Climate & Weather
The climate in Bhutan is extremely varied, which can be attributed to two main factors-the vast differences in altitude present in the country and the influence of North Indian monsoons.
Climatic Zones of Bhutan
Southern Bhutan has a hot and humid subtropical climate that is fairly unchanging throughout the year. Temperatures can vary between 15-30 degrees Celsius (59- 86 degrees Fahrenheit). In the Central parts of the country which consists of temperate and deciduous forests, the climate is more seasonal with warm summers and cool and dry winters. In the far Northern reaches of the kingdom, the weather is much colder during winter. Mountain peaks are perpetually covered in snow and lower parts are still cool in summer owing to the high altitude terrain.
Bhutan has four distinct seasons in a year.
The Indian summer monsoon begins from late-June through July to late-September and is mostly confined to the southern border region of Bhutan. These rains bring between 60 and 90 percent of the western region’s rainfall. Annual precipitation ranges widely in various parts of the country. In the Northern border towards Tibet, the region gets about forty millimeters of precipitation a year which is primarily snow. In the temperate central regions, a yearly average of around 1,000 millimeters is more common, and 7,800 millimeters per year has been registered at some locations in the humid, subtropical south, ensuring the thick tropical forest, or savanna.
Bhutan’s generally dry spring starts in early March and lasts until mid-April. Summer weather commences in mid-April with occasional showers and continues to late June. The heavier summer rains last from late June through late September which are more monsoonal along the southwest border.
Autumn, from late September or early October to late November, follows the rainy season. It is characterized by bright, sunny days and some early snowfalls at higher elevations.
From late November until March, winter sets in, with frost throughout much of the country and snowfall common above elevations of 3,000 meters. The winter northeast monsoon brings gale-force winds at the highest altitudes through high mountain passes, giving Bhutan its name – Drukyul, which means Land of the Thunder Dragon in Dzongkha (the native language).
Geography & Geology
The kingdom of Bhutan lies deep in the eastern Himalayas. It is surrounded by the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) of China to the north, and the Indian territories of Assam and West Bengal to the south, Arunachal Pradesh to the east and Sikkim to the west. The tiny landlocked kingdom has a total area of 46,500 km² and spreads between meridians 89°E and 93°E, and latitudes 27°N and 29°N.
The altitude zones of Bhutan
The relief of Bhutan can be divided into three altitude zones, namely, the the Greater Himalayas of the north, the hills and valleys of the the Inner Himalayas, and the foothills and plains of the Sub-Himalayan Foothills.
1. The Greater Himalayas
The towering Himalayan mountains of Bhutan dominate the north of the country, where peaks can easily reach 7,000 metres (22,966 ft) above the sea level. Some of the best known peaks are Jiwuchudrakey and Jumo Lhari. Permanent snow, glaciers and barren rocks form the main features of this zone. These snowy, glacial high lands are the sources for many of the rivers of Bhutan. At a little higher altitude, you will reach the tree line, the point where the vegetation changes from forest into small bushes of juniper and rhododendrons.
2. The Inner Himalayas
Rising continuously from the lower foothills to a height of about 4000 metres, the valleys of different heights and topography makes the country an ideal place for both native people and tourists within the mainland of Bhutan. The valleys of Bhutan are traversed by the country’s five major river systems and their tributaries which ultimately drain to the Brahmaputra River in India. The valleys are linked by a series of passes (called “La” in Dzongkha, the national language of Bhutan). Between the Haa valley and Paro valley is the Chele La (3,780 metres (12,402 ft), the highest pass crossed by a Bhutanese highway. The Lateral Road from Thimphu to Punakha crosses the Dochu La (3,116 metres (10,223 ft)), which features 108 chortens (stupas) built to commemorate the expulsion of Assamese guerrillas. To the east of Wangdue Phodrang is the Pele La (3,390 metres (11,122 ft)). Continuing to the east along the main highway, other major passes include the Yotang La, Thrumshing La and Kori La (2,298 metres (7,539 ft).
The vegetation in this zone is a mixture of broad-leaved and coniferous forest.
3. The Sub-Himalayan Foothills
Stretched along the southern border of the country, the Duar Plain drops sharply away from the Himalayas into the large tracts of sub-tropical forest, grasslands and bamboo jungle. The altitude of the southern foothills ranges from about 200 metres at the lowest point to 2000 metres. This zone is rich in dense and sub-tropical vegetation.
History & Myths
The country was originally known by many names including Lho Jong, ‘The Valleys of the South’, Lho Mon Kha Shi, ‘The Southern Mon Country of Four Approaches’, Lho Jong Men Jong, ‘The Southern Valleys of Medicinal Herbs and Lho Mon Tsenden Jong, ‘The Southern Mon Valleys where Sandlewood Grows’. Mon was a term used by the Tibetans to refer to Mongoloid, non-Buddhist peoples that populated the Southern Himalayas.
The country came to be known as Druk Yul or The Land of the Drukpas sometime in the 17th century. The name refers to the Drukpa sect of Buddhism that has been the dominant religion in the region since that period.
Initially Bonism (a pre-buddhist religion of Tibet) , was the dominant religion in the region that would come to be known as Bhutan. Buddhism was introduced in the 7th century by the Tibetan King Songtsen Gampo and was further strengthened by the arrival of Guru Rimpoche, a Buddhist Master that is widely considered to be the Second Buddha.
The country was first unified in 17th century by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel. After arriving in Bhutan from Tibet he consolidated his power, defeated three Tibetan invasions and established a comprehensive system of law and governance. His system of rule eroded after his death and the country fell into in-fighting and civil war between the various local rulers. This continued until the Trongsa Penlop Ugyen Wangchuck was able to gain control and with the support of the people to establish himself as Bhutan’s first hereditary King in 1907. His Majesty Ugyen Wangchuck became the first Druk Gyalpo (Dragon King) and set up the Wangchuck Dynasty that still rules today.
In 2008 Bhutan enacted its Constitution and converted to a democracy in order to better safeguard the rights of its citizens. Later in November of the same year, the current reigning 5th Druk Gyalpo Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck was crowned.
Our People, Society & Religion
Bhutanese people can be generally categorized into three main ethnic groups. The Tshanglas, Ngalops and the Lhotshampas.
Tshanglas: The Tshanglas or the Sharchops as they are commonly known as, are considered the aboriginal inhabitants of eastern Bhutan. According to historians, Tshanglas are the descendants of Lord Brahma and speak Tshanglakha. They are commonly inhabitants of the eastern part of the country. Weaving is a popular occupation among their women and 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, a polished version of Dzongkha, the national language of Bhutan. Agriculture is their main livelihood. They cultivate cereals such as rice, wheat, barley and maize along with a variety of other crops. They are known for Lozeys, or ornamental speech and for Zheys, dances that are unique to the Ngalops.
Lhotshampas: The Lhotshampas have settled in the southern foothills of the country. They speak Lhotshamkha (Nepali) and practice Hinduism. Their society can be broken into various lineages such as the Bhawans, Chhetris, Rai’s, Limbus, Tamangs, Gurungs, and the Lepchas. Nowadays they are mainly employed in agriculture and cultivate cash crops like ginger, cardamom and oranges.
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 finally the Monpas of Rukha villages in WangduePhodrang. Together the multiethnic Bhutanese population number just over 700,000.
Bhutanese society is free of class or a caste system. Slavery was abolished by the Third King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck in the early 1950s through a royal edict. Though, a few organizations to empower women were established in the past, Bhutanese society has always maintained relative gender equality. In general our nation is an open and a good-spirited society.
Living in Bhutanese society generally means understanding some accepted norms such as Driglam Namzha, the traditional code of etiquette. Driglam Namzha teaches people a code of conduct to adhere to as members of a respectful society. Examples of Driglam Namzha include wearing a traditional scarf (kabney) when visiting a Dzong or an office, letting the elders and the monks serve themselves first during meals, offering felicitation scarves during ceremonies such as marriages and promotions and politely greeting elders or seniors.
Normally, greetings are limited to saying “Kuzuzangpo” (hello) amongst equals. For seniors and elders, the Bhutanese bow their head a bit and say “kuzuzangpo la” (a more respectful greeting). Recently, shaking hands has become an accepted norm.
The Bhutanese are a fun-loving people fond of song and dance, friendly contests of archery, stone pitching, traditional darts, basketball and football. We are a social people that enjoy weddings, religious holidays and other events as the perfect opportunities to gather with friends and family.
The openness of Bhutanese society is exemplified in the way our people often visit their friends and relatives at any hour of the day without any advance notice or appointment and still receive a warm welcome and hospitality.
The Bhutanese constitution guarantees freedom of religion and citizens and visitors are free to practice any form of worship so long as it does not impinge on the rights of others. Christianity, Hinduism and Islam are also present in the country.
Buddhism: Bhutan is a Buddhist country and people often 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. Until then the people practiced Bonism, a religion that worshiped all forms of nature, remnants of which are still evident in some remote villages in the country.
With the visit of Guru Padmasambhava, Buddhism began to take firm roots within the country and this especially led to the propagation of the Nyingmapa (the ancient or the older) school of Buddhism.
Phajo Drugom Zhigp from Ralung in Tibet was instrumental in introducing yet another school of Buddhism – the Drukpa Kagyu sect. In 1222 he came to Bhutan, an event of great historical significance and a major milestone for Buddhism in Bhutan, and established the DrukpaKagyu sect of Buddhism, the state religion. His sons and descendants were also instrumental in spreading it to many other regions of western Bhutan.
By far the greatest contributor was Zhabdrung Nawang Namgyal. His arrival in 1616 from Tibet was another landmark event in the history of the nation. He brought the various Buddhist schools that had developed in western Bhutan under his domain and unified the country as one whole nation-state giving it a distinct national identity.
The Buddhism practiced in the country today is a vibrant religion that permeates nearly every facet of the Bhutanese life style. It is present in 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 stand as testaments to the importance of Buddhism in Bhutanese life.
Animism: Though Bhutan is often referred to as the last Vajrayana Buddhist country, you can still come across animistic traditions and beliefs being practiced by the people.
The form of Buddhism practiced in Bhutan has absorbed many of the features of Bonism such as nature worship, worship of a host of deities, invoking and propitiating them. According to Bonism, these deities were the rightful owners of different elements of nature. Each different facet of nature was associated with its own specific type of spirit.
For example, mountain peaks were considered as the abodes of guardian deities (Yullha), lakes were inhabited by lake deities (Tshomem), cliff deities (Tsen) resided within cliff faces, the land belonged to subterranean deities (Lue and Sabdag), water sources were inhabited by water deities (Chu giLhamu), and dark places were haunted by the demons (due).
Every village has a local priest or a shaman to preside over the rituals. Some of the common forms of nature worship being practiced are the Cha festival in Kurtoe, the Kharphud in Mongar and Zhemgang, the BalaBongko in WangduePhodrang, the Lombas of the Haaps and the Parops, the JomoSolkha of the Brokpas, the Kharam amongst the Tshanglas and the Devi Puja amongst our southern community.
These shamanistic rituals are performed for various reasons ranging from to keep evil spirits at bay, bring in prosperity, to cure a patient or to welcome a new year.
Our Traditions & Culture
While Bhutan is one of the smallest countries in the world, its cultural diversity and richness are profound.
As such, strong emphasis is laid on the promotion and preservation of its unique culture. By protecting and nurturing Bhutan’s living culture it is believed that it will help guard the sovereignty of the nation.
Traditional Bhutanese eating habits are simple and, in general, food is eaten with hands. Family members eat while sitting cross legged on the wooden floor with food first being served to the head of the household first.
Traditionally dishes were cooked in earthenware, but with the easy availability of modern goods, pots and pans have largely replaced their use. A typical Bhutanese meal consists of rice, a dish of Ema Datshi, the country’s favourite dish of chili and cheese, pork, beef curry or lentils.
Death signifies re-birth or a mere passing on to a new life. In keeping with the traditions, elaborate rituals are performed to ensure a safe passage and a good rebirth.
Bhutanese typically bury their dead while the Brokpas carry out ‘Sky Burials’, a process in which the deceased are prepared and left atop mountains to be devoured by vultures in a final act of compassion and generosity. Elaborate and ancient rituals are also conducted on the anniversary of the death with the erection of prayer flags. The relatives and people of the locality come with alcohol, rice or other sundry items to attend such rituals.
The birth of a child is always welcomed. In Bhutan extended family and guests are discouraged from visiting during the first three days after the birth.
The child is not immediately named; this responsibility is usually entrusted to the head lama (Buddhist priest) of the local temple. The mother and child will also receive blessings from the local deity (natal deity) and it was traditional that the name associated with the deity is given. In some cases, the child is given the name of the day on which the child is born. Based on the Bhutanese calendar, a horoscope is written based on the time and date of the birth, this will detail the various rituals to be performed at different times in the life of the child and to an extent predict his or her future.
Until just a few decades ago arranged marriages were common and many married among their relatives. In eastern Bhutan cross-cousin marriages were also once common, however, this practice is now becoming less common place among the literate masses and most marriages are based on the choice of the individuals.
Marriages are simple affairs and are usually kept low-key. However, elaborate rituals are performed for lasting unions between the bride and the bridegroom. As the religious ceremony comes to an end, parents, relatives and friends of the couple present the newlyweds with traditional offerings of scarves along with gifts in the form of cash and goods.
One of the most distinctive features of the Bhutanese is their traditional dress.
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 t which forms at the front traditionally was used for carrying food bowls and a small dagger. Today however it is more accustomed to carrying small articles such as wallets, mobile phones and Doma (beetle nut).
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.
Bhutan is rich in cultural diversity and this richness is further enhanced by the wide variety of elaborate and colorful religious festivals that are celebrated throughout the country. Every village is known for their unique festival though the most widely known is the annual Tshechu, meaning a religious festival.
As the Tshechu begins, the villagers and the general populace dress in their finest clothes and congregate at their local temples and monasteries were these festivals take place. Tshechus are usually occasions to mark important events in the life of the second Buddha, the Indian/Pakistani Tantric master known as Guru Rinpoche or the Precious Gem. Various mask dances are performed together with songs and dances for three days.
Plants & Animals
Bhutan is listed as one among the top 10 biodiversity hot spots in the world. Bhutan has total forest coverage of over 70% of the country’s total geographical area with the constitution requiring 60% of the country under forest coverage for all times to come.
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:
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:
- Alpine Zone (4000m and above) with no forest cover;
- Temperate Zone (2000 to 4000m) with conifer or broadleaf forests;
- 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:
- National Environmental Commission
- Royal society for protection of nature clubs throughout the country.
- Department of Forestry Services.
- Nature Conservation Department
- Bhutan Trust Fund.
- Donor Organization.
- Association of Bhutan Tour Operators.
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.
Bhutan’s rich biodiversity provide 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.
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.
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.
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, efforts stringent regaliations have been enacted in order to protect Bhutan’s natural environment.
The political system of Bhutan has evolved over time together with its tradition and culture. It has developed from a fragmented and a disoriented rule of the different regions by local chieftains, lords and clans into the parliamentary democracy we have in place today.
The first move towards a systematic scheme of governance came in 1616 with the arrival of Zhabdrung Nawang Namgyal from Tibet. He introduced the dual system of governance with the Je Khenpo as the spiritual head of the nation and the Desis, as the head of the temporal aspects.
But a major breakthrough came about in 1907 when the people unanimously enthroned Ugyen Wangchuck as the fist hereditary King of Bhutan. He was the man who had proven his mettle by banding together the different Dzongpons and Penlops (governors of fortress), ending centuries of strife and bringing much needed stability and peace to the country. Since then, the country has been ruled by successive monarchs of the Wangchuck dynasty.
In a move to ensure a more democratic governance of the country, the Third King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck instituted the National Assembly (Tshogdu) in 1953. Every gewog has an elected member representing it in the National assembly. It became a platform where the people’s representatives enacted laws and discussed issues of national importance.
The establishment of the Royal Advisory Council (Lodoe Tshogde) in 1963 as a link between the king, council of ministers and the people was another move towards democratization. It also advised the king and the council of ministers on important issues and ensured that projects were implemented successfully.
The institution of Dzongkhag Yargay Tshogdu (District Development Assembly) in 1981 and Gewog Yargay Tshogchung (County Development Assembly) in 1991 by the Fourth King Jigme Singye Wangchuck was another move towards decentralization.
But the devolution of the power of the King in 1998 to the cabinet ministers was the highest form of decentralization. The King, thereafter, began to serve as the Head of the State while the government was managed by the Prime Minister.
In November 2001, on the advice of the Fourth king, a committee chaired by the Chief Justice of Bhutan, was formed to draft the constitution of Bhutan. The constitution was launched in 2008 and with it a parliamentary democracy introduced. The progression from Hereditary Monarchy to that of a Parliamentary Democracy has been a carefully managed process that culminated in 2008 when Bhutan held its first elections country wide. The Druk Phunsum Tshogpa was mandated by the people to head the new government with a major victory with 45 elected members, Lyonchen Jigme Y Thinley steered the government with just two opposition members from the People’s Democratic Party in 2008.The term of DPT (Druk Phuensum Tshogpa) has ended and people have chosen PDP (People’s Democratic Party) on 13th July 2013 as the new government.Today Tshering Tobgay is the Prime Minister of the new government.
The organs of the Bhutanese government comprise of the Legislature, Judiciary and the Executive. The ruling political party, the opposition and the National Council now forms the legislative body.