The unique Bhutanese culture is what our visitors appreciate and like most about Bhutan. The people of Bhutan are a rich mosaic of lifestyles and languages. The ruggedness of the terrain and the remoteness of its valleys have led to the formation of many scattered communities throughout the kingdom. However, the Bhutanese people are friendly; their warmth, hospitable nature, and the unique culture are rooted in their way of life. From school going children to monks and the inhabitants of isolated rural villages their curious and jovial nature is infectious. The Bhutanese language and literature, the art and crafts, ceremonies and events, and basic social and cultural values draw their essence from the religious teachings. The rich cultural heritage of the kingdom has always remained remarkably unblemished. The rich and vibrant age-old tradition and culture are still continued to uphold by every Bhutanese and has a clear significance in their everyday life. The cultural heritage of Bhutan is the main foundation upon which the identity of the Bhutanese people is founded.
Bhutan is one of the least densely populated countries in the world, with 79% of 672,425 people living in rural areas depending on subsistence farming, scattered in sparsely populated villages across the rugged terrain of the Himalayas. Not even been colonized, the traditional Bhutanese society not was characterized by small scattered communities living in isolation with little contact with one another. Bhutanese people is, in many ways, one large family and the nature of the Bhutanese people is natural, confident and gentle with strongly independent in spirit and outlook. They share a good sense of humor and are widely accepting of different cultures. Despite the small population, it has developed a number of languages and dialects. Hence, there are nineteen different dialects spoken in Bhutan and the people are broadly described as Ngalop, Sharchops, and Lhotshampas with many other small dialects.
People in Bhutan, no matter how simple their rural lives are, have a welcoming smile for every visitor. The Bhutanese people are gracious hosts and treat all visitors as guests. Bhutanese hospitality is even more evident in the rural villages where the local people genuinely welcome visitors as honored guests.
Bhutanese culture, customs, history and landscape bear the most venerable traces of the influence of Buddhism. Bhutan the tiny kingdom in the Himalaya came under the Buddhist influence via Tibet. Historically, Buddhism was first introduced under the influence of the Tibetan king Songtsen Gyampo, who built 108 temples in the 7th century AD to subdue the giant ogress that lay across the whole of the Himalayas. The Indian missionary Guru Rinpoche later spread it when he traveled through Bhutan en route to Samye (Tibet) in the eight century AD. Buddhism in Bhutan was flourished rapidly during the time of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel (1594-1651), the founder of the Bhutanese nation. He instituted the Buddhist Sangha (monk body) in Bhutan and the monk body played an important role in the spiritual and cultural lives of the people. Since almost every important occasion in Bhutan is invested with religious significance like – invitation of monks to the household to perform rituals and read scriptures for the betterment and wellbeing of the household and for other ceremonies events like – birth, marriage, sickness, death, construction and consecration ceremonies, office promotion, and other day-to-day activities and functions.
Bhutan is a sacred land with deep spiritual people. Buddhism and Hinduism are both practiced although the majority of people are Buddhist. There are more than 10,000 stupas or chortens and more than 2,000 monasteries in the kingdom, many built centuries ago in honor of the teachings of Buddhism. Some are national treasures like the Taktshang Goemba, the Tiger’s Nest built on a sheer craggy cliff face as if grounded on the deep faith of its people. The heritages that are built high above some of these sacred sites are a marvel to see; many of them are huts in traditional architecture providing shelter to meditation practitioners amidst deep nature. Spiritual seekers will find numerous spiritual sites throughout Bhutan. Some are within easy reach or a few hours walk, and others require a bit of a trek or climb but it is always satisfying to reach the top of the numerous monasteries that mark Bhutan’s landscape and to take a moment to contemplate on top of the world. The tshechu, local community festival and the sacred architecture represented by the various stupas and mani walls, are a constant reminder that in Bhutan, spirituality is still a way of life despite a fast changing world.
The religious festival, which means “tenth day” held annually in various temples, monasteries and dzongs throughout the country. This colorful religious event celebrated on the tenth day of a month of the lunar calendar corresponding to the birth anniversary of Guru Rinpoche and other permanent religious leader. The festivals in the Land of the Thunder Dragon are rich and happy expressions of its ancient Buddhist culture. Festival are grand events where entire communities come together to witness religious mask dances, receive blessings and socialize. It is believed that every Bhutanese people must attend a festival and witness the mask dances at least once to in order to receive blessings and wash away their sins. Every mask dance performed during the Tshechu has a special meaning and story behind it and many are based on stories and incidents as long as the eight century. The local Bhutanese people come to witness the religious festival, dress in their finest cloths and most resplendent jewelry of coral and turquoise. They pack picnic lunches in their traditional bamboo baskets and stay all day at the festival, which are usually held in the dzong and monasteries.
The traditional architecture remains alive in Bhutan. It is one of the kingdom’s most visible distinctive features. There are sacred meanings in Bhutan architecture. It is a religious and it does not exist by itself. The traditional Bhutanese architecture is unique and beautiful and they are highly decorative and ornamental. The interesting part of the traditional Bhutanese architecture is that it does not either use nails or iron bars. The Bhutanese traditional architectural grandeur is exhibited beginning from the ordinary dwelling houses to the most impressive public structures such as dzongs and monasteries, temples and chortens, all the architectures are strictly based on the unique architectural designs of Bhutan. The dzong architecture is one of the most elegant and harmonious in the world. The genius of Bhutanese art is best expressed in dances and paintings. Bhutan’s thangkas and mandalas depicts an artistic skill and a rare exquisite fineness. The mandala or mystic circle represents the Buddhist concept of cosmogony of the universe. The state use are made of wood, stones, bronze, coral, pearl and other expensive materials, which depicts craftsmanship’s of the Bhutanese artists. Such beautiful and precious arts and architecture is very important for Bhutanese and visitors alike.
The traditional Bhutanese culture is very much alive and expressed in the dress worn by the Bhutanese people. The Bhutanese man wear a heavy knee-length robe tied with a belt, called Gho, folded in such a way to form a pocket in front of the stomach. Women wear colorful blouses over which they fold and clasp a large rectangular cloth called Kera, thereby creating an ankle-length dress. A short silk jacket or Toego worn over the Kera. The Bhutanese dress both Gho and Kera are made from cotton, wool, or silk, and wear depending upon the season. For special occasion like – while participating in festival gathering, marriage and other special events, colorful pattern dress are worn by both man and women. In general every Bhutanese people need to wear their traditional dress when visiting dzong, monasteries, temple and even while going to office. Additional to the dress man wear a white sash (kabney), and women wear Rachu, a narrow embroidered cloth that drop over the left shoulder.
The art of textile weaving is widely practiced throughout the kingdom. The contemplation and visualization of colors and patterns in arts and crafts is considered an integral part of Bhutanese life and culture. The textiles of Bhutan are renowned for their distinctive pattern inspired by nature. The textile weaving is commonly found in the central and eastern regions of Bhutan. Importantly, women in eastern Bhutan are skilled at weaving and they weave some of the most highly prized textiles. In the past people in the eastern Bhutan, textiles were paid as a form of tax to the government. The Bhutanese textiles are woven from cotton, raw cotton, and silk with intricate motifs woven into the cloths.
Khoma village in Lhuntse is famous for Kishuthara
Radhi & Bidung is famous for Bura textiles (Mentsi Martha & Aikapur)
Pemagatsel is famous for Dungsam Kamtham
Adang in Wangdue is famous for Adang Mathra, Adang RRachu and Adang Khamar
Nature is synonymous with Bhutan and the country has been described as a natural paradise. Wedged between China and India, Bhutan’s terrain range from sub-tropical foothills in the south, through the temperate zones, to dizzying heights of over 7500 meters. From the tropical vegetation in the southern foothills, temperature conifer or broad-leaf forest in the central Himalaya to the alpine zone in the greater Himalayas, Bhutan is home to diverse flora and fauna. Historically, Bhutan is named as the land of the medicinal herb and there are more than 300 officially recorded species of medicinal plants, 46 species of rhododendrons, variety of rare orchards, junipers, magnolias, daphneys, blue poppy, to name it few. Today as the world mourns the loss of its ecology, this small Himalayan kingdom is emerging as an example to the international community, with about 72.5 percent of its land still under forest and a great variety of rare plant and wildlife species.
Bhutan in the midst of the Himalayas prides itself in its biological diversity and the richness of flora and fauna. This has been possible because of its forest cover that is intact and the great altitudinal and climatic range of its location. Today Bhutan boasts of ten protected areas covering 16,396.43 square kilometers that is more than a quarter of the country’s total area. Within its biodiversity realm, Bhutan contains more than 60 percent of the common plants species found in the eastern Himalaya. It also boasts of about 46 species of rhododendrons and over 300 types of medicinal plants. Junipers, Magnolias, Orchids, Blue Poppy, Edelweiss, Gentian, Medicinal plants, Daphne, giant Rhubarb, Pine & Oak are also common sights that fill up the vegetation. One can also come across a wide range of animals. Snow Leopard, Blue Sheep, Red Panda, Tiger, Takin, Marmot, and Musk Deer are some of the species found in the high altitude while Tiger, Leopard, Goral, Gray Langur, Himalayan Black Bear, Red Panda, Sambar, Wild Pig and Barking Deer are found in the temperate zones. The tropical forests in the south is a heaven for Tigers, Clouded Leopard, Elephants, one horned Rhino, Water Buffalo, Golden Languor, Gaur, Swamp Deer, Hog Deer, and Horn Bills. One can experience this magnificent flora and fauna of Bhutan through sightseeing or by going further on trekking or hiking where trekking trails and routes leads through beautiful forests to high mountains and across clean rivers. Roads in Bhutan are also carved through the rich forest so anyone traveling through these roads can experience the intact nature of Bhutan.