Touching Bhutan

Touching Bhutan

Bhutan is a unique blend of the old and new. Here is a country that is slowly opening up to the modern world in a fine balance with its ancient traditions. This tiny Kingdom lies hidden in the folds of the eastern Himalayas sandwiched between the two giant countries of India in the south and China in the north. With a total area of 38,398 sq kilometers, approximately the size of Switzerland, Bhutan lies between 88° 45’ and 92°10’ longitude east and 26°40’ and 28°15 ’ north. It is a mountainous country except for a small flat strip in the southern foothills. In the north we border with Tibet, the autonomous region under China, the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh and in the south with the Indian states of Assam and West Bengal.

The land of the thunder dragon kingdom is a trekker’s paradise and an environmentalist’s dream. With 72 percent of the country under forest cover, Bhutan’s pristine ecology is home to rare and endangered flora and fauna.

This spiritual land is the last bastion of the Vajrayana school of Mahayana Buddhism which provides the essence of a unique identity for the 750,000 people.

Facts and Figures
Land area: 38,394 square kilometres
Forest area: 72.5 %
Altitude: between 240metres and 7541metres above sea level
Inhabitants: 634,982
Language: official language “Dzongkha”, English widely spoken
Religion: Vajrayana stream of Mahayana Buddhism (Also known as Tantric Buddhism)
Currency: Ngultrum (equal to Indian Rupee)
Capital: Thimphu
National Tree: Cypress
National Bird: Raven
National Flower: Blue Poppy
National Sport: Archery
National Animal: Takin
Local time: Six hours ahead of GMT and half an hour ahead of Indian Standard Time

 

People Society and Religion

Bhutanese people can be generally categorized into three main ethnic groups. The Tshanglas, Ngalops and the Lhotshampas. The other minority groups are the Bumthaps and the Khengpas of Central Bhutan, the Kurtoeps in Lhuentse, the Brokpas and the Bramis of Merak and Sakteng in eastern Bhutan, the Doyas of Samtse and the Monpas of Rukha villages in Wangdue Phodrang. Together the multiethnic Bhutanese population number slightly more than 6,00,000.

Tshanglas: The Tshanglas or the Sharchops as they are commonly known are considered the aboriginal inhabitants of eastern Bhutan. Tshanglas or the descendants of Lord Brahma as claimed by the historians speak Tshanglakha and are commonly inhabitants of Mongar, Trashigang, Trashi Yangtse, Pema Gasthel and Samdrup Jongkhar. Besides cultivation of maize, rice, wheat, barley and vegetables, the Tshanglas also rear domestic animals to supplement their living. Weaving is a popular occupation of women. They produce beautiful fabrics mainly of silk and raw silk.

Ngalops: The Ngalops who have settled mostly in the six regions of western Bhutan are of Tibetan origin. They speak Ngalopkha, the polished version of Dzongkha which is the national language of Bhutan. Agriculture is their main livelihood. They cultivate rice, wheat, barley, maize etc, among others. In the regions of Thimphu and Paro apple is also cultivated as cash crop. They are known for Lozeys, or ornamental speech and for Zheys, dances that are unique to the Ngalops.

Lhotshampas: The Lhotshampas who have settled in the southern foothills are the latest to settle in the country. It is generally agreed that they migrated from Nepal in the beginning of the 19th century mostly coming in as laborers. They speak Lhotshamkha which is the Nepali language and practice Hinduism. One can find various castes of Lhotshampas including Bhawans, Chhetris, Rai’s, Limbus, Tamangs, Gurungs, and the lepchas. They essentially depend on agriculture and cultivate cash crops such as like ginger, cardamom, oranges, etc.

The Bumthaps, Mangdeps and Khengpas: The people who speak Bumtapkha, Mangdepkha and khengkha respectively inhabit the central pockets of Bhutan. The Bumthaps cultivate buck wheat, potatoes and vegetables. A section of this population also rear yaks and sheep and produce fabrics of wool and yak hair. The Mangdeps depend on cultivation of rice, wheat, maize, vegetables, etc besides rearing domestic animals. The khengpas also depend on agriculture similar to the Mangdeps. However, they are also known for the bamboo and cane craft.

Kurtoeps: Kurtoeps are the other category of people in the east. They inhabit the district of Lhuentse and the villages are found spread along the banks of Kurichu. Khoma women are expert weavers and are known for their skill in weaving the grandiose Kushithara.

The Brokpas and the Bramis: The Brokpas and the Bramis are a semi nomadic community. They are settled in the two villages of Merak and Sakteng in eastern Bhutan. They mostly depend on yaks and sheep for livelihood. Living in the high altitude zones they hardly take up agriculture. They speak a different dialect and have their own unique dress that is made of yak hair and sheep wool. They are also experts in cane and bamboo crafts.

The Layaps: To the extreme north are the Layaps who speak the layapkha. Like the Brokpas, they are also semi nomads whose source of livelihood is dependent on yaks and sheep the products of which they barter with the people of Wangdue Phodrang and Punakha with rice, salt and other consumables.
The Doyas: These are the other tribal community and are settled mostly in southern Bhutan. They are considered the aboriginal inhabitants of western and central Bhutan, who over the years settled in the present areas in Dorokha. They have a dialect of their own and dress in their own unique style.

Monpas: The Monpas are a small community in Rukha under Wangdue Phodrang. Together with the Doyas they are also considered the original settlers of central Bhutan. They speak a different dialect unique to their own but one that is slowly ding as these people are now being absorbed into the main stream Bhutanese society.

Bhutan is a Buddhist country and people refer to it as the last stronghold of Vajrayana Buddhism. Buddhism was first introduced by the Indian Tantric master Guru Padmasambhava in the 8th century. Till then people by and large worshipped all forms of nature, remnants of which are still evident even today in some remote villages in the country. The older form of religion was referred to as Bon and was accompanied by offerings of animal sacrifice and worshipped a host of deities invoking and propitiating them. They believed in invisible forces and considered them as the rightful owners of different elements of nature. Mountain peaks considered as abodes of Guardian deities (Yul lha), the lakes as inhabited by lake deities (Tsho mem), cliffs resided by cliff deities (Tsen), land belonging to the subterranean deities (Lue), land inhabited by (Sabdag), water sources inhabited by water deities (Chu gi Lhamu), and dark places haunted by the demons (due) etc.

With the visit of Padmasambhava, Buddhism began to take firm roots and especially led to the propagation of the Nyingmapa (the ancient or the older) school of Buddhism.

The visit of Phajo Drugom Zhigpo’s from Ralung in Tibet to Bhutan in 1222 marks another milestone in the history of Bhutan and in Buddhism. He was instrumental in introducing yet another school of Buddhism – the Drukpa Kagyu that is today the state religion of the country. His sons and descendants were also instrumental in spreading it to many other parts in western Bhutan.
By far the greatest contributor was Zhabdrung Nawang Namgyal. His arrival in 1616 from Tibet marks another landmark. He was not only able to bring under his domain the various Buddhist schools that had cropped up in many parts of western Bhutan but unify the country as a one whole nation-state and give it a distinct identity.

Buddhism is still vibrant and alive. The Dzongs, monasteries, stupas, prayer flags, and prayer wheels punctuate the Bhutanese landscape. The chime of ritual bells, sound of gongs, people circumambulating temples and stupas, fluttering prayer flags, red robed monks conducting rituals, among many others are all living case in point to reveal that Buddhism is an essential ingredient of a Bhutanese life.

Flora and Fauna

Physically, Bhutan can be divided into three zones: Alpine Zone (4000m and above) with no forest cover; the Temperate Zone (2000 to 4000m) with conifer or broadleaf forests; and the Subtropical Zone (150m to 2000m) with Tropical or Subtropical vegetation. Because of its wide altitudinal and climatic range, the flora and fauna is diverse and rich.

Forest types in Bhutan are Fir Forests, Mixed Conifer Forest, Blue Pine Forest, Chirpine Forest, Broadleaf mixed with Conifer, Upland Hardwood Forest, Lowland Hardwood Forest, and Tropical Lowland Forests. Almost 60% of the plant species that is found in the eastern Himalayan region can be found in Bhutan as well.

Bhutan boasts of about 300 species of medicinal plants and about 46 species of rhododendrons. Some common sights for the visitors are the magnolias, junipers, orchids of varied hues, gentian, medicinal plants, daphne, giant rhubarb, the blue poppy which is the national flower and tropical trees such as pine and oaks.

A wide range of animal could also be found frequenting the jungles of Bhutan. Some high altitude species are the snow leopards, the Bengal tigers that are found at altitude ranging 3000 to 4000 meters, the red panda, the gorals and the langurs, the Himalayan black bear and sambars, the wild pigs and the barking deer, the blue sheep and the musk deer. In the tropical forests of Southern Bhutan one can come across the clouded leopards, the one horned rhinoceros, elephants, golden langur that is unique to Bhutan, the water buffaloes and the swamp deer.

Bhutan also has a great variety of bird species. It is recognized as an area of high biological diversity and is known as the East Himalayan ‘hot spot’ situated as it is at the hub of 221 global endemic bird areas. The recorded number of bird species is over 670 and there are chances that this number could still go up.

In addition, 57% of Bhutan’s globally threatened birds and 90% of the country’s restricted rare birds are dependent on forests. Bhutan has about 415 resident bird species. These inhabitant birds are altitudinal refugees, moving up and down the mountains depending upon the seasons and weather conditions. Of about 50 species of birds that migrate in winters are the buntings, waders and ducks, thrushes and the birds of prey. Some 40 species are partial migrants and they include species such as swifts, cuckoos, the bee-eaters, fly catchers and the warblers.

Bhutan is also home to about 16 bird species that are endangered worldwide. These include the White bellied heron, Pallas Fish eagle, Blyth’s King fisher to name a few. Phobjikha valley in Wangdue Phodrang and Bomdeling in Trashi Yangtse are also two important places in Bhutan that is visited by the endangered Black Necked Crane.

 

Tour in Bhutan

Culture Tour: Paro,Thimphu 3 Nights 4 days -

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Culture Tour: Paro, Thimphu, Punakha 4 Nights 5 days -

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Culture Tour: Paro, Thimphu, Punakha, Wangduephodrang, Trongsa 7 Nights 8 Days -

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