Hidden deep in the folds of the great Himalaya mountains for years, Bhutan developed its own civilisation. The population of about 680,000 people, living in close harmony with nature, evolved a unique identity, derived largely from a rich religious and cultural heritage. Today, the world is seeing many exotic aspects of this kingdom.
Bhutan is becoming increasingly known for its pure practice of Mahayana Buddhism in the Tantric form, its untouched culture, its pristine ecology and wildlife, and the unparalleled scenic beauty of its majestic peaks and lush valleys. It is still, in many ways, a magical kingdom of the past.
Art & Architecture
The castle-like Dzongs with tapering walls and large courtyards are among the finest example of Bhutanese architecture. The first Dzong was introduced in Bhutan by Galwa Lhanangpa in the 12th century which was later taken up by Zhabdrung Nawang Namgyal in the 17th century. Most of the Dzongs today function as government offices and houses the monks. All art, crafts, dance, drama and music has its roots in religion. The art are more symbolic and personal. Therefore Buddhist arts are an explanation of values rather than depiction of facts.
Archery is the national sport of Bhutan. The bow and arrow play a significant role in many Bhutanese myths and legends. Images of the gods holding a bow & arrows are considered favourable. Archery was declared the national sport in 1971 when Bhutan become a member of the United Nations. Bhutan also maintains an Olympic archery team. Archery tournaments and competitions are held throughout the country. Every village sports at least has one archery ground and traditional tournament between villages are compete for honour to the entire village.
Bhutan is linguistically rich with over nineteen dialects spoken in the country. The richness of the linguistic diversity can be attributed to the geographical location of the country with its high mountain passes and deep valleys. These geographical features forced the inhabitants of the country to live in isolation but also contributed to their survival. The national language is Dzongkha, the native language of the Ngalops of western Bhutan. Dzongkha literally means the language spoken in the Dzongs, massive fortresses that serve as the administrative centers and monasteries.
Bhutanese culture is one of the distinctive cultures in the world. As a tiny country with a very small population the need to preserve culture and tradition is amplified. This unique culture is a means of protecting the sovereignty of the nation. The distinctiveness of the culture and tradition is visible in the everyday life of the Bhutanese.
Bhutanese traditionally eat with hands. Eating with spoons is an imported culture. The family members sit on the floor in a circle and the mother serves the food. Salted butter tea (suja) and alcohol are drank by the local. Doma (betel leaf and areca nut eaten with a dash of lime) is also carried by many in their pouch. Offering of Doma to someone is an act of friendship, politeness and a mark of generosity. The most distinctive characteristic of Bhutanese cuisine is its spiciness. Chilli is an essential part of nearly every dish and are considered so important that most Bhutanese people would not enjoy a meal that was not spicy. Rice forms the main body of most Bhutanese meals. It is accompanied by one or two side dishes consisting of meat or vegetables. Pork, beef and chicken are the meats that are eaten most often. Vegetables commonly eaten include Spinach, pumpkins, turnips, radishes, tomatoes, river weed, onions and green beans. Grains such as rice, buckwheat and barley are also cultivated in various regions of the country depending on the local climate.
One of the most distinctive features of the Bhutanese is their traditional dress, unique garments that have evolved over thousands of years. Men wear the Gho, a knee-length robe somewhat resembling a kimono that is tied at the waist by a traditional belt known as Kera. The pouch which forms at the front traditionally was used for carrying food bowls and a small dagger. Women wear the Kira, a long, ankle-length dress accompanied by a light outer jacket known as a Tego with an inner layer known as a Wonju. Bhutanese still wear long scarves when visiting Dzongs and other administrative centers. The scarves worn vary in color, signifying the wearer’s status or rank. The scarf worn by men is known as Kabney while those worn by women are known as Rachus.
Nestled deep within the Himalayas, Bhutan is a treasure trove of biological diversity with an unparalleled richness of flora and fauna due to the varied altitudinal and climatic conditions present in the country. This fragile ecosystem has remained unspoiled due to the conservation efforts of the Bhutanese people and government. Today 60% of the kingdom’s total area has been designated as protected nature reserves. Bhutan is the perfect destination for enthusiastic horticulturalists as it contains more than 60%of the common plant species found in the Eastern Himalayas. It also boasts of approximately 46 species of Rhododendrons and over 300 types of medicinal plants. The kingdom is also home to a wide variety of animals. Bhutan is home to the highest altitude inhabiting Tigers in the world and they are commonly found throughout the country. Visitors can experience the magnificent flora and fauna of Bhutan through sightseeing tours or by embarking on treks and hikes through beautiful virgin forests, pristine Himalayan Mountains and across sparkling crystal clear rivers fed by ancient mountain glaciers. Roads in Bhutan pass through the rich forests so travellers can experience the majestic natural environments of Bhutan.