Bhutan At a Glance
The Bhutanese culture is one of the oldest, most carefully guarded and well preserved cultures in the world. For the people of Bhutan realize that other than their centuries old culture and revered values, there is little else that is exclusive to their small and less developed country. In a bid to prevent their ancient customs from being influenced by the West, the Bhutanese government has made it mandatory for all Bhutanese to wear only their national dress in public.
Arts and Craft:
All Bhutanese art-dance, drama and music-is steeped in Buddhism. The paintings are not produced for tourists, but for religious purposes; festivals are not quaint revivals, but living manifestations of a national faith; and almost all art, music and dance represents the struggle between good and evil. These traditions can be seen in all their glory at Bhutan's spectacular religious festivals called Tsechus.
Cuisine of Bhutan :
The Bhutanese diet is rich in meat, dairy, grain (particularly rice) and vegetables. Emadatse, made with green hot chilies and cheese stew, is considered the national dish with many interpretations to this recipe throughout the kingdom. Meat dishes, mainly pork, beef and yak, are lavishly spiced with chilies, and it is common to see bright red peppers drying on rooftops in the sun. Salted butter tea, or suja, is served on all social occasions. Though there is plenty of white rice, Bhutanese prefer a local, slightly nutty, red variety. At high altitudes, wheat is the staple. Several Tibetan-style dishes are common, including momos (dumplings), and thukpa (noodles). Pork fat is popular in the wilds because of its high-energy content. Chang, a local beer, and ara, a spirit distilled from rice, maize, wheat or barley, are also common and widely favored. Doma or betel nut is offered as a customary gesture of greeting.
Bhutan - Dress
All the citizens of Bhutan, whether Government officials or the common public, wear the national dress at all times in public. The national dress for men is called a Gho, which is long robe tied at the waist and pouched over the belt to form a pocket. Government senior officials wear a sword on ceremonial occasions. Women, who enjoy equal rights with men and play an active part in national affairs, wear an ankle-length robe called Kira, which is tied at the waist with a wide sash and fastened at the shoulders with silver broaches.
Bhutan - Ethnicity
The Drukpas form the major chunk with nearly 67% of the total population. They are of two groups. Those related to the Tibetans speak Dzongka. The other major language is Tsangla in the east with 11 different dialects. The Nepalis form 20% of the total Bhutanese people. Formerly the second largest peoples group after the Tsangla, they inhabited the southern region mostly. However, lately due to the political tension, they are forced to take asylum in Nepal, their country of origin. Indians, Tibetans, Sikkimese, Sherpas, etc., form the remaining 13% of the population. The unity of the Bhutanese people and independence of the country is under control of the state religion, Buddhism. There is very limited religious freedom, as government and social pressure do not allow for public expressions of other faiths. Buddhism is followed by 70% of the population, while Hinduism is practiced by 25%. The rest are either Muslims or Christians.
Bhutan - Fairs & Festivals
The largest and most colorful festivals take place at Bhutan's dzongs and monasteries once a year, especially in honor of Guru Rimpoche. They are normally celebrated in spring and autumn. Tsechus consist of up to five days of spectacular pageantry, masked dances and religious allegorical plays that have remained unchanged for centuries. Besides being a vital living festival and an important medium of Buddhist teaching, tsechus are huge social gatherings. Bhutanese revel and exult together, dressed in their finest clothes and jewelry, in a welcoming ambiance where humor and devotion go hand in hand. For guests, the tsechu provides an ideal opportunity to appreciate the essence of the Bhutanese character.
Bhutan - Climate
The climate of Bhutan is variable from region to region. While it is tropical in the southern plains, in the central valleys one experiences cool winters and hot summers. On the other hand, in the Himalayas severe winters and cool summers are prevalent.
Flora & Fauna
Bhutan is a botanists’ paradise. One of the ancient names given to Bhutan was 'Southern Valley of Medicinal Herbs.' Rhododendrons, junipers, magnolias, carnivorous plants, rare orchids, blue poppy (the national flower), edelweiss, gentian, medicinal plants, daphne, giant rhubarb, high-altitude plants, tropical trees, pine and oak abound here.
Among the rare and exotic faunas found in Bhutan the golden langur, red pandas, black-necked crane, snow leopard, takin, musk deer, Himalayan brown bear, Himalayan marten, tiger, hornbills, pheasants, mountain goats and timid blue sheep are some.
The kingdom of Bhutan lies in the eastern Himalayas, between Tibet to the north, and the Indian territories of Assam and West Bengal to the south, Arunachal Pradesh to the east and Sikkim to the west. The kingdom has a total area of about 47,000 square kilometers and spreads between meridians 89°E and 93°E, and latitudes 27°N and 29°N.
Located in the heart of the high Himalayan mountain range, Bhutan is a landlocked country surrounded by mountains. The sparsely populated Greater Himalayas, bounded to the north by the Tibetan plateau, reach heights of over 7,300 m, and extend southward losing height, to form the fertile valleys of the Lesser Himalayas that are divided by the Wang, Sunkosh, Trongsa and Manas rivers. The entire country is virtually mountainous, the 7554-m Kulha Gangri on the Tibetan border being the highest. North to south, Bhutan features three geographic regions, namely, the high Himalayas of the north, the hills and valleys of the interior, and the foothills and plains of the south. Its great rivers helped to carve its topography and their enormous potential for hydropower has helped shape the economy. Monsoon influences promote dense forestation in this region and alpine growth at higher altitudes. The cultivated central uplands and Himalayan foothills support the majority of the population. In the south, the Daurs Plain drops sharply away from the Himalayas into the large tracts of semi-tropical forest, savannah grassland and bamboo jungle. Forests and woodlands cover 70% of Bhutan’s total area.
History of Bhutan
Bhutan has been fortunate enough to never be colonized. It has therefore managed to retain a purity of culture that is entirely local with very few outside influences. Although recorded history mentions Bhutan in the 7th century, its existence as an independent entity was recognized even before that. In the 8th century, the great Tantrik mystic, Guru Padmasambhava or Guru Rinpoche came to Bhutan from Swat, in present-day Pakistan, and spread the Buddhist faith.
The next defining event in Bhutan's history was the arrival of Ngawang Namgyal, the "Shabdrung" (literally, at whose feet one submits) in 1616. The Shabdrung was the father and unifier of medieval Bhutan. After repelling numerous Tibetan invasions, the Shabdrung subdued the many warring feudal overlords and brought all of Bhutan under the influence of the Drukpa Kagyud School. His 35-year reign also saw the establishment of a nationwide administration, aspects of which still endure, and the building of dzongs as easily defensible fortresses and seats of local government. In fact, many of the dzongs one sees today were built during the Shabdrung's reign.
The most recent watershed in Bhutan's history was the coming to power of Ugyen Wangchuk, the first hereditary monarch of Bhutan. Ugyen Wangchuk pacified the feuding Regional Governors who had plunged Bhutan into a state of almost perpetual civil war. Having consolidated his authority across the entire country by 1885, he played the key mediator role between the British and the Chinese. Finally, on December 17, 1907, Ugyen Wangchuk was unanimously elected by all Regional Governors and the Central Monastic Body, at the Punakha Dzong and crowned "Druk Gyalpo" (literally, precious ruler of the dragon people). The present king, the fourth hereditary monarch, is Druk Gyalpo Jigme Singye Wangchuk, upon whose coronation in 1974 Bhutan opened its doors to tourists.
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