Although the country was not unified under a central authority until the 17th century, Bhutan has preserved its independence from time immemorial. Bhutan followed a policy of self-imposed isolation and was largely cut off from the rest of the world until the 1950s.Its formidable geographical boundaries kept out foreign authority and allowed the Bhutanese to develop a strong degree of common identity, despite ethnic and linguistic diversity. Today, unlike most countries, Bhutan has retained its integrity and distinctive way of life virtually intact.
The process of modern development in the country only began in 1961. Until then, the country possessed very little of the infrastructure that is associated with a modern nation state. The majority of the Bhutanese lived rugged lives of isolation. The Bhutanese were almost totally dependent upon the land and the forests for survival, producing or collecting not only the food they required for nourishment, but also the materials required for clothing. The small surpluses produced were bartered for goods like salt.
There were no roads, motor vehicles, electricity, telephones or postal services. Transport was confined to centuries-old tracks. Distances that can be covered in a few hours today required days or weeks of hazardous travel and long periods of preparation.
Despite the late start towards modernisation, the Kingdom has recorded many remarkable achievements in the last four decades. Today, the country is connected with a wide network of roads. Electricity is much more widely available, and a modern system of telecommunications now links different parts of the country and Bhutan with the outside world. The national airline, Druk Air, flies to six destinations in the neighbouring countries. The progress recorded in the economy in terms of physical infrastructure has been matched by progress in the social sectors ,such as education and health.
From a least developed country in the 1960s with a GDP per capita of only USD 51 (the lowest in the world), Bhutan’s GDP per capita as of 2008 was USD 1,852, which is one of the highest in South Asia. According to the 2009 Human Development Report published by UNDP, Bhutan ranks 132 out of 182 countries with Human Development Index value of 0.619, which places Bhutan in the United Nation’s ‘medium human development’ category of countries, and one of a very few developing countries thus categorised.
A country with a mosaic of cultures, lifestyles, languages and belief systems, Bhutan’s rich and unique cultural heritage has largely remained intact. Unlike many countries, traditional arts, age-old ceremonies, festivals, social conduct and structures are not remnants of a bygone age, but are practiced as they were hundreds of years ago.
With a unique development philosophy based on the principles of Gross National Happiness, Bhutan is becoming increasingly known for its visionary and dynamic leadership under the monarchs. It holds an uncompromising stance on environmental conservation and is known for the policy of ‘high value low volume’ tourism, rich tradition and cultural heritage, pristine ecology and abundant wildlife. It is a paradise of unparalleled scenic beauty with majestic virgin peaks, lush valleys, unspoilt countryside and terraced rice fields. A fascinating architecture, monumental fortresses, fluttering prayer flags, hospitable people and a devout Buddhist culture makes the Kingdom of Bhutan both special and extraordinary.
BHUTAN at a Glance
Total Area : 38,394 square kilometers (350km long and 150km wide approximately)
Location : Landlocked between China and India
Altitude : 100m above sea level in the south to over 7,500m above sea level in the north.
Longitude : 88°45’ – 92°10’ East
Latitude : 26°42’ – 28°15’ North
Political system : Democratic Constitutional Monarchy
Capital : Thimphu
District : 20
County : 205
Population (2011 projected) : 708265 (Male 369,476; Female 33,8789)
Population growth rate : 1.8 percent (2005)
Exchange rate (May. ‘11) : 1USD = Ngultrum 45.95
Forest coverage : 72.5 percent of the land area
Cultivated area : 7.8 percent of total land
Life expectancy : 66.3 years (Male 65.7; Female 66.9)
Literacy rate : 59.5 percent (Male 69; Female 49)
Local time : 6 hrs ahead of GMT
Country code : +975
The Kingdom of Bhutan is a landlocked nation nestled in the eastern Himalayas, bordering China to the north and India to the south. With a total area of 38,394 sq.km and aerial distance of around 350km from east to west and around 150km from north to south. Bhutan lies between 88°45’ and 92°10’ longitude East and 26°42’ and 28°15’ latitude North. It is a mountainous country except for a strip of plains in the south.
A fundamental characteristic of the country is that pronounced differences in nature and landscape come together within a small area. The valleys of Bhutan are separated by mountains ranging from 7200m to 100m from north to south and high passes ranging from 3000-3500m from west to east.
Bhutan has three distinct ecological zones: sub-tropical in the south, temperate in the middle and subalpine in the north, which corresponds with three different climatic zones. The variations in climate are therefore correspondingly extreme. The plains in the south have hot and humid summers with cool winters. The land here is covered with dense forests, alluvial lowland river valleys and the mountains rise up to 1500m.
The hills and valleys in central and eastern Bhutan are temperate and drier than the west with warm summers and cool winters. It is cut off from the foothills by high ranges of the Inner Himalayas with a succession of valleys at altitudes ranging from 1500m to 3500 m. The hillsides are thickly forested with blue pine, conifers, oak, magnolia maple, birch and rhododendron.
The northern region with an alpine climate is perpetually under snow. Most peaks in the north are over 7,000m above sea level with the highest point being Gangkar Puensum at 7,564m which has the distinction of being world’s highest unclimbed mountain.
Political transition: 100 Years of Monarchy to Democracy
The political system of Bhutan changed dramatically when in April, 2008, Bhutan became a democracy after a century of monarchy. On 17 December 2005, the Fourth King, His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck, announced his abdication from the throne in favour of his son and heir-apparent, Trongsa Penlop Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck.
Even more significantly, the Fourth Druk Gyalpo declared that Bhutan would become a democracy and that general elections would be held in 2008. He was steadfast about his decision even as his people begged him to reconsider, voicing their concerns and fears about a new system they were skeptical about. The general perception was: hereditary monarchy had worked well for the country and there was no need for any change.
What is unique about Bhutan’s transition to democracy is that unlike other countries where democracy was often achieved with bloody rebellions and civil war, in Bhutan it was initiated from the throne itself. It was introduced at a time of unprecedented peace, stability and prosperity, and against the will of the people who literally worshipped their wise and visionary monarchs.
His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck said:
‘It is my duty, as the King, to strengthen the nation so that the people can develop in security and peace, and the nation becomes more prosperous and secure than before. During the past years of my reign, I have made constant efforts to empower the people by delegating authority, resources and responsibility to them. Reforms on decentralisation and devolution of power have been quiet but continuous’.
In 2008, with the completion of the National Council and National Assembly elections and adoption of the Constitution, Bhutan made a smooth transition to democracy spearheaded by the dynamic His Majesty Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, the Fifth Druk Gyalpo and the first democratically elected Parliament.
Bhutan adopted its first written Constitution on 18 July, 2008 ushering in a new era in the history of Bhutan. The Constitution was signed by His Majesty the King and other designated representatives of the people in the Kuenrey (main shrine) of Tashichhodzong. The signing of the Constitution formalised the return of power to the people that had been vested in the First Druk Gyalpo a century ago.
The first parliamentary elections in 2008, was contested by two political parties — the People’s Democratic Party or PDP (founded on March 24, 2007) and Druk Phuensum Tshogpa or DPT (founded on July 25, 2007). The DPT led by Jigmi Yoezer Thinley was elected to power with a landslide victory on 24th March, 2008 to form the national government. The PDP won just two of the 47 seats to form the opposition.
The Lhengye Zhungtshog (Cabinet) was established in 1968 by the Third Druk Gyalpo. It used to be presided over by the King and comprised His Majesty’s representatives, Ministers, Deputy Ministers, the Royal Advisory Councillors, selected government Secretaries and other senior officials nominated by the King.
Today, the King of Bhutan is the Head of State and the executive power is exercised by the Lhengye Zhungtshog, headed by the Prime Minister and his Cabinet. The Cabinet is collectively responsible to the Druk Gyalpo and the Parliament. It is also responsible for assessing the state of affairs arising from development in the state and society and from events within the country and abroad; defining the goals of state action and determining the resources required to achieve them; reviewing government policies and ensuring their implementation through issuing directives and representing the government. It is mandated to promote good governance based on the democratic values and principles enshrined in the Constitution.
Bhutan’s Parliament consists of His Majesty The Druk Gyalpo, Gyalyong Tshogde or the National Council and Gyalyong Tshogdu or the National Assembly.
The Parliament is vested with all the legislative powers under the Constitution. It ensures that the government safeguards the interests of the nation and fulfills the aspirations of the people through public review of policies and issues, bills and legislations and scrutiny of state functions. It also ratifies all International conventions, treaties, protocols and agreements.
The Parliament meets twice a year. However, if important and emergency matters so require, special sessions may be convened by the Speaker. The duration of a Parliament is governed by the nature and scope of the points for discussion received from the people. A session normally lasts about three to five weeks.
The National Council
The Lodroe Tshogde (Royal Advisory Council) was established in 1965 by the Third Druk Gyalpo to advise the King and government ministers and to supervise the implementation of programmes and policies laid down by the National Assembly. The Royal Advisory Council had nine members, which includes six elected representatives of the people, two elected representatives of the clergy and one government nominee who usually became the Chairman of the Council. The Royal Advisory Council was dissolved in August 2007.
In the new dispensation of the state structure, the Gyalyong Tshogde or the National Council is a legislative body and also the House of Review on matters affecting the security and sovereignty of the country and the interests of the nation and the people. It is responsible for reviewing the functioning of the executive and the National Assembly, reviewing and commenting on legislative proposals, or bills and national policies, plans and programmes being implemented by the government.
The National Council consists of 25 members formed by 20 members elected by the electorate of the 20 Dzongkhag and five eminent persons appointed by the King. The Chairperson and Deputy Chairperson are elected by the National Council from among its members.
The National Council members are not affiliated to any political party. The minimum qualification required to serve as a member is a formal Bachelors Degree or equivalent from a recognised university.
The National Assembly
The Gyalyong Tshogdu (National Assembly) was established in 1953 by the Third Druk Gyalpo. It consisted of 150 members comprising 10 elected ministers, 10 representatives from the Dratshang (clergy), 106 elected representatives of the people, including six Royal Advisory Councillors and 24 nominated representatives of the government. All members served a three year term. The erstwhile National Assembly was dissolved in August 2006.
The Gyalyong Tshogdu or the National Assembly consists of 47 members elected by the people from the 47 constituencies in the country. Members serve a five-year term. The National Assembly‘s main function is to enact, amend or repeal laws, and approve the national budget. It is also responsible for approving the Five-Year Plans, which are formulated by the government in consultation with the people through the Dzongkhag Tshogdu (District Council), Gewog Tshogdu (County Committee) and Thromde Tshogde (Municipal Committee).
The National Assembly also deliberates on issues that affect the security and well-being of the country, promotes the welfare and happiness of the people and advises the government on all matters of national importance. Decisions are passed by a simple majority. Any Bhutanese citizen above 25 years of age with a minimum qualification of a formal Bachelors Degree or equivalent from a recognised university can vie for the membership of the National Assembly. The Speaker and Deputy Speaker are elected by the National Assembly from among its members.
The National Flag
The upper yellow half that touches the base symbolises the secular tradition. It personifies His Majesty the King, whose noble actions enhance the Kingdom and symbolises that His Majesty is both the upholder of the spiritual and secular foundations of the Kingdom.
The lower orange half that extends to the top represents Bhutan’s spiritual tradition. It also symbolises the flourishing of Buddhist teachings in general and that of the Kagyu and Nyingma traditions in particular.
The dragon that fully presses down the fimbriation symbolises the name of the Kingdom, which is endowed with spiritual and secular traditions. The white dragon represents the undefiled thoughts of the people that express the loyalty, patriotism and great sense of belonging to the Kingdom, although they have different ethnic and linguistic origins.
The National Emblem
Within the circle of the national emblem, two crossed – vajras are placed over a lotus. They are flanked on either side by a male and female white dragon. A wish-fulfilling jewel is located above them. There are four other jewels inside the circle where the two vajras intersect. They symbolise the spiritual and secular traditions of the Kingdom based on the four spiritual undertakings of Vajrayana Buddhism. The lotus symbolises the absence of the defilements, the wish-fulfilling jewel, the sovereign power of the people and the two dragons, the name of the Kingdom.
National Tree : Cypress (Cupressus Sempervirens)
National Flower: Blue Poppy (Meconopsis Grandis)
National Bird: Raven (Corvus Corax Tibetanus)
National Animal: Takin (Budorcas Taxicolor)
The National Anthem
In the Kingdom of Bhutan adorned with cypress trees,
The Protector who reigns over the realm over spiritual and secular traditions,
He is the King of Bhutan, the precious sovereign.
May His being remain unchanging, and the Kingdom prosper.
May the teachings of the Enlightened One flourish.
May the sun of peace and happiness shine over all people.
Minerals: Dolomite, Limestone, Gypsum, Slate, Coal, Talc, Marble, Zinc, Lead, Copper, Tungsten, Chemical Grade Quartzite, Graphite, Iron Ore
Crops : Rice, Maize, Wheat, Potato, Millet, Buckwheat, Orange, Apple, Cardamom, Coffee
Hydropower : An estimated potential of 30,000 MW with mean annual energy production capability close to 120,000 GWh.