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Bhutan at a Glance

Total Area 38,394 square kilometers
Geography Landlocked between China (Tibet) and India
Altitude 100m above sea level in the South to over 7,500 m. above sea level in the North.
Population 646,851 (2006)
Language Bhutan’s official language is Dzongkha while English is widely spoken
Religion Mahayana Buddhism in its Tantric form
Capital Thimphu 
Political System Democratic Constitutional Monarchy
Time 6 hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time
Currency Ngultrum (at par with Indian rupee) 1US$ = Nu. 63 (December 2013)
Terrain It can be divided into three major parts:Geographic regions from North to South; the high Himalayas of North, the hills and valleys of the central and the foothills and plains of the South.
Forest coverage 72.5% of the land area
Cultivated area 7.8% of total land
Altitude 100 m above sea level in the south to over 7,500 m above sea level in the north
Longitude 88 45’ - 92 10’ East
Latitude 26 45’ - 28 15’ North
Life expectancy 66 yrs
Local time 6 hrs ahead of GMT and half an hour ahead of Indian Standard Time

The name Bhutan appears to have been derived from the ancient Indian term "Bhotanta" which means the end of the land of the Bhots. ‘Bhots was the Sanskrit term for Tibetans, thus Bhutan could mean the end of the land of Tibet or from " Bhu-uttan" which means ‘high land'. Though known to the outside world as Bhutan, Bhutanese refer to their country as Druk Yul or the Land of The Thunder Dragon.

Bhutan has been an independent nation throughout its history, a historic fact greatly treasured and prized by Bhutanese. Bhutan had numerous clans and tribal feudal chiefs who ruled over different regions in the country. These feudal chiefs were in constant conflict among themselves and with Tibet. It was not until the 17th century that Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel unified the country and brought Bhutan one rule. He established a theocracy in the country, a dual system of administration to look after the temporal and the civil administration of the country.

Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel has had a great impact not only on the administration but equally on the history of Buddhism in Bhutan. He built Dzongs, monasteries and religious institutions. He established the Drukpa kargyud school of Tantric Mahayana Buddhism in Bhutan.

The dual form of governance ended in the year 1907 when the Trongsa Penlop Ugyen Wangchuk became the first hereditary king of Bhutan. Since then there had been have four kings with our present King Jigme Khaser Namgyal Wangchuk as the fifth king of Bhutan. It was King Jigme Dorji Wangchuk who is accredited with opening the windows of the country to the outside world and stepping in the modern world.

Bhutan was not unified under central authority until the 17th century, however the religious presence had been in the country had been acting as a spiritual cohesion for many years. According to one legend, it was in 747 A.D, Guru Padmasambhava also known as Guru Rinpoche in Bhutan made his legendary trip from Tibet across the mountains flying on a tigress's back.

He arrived in Paro valley at Taktshang Lhakhang, Tiger's nest. A monastery now perches on the cliff's face as a permanent memory in his name. Guru Rinpoche is not only recognized as the founder of Nyingmapa religious school but also considered as the second Buddha. In the years that followed many great masters flourished the faith of Buddhism. The country was eventually unified under the Drukpa Kargyud sect of Mahayana Buddhism by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal.

The 17th century witnessed a remarkable change from the unification of the country under one rule to the coronation of our first King Ugyen Wangchuk in 1907 and a series of rulers under whose guidance Bhutan has progressed and balanced the country under the philosophy of Gross National Happiness.

Gross National Happiness: Development Philosophy of Bhutan

Economists the world over have argued that the key to happiness is obtaining and enjoying material development. Bhutan however, adheres to a very different belief and advocates that amassing material wealth does not necessarily lead to happiness. Bhutan is now trying to measure progress not by the popular idea of Gross Domestic Product but by through Gross National Happiness.

His Majesty the third Druk Gyalpo Jigme Dorji Wangchuck expressed his view on the goals of development as making “the people prosperous and happy.” With this strong view in mind, the importance of “prosperity and happiness,” was highlighted in the King’s address on the occasion of Bhutan’s admission to the United Nations in 1971.

While the emphasis is placed on both, prosperity and happiness, the latter is considered to be more significant. The fourth Druk Gyalpo emphasized that for Bhutan “Gross National Happiness,” is more important than “Gross National Product.” Thus, Gross National Happiness is now being fleshed out by a wide range of professionals, scholars and agencies across the world.

Druk Gyalpo Jigme Singye Wangchuck said that the rich are not always happy while the happy generally considered themselves rich. While conventional development models stressed on economic growth as the ultimate objective, the concept of Gross National Happiness is based on the premise that true development of human society takes place when material and spiritual development occur side by side to complement and reinforce each other.

The philosophy of Gross National Happiness has recently received international recognition and the UN has implemented a resolution “…recognizing that the gross domestic product [...] does not adequately reflect the happiness and well-being of people,” and that “…the pursuit of happiness is a fundamental human goal”.

The four main pillars of Gross National Happiness are:

1. Equitable and equal socio-economic development
2. Preservation and promotion of cultural and spiritual heritage
3. Conservation of environment and
4. Good governance which are interwoven, complementary, and consistent

Due to Bhutan’s location and unique geographical and climatic variations, it is one of the world’s last remaining biodiversity hotspots.

Bhutan pristine environment, with high rugged mountains and deep valleys, offers ecosystems that are both rich and diverse. Recognizing the importance of the environment, conservation of its rich biodiversity is one of the government’s development paradigms.

The government has enacted a law that shall maintain at least 60% of its forest cover for all time. Today, approximately 72% of the total land area of Bhutan is under forest cover and approximately 60% of the land area falls under protected areas comprising of 10 national parks and sanctuaries.

Flora and Fauna

Bhutan is one of the last remaining biodiversity hotspots in the world, forest cover has now increased to over 72% of the country, with 60% of the country under protection.

The array of flora and fauna available in Bhutan is unparalleled due to conservation and its wide altitudinal and climatic range. Physically, the country can be divided into three zones:

1. Alpine Zone (4000m and above) with no forest cover;
2. Temperate Zone (2000 to 4000m) with conifer or broadleaf forests;
3. Subtropical Zone (150m to 2000m) with Tropical or Subtropical vegetation.

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 found in the eastern Himalayan region are present in Bhutan.

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 and trees such as fir, pine and oaks.

A wide range of rare and endangered animals can also be found frequenting the dense jungles and high mountains of Bhutan. Due to the countries conservation efforts and its unspoiled natural environment Bhutan supports thriving populations of some of the rarest animals on earth and has thus been classified as one of the last biodiversity hotspots in the world.

Some high altitude species are the snow leopards, Bengal tigers that are found at altitude ranging 3000 to 4000 meters, the red panda, the gorals and the langurs, the Himalayan black bear, sambars, wild pigs, barking deer, blue sheep and musk deer.

In the tropical forests of Southern Bhutan one can come across clouded leopards, the one horned rhinoceros, elephants, water buffaloes and swamp deer. You can even find the Golden Langur, a species of monkey that is unique to Bhutan.

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’, the hub of 221 global endemic bird areas. The recorded number of bird species is over 670 and is expected to rise as new birds are discovered.

In addition, 57% of Bhutan’s globally threatened birds and 90% of the country’s rare birds are dependent on forests. Bhutan has about 415 resident bird species. These 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 during the winters are the buntings, waders, ducks, thrushes and the birds of prey. Some 40 species are partial migrants and they include species such as swifts, cuckoos, bee-eaters, fly catchers and warblers.

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

As one of the ten global hotspots, Bhutan is committed to preserve and protect its rich environment through its government and environmental organizations. This commitment is apparent in the fact that the kingdom has the distinct honor of being one of the only nations whose forest cover has actually grown over the years.

Some of the proactive organizations working in Bhutan are:

Despite Bhutan' small population there has been much economic development in recent years and the economy is growing rapidly.

While a large part of the Bhutanese population is still illiterate and reside in rural areas with approximately 1in 5 still living under the poverty line, the majority of all Bhutanese have shelter and are self-sufficient. Rapid modernization has brought about vast improvements in the living standard of the Bhutanese people. All villages now have access to basic amenities such as education, running water, basic healthcare and are connected by roads and electricity. Even the most remote villages have connection to the telecommunication network including mobile phone service.

The Bhutanese economy is predominantly agricultural. Farmers supplement their income through the sale of animal products such as cheese, butter and milk. Farmers' markets are common throughout the country, supplying the people with fresh, organic, local produce.

The main staple crops are rice, maize, wheat and buckwheat while cash crops are predominantly potatoes, apples, oranges, cardamom, ginger, and chilies. A fruit based industry has been established in the capital allowing farmers from the nearby areas to sell their produce and thereby earn additional revenue.

Cottage Industries

Bhutan's rich biodiversity provides the country with ample forest resources and this has brought about the development of a thriving cane and bamboo handicraft industry. Craftsmen weave a number of beautiful and intricate items out of bamboo and cane including hats, backpacks, floor mats and traditional bowls. These items are then sold to tourists or Bhutanese, supplying a secondary income source.

Tourism

The Bhutanese Tourism Industry was first opened in 1974. Since then it has grown to become, a major contributing factor to the Bhutanese economy creating countless employment opportunities and generating additional revenue for the government.

The government is committed to building a sustainable tourism industry that is not only financially viable but also limits the negative cultural and environmental impacts commonly associated with the culture of mass tourism. By establishing a policy of "High Value, Low Impact' tourism, the kingdom of Bhutan seeks to ensure that it attracts only the most discerning visitors with a deep respect for cultural values, traditions and the natural environment.

To this end efforts have been made to ensure that even remote areas are publicized and able to reap the benefits of tourism while still respecting their traditions, culture and natural environment.

Hydroelectricity

Due to its fast flowing, glacier-fed rivers, Bhutan has enormous potential to produce hydroelectricity. With the construction of several major dams, the power sector has undeniably been the biggest contributor to the Bhutanese exchequer. The Chukha Hydro Power Corporation, the Tala Hydro Power Corporation, the Baso Chu Hydro Power Corporation and the Kurichu Hydro Power Corporation, under the umbrella of Druk Green Power Corporation, are some of the existing mega projects in the country. The 1500 MW of power they generate, most of which is exported to our neighboring country India, barely scratches the surface of Bhutan's untapped hydroelectric potential. With its abundant water resources, Bhutan still has the capacity to generate another 30,000 MW of electricity. However, the government is proceeding cautiously with new construction projects in order to minimize the impact upon the surrounding areas.

Manufacturing

The Manufacturing sector is another major contributor to national revenue. With the industrial sector established in Pasakha, small scale industries such as cement plants, calcium and carbide, steel and Ferro silicon, Coca Cola and also wood based industries have started developing.

As a result of the recent economic development, Bhutan has one of the highest per capita incomes in South Asia at US$1,321. However despite this high level of growth and development, some stringent regulations are in place to protect and preserve Bhutan's natural heritage for generations to come.

People in Bhutan can be divided in three broad ethnics group – Sharchops, Ngalops and Lhotshampas.

The Sharchops who live in the eastern regions of Bhutan are considered to be the earliest major group to inhabit Bhutan. Sharchops translated as “people of the east”

Ngalops are the descendants of Tibetan immigrants who came to Bhutan in 8th and 9th century A.D settling primarily in the west.

The third group is known as Lhotshampas. They represent the Nepali speaking ethnic group. They started migrating in the 19th and 20th century and live in the southern foothills of Bhutan. They are predominantly Hindu.

Predominantly Buddhist, the Bhutanese people practice Drukpa Kargyud sect of Mahayana Buddhism. Monks and nuns play an important role in the daily lives of Bhutanese people. They perform ceremonies by preserving the ancient culture and promote the teachings of wisdom and compassion.   You can practically see every Bhutanese home with a room called ‘choeshum’ for daily religious practice.The faith of Bhutanese can be measured by the temples, monasteries and stupas built in every corner of the country for their daily worship.

Bhutanese wear distinctive national dress made from wool, cotton and silk. The men’s attire is called ‘Gho’ and ladies dress is called ‘Kira’. People in Bhutan still wear the national dress in schools and offices.

Bhutanese food mainly consists of meat, rice and vegetables. People in Bhutan love chilies. The most popular dish in Bhutan is called ‘Ema Datse’ which is made from cheese and chilies.

Chang, a local beer made from rice is a common drink especially in the villages.

The folk dances, ancient music and the mask dances during the religious festivals called Tshechu are some of the unique and distinct cultural identity Bhutan has preserved over the years.