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 Duars Plain drops sharply away from the Himalayas into the large tracts of semi-tropical forest, savannah grassland and bamboo jungle.
‘When a Bhutanese draws his swords, the whole of the valley trembles’. Strong hardy and well built the 1.5 million Bhutanese a peaceful, calm and placid people belie the martial traits that come naturally to them, archery is their favourite and traditional sport.
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’.
Climate of Bhutan:
The climate of Bhutan varies from the subtropical to the arctic and region to region. The climate within the mountains varies greatly according to precipitation and wind conditions. In the Duars plain and up to 1500 meters, the climate is subtropical with high humidity and heavy rainfall. The low lying parts of Punakha, Mongar, Tashigang and Lhuntse have cool winters and hot summers, whereas the higher valleys of Ha, Paro, Thimpu, Tongsa and Bumthang receives a temperate climate with cold snowy winters and cooler summers. The monsoons start in mid June and lasts until the end of September. Most of the towns also have warm and autumn days with cool nights in spring, cold and sunny skies in winter and warm, generally sunny summer with light monsoon rainfall. The temperatures also vary greatly between day and night at different altitudes. Layered clothing for changing conditions is thus recommended.
Religious & Culture:
Religion plays a very important role in the social affairs of Bhutan. Buddhism is followed by 70% of the population, while Hinduism is practiced by 25%. The rest are either Muslims or Christians. Lamaist Buddhism is the state religion. It belongs to the school of Mahayana or Tantrik Buddhism. Buddhism has shaped the country’s destiny since it was introduced 100 years ago. It is practiced throughout the country and has also played a vital role in the life of the people. The Bhutanese belongs to the Drukpa school, a 12th century splinter movement from the Kagyupa. The religious goal of the Drukpa is redemption from the cycle of rebirth, entering into Nirvana. With Lamaism this is believed to be achieved by castigation, magic deeds and formulas. There are about 8 major monasteries (which are also dzong fortresses) and 200 small shrines (gompas) scattered throughout the country.
Adventure in Bhutan
Bhutan is not only known for its culture, but here one can also experience a little bit of adventure in the mountains or enjoy an outdoor holiday. The best adventure treks are available, depending upon the physical conditions of the tourists. The most adventurous and exciting trekking is to the Himalayas. The treks start from semi-tropical forests till the snow clad mountains. For the more adventurous, some of the highest peaks of the country and swift rivers have been opened. Some of the rivers also provides a good rafting experience to the tourists. During the tour, the tourists are provided well-trained guides who have good knowledge of history and traditions of the country and are well versed in English.