Landlocked Bhutan, with Thimphu as its capital, has an independent and distinctive national identity founded in the Drukpa school of Buddhism. Bhutan has never been colonised, so its ancient heritage is very much alive and integrated into daily life. Michael Kern has twice spent time in Bhutan during his travels in the Himalayas.
Bhutan has led the way in establishing ‘gross national happiness’ as a measure of development. The country is top-rated for peace, economic freedom and the ease of doing business. You can find out more about Gross Domestic Happiness via the attached PDF.
Dress, Dance, and Castles
Bhutan’s rich cultural traditions are evident throughout the country, particularly in its architecture. Great temples, monasteries and nunneries are perched on hillsides and mountains all over the country. Dzongs are fortified castles that are now usually used as monastic centres of learning. Interestingly, no nails or iron bars are used in many of the traditional building techniques.
Bhutanese culture is also on display in the traditional dress still mostly worn by the population. In official life, such as in the civil service and in schools, traditional garb is mandatory. Traditional music and dance are also a big part of the culture, although modern Indian pop music is now having a major influence.
Nature and the Environment
The diverse ecosystem of Bhutan is host to a huge range of remarkable and often rare flora and fauna. Many endangered animal species are also found in Bhutan. Across the hugely variable climatic regions of the country, many rare plant species – and particularly fungi – can be found.
All this means that conservation is a big part of life in Bhutan. The country is considered a model of good conservation practice and has many protected areas. You can learn more about conservation efforts in Bhutan, and the environmental issues facing the country in the embedded infographic.
A Rich Spiritual Life
Throughout Bhutan, the rich culture of Drukpa Himalayan Buddhism is expressed through the country’s many beautiful and ancient monasteries. One of the most impressive and famous of these is the Taktsang Monastery that perches more than 3,000 meters on a mountain in the Paro region, frequently surrounded by clouds and commanding incredible views of the valley below.
The Head Lama in Bhutan is known as the ‘Je Khenpo’ and his winter residence is in Punakha Dzong, another architectural marvel famous for its hall of 100 pillars. The Head of State is known as the ‘Dragon King’, and the embedded short video tells you some more.