Buddhist Monastery in Bhutan

Bhutan is a small Buddhist kingdom at the edge of the Himalayas. The name “Bhutan” might be a Sanskrit transliteration which means, “The farthest extent of Tibet.” It is known in the local language as Dru Ü, country of the Thunder Dragon People. Bhutan is surrounded by China and India. Thimphu is the capital city and has a population of just over 62,000.

The total population of Bhutan is about 750,000. The two main ethnic groups are the Ngalops and the Sharchops. The Ngalops are descendants of Tibetans who migrated to Bhutan as early as the 9th century AD and are dominant politically and culturally in Bhutan today. The Sharchops live mainly in the east of Bhutan and are of Tibetan and South Asian descent. In addition to the Ngalops and Sharchops, there is also a group of people from Nepalese ancestry called the Lhotshampa.

Most of the Bhutanese people have jobs related to  agriculture and forestry. Because it is a mountainous country, much of the infrastructure is still undeveloped. Bhutan has close economic ties to India. Bhutan is also developing its hydropower industry, and tourism is becoming more and more important to the economy.

Tibetan Buddhism (Vajrayana Buddhism) is the state religion in Bhutan. About 75% of the Bhutanese people are Buddhist. The Tibetan king, Songtsän Gampo, introduced Buddhism to Bhutan in the 7th century, AD. A minority of people, mostly of Nepalese ancestry, are Hindu.

Less than 1% of the population follow faiths other than Buddhism or Hinduism. Very few people are Christians.

Bhutan places a premium on protecting its culture. Tourists are allowed in Bhutan, but they must travel in a tour group and must spend a daily minimum of $200-$250 USD. The traditional Bhutanese meal consists of rice, chili, cheese, pork, beef curry and lentils. In traditional families the mother will serve the head of the household first. One philosophy of Bhutan is to measure progress by measuring the Gross National Happiness instead of the Gross Domestic Product, recognizing that material wealth does not always lead to happiness. At the same time, the government does promote “equitable and equal socio-economic development.”

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