Bhutan is a small country in the Himalayas between the Tibet Autonomous Region of China and India.
Besides the stunning natural scenery, the enduring image of the country for most visitors is the strong sense of culture and tradition that binds the kingdom and clearly distinguishes it from its larger neighbors. Bhutan is the only Vajrayana Buddhist nation in the world, and the profound teachings of this tradition remain well preserved and exert a strong influence in all aspects of life. Due to its pristine environment and harmonious society, the tiny Kingdom of Bhutan has been called “The Last Shangrila.”
(Bhutan on South Asia Map)
Gross National Happiness
This ideology was the brain child of King Jigme Singye Wangchuck who, having gained a modern education in India and the UK, realized that mere economic success did not necessarily translate into a content and happy society. Consequently, soon after his coronation in 1974, the young king began to float the idea of developing a new set of guidelines by which to govern the country. Slowly these ideas took shape, and in 1998 the GNH indicator was established. GNH stands for “Gross National Happiness” and is defined by the following four objectives: to increase economic growth and development, preserve and promote the cultural heritage, encourage sustainable use of the environment, and establish good governance. While the concept of GNH receives much international praise and is a major draw for tourists, potential visitors should be aware that the idea is very much in its incubation stage, and there is very little evidence of GNH in the country itself.
Little is known about Bhutan’s prehistory. Historical records began with the arrival of Buddhism in the 7th century, when Guru Rinpoche (Padmasambhava) visited Bhutan.
The consolidation of Bhutan occurred in 1616 when Ngawanag Namgyal, a lama from western Tibet known as the Zhabdrung Rinpoche, defeated three Tibetan invasions, subjugated rival religious schools, codified the Tsa Yig, an intricate and comprehensive system of law, and established himself as ruler over a system of ecclesiastical and civil administrators. After his death, infighting and civil war eroded the power of the Zhabdrung for the next 200 years. In 1885 Ugyen Wangchuck was able to consolidate power, and began cultivating closer ties with the British in India.
In 1907, Ugyen Wangchuck was elected as the hereditary ruler of Bhutan, crowned on December 17, 1907, and installed as the head of state, the Druk Gyalpo (Dragon King).
In 1972, Jigme Singye Wangchuck ascended the throne at age 16 as the fourth King of Bhutan. He emphasized modern education, decentralization of governance, the development of hydroelectricity and tourism and improvements in rural developments. He was perhaps best known internationally for his overarching development philosophy of “gross national happiness.” Satisfied with Bhutan’s transitioning democratization process, he abdicated in December 2006 rather than wait until the promulgation of the new constitution in 2008. His son, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, became King upon his abdication. Bhutan is now a constitutional Monarchy.
|Government||Democratic Constitutional Monarchy|
|Area||total: 38,394 km2 /
14,824 sq mi
|Population||672,425 (2005 census)|
|Language||Dzongkha (official), Bhutanese speak various Tibetan dialects, Nepalese speak various Nepalese dialects|
|Religion||Vajrayana Buddhist 75%, Indian and Nepalese-influenced Hinduism 25%|
|Time Zone||GMT +6|