhutan has many activities available for those visitors seeking a place of solace, rest and recuperation. Whether it’s a session of peaceful, contemplative meditation, a relaxing soak in a mineral hot spring bath or the all natural remedies of our traditional medicine Bhutan has just what you need to revive and rejuvenate your body and spirit.

Our many meditation and mediation retreats will provide you with places of respite from the cares and stress of everyday life. Many tourists from Thailand and other Buddhist countries come to Bhutan specifically for meditation and retreat tours. Additionally most hotels also provide yoga sessions, retreats and meditation facilities within the hotel premises.

The traditional medicine of Bhutan is known as Sowa Rigpa and dates back to the 17th century when it first spilt from it Tibetan origins. Bhutan’s natural environment, with its exceptionally rich flora has enabled the development of an unparalleled pharmacopoeia. Indigenous medicine units have been established in all 20 Dzongkhags (districts) and can provide tourists with traditional remedies for any ailments they may have.

Hot springs or Tshachus as they are locally known can be found all over the Kingdom and their medicinal properties are known to cure various ailments ranging from arthritis to body aches and even sinuses.

 

Gross National Happiness

The Development Philosophy of Bhutan.

Economists the world over have argued that the key to happiness is obtaining and enjoying material development. Bhutan however, adheres to a very different belief and advocates that amassing material wealth does not necessarily lead to happiness. Bhutan is now trying to measure progress not by the popular idea of Gross Domestic Product but by through Gross National Happiness.

His Majesty the third Druk Gyalpo Jigme Dorji Wangchuck expressed his view on the goals of development as making “the people prosperous and happy.” With this strong view in mind, the importance of “prosperity and happiness,” was highlighted in the King’s address on the occasion of Bhutan’s admission to the United Nations in 1971.

While the emphasis is placed on both, prosperity and happiness, the latter is considered to be more significant. The fourth Druk Gyalpo emphasized that for Bhutan “Gross National Happiness,” is more important than “Gross National Product.” Thus, Gross National Happiness is now being fleshed out by a wide range of professionals, scholars and agencies across the world.

Druk Gyalpo Jigme Singye Wangchuck said that the rich are not always happy while the happy generally considered themselves rich. While conventional development models stressed on economic growth as the ultimate objective, the concept of Gross National Happiness is based on the premise that true development of human society takes place when material and spiritual development occur side by side to complement and reinforce each other.

The philosophy of Gross National Happiness has recently received international recognition and the UN has implemented a resolution “…recognizing that the gross domestic product …does not adequately reflect the happiness and well-being of people,” and that “…the pursuit of happiness is a fundamental human goal”.


The four main pillars of Gross National Happiness are:

  1. Equitable and equal socio-economic development

  2. Preservation and promotion of cultural and spiritual heritage

  3. Conservation of environment and

  4. Good governance which are interwoven, complementary, and consistent.

These pillars embody national and local values, aesthetics, and spiritual traditions. The concept of Gross National Happiness is now being taken up the United Nations and by various other countries.

Crucial to a better understanding of Gross National Happiness, is its wider reach and awareness amongst other countries, and the various indices that have now been formulated to include material gains in their assessment of the country and lastly, the growing need to synthesize the moral with the cultural values as the core of economic policy.

Gross National Happiness as a development paradigm has now made it possible for Bhutan to take its developmental policies into the remote corners of the kingdom and to meet the development needs of even its most isolated villagers, while still accentuating the need to protect and preserve our rich environment and forest cover. The policy of high value, low impact tourism has facilitated the promotion and preservation of our cultural values.

Furthermore, the concept of Gross National Happiness has greatly enabled the pursuit of development, while at the same time promoting the attainment of happiness as the core philosophy of life. For the government, it has facilitated the drive towards self sufficiency and self reliance, the ultimate reduction in the gap between the rich and the poor and ensuring good governance and empowerment of her people as one of its key directives.

Following the international seminar on Operationalizing Gross National Happiness held in Bhutan in February 2004, the participants began working to establish a Gross International Happiness Network, indicating the influence of Gross National Happiness beyond the Bhutanese Borders.

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