Here goes a quick overview on one of the most unique places on this planet, where time can seem to stand still and it’s hard not to find peace and happiness. I’ve only been to Bhutan once, over 15 years ago, with my much loved sister Angie… so it has very special meaning to me and a place I am excited to share with everyone in the family.
Bhutan, the Buddhist kingdom nestled in the Himalayan Mountains, has become infamous for its measurement of “gross national happiness” (instead of the typical measure of societal progress focused on gross national product, or an economic priority).
It’s a magical place, with timeless beauty and culture, that makes you feel like all is well in the world when you have the blessing of visiting Bhutan.
Bhutan somehow survived as an independent nation, bordered by China and India and never fully colonized by the British or foreign invaders. It’s uniquely isolated position behind unpassable mountain peaks likely helped it retain its independence. The place known as Bhutan has been known as the “Land of the Thunder Dragon” or Dru U, in local parlance.
The biggest cultural influence on the Bhutanese people comes from their religion, where over 75% of the population are devout Buddhists.
A few themes and names we’ll need to familiarize ourselves with:
- Smiling – People are friendly, and get used to smiling and being smiled back at!
- Songstan Gampo – Yes, it’s a funny name… but he’s really important to the formation of Buddhism in Tibet and in Bhutan. Songstan Gampo brought Buddhism from the Tibetan plateau to the land of Bhutan in the 7th century AD. He built two important temples, and propagated Buddhism throughout Tibet and Bhutan. He translated Buddhist texts from Sanskrit into Tibetan (helping create the language). He is thought to be a manifestation of the bodhisattva of compassion (Avalokitesvera) – the same as the Dalai Lama lineage.
- Drukpa lineage – This is sometimes called the “Red Hat” sect, or variation, of Vajrayana Buddhism. It is practiced in Bhutan.
- Padmasambhava (Guru Rinpoche) – Legend has it that Guru Rinpoche flew on the back of a flying tiger across from Tibet to conquer a local demon in Bhutan, and meditated at the site where “Tiger’s Nest” monastery (Takstang) now sits. It’s awesome. Get ready.
- Druk – Dragon.
- Dzong – Fortress.
- Wangchuck – Yes, an even funnier sounding name, but an important one. In 1907, Ugyen Wangchuck was chosen king by a group of leading monks, and his family lineage has peacefully (mostly) ruled over the Bhutanese kingdom ever since.
- Lhotsampa – Bhutan is not a utopian society; in the 1990s, the Bhutan government forcibly evicted the minority Lhotsampa population, for fear that they would cause cultural change or be a destabilizing influence in Bhutan, like they had become in Nepal.
- Takin – This is Bhutan’s national animal. It looks odd, like a mutant buffalo.
- Ngultrum – The national currency, the Ngulturm, has a fixed exchange rate to the Indian Rupee… since India is Bhutan’s closest ally.
- $2,420 – The national per capital income of the less than 1mm residents of Bhutan.
- Food – Chilies, red rice, yak meat, yak cheese, barley and some fruits are staples of the Bhutanese diet.
- Archery – The national sport. Brayden, get ready!
- No Smoking – Yeah! Bhutan is the first country in the world to ban smoking. Beautiful and happy, yes. Libertarian, no. In this case, I don’t care. I’m celebrating.
- Gho and Kira – These are the national dress for men and women, respectively. They are essentially robes with waist ties. They look beautiful. I am hoping we get to try one on.
- Bumpy roads – Take my word for it. We’ll be hiking the Druk Pass for five days and camping, but when we are in an SUV, you will know what I am referring to!
Useful words and phrases:
Dzongkha is the national language of Bhutan, here are a few helpful phrases:
- Kuzoozangpo La – Hello! (or we can just say hello)
- Tashi-delek – Good wishes
- Kaadinchhey La – Thank you
Tashi-delek on our travels!