About Bhutan

Bhutan or Druk Yul – the Land of the Thunder Dragon – as the Bhutanese themselves call their country, is a small kingdom in the heart of the Himalayas. In the hot southern lowlands, on the edge of the great Indian plains, Bhutan has a common boundary with India; and in the snow and ice-covered high Himalayas a disputed boundary with China.

Bhutan is fiercely proud of its independence and of the fact that the country has never been colonised. Through the centuries Bhutan and her small population have been almost wholly self-sufficient. Bhutan’s history has been handed down from generation to generation as a combination of oral tradition and classical literature.

Bhutanese society is deeply influenced by the Buddhist religion which is a strong and living element of everyday life. The official language is Dzongkha which is related to Tibetan. In the south of the country various Indian and Nepali dialects are spoken.

After a long period of almost total isolation, Bhutan has, since the end of the 1800’s and particulary during the last few decades, slowly established contacts with the outside world and begun a careful and selective adaptation to it. In 1865, following the Duar  Wars, Bhutan and Britain signed the Treaty of Sinchula and three years later a second treaty was signed whereby Britain agreed not to interfere in Bhutan’s internal affairs. This treaty was assumed by India at Independence in 1947. It has now been replaced. The present monarchy dates from 1907. In 2007, the Fourth King, Jigme Singye Wangchuk abdicated in favour of his son , Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuk. One year later, in 2008, the King signed Bhutan’s first Constitution whereby Bhutan became a constitutional monarchy with a multi-party democratically elected two-chamber government.

With heights ranging from 300 m above sea level in the south to over 7 000 m in the north, the terrain and natural vegetation vary widely from hot lowlands and dense, tropical forest to Arctic tundra. Bhutan is crossed from north to south by a series of steep-sided valleys with strident rivers fed by the snows and ice in the north and running out into the great Indian rivers in the south. In the forests in the south there are elephants, rhinos and tigers; in the north there are bears and snow leopards.

Bhutan has an area of approximatelyom 38 394 km2 (2008) and is thus smaller than Holland. According to a census, sponsored by theUN and carried out in May 2007, the population was 658 888 and the prognosis is that by 2013 it will have increased to almost  750 000, of which the number in the rapidly developing capital, Thimphu is expected to exceed 100 000 by that time. 33 % of the population is under the age of 15; . 69 % live in rural areas and 31 % in urban.

Bhutan’s only  international airport is at Paro from where  the national airline, Druk Air , has regular flights to six destinations in India, to Kathmandu, Dhaka, Singapore and Bangkok. Druk Air operates modern jet aircraft. Flying to Bhutan is an exiting and unforgettable experience. Communications within Bhutan are by road. Physical conditions make road building and maintenance both difficult and expensive. The roads are narrow and winding and follow narrow ledges cut into the steep hill slopes. Landslides are frequent in the monsoon season and often causes blockages. There is one main road from east to west; there are three main roads between Bhutan and India but no road connections with China. Currently (2013) domestic flights to local airports have begun and will be expanded.

Modern telecommunication systems are being installed are rapidly expanded. Mobile telephone masts are a common sight in the terrain across the country. In the most remote areas satellite BT stations have been built and are inopeation. Government offices can be contacted via the Internet from previously remote, isolated areas. Mobile phones are a common attribute in both rural and urban areas..

Bhutan’s official language is dzongkha, which is relatd to Tibetan. Because of the many isolated valleys many regional variants of the language and dialects have developed. In the south of the country the dominating language is nepali, which is an indo-European language.

Over 70% of Bhutan is covered by forest: tropical in the south and oak and pine further north giving way to tundra in the far north. The government has formulated a rigorous programme for protecting and preserving these valuable natural resources. The amount of cultivatable land is small and is found along the narrow valley floors and on the terraced hill slopes. Subsistence agriculture dominates, but commercial agriculture is increasing with outlets to the huge markets in India and Bangladesh. Irrigation is common.

Bhutan lacks an outlet to the sea and therefore is to a high degree dependent on India for exports and imports. The Bhutanese currency, the Ngultrum, is pegged to the Indian rupee. Trade with Tibet/China is very limited. The economy is predominantly rural and based non-commercial agricultural and animal products. A number of cash crops such as potatoes, cardamom and fruit are produced for export. The production of these crops is increasing. There is a large demand for timber and timber products,  particularly from the Indian market. There is limited industrial development in the expanding urban centres along the border to Assam, mainly for the production of cement and steel. There are also a number of agro-based industries such as dairies. Bhutan’s high-quality, local handicraft industry which includes weaving and basket making is a source of income for the rural population. In Bhutan there are also centres for the production of quality religious articles, paintings and sculpture. The most important source of export income is the supply of electricity to India where the demand is almost insatiable. Huge investments are being made in the construction of hydro-electric power facilities with support from India, Generally, Bhutan’s imports exceed her exports, principally because of the demand for rice and other food products, fuel, oil and paraffin oil as well as more advanced products such as industrial products such as vehicles and plant, IT products, paper and textiles.

Other recommended reading for those who require more detailed information include:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bhutan (only the English version is recommended)


Updated November 2014