A tiny landlocked kingdom in the Himalayas, Bhutan, is a Buddhist state enclosed in a cocoon of time with a population of just over 700,000 people and a territory of 38,394 square kilometers. Known to the world outside as the “Land of the Thunder Dragon”, the “Gross National Happiness (GNH) Country” and indeed as the “Last Shangri-La”, Bhutan has a remarkably rich history, evident now in its unique culture and practices that have been pass down through the generations and kept in all its grandeur. From its wooded ridges to its cultivated lowlands, Bhutan’s landscape bears witness to the philosophical faith shared by its entire people. Monasteries, chortens, and prayer flags are along every road and alike in the obscurest corners of the mountains. It is a country of modest but extraordinary proportions and a sanctuary of Buddhist peace, distant from the noise and tumult of the great cities. Though extremely young as a nation-state, we believe it has inhabited as early as the country as 2000 B. C; clear from revelations of vestiges of ancient stone implements, earthenware, and stone structures from its various regions.
From a nature-worshipping race, the nations converted to Buddhism after Buddhist Saints and Lamas (learned Buddhist teachers) from Tibet from as early as the 8th century. Divided among various warring rulers, a Tibetan Lama Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, who had fled Tibet following a controversy over the throne of the traditional Drukpa Kagyud seat and inheritance of Ralung unified as a nation-state in the late 17th century of the country. Most of the majestic dzongs (fortresses) seen in Bhutan today were established by him. These formidable and located fortresses acted as the line of defense against external invasions while also serving as centers for administration.
Soon after the Zhabdrung’s demise and after much domestic conflict, followed by a war with the British in India, the nations elected Gongsar Ugyen Wangchuck as their first hereditary Monarch on 17th December 1907. Thus commenced the rule of the Wangchuck dynasty, which has continued to its present Monarch Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, who is the fifth in the royal bloodline. This history is a testament to the case that even a small nation-state of less than a million can be successful in every sense of the word and can strengthen from theocracy to absolute monarchy to democracy with no form of turmoil or anarchy.
The only country today with Mahayana Buddhism as its state religion, Bhutan, had been as mythical as it was unknown to the outside world, save for Tibet and the bordering states of India with whom it had early trade affiliations. By opening diplomatic ties with India, Bhutan ended its centuries-old isolation from the outside world. This wise and calculated move by the Third Monarch, Druk Gyalpo Jigme Dorji Wangchuck, was a stepping-stone in the country’s advent into modernization. After constructing the first motor road which connected the country’s capital Thimphu to India in the early 1960s, a new chapter in Bhutan’s history began; They admitted the country to the United Nations Organization (UNO) in 1971, after attending as an observer for three years. Through initiatives at the national level, coupled with foreign help, the country has seen major reforms in all sectors making life much more comfortable for the people.
Today Bhutan is a steadily developing nation. Even today, Bhutan jealously guards its lifestyle and ancient traditions, opening its doors with caution and wisdom. And despite the fast-paced metamorphism into a modern state, all that has not overwhelmed the Bhutanese the marvels of modern science offer; they still hold dear the age-old tradition and customs passed on by their ancestors, practiced at every moment of their lives.
Land area of Bhutan: 38,394 square kilometers
Forest Coverage in Bhutan: 72.5 %
Altitude: between 240metres and 7541metres above sea level
Bhutanese Inhabitants: 634,982
Languages In Bhutan: official language “Dzongkha”, English widely spoken
Religion in Bhutan: Vajrayana stream of Mahayana Buddhism (Also known as Tantric Buddhism)
Bhutanese Currency: Ngultrum (equal to Indian Rupee)
Bhutan Local time: Six hours ahead of GMT and half an hour ahead of Indian Standard Time
Capital of Bhutan: Thimphu
Bhutan’s National Tree: Cypress
Bhutan’s National Bird: Raven
Bhutan’s National Flower: Blue Poppy
Bhutan’s National Sport: Archery
National Animal of Bhutan: Takin