The Kingdom of Bhutan is a land of ancient culture and heritage. Nestled deep in the Himalayas, Bhutan is situated between India and China and it has a population of over 750,000 people. Traces of animism culture from the primeval era still exist thus mountains, secluded lakes and identified caves are revered and set off limits to human activity to preserve its sanctity. Himalayan Mountains have not only guarded Bhutan from external threats but also blessed the valley with glacial fed rivers. The rivers have played a significant role is supporting the sustenance of a diverse ecology in Bhutan and for centuries people have relied on these river sources for agricultural activities.
Bhutan is predominantly a Buddhist country. The land is marked with secluded temples high up on the mountains, medieval fortresses (Dzongs) in the valley and the fluttering prayer flags are ubiquitous. The prayer flags are usually inscribed with religious texts and it is believed that the flags impart blessings carried by the wind permeating the entire valley.
Bhutan was unified in the 17th century and fortresses or locally known as Dzongs were constructed at every region to symbolize the newly established unity and the recognition of a single authority. The architectural design of every Dzongs that were constructed during that time wasgreatly influenced by the state of the nation and the leaders. Bhutan at the time was repeatedly attacked by foreign invasions from the north and the lack of a secular administration saw many religious figures holding influential positions. Their authority and positions were reinforced by the soaring popularity of Buddhism among the people. During the times of war, the Dzongs served as a military barrack thus it can be seen that all Dzongs are enclosed from all sides with high rising walls and are usually built on a ridge to make it inaccessible and also offer superior position. Within the impenetrable walls, Dzongs have multiple temples and a central tower housing sacred Buddhist shrines. Dzongs also served as the seat of administration and also housed the state monk body, a tradition that continues even today. The open courtyards are used for congregation during festivals and other social gatherings. It is worth noting that these mega structures were built without a blueprint and it is said that most of these structures were built without the use of nails.
CULTURE AND TRADITIONS
For generations, people in Bhutan have lived in isolation and the lack of modern influence from the western world led to evolution of a unique culture and traditions that were deeply inspired by Buddhism. Dzongkha is the national language and Bhutanese people have their dress code. Men wear a knee length robe and women wear an ankle length dress. The isolation also led to a food culture that is unlike anywhere else. The range of ingredients was narrowed to what was cultivated and protein sources were limited to the domesticated animals. The national favorite dish is the chili and cheese cooked in butter served with red rice. Other delicacies include air dried pork and sun dried beef which are prepped in various ways.
The masked dance festival or locally known as Tsechu is the most popular festivals in Bhutan. It is a religious festival celebrated annually across Bhutan. The festival celebrates and glorifies Buddhism and the pantheons of Buddhist gods and deities. During the festival the monks chant prayers and perform religion inspired dances wearing silk robes and terrifying masks that depict gods and deities. It is believed that people who witness the festival gain merits and receive blessings. Thus it a tradition for the locals to attend the event dressed in their finest clothes. It is also a time for the families and friends to get together and celebrate the event.
GROSS NATIONAL HAPPINESS
Bhutan believes that the progress of a nation should be measured by the happiness of its people rather than simply measuring its GDP. Aside from Socio Economic Development Gross National Happiness also promotes Cultural Preservation, Environmental Conservation and Good Governance. The developmental philosophy was coined by the Fourth King of Bhutan in the 1970s. Since its inception, it has guided all of Bhutan’s developmental activities and policy formulation.
Bhutan was awarded the Earth Award at ITB Berlin in 2018 in recognition of its effort towards building sustainable and responsible tourism industry. 70% of Bhutan’s total land area is covered by forests and to ensure the conservation effort continuity, the constitution of Bhutan mandates that a minimum of 60% of its total land area must remain covered in forests at all times. Bhutan further reinforces its conservation efforts by land marking vast majority of the area into national parks and wildlife sanctuaries. Bhutan is home to many endangered species.