Bhutan -- Geography --
Official Name: Kingdom of Bhutan
Capital City: Thimphu
Official Currency: Ngultrum,
Religions: Buddhism, Hinduism, Others
Population: 691 141
Land Area: 38,394 sq km
Landforms: Bhutan is a land-locked country surrounded by mountains. The cultivated uplands and Himalayan foothills support the majority of the population. In the south there are large tracts of semi-tropical forest, savannah grassland and bamboo jungles.
Land Divisions: Bhutan is divided into four administrative zones(dzongdeys). Dzongheys are divided into 20 districst(dzonghags): Bumthang, Chukha, Dagana, Gasa, Haa, Lhuntse, Mongar, Paro, Pemagatsel, Punakha, Samdrup Jongkhar, Samtse, Sarpang, Thimphu, Trashigang, Trashiyangtse, Trongsa, Tsirang, Wangdue Phodrag and Zhemgang.
Bhutan -- History --
Mystery surrounds Bhutan's distant past, as priceless irretrievable documents were lost in fires and earthquakes. The earliest transcribed event in Bhutan was the passage of the Buddhist saint Padma Sambhava (also known as Guru Rinpoche) in 747. Bhutan's early history is unclear, because most of the records were destroyed after fire ravaged the ancient capital, Punakha, in 1827. However, there is no sufficient information stating that all historical records were available before the fire. By the 10th century, Bhutan's political development was heavily influenced by its religious history.Various sub-sects of Buddhism emerged which were patronized by the various Mongol warlords. After the decline of the Mongols in the 14th century, these sub-sects vied with each other for supremacy in the political and religious landscape, eventually leading to the ascendancy of the Drukpa sub-sect by the 16th century.
Until the early 17th century, Bhutan existed as a patchwork of minor warring fiefdoms, when the area was unified by the Tibetan lama and military leader Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal who fled religious persecution in Tibet. To defend the country against intermittent Tibetan forays, Namgyal built a network of impregnable dzong (fortresses), and promulgated a code of law that helped to bring local lords under centralized control. Many such dzong still exist and are active centers of religion and district administration. Circa 1627, Portuguese Jesuit Estevao Cacella and another priest were the first recorded Europeans to visit Bhutan on their way to Tibet. They met with Ngawang Namgyal, presented him with firearms, gunpowder and a telescope, and offered him their services in the war against Tibet, but the shabdrung declined the offer. After a stay of nearly eight months Cacella wrote a long letter from the Chagri Monastery reporting the travel. This is a rare report of the Shabdrung remaining.
After Namgyal's death in 1651, Bhutan fell into civil war. Taking advantage of the chaos, the Tibetans attacked Bhutan in 1710, and again in 1730 with the help of the Mongols. Both assaults were successfully thwarted, and an armistice was signed in 1759. In the 18th century, the Bhutanese invaded and occupied the kingdom of Cooch Behar to the south. In 1772, Cooch Behar appealed to the British East India Company which assisted them in ousting the Bhutanese, and later in attacking Bhutan itself in 1774. A peace treaty was signed in which Bhutan agreed to retreat to its pre-1730 borders. However, the peace was tenuous, and border skirmishes with the British were to continue for the next 100 years. The skirmishes eventually led to the Duar War (1864–1865), a confrontation for control of the Bengal Duars. After Bhutan lost the war, the Treaty of Sinchula was signed between British India and Bhutan. As part of the war reparations, the Duars were ceded to the United Kingdom in exchange for a rent of Rs. 50,000. The treaty ended all hostilities between British India and Bhutan.
During the 1870s, power struggles between the rival valleys of Paro and Tongsa led to civil war in Bhutan, eventually leading to the ascendancy of Ugyen Wangchuck, the ponlop (governor) of Tongsa. From his power base in central Bhutan, Ugyen Wangchuck defeated his political enemies and united the country following several civil wars and rebellions in the period 1882–1885.
In 1907, an epochal year for the country, Ugyen Wangchuck was unanimously chosen as the hereditary king of the country by an assembly of leading Buddhist monks, government officials, and heads of important families. The British government promptly recognized the new monarchy, and in 1910 Bhutan signed a treaty which "let" Great Britain "guide" Bhutan's foreign affairs. In reality, this did not mean much given Bhutan's historical reticence. It also did not seem to apply to Bhutan's traditional relations with Tibet. The greatest impact of this treaty seems to be the perception that it meant Bhutan was not totally sovereign. After India gained independence from the United Kingdom on 15 August 1947, Bhutan became one of the first countries to recognize India's independence. A treaty similar to the one of 1910 was signed 8 August 1949 with the newly independent India. In 1953, King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck established the country's legislature – a 130-member National Assembly – to promote a more democratic form of governance. In 1965, he set up a Royal Advisory Council, and in 1968 he formed a Cabinet. In 1971, Bhutan was admitted to the United Nations, having held observer status for three years. In July 1972, Jigme Singye Wangchuck ascended to the throne at the age of 16 after the death of his father, Dorji Wangchuck.
In late 2003, the Bhutanese army successfully launched a large-scale operation to flush out anti-India insurgents who were operating training camps in southern Bhutan.
Bhutan -- Economy --
Though Bhutan's economy is one of the world's smallest, it has grown rapidly in recent years, by eight percent in 2005 and 14 percent in 2006. In 2007, Bhutan had the second fastest growing economy in the world, with an annual economic growth rate of 22.4 percent. This was mainly due to the commissioning of the gigantic Tala Hydroelectricity project. As of March 2006, Bhutan's per capita income was US$1,321. Bhutan's economy is based on agriculture, forestry, tourism and the sale of hydroelectric power to India. Agriculture provides the main livelihood for more than 80 percent of the population. Agrarian practices consist largely of subsistence farming and animal husbandry. Handicrafts, particularly weaving and the manufacture of religious art for home altars, are a small cottage industry. A landscape that varies from hilly to ruggedly mountainous has made the building of roads and other infrastructure difficult and expensive. This, and a lack of access to the sea, has meant that Bhutan has not been able to benefit from significant trading of its produce. Bhutan does not have any railways, though Indian Railways plans to link southern Bhutan to its vast network under an agreement signed in January 2005. Bhutan and India signed a 'free trade' accord in 2008, which additionally allowed Bhutanese imports and exports from third markets to transit India without tariffs. The historic trade routes over the high Himalayas, which connected India to Tibet, have been closed since the 1950 military takeover of Tibet (although smuggling activity still brings Chinese goods into Bhutan). The industrial sector is in a nascent stage, and though most production comes from cottage industry, larger industries are being encouraged and some industries such as cement, steel, and ferro alloy have been set up. Most development projects, such as road construction, rely on Indian contract labour. Agricultural produce includes rice, chilies, dairy (some yak, mostly cow) products, buckwheat, barley, root crops, apples, and citrus and maize at lower elevations. Industries include cement, wood products, processed fruits, alcoholic beverages and calcium carbide. Incomes of over Nu 100,000 per annum are taxed, but very few wage and salary earners qualify. Bhutan's inflation rate was estimated at about three percent in 2003. Bhutan has a Gross Domestic Product of around USD 2.913 billion (adjusted to Purchasing Power Parity), making it the 162nd largest economy in the world.
Per capita income is around $1,400, ranked 124th. Government revenues total $272 million, though expenditures amount to $350 million. 60 percent of the budget expenditure, however, is financed by India's Ministry of External Affairs. Bhutan's exports, principally electricity, cardamom, gypsum, timber, handicrafts, cement, fruit, precious stones and spices, total €128 million (2000 est.). Imports, however, amount to €164 million, leading to a trade deficit. Main items imported include fuel and lubricants, grain, machinery, vehicles, fabrics and rice. Bhutan's main export partner is India, accounting for 58.6 percent of its export goods. Hong Kong (30.1 percent) and the Bangladesh (7.3 percent) are the other two top export partners. As its border with Tibet is closed, trade between Bhutan and China is now almost non-existent. Bhutan's import partners include India (74.5 percent), Japan (7.4 percent) and Sweden (3.2 percent). In a response to accusations in 1987 by a journalist from UK's Financial Times that the pace of development in Bhutan was slow, the King said that "Gross National Happiness is more important than Gross National Product." This statement appears to have presaged recent findings by western economic psychologists, including 2002 Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman, that question the link between levels of income and happiness. The statement signaled his commitment to building an economy that is appropriate for Bhutan's culture, based on Buddhist spiritual values, and has served as a unifying vision for the economy. In a survey in 2005, 45 percent of Bhutanese reported being very happy, 52 percent reported being happy and only three percent reported not being happy. Based on this data, the Happy Planet Index estimates that the average level of life satisfaction in Bhutan is within the top 10 percent of nations worldwide, and certainly higher than other nations with similar levels of GDP per capita.
Bhutan -- Culture --
Bhutan has a rich and unique cultural heritage that has largely remained intact due to its isolation from the rest of the world until the early 1960s. One of the main attractions for tourists is the country's culture and traditions. Bhutanese tradition is deeply steeped in its Buddhist heritage. Hinduism is the second dominant religion in Bhutan, being most prevalent in the southern regions. Both religions co-exist peacefully and receive support from the government, and enjoy royal patronage. The government is increasingly making efforts to preserve and sustain the current culture and traditions of the country. Due to its largely unspoilt natural environment and cultural heritage, Bhutan has been referred to as The Last Shangri-la. While Bhutanese citizens are free to travel abroad, Bhutan is viewed as inaccessible by many foreigners. There is a widespread misconception that Bhutan has set limits on tourist visas. Another reason why Bhutan is not a popular place to visit by travelers on a shoe string budget is it's too expensive. Entry is free for citizens of India and Bangladesh, but all other foreigners are required to sign up with a Bhutanese tour operator and pay around $200 per day that they stay in the country. Single tourists are not allowed in the country. Even Indians and Bangladeshis are discouraged to travel alone, unless you know someone personally or have relatives in Bhutan. The National Dress for Bhutanese men is the gho, a knee-length robe tied at the waist by a cloth belt known as the kera. Women wear an ankle-length dress, the kira, which is clipped at one shoulder and tied at the waist. An accompaniment to the kira is a long-sleeved blouse, the toego, which is worn underneath the outer layer. Social status and class determine the texture, colours, and decorations that embellish the garments. Differently coloured scarves and shawls are important indicators of social standing, as Bhutan has traditionally been a feudal society. Jewellery is mostly worn by women, especially during religious festivals and public gatherings. To strengthen Bhutan's identity as an independent country, Bhutanese law requires all Bhutanese citizens to wear the national dress in public areas and as formal wear.
Bhutan -- Political system, law and government --
Over the past decade, Bhutan's political system has developed from an absolute monarchy into a constitutional monarchy. In 1999, the fourth king of Bhutan created a body called the Lhengye Zhungtshog (Council of Ministers). The 'Druk Gyalpo' (King of Druk Yul) is head of state. Executive power is exercised by the Lhengye Zhungtshog, the council of ministers. Legislative power was vested in both the government and the former Grand National Assembly. On the 17th of December 2005, the 4th King, Jigme Singye Wangchuck, announced to a stunned nation that the first general elections would be held in 2008, and that he would abdicate the throne in favor of his eldest son, the crown prince. King Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuck took the throne on December 14, 2006 upon his father's abdication. Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck was adorned with Bhutan's Raven Crown at an ornate coronation ceremony in Thimphu on Thursday, November 6, 2008, becoming the world's youngest reigning monarch and head of the newest democracy. The new democratic system comprises an upper and lower house, the latter based on political party affiliations. Elections for the upper house (National Council) were held on December 31, 2007, while elections for the lower house, the 47-seat National Assembly, were held on March 24, 2008. Two political parties, the People's Democratic Party (PDP) headed by Sangay Ngedup, and the Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT) headed by Jigmi Thinley, competed in the National Assembly election. The Druk Phuensum Tshogpa won the elections taking 45 out of 47 seats in the parliament. Judicial power is vested in the courts of Bhutan. The Chief Justice is the administrative head of the Judiciary.