The Kingdom of Bhutan is a democratic constitutional monarchy in South Asia. Locally, Bhutan is calledDruk-yul and the people are Druk-pa. Bhutan is the last surviving kingdom of Himalayan Buddhist culture, and most Bhutanese belong to either the Druk-pa Ka-gyu or the Nying-ma-pa school of Mahayana Buddhism. Historically, Bhutan was known by many names, such as 'Lho Mon' (Southern Land of Darkness), 'Lho Tsen-den Jong' (Southern Land of the Sandalwood), 'Lhomen Kha Zhi (Southern Land of Four Approaches), and 'Lho Men Jong' (Southern Land of Medicinal Herbs).
The small and landlocked country with a population of about 646,851 (2006) people is situated on the southern slopes of the Eastern Himalayas, between India and China. The official language is Dzong-kha but English is increasingly common. Thimphu is the capital and largest city.
On 17th December 1907, the country was united under the leadership of His Majesty Ugyen Wangchuck who was unanimously chosen as the 1st Druk Gyal-po and hereditary king of Bhutan by an assembly of leading Buddhist monks, government officials, and heads of important families. His great grandson, His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck is revered as the architect behind Bhutan’s transformation towards parliamentary democracy. His Majesty chose to abdicate on 16th December 2006, and is succeeded by His Majesty Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuck.
Geography and Environment:
Bhutan is located in the Eastern Himalayas spanning an area of 38,394 square kilometers. The entire area of this small kingdom is mountainous, excluding a narrow band of subtropical plains traversed by low valley and passes in the south. The lowest recorded elevation is a little over 300 meters above sea level and rises up to over 7,000 metres of glacier-covered mountains. Physical geography consists mostly of steep and high mountains crisscrossed by a network of swift rivers, which form deep valleys before draining into the Indian plains. The country lies between latitudes 26' 45’N & 280" 10’N, and longitudes 88' 45'E & 92' 10’. Within this latitudinal range are found a diverse biodiversity rich enough to be considered as one of ten global environmental ‘hotspots’. About 72.5 per cent of the area is under forests, and the law requires the country to maintain 60 per cent forests cover for all times to come.
Centuries of isolationism, a small population, and topographical extremes have helped Bhutan maintain an intact ecosystem. Bhutan is possibly the only region in the world that provides a habitat such the mythical snow leopard and mighty tiger traverse, including other rare and endangered species like the takin, red panda and golden langur. With a rich ecological range of tropical lowlands to alpine meadows, Bhutan harbours an immense diversity of plants and animals that places it among the top ten countries in the world in terms of species density.
The climate varies from hot subtropical climate in the south to cold alpine slopes in the north. Human settlement is confined mostly to interior river valleys and a swath of southern plains; nomads and other tribes live in the north, raising sheep, cattle and yaks.
SPRING: March-May SUMMER: June-August
AUTUMN: September-November WINTER: December-Febuary
A conscious policy of isolation complemented by geographical barriers enabled Bhutan to maintain its independence throughout history. Ancient stone implements and other archaeological findings indicate there were settlements in Bhutan dating back to 2000 B.C. The recorded history of the kingdom, however, begins with the advent of Buddhism in the 8th Century following the visit of Guru Padmasambhava in 747 A.D. Buddhism has occupied a predominant role in shaping the social political, economic and cultural evolution of the country. In the centuries that followed, lamas or Buddhist teachers and local nobility established their own separate domains throughout the country.
Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyel (1594-1652), a leader of the Drukpa Kargyu School of Buddhism unified the country in the 17th century, under a central authority and established a system of governance known as Choe-si, whereby temporal and religious authority were separated and vested in the Druk Desi ( temporal head) and Je Khen-po(Spiritual Head). By the end of the 17th century, the country achieved a high degree of political stability and developed a distinct national and cultural identity. Instability resurfaced by the second half of the 18th century due to internal dissent, and external threats in the latter half of the 19th century added a new dimension to the political quandary. It was against this background that the need for strong leadership emerged and was found in the person of the Trongsa Penlop, Gongsa Ugyen Wangchuck.
Gong-sa Ugyen Wangchuck became the 1st heriditary king of Bhutan on December 17, 1907, with the signing and sealing of the Oath of Allegiance by an assembly comprising of representatives of the monastic community, officials and the common people that recognised him as Druk Gyal-po . The establishment of the monarchy ushered in an era of peace and stability, and most significantly unified the country under a central authority. It also set in motion the gradual opening of the country to the outside world and laid the foundation of Bhutan as a modern nation state. The modern health and education sytem of present day Bhutan can be traced to the first king's reign.
His Majesty Jigme Wangchuck (1926-1952), the 2nd Druk Gyal-po initiated several processes, particulalry in the program of health and education of Bhutanese abroad. Th e country's move towards modernization also saw continued efforts of his father's modernization efforts to build more schools, dispensaries, and roads within Bhutan.
His Majesty Jigme Dorji Wangchuck (1952-1972) became the 3rd Druk Gyalpo and instituted far-reaching political, social, and economic reforms. He established the National Assembly, the High Court, the Royal Advisory Council and a system of governance responsive to social and economic requirements of the people. He started the planned development process in 1961 and guided Bhutan’s membership in the United Nations in 1971, ensuring the kingdom a place in the international community.
His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck ascended the throne in 1974 as 4th Druk Gyal-po , and has always dedicated himself to definin g and promoting a long-term vision and direction for the country. His benevolent reign from 1972 to 2007 has brought unpre cedented progress and achievements across many fields including economic, social and political fields, amo ng others. A most significant contribution by His Majesty was in the devolution of power from the throne to the people through a gradual but deliberate process lasting over three decades. After steering the country through dramatic developments, and preparing the country for parliamentary democracy, His Majesty abdicated in favour of the Crown Prince.
His Majesty Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck as the 5th Druk Gyal-po has successfully steered the country through a most sensitive time in Bhutan's history with the country's first democratic parliamentary elections on 31st December 2007 for the Upper House or the National Council followed by the elections on March 24th 2008 for the Lower House or the National Assembly. Together these two Houses form the parliament. His Majesty's guidance has marked the peaceful transition of Bhutan into a Democratic Constitutional Monarchy as envisioned by the 4th King. Bhutan is fortunate that the 5th King, His Majesty Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck embodies the vision and wisdom of his father and represents the youthful vigour and dynamism of modern Bhutan entering a new era.
Society was traditionally divided into the zhung (monarchy and bureaucracy), dra-tshang (religious community), and mi-sey (people). There has been no caste system in Bhutanese society, but class differences exisited in the form of categorisation by profession. This class difference was not rigid, and mobility along the social ladder was both lateral and vertical. Essentially, the division was not rigid since anyone could rise to the highest position in the government and the monastic body.
Bhutan today enjoys one of the highest GDP per capita in South Asia. The people are provided with free education and health services and much of the country is covered by road and telecommunications infrastructure.
The people live longer and healthier lives. The social fabric is neatly woven around time-tested values. The age-old culture is still intact.
Druk-pa Ka-gyu, one of the major schools of Mahayana Buddhism is the state religion of Bhutan. Also, residual elements of Bon, the ancient religion supplanted by the advent of Buddhism still exist in some pockets of the country. Hinduism is common among communities in the southern foothills, as are other branches of Buddhism.
The 13 creative processes known as zo-rig chu-sum are superb representations of the excellent traditions in the arts and crafts of Bhutan. Skilled artists create fine examples of handicraft items in bronze, silver, and gold. Sculpting, painting, and embroidery based on religious themes are widely practiced. Every temple houses large and brightly painted and gilded status of the Buddha and other saints.
The dzong, with their tapering walls, classic lines, large courtyards, and beautiful galleries, are among the finest examples of Bhutanese architecture. Containing large monasteries inside and set in commanding position on hilltops or at the confluence of rivers, dzongs are also the administrative centers of their districts. Complementing the enormity of the dzong are the smaller and more common, yet equally beautiful chortens. These are basically stupas which are small shrines built to house sacred relics.
Bhutan Millenium Overview
An evaluation of the major political, economic, physical and social indicators and developments since the start of the millennium provides a picture of significant and tangible achievements. Most of the planned development activities were implemented successfully and a majority of the important development targets fulfilled.
Indeed, the country has never witnessed such high growth levels before in any of the earlier plan periods, including massive expansions of the economic and social physical infrastructure. More importantly, this has been accomplished in a highly sustainable manner with minimal impact on the physical, social and cultural environments. There has also been remarkable progress made in advancing social and human development conditions in the country on the basis of the Royal Government’s strong social redistributive policies and investments made over the plan. As a result, Bhutan remains firmly on track to achieve the MDGs and has come that much closer to realizing its long-term Vision 2020 social goals.
The following highlights some of the concrete achievements in socio-economic development attained by the time the new democratically elected government took over. Bhutan’s GDP per capita has risen to an all time high of US $ 1, 200 in 2006 from US$ 835 in 2002. Even in absolute terms this represents a fairly high level of GDP per capita by both LDC and regional standards. The country’s HDI value has similarly been rising steadily over the past decade, with the 2006 HDI value assessed at 0.6001 as compared to 0.583 in 2003 and 0.550 in 1998.These HDI gains have come not only from growth in real income but have accrued as a result of across the board improvements in social indicators such as poverty reduction, expanded educational enrolments, impressive declines in child and maternal mortality and securing high access levels in the provisioning of water and sanitation facilities. As such, Bhutan continued to retain its place among the medium human development countries. These accomplishments appear particularly noteworthy given that only a few decades ago, Bhutan was ranked among the poorest countries in the world with extremely low levels of human and social development.
Politically, the starting decade of the millenium stands out as a critical watershed era in the history of the country. Most notably, the period witnessed the drafting and national consultation on the Tsa Thrim Chhenmo or Constitution that formally marked the historic transition in Bhutan’s political system to a Democratic Constitutional Monarchy. The new government was elected directly by the people on the basis of constitutional provisions and the Constitution was adopted in July 2008. The democratization processes in Bhutan was ushered in under the enlightened, selfless and benevolent leadership of His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck. These historic changes in the political strcuture were introduced at a time of unprecedented peace and economic prosperity for the improved social conditions and general well-being of the nation and the people.