Bhutan The jewel of the Himalaya
Bhutan also known locally as DRUKYUL (Land of Thunder Dragon) has remained sequestered from the rest of the world in its pristine state, unspoiled by outside influences. Bordered by China (Tibet) in the North and by India in the south, the kingdom of the Lost Horizon opened its door to tourism only in 1974, since then the number of visitors to Bhutan has steadily increased. Bhutan is endowed with breathtaking natural beauty, surrounded by sacred mountains, virgin peaks and holy lakes. Its beautiful valleys and lush forests are teeming with flora and wildlife undisturbed in its natural environment. Bhutan is perhaps the last Eden, not just in part, but in its entirety. Its 46,500 square kilometer of area is covered with not less than 72% of dense forest and jungles. In less than 65 miles, Bhutan rises 25,000 feet from the subtropical jungles of the south to arctic cold of the high Himalayas. Bhutan is truly a haven for wildlife and is considered the most exclusive tourist destination in the world. The country manages to retain all the charm of the old world.
Travelers to Bhutan will experience the enchantment of the pure and exotic land, through its ancient fortresses, monasteries, and temples that dot the countryside. With its imposing architecture and superb art, for its delightful race of people in their traditional dress, time has stood still in this serene environment. Their unique customs, beliefs and life-style are magical and preserved in its ancient ways. As exemplified by the sacred mask dances performed during festivals in colorful costumes.
More than 90% of the populations of about 800,000 people are farmers who live in small villages spread over rugged mountain. Since 8th century the Mahayana Buddhist teachings and philosophy played vital role in shaping the country’s culture and their way of life. In fact it is the only surviving Mahayana Buddhist Kingdom in the world.
A Brief History
Prior to 8th century we have no recorded history and have no clue how our ancestors have lived. However, we can only assume that the country was divided into many parts and were ruled by the village chiefs and the country in whole was known as the Lhojong Menjong (Southern Land of Medicinal Herbs).
It was during 8th century a king from Bumthang, known as Sendhu Raja had invited Guru Rinpochey (Precious Teacher), who brought Buddhism into Bhutan, to cure him from a dreadful disease that was killing him. Guru meditated at Kujey temple for three months, left his body print on the rock and subdues the local deities including powerful Shelging Karpo, who had stole the king’s life force and was the cause of King’s disease. Guru then visited many places around the kingdom where he meditated and left many body imprints. The places visited were Paro Taktsang, where he took the form of Guru Dorje Droloe to subdue the deities who were obstructing the spread of Buddhism, Tang Rimochen, Singye Dzong and many other places that are now the most visited holy sites for Buddhist pilgrims.
In the 12th century Phajo Drugom Shigpo (1184-1251) visited Bhutan and spread the Drukpa Kagyu School in the western part of Bhutan. In the 14th century Longchen Rabjam (1308-1363), the greatest philosopher of the Nyingma School chose exile in the Bhutanese region of Bumthang following a quarrel with the Tibetan master of his time. He founded the Monasteries of Tharpaling, Samtenling, Shinkhar and Ugyencholing and many others. One of the foremost Tibetan tertons, Dorje Lingpa (1346 -1405, followed in his footsteps, and he likewise settled in the Bumthang valleys, at Chakar and Ugyencholing. Another famous Nyingmapa terton, Pema Lingpa, was born in Bumthang in 1450 – 1521. He was considered not only the reincarnation of Guru Rinpochey but also of Longchen Rabjampa. In the 15th century Drukpa Kunley, “the divine madman” (1455-1529) blessed the country by his gracious visit.
Finally, in the 17th century under the politically and religiously charismatic Nawang Namgyal (1594-1651), Bhutan became a unified state. Ngawang Namgyal was a religious leader of the Drukpa Kagyu School, who took the honorary title of Shabdrung, “at whose feet one submits”. Being persecuted in Tibet, he fled to Bhutan in 1616 and, over the next 30 years, with compassion and benevolence, he succeeded in unifying ‘Southern Valleys’ into Drukyul, ‘the land of the Drukpas’. Shubdrung then codified a comprehensive system of laws and built chain of Dzongs (fortress), which served as religious, administrative center and guarded each valley during unsettled times. For next two centuries the kingdom was once again caught in the intermittent civil strife.
However, towards the end of the 19th century, the Trongsa Penlop, Ugyen Wangchuk who controlled the central and eastern regions of Bhutan overcame the rivals and united the kingdom once again. He was then unanimously crowned as the first hereditary King of Bhutan in 1907. It was the Third King Jigme Dorji Wangchuk who cautiously opened its doors to the forces of change and modernization in the early 60s. However the nation possessed very little of the infrastructure that Bhutanese today associate with a modern nation – state. It was only in 1974 when Fourth Hereditary Monarch king Jigme Singye Wangchuk was enthroned; Bhutan saw vast development and changes.