Sandwiched between two powerful countries, India & China, Bhutan lies in the midst of the mighty Himalayas. Situated 100m above sea level, Bhutan is spread over a total area of 38,394 sq. km. approx. The country can essentially be categorized into three different ecological zones - Tropical, Temperate and Subalpine. Due to the climatic differences in these regions, Bhutan is home to diverse species of flora and fauna. There are over 770 species of birds, 5,500 plant species & 165 species of mammals to be found here.
The country is committed to promoting responsible tourism, and strict measures are in place to ensure that tourism & development does not cause irreversible harm to nature. Presently almost 72% of the country is under forest cover. To maintain the rich biodiversity, the government has converted much of the land here into protected areas and natural reserves. Some significant ones are - Jigme Dorji National Park, Jigme Singye Wangchuck National Park (Royal Manas National Park), Thrumshingla National Park, Bumdiling Wildlife Sanctuary, etc.
The majority of the population follows Buddhism here. Guru Rimpoche is considered a revered figure here. He is credited with propagating the Tantric form of Mahayana Buddhism.
Culture And Tradition
Bhutan is among the smallest countries in the world. The rich cultural and heritage is the pride of the Bhutanese people. This rich & untouched cultural values and age old traditions can be attributed to the self imposed isolation by the country till recent past. Now that Bhutan has finally opened its doors to the outside world, the government has taken many measures to preserve the unique culture and traditions of the nation.
Agriculture is the main source of people living here & almost 75% of the population is into farming. There are mainly three ethnic groups - Ngalongpas in the west, Sharchopas in the east and Lhotshampas in the south. There as many as 19 dialects that are spoken in the countryside, but the national language is the Dzongkha. It is the official language used in offices and for administrative purposes. Along with Dzongkha, the English language is also used for official purposes & nowadays is a part of curriculum in all major schools.
The national dress of Bhutan is the ‘Gho’ for men and ‘Khira’ for women. It is necessary to wear this national dress when in public places and for formal occasions. This is an initiative by the government to preserve the unique traditions of the country from the onslaught of western influence. Other than these, the dress is also accompanied by colorful scarves (for men) and shawls (for women) to show their social standing and higher status. Tourists are free to wear the clothes of their choice.
Bhutanese women enjoy an enviable status as compared to women in other Asian countries. They inherit the family wealth, land, etc. and are free to marry according to their liking. Monks enjoy an elevated status in the Bhutanese society & revered by one and all. Any religious occasion, family occasion or any other important event is considered incomplete without the presence of Monks.
Caste System, a curse of all developing nations & most societies around the world, is largely missing from the Bhutanese society. Women enjoy equal rights as men. Traditional Etiquettes involve wearing the scarf when entering a Dzong or an office. Monks and elders are treated with the highest degree of respect. On important occasions like marriages, promotions, etc., Felicitation Scarves are offered as gifts. ‘Kuzuzangpo’ is the term generally used by people to greet one another. In case of senior officials or elders, ‘Kuzuzangpola’ is used. Having an open and fun loving society, the Bhutanese people enjoy activities like singing, archery, stone pitching, partying, dancing, etc.
Predominantly a Buddhist state, Vajrayana Buddhism is the main form practiced among people. First introduced by Guru Rimpoche in the eight century, Buddhism took firm roots in the country. Nyingmapa (the ancient or the older) school of Buddhism was propagated by him.
Another school of Buddhism – the Drukpa Kagyu (the state religion today) was introduced in Bhutan by Phajo Drugom Zhigpo’s from Tibet in 1222. Later on this form of Buddhism took hold in most part of western Bhutan.
In 1616, Zhabdrung Nawang Namgyal arrived from Tibet and managed to unify the country and give it a unique identity of its own. He brought various Buddhist schools under his control & is considered as a significant figure in history of Buddhism in Bhutan.
The Buddhist influence can be witnessed in the many monasteries, Stupas, prayer wheels and flags that are seen throughout the landscape. The monks in bright red robes are an important part of the society & their presence marks all the special events and occasions in Bhutanese society.
There are over eighteen dialects spoken in the country. The national language is Dzogkha. Bhutan’s linguistic richness is attributed to it being a closed society for a greater part of its existence. Other important languages include the Tshanglakha and the Lhotshamkha. While Tshanglakha originated from the Tshanglas of eastern Bhutan, Lhotshamkha is essentially the language of Southern Bhutanese of Nepali origin. Other dialects include Khengkha (Khengpas of Central Bhutan), the Bumthapkha (Bumthaps), Mangdepkah (native to Trongs). Other communities like the Tamangs, Lepchas and the Sherpas too have their own dialect. Monkha and the Gongduepkha are two dialects that are facing the threat of extinction.
One major factor that makes Bhutan the favored destination of all wildlife life enthusiasts and nature lovers is the largely unspoiled environment, with its landscape being a true paradise, with almost 70% of the country being under forest cover. Here one can find a rich and varied eco system with diverse flora and fauna adding to the beauty of the already spectacular landscape. To preserve the rich and bountiful landscape and the country’s natural treasures, the government has taken many initiatives.
Because of its perfect location, there is climatic variation which has resulted in diverse flora and fauna being found here. It is considered as one among the leading bio diversity hotspots in the world.
Flora & Fauna
Based on the kind of vegetation to be found here, Bhutan can be divided into three zones:
- Alpine Zone (4000m and above) - Little or no vegetation,
- Temperate Zone (2000 to 4000m) - Conifer or broadleaf forests,
- Subtropical Zone (150m to 2000m) - Tropical or Subtropical vegetation.
Wild life enthusiast can have a great time here as Bhutan is home to many diverse animal species. The carefully preserved habitats and the pristine environment serves as the perfect breeding grounds for animals like the Musk Deer, the Langurs, the Barking Deer, Wild Pigs, the Blue Sheep, Himalayan Black Bear, Red Panda, the Gorals and Sambars. Yet other species that one can encounter in the tropical forests of Southern Bhutan include one horned rhinoceros, water buffaloes, swamp deer, clouded leopards, snow leopards, the Bengal tigers and the elephants. There is also the Golden Langur which is unique to Bhutan.
There are many varieties of birds to be found in Bhutan too. There are over 670 recorded species of birds here. Of these almost 415 species are resident birds. The forests here are home to many threatened species too. Buntings, thrushes, waders and ducks and the birds of prey are some birds that migrate in winter. There are some species that are partial migrants which include warblers, fly catchers, swifts, cuckoos, and the bee-eaters. Endangered bird species that can be seen here include Black Necked Crane, White bellied heron, Blyth’s King fisher, Pallas Fish eagle, etc.
Organizations Involved In Environment Conservation.
- National Environmental Commission
- Royal Society for protection of nature clubs throughout the country.
- Department of Forestry Services.
- Nature Conservation Department.
- Bhutan Trust Fund.
- Donor Organization.
- Association of Bhutan Tour Operators.
Gross National Happiness
Among the unique economies in the world, Bhutan is the only country in the world which measures its progress not in terms of wealth, but by how happy the people are. Bhutanese government has introduced the concept of Gross National Happiness precisely because of this reason. While other nations are guided by the concept of Gross Domestic Product to measure progress, Gross National Happiness stresses on prosperity and more importantly the happiness of people.
Gross National Happiness: What It Involves?
- All round Socio-Economic Development
- Conservation Of Cultural And Spiritual Heritage
- Preserving Nature & Environment
- Good Governance
The concept of Gross National Happiness involves encouraging material growth along with spiritual development. Spiritual growth involves embracing national values & traditions which are seen as the stepping stones to achieving happiness. Gross National Happiness further focuses on concepts like self reliance and self sufficiency.
Seeing the many advantages of this concept, many countries have come forward and embraced Gross National Happiness. In February 2004, an international seminar was held in Bhutan where the participating countries, by mutual agreement, formed the Gross International Happiness Network (GIHN). The members focus on encouraging sustainable development & values. Members of the GIHN include -
- Center for Bhutan Studies, Bhutan
- Spirit in Business, USA and the Netherlands
- Social Venture Network Asia, Thailand
- ICONS, Redefining Progress & Implementing New Indicators on Sustainable Development, Brazil
- Inner Asia Center for Sustainable Development, the Netherlands
- The New Economics Foundation, UK
- Genuine Progress Indicators / GPI Atlantic, Canada
- Corptools/Values Center, USA
- International Society for Ecology and Culture, UK