Known to the Bhutanese as ‘The Land of The Dragon’ Bhutan has an abundance of unspoilt culture and festivals which are built on the country’s unique and religious traditions. The Bhutanese treasure their landscape which is perfect for the most spectacular trekking experience. The few visitors to Bhutan experience not only a deeply captivating culture; but the overwhelming natural landscape: snow capped mountains, lush valleys, crystal clear rivers and springs, remarkable Bhutanese architecture amongst the hills, grazing land and wild flowers as well as a huge variety of other flora and fauna, which is recognised as some of the world’s best.
Bhutan is a small kingdom located in the eastern folds of the Himalayas, it sits between two much larger countries: China- in the north and India- to its south. The sovereign nation of Bhutan lies between 88° 45’ and 92°10’ longitude east and 26°40’ and 28°15 ’ north. The country’s territory totals an approximate 46,500 square kilometres; Bhutan is widely identified as the ‘Switzerland of Asia’ due to its size, shape and landlocked setting, as well as for Bhutan’s mountainous terrain which covers most of the country apart from a small flat strip in the southern foothills.
The term GNH (gross national happiness) was coined in 1972 by Bhutan’s former King; it was used to outline his commitment to developing the economy on unique Buddhist values. Today the population’s happiness still remains a political objective for Lyonchen Jigme Y. Thinley who heads the Druk Phunsum Tshogpa, the governing body in power, with a major victory (45 elected members). While the People’s Democratic Party stands as opposition in the parliament. Bhutan became a two-party parliamentary democracy after elections in March 2008.
Economy and Tourism
Though Bhutan’s economy is one of the smallest, it has the second fastest-growing economy in the world mainly due to a large ‘Tala’ Hydroelectricity project. The currency in Bhutan is ‘Ngultrum’. In Bhutan, the main industries include agriculture, cement and plaster production, tourism and more increasingly the sale of hydro- electricity to India.
In Bhutan there are two main languages. Firstly, derived from Tibetan Language, the national language of Bhutan, Dzongkha, is widely spoken in most parts of the country. Nepali is also spoken, mainly in the southern regions of Bhutan, where the Nepalese roots are most prominent. Most locals involved in the tourist industry can understand and speak English. In many schools as well, a large amount of lessons are taught in English.
The Buddhist religion plays a fundamental role in Bhutanese culture and society, this is reflected by the fact that Bhutan is the only country that recognises Buddhism as its official religion, and is endorsed by the government. Approximately seventy per cent of Bhutan’s population practice disciplines of Mahayana Buddhism in the form of Drukpa Kagyupa or Ningmapa Buddhism. Though derived from Tibetan Buddhism, the Bhutanese Schools differ in rituals and monastic organisation. With yearly financial subsidies from the government to shrines and monasteries the value and strength of religion in the country is clear from the support it receives. Roughly one-quarter of the population is those of Nepalese origin that practice Hinduism. Christians, both Roman Catholic and Protestant, and non-religious groups comprise less than one per cent of the population.