The kingdom lies east of Nepal and west of the Indian state of Arunachal pardesh. It is south of the Tibetan hinterland and north of the Indian territories of Assam and west Bengal. Located in the heart of the high Himalayan mountain range, Bhutan is a land-locked country surrounded by mountains in the north and west. The rugged east, visited by few Western travelers, borders the spares and largely unknown Indian state of Arunachal pradesh. The high Himalaya in the northern steppes separates the kingdom from Tibet. The population of 600,000 is made up primarily of indigenous Bhutanese. Many naturalized citizens came originally from Tibet and India.
Bhutan has four distint sesons. Each has its advantage and disadvantage for the visitor. Notice should be taken of the predictable weather patterns before making decisions when to visit. Remember even predictable weather can vary dramatically in different areas and in 24-hour period. The southern plains close to the Indian border are warmer and more tropical than higher central valleys. Spring is arguably the most beautiful time of the year in the kingdom. The fierce cold that characterizes the winter months tends to subside towards the end of February(around Bhutanese New Year, Lhosar). Rhododendron beings to bloom, first in the warmer east. At the heiger of spring , the end of March, the whole kingdom comes to life with the spectacular flaming red, pink and white of the rhododendron blossom.
The Buddhist faith has played and continues to play a fundamental role in the cultural, ethical and sociological development of Bhutan and its people. It permeates all stands of secular life, bringing with it a reverence for the land and its well-beings. Annual festivals(tsechus and dromchose) are spiritual occasions in each district and dedicted to either Guru Rimpoche or detities. Throughout Bhutan, stupas and chortens line the roadside communication a place where Guru Rimpoche or another Shabdrung may have stopped to midtate. Prayer flags are even more common. Fluttering on long poles,they maintain constant communication with the heavens. Bhutan is the only country in the world to retain the tantric form of Mahayana Buddism as its official religion.
Early records suggest scattered clusters of inhabitants had already settled in Bhutan when the first recorded settlers arrived 1,400 years ago. Bhutan’s indigenous population is the Drukpa. Three mnain ethnic groups, the Sharchops, Ngalops and the Lpotshampas (of Nepalese origin) make up today’s Drukpa. Bhutan’s earliest residents, the Sharachops, reside predominantly in eastern Bhutan. Their origin can be traced to the tribes of north Burma and north-east India. The Ngalops migrated from the Tibetan plains and are the importers of Buddhism to the kingdom. Most of the Lhotshampas migrated to the southern plains in search of agricultural land and work in the early 20th Century. The geography of the land kept each ethnic group separate until the middle of this century when roads were built between the east and the west.
Flora & Fauna
Among the Himalayan Nations, Bhutan has the richest diversity of Flora and Fauna made possible by the ecological sensitivity of the Bhutanese People and preserved by the policies of a concerned government. With over 70 percent of the country under forest cover and it’s rich bio-diversity, Bhutan has been declared one of the 10 environmental “hot-spots” in the world.
The immense beauty of the Himalayas is contained in its diverse landscape. Cascading rivers, conifers, wild rhododendron and blue poppies, long sweeping valleys, fields of maize and tall, imposing white-capped peaks: these are only a few poetic references.
The wealth of the floral variety includes “Rhododendron, Junipers, Magnolias, Orchids, Edelweiss, Gentians, Daphne. In addition, the rare Blue Poppy , Bhutan ‘s national flower, which can be found at altitudes as high as 4000 meters. Along with these, grow rare medicinal herbs and exotic mushrooms.
In Bhutan the vegetation profile falls into five general classes:
• Tropical [up to 1000 m]
• Sub-tropical [900 m-1800 m]
• Temperate [1800 m-3500 m]
• Sub-alpine [3500 m-4500 m]
• Alpine [4500 m-5500 m]
Spotting unusual fauna in Bhutan is almost obligatory. There are over 500 species of Birds to be seen in Bhutan . The rich bird life includes the Monal, Pheasant, the Tragopan, many different types of wild pigeons and Doves, the rare Rufus-necked Hornbill and the endangered Black Necked Crane. There is also an abundant butterfly fauna. This reflects the kingdom’s wide range of agro-ecological environments, from subtropical to alpine, and its zoo-geographical Indomalayan (oriental) region and the permeable and fluid (for birds) border with China .
The Kingdom is home to a very rich mammalian wildlife population; there are 165 species of mammals. From the Snow Leopard, Blue Sheep, Musk Deer, Takin and Himalayan Black beer in the North to the Tiger, Rhinoceros, Gaur, the Great Indian Water Buffalo and the Golden langur in the South.
Brown Trout and local fish are found in the Northern Rivers and mountain lakes. Further to the South East, the rivers are full of elusive Mahseer.
Throughout the centuries, the Bhutanese have treasured their natural environment and have looked upon it as the source of all life. The traditional reverence for nature has delivered us into the 20 th century with our environment still richly intact.
Music & Dance
Bhutanese religious dances are called “CHAM” and there are a large number of them. Dancers wear spectacular costumes made of yellow silk or rich brocade often decorated with ornaments of carved bone. For certain dances, they wear masks, which may represent animals, fearsome deities, skulls, manifestation of Guru Rimpoche or just the simple human beings
Religious dances can be grouped into three categories; INSTRUCTIVE OR DIDACTIC DANCES; which are dramas with a moral (Dances of the princes & princesses, the Dance of the stag and the hunting dogs, the Dance of the judgment of the dead), DANCES THAT PURIFY AND PROTECT A PLACE FROM DEMONIC SPIRITS (the dance of the master of the cremation grounds, the dance of the stags, the dance of the fearsome gods, the dance of the black hats, the dance of the ging and the Tsholing) and DANCES THAT PROCLAIM THE VICTORY OF BUDDHISM AND THE GLORY OF GURU RIMPOCHE (all dances with drums, the dance of the heroes, the dance of the celestial beings, the dance of the eight manifestations of Guru Rimpoche).
Arts and Crafts
The Himalayan Mountains are a fragile environment the actions of wind, water, earthquakes and fire have made serious changes in the topography. The intervention of people on this environment has, to date, been without major effect. However, that influence is changing and, unless checked, could be disastrous to the Himalayan states and their neighbours.
The Himalayas posses an unforgettable aura and magnetism, a personality at once diverse and distant but also familiar and friendly; there are high mountain peaks, rushing streams and delicate waterfalls, narrow fertile valleys and mountain slopes carpeted with rich colours of autumn leaves or spring rhododendrons, of tall pine forests, green and glistening in the monsoon rains, or ghostly and reflective in winter.
Tucked away in a small section of this vast mountain is Bhutan ; unique, mysterious, independent, with a rich cultural heritage. Because of it’s long isolation, Bhutan has been able to preserve its diverse customs and values, its close ties with communities and families, its way of worship, its traditional skills and, above all, a simple and un-complicated way of life. To understand Bhutan , one needs also to understand the nature of the Himalayan Kingdoms and their historical and cultural relationships; how they viewed their neighbours, and how they were seen in return.
To adequately describe Bhutan is to first picture the visible; towering snowscapes, high mountain passes, large fortress-monasteries or dzongs, rows of fluttering prayer flags, powerful racing rivers, colourful festivals, and attractive national costumes. The intangibles within Bhutanese culture form an equally vital part of the fabric that binds the country together: the immense importance of the royal family; the code of conduct and responsibilities [driglam namza]; the physical, mental and verbal guiding principle of ‘the science of crafts’ [zorigpa]; the option for an individual or group to withdraw from the world and be apart – or the possibility to be at peace with oneself and one’s environment and yet still be part’s of one’s community. A way of life is available for most people where materialism is of minor importance and quality of life is measured by a standard quite foreign to the everyday values that most people in the West live by it; solitude instead of crowded place, introspection instead of busyness, and serenity instead of anxiety.
Out of this physical and temporal environment and people’s response to living in it, has evolved a series of traditional skills, ancient and sophisticated, colourful and complicated, and in many ways special because they are so unique. These traditional skills or crafts came out to be known as zorig chusum [thirteen traditional crafts] and today represent hundred of years of knowledge and ability that have been passed down from father to son and mother to daughter.
The traditional architecture of the kingdom of Bhutan is associated with a number of clear-cut architectural concepts and building types that are deeply rooted in Tibetan Buddhism: majestic and strategically positioned fortress monasteries [dzong], dramatically located temples [lhakhang] and monasteries [gompa], picturesque clusters of village farm houses [gung chim], and various types of religious and votive structures such as Buddhists stupas [chorten], prayer walls [mani], different types of spirit houses [lukhang and Tsenkang] and the technical genius of its cantilever and chain bridges [zam].
Anyone who has had the opportunity to experience Bhutan ‘s unique built landscape will have marveled at it’s strikingly beautiful traditional architecture. Most publications that mention Bhutanese architecture tend to emphasize it’s monumental character and aesthetic intent. It is possible that such object-oriented descriptions of architecture contribute – albeit unconsciously – to what may be called ‘monumentalization’, ‘objectification’, and ‘concretization’ of Bhutan ‘s ‘living architectural tradition’. In terms of western values and approaches to issues of cultural preservation and conservation, each and every traditional architectural landscape in Bhutan , each and every building and structure, would seem entitled to conservation.