Bhutan is nestling in the heart of the great Himalaya. The country’s history stretches back to the origins of Buddhism and its spiritually rich people are enterprising, Pragmatic and delightfully humorous. They live in harmony with nature and have evolved a unique identity’ derived largely from a religious and cultural heritage. 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. The Kingdom has a total area of about 47, 0000 square kilometers. Has for centuries remained aloof from the rest of the world. Since its doors were cautiously opened in 1974, visitors have been mesmerized: the environment is pristine, the scenery and architecture awesome and the people hospitable and charming.
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. The Kingdom has a total area of about 47,000 square kilometers. Located in the heart of the high Himalayan mountain range, Bhutan is a land-locked country surrounded by mountains. The sparsely populated Greater Himalayas, bounded to the north by the Tibetan plateau, reach heights of over 7,300 meters, and extend southward losing height, to form the fertile valleys of the Lesser Himalayas divided by the Wang, Sunkosh, Trongsa and Manas Rivers. 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.
Early records suggest scattered clusters of inhabitants had already settled in Bhutan when the first recorded settlers arrived 1,400 years ago. Bhutan’s indigenous population is the Drukpa. Three main ethnic groups, the Sharchops, Ngalops and the Lhotsampas (of Nepalese origin), make up today’s Drukpa population. Bhutan’s earliest residents, the Sharchops reside predominantly in eastern Bhutan. Their origin can be traced to the tribes of northern Burma and northeast India. The Ngalops migrated from the Tibetan plains and are the importers of Buddhism to the kingdom. Most of the Lhotsampas migrated to the southern plains in search of agricultural land and work in the early 20th century.
Bhutan’s official language is Dzongkha. Given the geographic isolation of many of Bhutan’s highland villages, it is not surprising that a number of different dialects have survived. Bhutan has never had a rigid class system. Social and educational opportunities are not affected by rank or by birth. Bhutanese women enjoy equal rights with men in every respect. To keep the traditional culture alive Bhutanese people wear the traditional clothing that has been worn for centuries. Bhutanese men wear a ‘gho,’ a long robe tied around the waist by a belt. The women’s ankle length dress is called a kira, made from beautifully colored and finely woven fabrics with traditional patterns. Necklaces are fashioned from corals, pearls, turquoise, and the precious agate ‘zee’ stones which the Bhutanese call ‘tears of the gods’.
Comfortable transport is available in Bhutan, making journey in this mountainous terrain really pleasant. Latest model Japanese Toyota Cars, Land Cruisers, Haice Buses and Coaster Buses are offered to tourists depending upon the group size. The transport and guide accompanies the tourists right from arrival until departure.
Bhutan’s National Air Carrier, Druk Air, operates flight from Delhi, Kolkatta (twice a week), Kathmandu (twice a week), Bangkok (thrice a week), Dhaka (once a week).
Entry / Exit to Bhutan is also possible through Phuentsholing, the southern Bhutan frontier town. Bagdogra airport, in the state of West Bengal (India) is the nearest airport about 5 hours drive from Phuentsholing. Also Bagdogra (and its main town Siliguri) is the convenient point for visiting West Bengal region of Darjeeling, Kalimpong, state of Sikkim. Badrapur (about 5 hours drive from Phuenstholing) and Birat Nagar (about 7 hours drive from Phuenstholing) are two other airports in Nepal, connected with regular flights from Kathmandu.
Food of Bhutan is simple, yet delicious. On first impression, the cooking method would suggest that the food is bland, but the reality is just opposite. The Bhutanese prepare yummy appetizing food with their simple methods. With their food, they can make the guests licking their fingers. The Bhutanese are also fond of eating Tibetan specialties such as momo and noodles. They eat fruits like watermelon as dessert with their meals.
Weather & Climate
Bhutan’s climate is also largely affected by monsoons. The north-eastern monsoon brings powerful winds that pass through high mountain passes. A strange sound emerges from this natural phenomenon, lending Bhutan its nickname ‘Land of the Thunder Dragon’. Various parts of the country have different type of climate. Western part of the country has monsoon climate. In southern plains and foothills, it is humid and subtropical. Southern and central regions have temperate climate. Northern part has alpine climate with Himalyan peaks caddied with snow.
Two most spoken languages of Bhutan are Dzongkha and Nepali. Dzongkha, the national language of Bhutan, is spoken in most parts of Bhutan while Nepal is mainly used by the people of southern region, for most of them have their roots Nepal. Other languages and/or dialects spoken in Bhutan are Assamese, Limbu, Santali, Sherpa, Assamese, Gurung, Western Gurung and Eastern Magar.
Dzongkha and English
Dzongkha is an offshoot of Tibetan language. Meaning of Dzongkha is the language spoken in the dzong. It does match to Tibetan in some ways, but uses different style of scripting. Most people related to tourism industry can understand and speak English. In schools too, English is used to teach subjects such as mathematics, science and geography. Several local dilects are used in central and eastern parts of Bhutan. Study of Dzongkha is compulsory in all schools of Bhutan. The number of dialects listed in Bhutan is 24. All of these dialects are living.
The majority, roughly 75 percent, of Bhutan’s population practices Mahayana Buddhism which is similar to Tibetan/Lamaist Buddhism. After Buddhism, Hinduism is the next most popular religion. There is a broad range of Hinduism that is practiced ranging from traditional Hinduism to a combination of Buddhism/Hinduism where gods in both religions are worshipped.
Men and women in Bhutan wear traditional clothing. Clothing for men consists of a gho, which is a garment that wraps around the body like a coat that reaches the knee and is worn with a belt. The kira is the what women wear. It is a dress that is made from a piece of cloth (in the shape of a rectangle) that reaches the ankles. It is secured at the shoulders with a clip, while a woven belt holds the dress closed and in place. Both sexes used scarves or shawls and on occasion, men will wear earrings as well.
Many sounds in Dzongkha language do not have a match in the English language. It is difficult to write the exact pronunciation in English. But most consonants in Dzongkha language are pronounced in same manner as in English.