~ National Anthem of Bhutan ~
"IN THE THUNDER DRAGON KINGDOM, adorned with sandalwood, the protector who guards the teaching of the dual system; he, the precious and glorious ruler, causes dominion to spread while his unchanging person abides in constancy, as the doctrine of Buddha flourishes, may the sun of peace and happiness shine on the people."
THE LAND OF THE THUNDER DRAGON
For centuries, the outside world had no name for Bhutan. Its lofty frontiers wrapped it in an impenetrable cloak of mystery. Tibetan chroniclers of the 18th century referred to it by many names, including "Hidden Holy Land," The Southern Valley of Medicinal Herbs," and "the Lotus Garden of the Gods." However, the Bhutanese have had a name for their own country for centuries. They called it Druk Yul, meaning "The Kingdom of the Thunder Dragon." They named it such because of the fierce storms that often roll in from the Himalayas.
ARRIVAL OF BUDDHISM
Buddhism was introduced to Bhutan in the 7th century with the construction of 2 temples in Bumthang and Kyichu (near Paro) ordered by the Tibetan King. At around 747 A.D., it is said that the revered religious leader Guru Padma Sambhava came to the country. Known also as Guru Rimpoche and at times referred to as the Second Buddha in Bhutan, this remarkable man -- almost as highly esteemed as Buddha himself in Bhutan -- is credited with various events. It is said that he flew to Bhutan on the back of a tiger, and that at Taktsang (Also known as the Tiger's Nest Monastry) he conquered the demon spirits that were standing in the way of the spread of Buddhism. It is more certain that he visited Bumthang in central Bhutan, where he cured the ailing King, and various places in the Paro valley, and that he and his later followers meditated in a cave on the cliff where the Taktsang monastery now stands. In Bumthang, the Kurje temple was built at the spot where, after Padma Sambhava had meditated, his fingerprints and footmarks appeared etched into solid rock, and where a cypress tree (which still stands) sprouted from his staff.
The pattern of Buddhism has changed considerably over the centuries, influenced particularly by emigrants from Tibet. Later, Bhutanese sects developed their own forms of the religion. Dominant amongst these has been the Drukpa sect of Kagyupa, a branch of Mahayana ("Greater Vehicle") and now the official religion of Bhutan. Apparently, Kagyupa was a somewhat ascetic and rigorous practice of Buddhism that demanded long periods of isolation; its stringency led to the formation of more lenient sub sects. (Drukpa ("Thunder Dragon") was so named because when it was being formed thunder echoed across the sky.)
GROSS NATIONAL HAPPINESS (GNH)
Gross National Happiness as a measure of progress replacing the capitalistic Gross Domestic Product. Bhutan’s former King invented the notion that his country’s wealth should be measured by the happiness of his people in 1974 in order to replace western consumption driven values by the spirituality of a Buddhist society.
GNH is supported by four pillars related to Sustainable development, Preservation and promotion of cultural values (like wearing the national dress), Conservation of the natural environment and Establishment of good governance. One can easily recognise that these values have had immense impact in the wellbeing of the nation despite its economic development would lag behind by any Western standards. Bhutan’s forests cover 65-70% of the territory, a stark contrast with neighbouring Nepal where the land has become arid and barren as a result of over development and excessive subsistence farming.
INTERESTING FACTS ON BHUTAN
One of the many ways in which Bhutan preserves its arts and traditions is by making its people wear the national dress to schools, government buildings and on all formal occasions. Bhutanese in civil service, formal jobs like in the hospitality industry are expected to wear the traditional gho for men and kira for women.
Bhutan’s mystic and mysterious cache is rightly caused by its complete isolation from the world. It was not until 1974, when the former king was coronated, that international media were allowed in the country to witness the celebration. Hotels had to be built to accommodate them. TVs only arrived in the 1990s and the country banned tourists until the 1960s.
THE LAST SHANGRI-LA
Bhutan has 18 peaks above the 7,000m mark but the vast majority have not been surveyed and could well be higher or lower than documented. Only one of the peaks is open to climbers today, although two additional ones were open in the past. But the country’s second highest peak, Gangkhar Puensum at 7,541m, visible from the Duchola Pass on the way between Thimphu and Punakha, is the highest unclimbed peak in the world. Several failed attempts were made in the past but the mountain remains closed since.
Bhutan is one of the few, if not the only country in the world, to have never been conquered. This is probably thanks to its inaccessible geography but also thanks to the able and smart negotiations of the previous kings and gurus who ruled the country when the British Empire was expanding from India and who played an important mediation role between Britain and Nepal thus carving an independent status for itself. This lack of influence from other cultures has made the country an incredible example of what one can build with independence and self-reliance.
You can visit Bhutan freely but you need to organise your trip with a local agency or hotel that will provide a guide and driver for you. No visitor to Bhutan can arrive freely and travel independently. Indian and Nepalese can come without a visa but need a guide