Bhutan is known to the Bhutanese
as "Druk Yul" or "Land of the Thunder Dragon". It is located at
the south of Tibet and the north of north east of India as Assam
and Sikkim. It is the only independent Buddhist Monarchy in the
world. It remained isolated to the Western world until 1974, when
the government decided to allow the first foreign visitors to enter
Buddhism was introduced in the 7th
century. At this time there was no central government in the country,
but as Buddhism matured within Bhutan, it became a unifying element
for the country. Bhutan's early history is steeped in Buddhist tradition
Bhutan's medieval and modern history
was a time of warlords, feuds, giant fortresses and castles. By
the 10th century, the monks of the Kargyupa sect of Mahayana Buddhism
began to build dzongs (fortified monasteries) in the valleys of
The Drukpa subsect of the Kargyupa
sect spread through Bhutan and became a dominant religion. In 1616
a Drukpa monk, Ngawang Namgyal, founded a theocratic government,
uniting the powerful Bhutanese families.
During the Ngawang Namgyal's ruling,
Bhutan developed a dual system of government with two leaders; a
spiritual leader entitled dharma raja and a civil government leader
entitled deb raja. In the late 1800s Ugyen Wangchuck, the governor
of Tongsa, brought the country under his control.
After the dharma raja died in 1903
and no suitable replacement was found until 1906, the dual system
of government was abolished. In 1907 Ugyen Wangchuck was installed
as the first hereditary druk gyalpo of Bhutan; he reigned until
1926. He was succeeded by his son Jigme Wangchuck, who reigned from
1926 to 1952. The third druk gyalpo, Jigme Dorji Wangchuck, ruled
from 1952 to 1972.
During this period Bhutan began its
program of modernization and development. Jigme Dorji Wangchuck
ruled until his death in July 1972 and was succeeded by his seventeen-year-old
son, Jigme Singye Wangchuck.
Despite the speed of modernization,
Bhutan has maintained a policy of careful, controlled policy of
development in order to preserve its national identity.
Bhutan is comprised of a mosaic of
different peoples who continue to live in valleys isolated from
one another and the outside world by formidable mountain passes.
Differing ethnic groups are also distributed
according to the varying environments. It is possible to divide
Bhutan's population into three broad ethnic groups, though the distinctions
blur in places. Mainly Nepalese farmers who arrived in the country
at the end of the 19th century inhabit Southern Bhutan. They brought
the Hindu religion with them as well as the Nepalese language, which
is still spoken today over much of Southern Bhutan.
The central Himalayan region is the
home of the Drukpa people, who are of Mongoloid origin. Most breed
cattle or cultivate the land, and their dwellings are spread over
a wide area. The Northern Himalayan Zone, over 3,000 meters (9,000
feet), is the haunt of semi nomadic yak herdsmen.
They spend most of the year in their
black yak hair tents, but also possess dry-stone walled houses,
where they spend the coldest months of the year and which are used
to store their goods.
Additives to a diet composed mainly
of yak milk, cheese, butter and meat are barley and winter wheat,
plus a few root vegetables grown in small fields. Believed to be
the earliest inhabitants of Bhutan, the Sharchops are of Indo-Mongolian
type, though their exact origin is unknown (Tibet being the most
likely source). At present, they live mainly in the east of Bhutan.