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Kingdom of Bhutan


CAPITAL: Thimphu (Tashi Chho Dzong)

FLAG: The flag is divided diagonally into an orange-yellow field above and a crimson field below. In the center is a wingless white Chinese dragon.

ANTHEM: Gyelpo Tenjur, beginning "In the Thunder Dragon Kingdom, adorned with sandalwood."

MONETARY UNIT: The ngultrum (n) is a paper currency of 100 chetrum. There are coins of 5, 10, 25, and 50 chetrum and 1 ngultrum, and notes of 1, 5, 10, and 100 ngultrum. The ngultrum is at par with the Indian rupee (r), which also circulates freely. n1 = $0.02207 (or $1 = n45.317) as of 2004.

WEIGHTS AND MEASURES: The metric system is the legal standard, but some traditional units are still in common use.

HOLIDAYS: King's Birthday, 1113 November; National Day, 17 December. Movable Buddhist holidays and festivals are observed.

TIME: 5:30 pm = noon GMT.


Bhutan, a landlocked country in the Himalayan mountain range, has an area of 47,000 sq km (18,147 sq mi), extending 306 km (190 mi) ew and 145 km (90 mi) ns. Comparatively, the area occupied by Bhutan is slightly more than half the size of the state of Indiana. It is bordered on the e, s, and w by India and on the n and nw by China, with a total boundary length of 1,075 km (668 mi). The capital city of Bhutan, Thimphu, is located in the west central part of the country.


Bhutan is a mountainous country of extremely high altitudes and irregular, often precipitous terrain, which may vary in elevation by several thousand feet within a short distance. Elevation generally increases from south to north. The mountains are a series of parallel northsouth ranges. The loftiest peaks, found in the Himalayan chain that stretches along the northern border, include Kula Kangri (7,554 m/24,783 ft) and Chomo Lhari (7,314 m/23,997 ft). Great spurs extend south from the main chain along the eastern and western borders. In the rest of the country are mainly ranges of steep hills separated by narrow valleys. Bhutan is drained by many rivers flowing south between these ranges and for the most part ultimately emptying into the Brahmaputra River in India.


Because of the irregular terrain, the climate varies greatly from place to place. In the outer foothills adjoining the Indian plains, rainfall ranges from about 150300 cm (60120 in) a year; the forests are hot and steaming in the rainy season, while the higher hills are cold, wet, and misty. Violent Himalayan thunderstorms gave rise to Bhutan's Dzongkha name, DrukYul, which translates as "Land of the Thunder Dragon." Rainfall is moderate in the central belt of flat valleys (which have an elevation of 1,1003,000 m/3,50010,000 ft). The uplands and high valleys (above 3,700 m/12,000 ft) are relatively dry. There is less rainfall in eastern Bhutan. In general, the mountainous areas are cold most of the year. Temperatures there average 4°c (39°f) in January and 17°c (63°f) in July.


Dense jungle growth is characteristic at altitudes below 1,500 m (5,000 ft). Above that height the mountain slopes are covered with forest, including beech, ash, birch, maple, cypress, and yew. At 2,4002,700 m (8,0009,000 ft) are forests of oak and rhododendron. Above this level, firs and pines grow to the timber line. Primulas, poppies (including the rare blue variety), magnolias, and orchids abound.

The relative abundance of wild animals is attributed to the Buddhist reluctance to take life. In the lower parts of southern Bhutan, mammals include the cheetah, goral, sambar, bear, and rhinoceros; in the higher regions are snow deer, musk deer, and barking deer. Game birds include pheasants, partridges, pigeons, and quail.


The most significant environmental problems in Bhutan were soil erosion and water pollution. The erosion of the soil occurs because 50% of the land in Bhutan is situated on mountainous slopes which are subject to landslides during the monsoon season. Other contributing factors are overcutting of timber, road construction, and the building of irrigation channels. The nation has about 95 cu km of renewable water resources, but only 86% of all city dwellers and 60% of people in rural areas have pure drinking water.

The Manas Game Sanctuary is located along the banks of the Manas River in southeastern Bhutan. According to a 2006 report issued by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), threatened species included 21 types of mammals, 18 species of birds, 1 species of amphibian, and 7 species of plants. Threatened species included the tiger, snow leopard, Asian elephant, and wild yak.


The population of Bhutan in 2005 was estimated by the United Nations (UN) at 970,000, which placed it at number 151 in population among the 193 nations of the world. In 2005, approximately 4% of the population was over 65 years of age, with another 40% of the population under 15 years of age. There were 103 males for every 100 females in the country. According to the UN, the annual population rate of change for 200510 was expected to be 2.5%, a rate the government viewed as too high. The government lauched a campaign with the slogan "Small Family, Happy Family" to encourage broader use of contraception and lower the fertility rate, especially among adolescents. The projected population for the year 2025 was 1,432,000. The population density was 20 per sq km (53 per sq mi).

The UN estimated that 21% of the population lived in urban areas in 2005, and that urban areas were growing at an annual rate of 5.83%. The capital city, Thimphu (Tashi Chho Dzong), had a population of 35,000 in that year, and Phuntsholing had an estimated population of more than 18,000.

Some 93% of the population was rural in 2001. The laboring population is not gathered into towns but lives in the country-side in the vicinity of fortresses called dzongs. A dzong, the official center of a region or district, often houses substantial numbers of Buddhist monks. Many place names incorporate the word dzong, which means "castle-monastery."


Bhutan opposes immigration and forbids the entry of new settlers from Nepal. Since 1959, when about 4,000 Tibetan refugees entered Bhutan, the border with Tibet has been closed to immigration. By 1980, most of the refugees had become citizens of Bhutan; the rest migrated to India. The border between Bhutan and India is open, and citizens of Bhutan are free to live and work in India. The net migration rate for 2005 was estimated as zero. The total number of migrants residing in Bhutan in 2000 was 10,000.


The Bhutanese are mainly of Tibetan stock, and are also known as Buotias; they account for approximately 50% of the population. The Ngalop (also called Bhote) are people of Tibetan origin who live in northern and western Bhutan; the Sharchop inhabit the eastern regions and also have ethnic affinities with the people of China's Tibetan region. Aboriginal or indigenous tribal peoples live in villages scattered throughout Bhutan and account for approximately 15% of the population. The Ngalops, Sharchops, and the indigenous tribal people are collectively known as Druk-pas. The remaining peoples are Nepalese settlers (about 35% of the population), living mostly in the south. These include a group known as the Lhotsampas. Some 85,000 were expelled to Nepal in 199293, and about 5,00015,000 more moved to India.


Four main languages are spoken in Bhutan. The official language is Dzongkha, a Tibetan dialect spoken mainly by Ngalop in the northern and western parts of the country. Bumthangkha, an aboriginal language, is spoken in central Bhutan, while Sharchopkha is spoken in eastern Bhutan. Both of these are used in primary schools in areas where their speakers predominate. The Nepalese largely retain their own language, Nepali.


About 75% of the Bhutanese practice Buddhism and about 25% practice Indian- and Nepalese-influenced Hinduism. While the law provides for religious freedom, Drukpa Kagyup, a branch of Mahayana Buddhism, is the state religion, and the law prohibits religious conversions. The Drukpa (people of the dragon), introduced from Tibet in the 12th century, dominates the collective life of the Bhutanese through a large clerical body estimated at more than 6,000 lamas or monks, centered in 8 major monasteries (dzongs ) and 200 smaller shrines (gompas ) scattered throughout the land. This sect incorporates both the ideology of the classical Buddhist scriptures and the indigenous pre-Buddhist animistic beliefs called Bon. The Ningmapa school of Mahayana Buddhism is also practiced, primarily in the eastern regions. The royal family practices a combination of Drukpa Kagyup and Ningmapa Buddhism. Most Ngalops are of the Drukpa Kagyup school; they hold a majority of positions in the government. The Sharchops are primarily of the Ningmapa school.

Among Hindus, the Shaivite, Vaishnavite, Shakta, Ghanapath, Paurinic, and Vedic schools are all represented. There are still a few Bon priests and followers in the country and there are small numbers of Christians, with worship practices generally limited to the family home.

The law provides for freedom of religion, but this right is some-what limited in practice. Proselytizing is prohibited and all religious organizations must have a license from the government in order to build a new place of worship. There have been reports of government discrimination against the Hindu Nepalese.


Traditionally, Bhutan's communications have been mostly with Tibet, through several strategic mountain passes. Most travelers continue to journey on foot or mounted on hardy ponies bred to withstand great altitudes and steep slopes. Goods are transported by porters or on pack animals. Many of the rivers are still crossed by native cantilever bridges of excellent construction.

Prior to the 196166 development plan, there were no surfaced roads in Bhutan. Since then, a network of roads and suspension bridges has been built by India. In 2002, there were about 3,285 km (2041 mi) of roads, including about 1,994 km (1,239 mi) of surfaced roads. Of the 186 suspension bridges projected in the 198187 economic plan, 102 were completed by 1985. There is bus service linking Paro Dzong and Tashi Gang Dzong with Indian border towns. In 2004 there were two airports, only one of which (as of 2005), had a paved runway. The national air carrier, Druk Airlines, began operations in 1983 with regular flights between Calcutta and Paro Dzong, the site of Bhutan's main airfield. In 2001, 35,100 passengers were carried on scheduled domestic and international flights.


Little is known of the history of Bhutan before the 17th century. Buddhism was originally introduced from India in the 8th century, although the Buddhism of today's Bhutan is very much Tibetan in character. The forebears of the Bhotes (or Bhotias) came from Tibet, probably in the 9th century, when Tibetans invaded the area and met little resistance from the indigenous Tephu tribe. In the middle of the fifteenth century, Shabdung Ngawang Nangyal, a Tibetan lama exercising temporal as well as spiritual power, united the country and built most of the fortified villages (dzongs ). His successors in power established a dual system, separating the temporal ruler (Desi or deb raja) and the spiritual ruler (Je Khempo or dharma raja).

The first recorded contact with the West occurred in 1772, when the British East India Company repelled a Bhutanese invasion of the princely state of Cooch Behar in India; they concluded a peace treaty two years later. During the 18th century and most of the 19th, British efforts to open trade with Bhutan proved futile, with the Bhutanese frequently attacking the relatively level areas of Assam and Bengal along their southern border. In 1865, the British finally defeated the Bhutanese, and Bhutan formally accepted a British subsidy of r50,000 a year, which was dependent upon their keeping the peace.

With British approval, Ugyen Dorji Wangchuk became the first hereditary king in 1907, replacing the temporal ruler. In 1910, the Punakha Treaty was concluded between the British Indian Government and Bhutan, under which British India agreed explicitly not to interfere in Bhutanese internal affairs, while Bhutan accepted British "guidance" in handling external mattersa role independent India assumed after 1947. A formal IndoBhutanese accord concluded in 1949 reaffirmed and amplified the earlier Punakha Treaty. Besides increasing Bhutan's annual subsidy to r500,000 and returning to Bhutan 83 sq km (32 sq mi) of territory around Dewangiri (wrested by the British in 1865), it made India responsible for Bhutan's defense and strategic communications, committing India to avoid interfering in Bhutan's affairs and affirming Bhutan's agreement to be "guided by the advice of" India in foreign affairs.

In 1959, China published maps of the Himalayan frontier with South Asia that showed as Chinese part of the territory claimed by Bhutan; Chinese representatives also asserted that Bhutan belonged to a greater Tibet. In response, Indian prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru warned that an attack on Bhutan would be deemed an act of war against India. Fighting between India and China in neighboring border regions in the fall of 1962 did not violate Bhutan's borders, although survivors from Indian army units decimated east of Bhutan straggled back to India through Bhutan.

In April 1964, the long-time prime minister, Jigme Dorji, was assassinated, revealing fissures among the ruling elite. The plotters who were caught were executed, including the deputy commander of the army; others fled to Nepal. In the 1960s, Bhutan's advance toward modernization and the end of its insularity were accelerated by economic plans prepared and underwritten by India.

Relations with Nepal have grown difficult since the late 1980s, due to a dispute with Nepal concerning Bhutanese refugees of Nepalese descent. The mostly Hindu "Nepali Bhutanese," comprising approximately a third of Bhutan's population, were granted citizenship in 1958. However, Bhutan changed its citizenship laws in the late 1980s, making the Nepali Bhutanese illegal immigrants. In 1990, the Bhutanese government expelled 100,000 Nepali Bhutanese, who fled to refugee camps in eastern Nepal. In 1993, Bhutan and Nepal established a Joint Ministerial Level Committee (JMLC) to address the issue of ethnic Nepalese refugees.

Nepalese activism, spearheaded by the Bhutan People's Party based in Nepal, continued through the early 1990s. It resulted in violence from both sides, and brought charges of violations of human rights against Bhutan's security forces. In 1996, "peace marches" of refugees from Nepal into Bhutan were met by force, and the marchers were deported by the Bhutanese police. The following year, the National Assembly adopted a resolution (later discarded) that prohibited family members of ethnic Nepalese refugees from holding jobs in the government or armed forces. The government also began resettling Buddhist Bhutanese from other regions of the country on land vacated by the refugees. In 1998, Foreign Minister Jigme Thinley took office with a mandate to settle the refugee issue. Although Bhutan and Nepal originally agreed in principal that the refugees be divided into four categories (1) bonafide Bhutanese; (2) Bhutanese émigrés; (3) nonBhutanese; and (4) Bhutanese who have committed crimes in Bhutan, the question of what to do with the more than 100,000 refugees living in the camps in Nepal remained unresolved.

At the 10th JMLC round of talks held in December 2000, negotiators created a Joint Verification Team (JVT) to interview and verify the status of the Bhutanese refugees, but by the 11th round of JMLC talks held in August 2001, the verification process was moving at a rate of only 10 families per day. In addition to the JMLC talks, Foreign Secretary Level talks (FSLT) were held in November 2001, at which differences between the Nepali and Bhutanese positions on the issue of categorization of the refugees were clarified: Nepal proposed to reduce the four categories to two (Bhutanese and non-Bhutanese), a plan that was rejected by Bhutan.

In October 2003, the Nepalese and Bhutanese governments agreed to repatriate approximately 70% of the refugees from the first of the seven camps to undergo the verification procedure. However, following an incident where refugees at one of the camps injured three Bhutanese inspectors, progress came to a halt in December 2004.

There have also been tensions between Bhutan and India's northeastern state of Assam. Two separatist groups from Assamthe United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) and the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB)maintain well-entrenched bases in Bhutan. The separatist Kamatapur Liberation Organization (KLO) from West Bengal state is there as well. Bhutan refrained from taking direct action against the Indian separatists for fear of retaliatory attacks on its nationals, but in late December 2002, the Bhutanese government announced it would use military might to remove the separatists from bases within its borders. The Assam government has blamed Bhutan for the rise in militancy in the region, and welcomed the government's decision to launch a military response.

Reforms introduced by King Jigme Singye Wangchuck in June 1998 mark a milestone in Bhutan's political and constitutional history. Continuing his efforts toward modernization, the king issued a royal edict relinquishing some of the monarch's traditional prerogatives and giving a greater role in Bhutan's administration to elected government officials.

On 3 December 2002, the king of Bhutan issued a first draft of a constitution for Bhutan including the option of impeachment of the king by a two-thirds majority of the National Assembly. The draft was scheduled to be discussed in the country's 20 districts before presented for ratification; the final document was released in March 2005. A referendum, which had not been scheduled as of 2006, would allow the citizens final approval.

Bhutan in June 1999 took major steps toward modernization, legalizing television and the Internet. The first Internet cafe opened in Thimphu in 2000 and the country's first university opened in 2003. A January 2005 agreement with India provided Bhutan the opportunity to link to Indian railways to Southern Bhutan. There is no internal rail system in Bhutan and foreigners are not permitted to travel to many of its areas in an attempt to minimize the effects of tourism on the local culture.


Bhutan is an absolute monarchy, ruled by a hereditary king, the "Druk Gyalpo," who governs with the aid of a Royal Cabinet and a National Assembly (the Tshogdu). As of 2006, the king was Jigme Singye Wangchuck, who has ruled since 1972. In the past, the king appointed members to a Royal Advisory Council and to a Council of Ministers. Following the political reforms of 1998, however, these two councils were combined to form the cabinet. Th is body consists of six ministers elected by the National Assembly, six advisors also elected by the National Assembly, a member nominated by the king, and two representatives of the clergy.

The unicameral National Assembly (established in 1953), known as the Tshogdu, consists of 154 members. Of these, 37 are appointed by the king to represent government and other secular interests; 105 are elected to threeyear terms by groups of village headmen, who are, in turn, elected by a onefamily, one-vote system; and the remaining 12 are chosen by the lamas acting in concert. The Tshogdu meets twice a year at Thimphu, the capital (previously known as Punakha). Candidates file their own nominations. The assembly is charged with addressing the king on matters of national importance. It also enacts laws and approves senior government appointments. A simple majority is needed to pass a measure and is conducted by secret ballot. While the king may not veto legislation, he may return bills for further consideration; the king generally has enough influence to persuade the assembly to approve legislation he considers important or to withdraw proposals which he opposes. Since 1969, it has become a more active, independent influence on government policy through its power to overrule bills proposed by the king or his advisors.

During the 1960s, King Jigme Dorji Wangchuk (r.195272) was a prime mover behind political and administrative changes that took the country in the direction of constitutional monarchy. When Crown Prince Jigme Singye Wangchuk assumed the throne upon his father's death in July 1972 and was crowned in June 1974, he continued his father's policy of sharing authority with the Council of Ministers and the National Assembly. In 1998, the king announced ambitious political changes that moved Bhutan further down the road towards a true constitutional monarchy. He relinquished his role as Head of Government and assigned full executive powers to a cabinet consisting of ministers and advisors to be elected by the National Assembly (in reality, the National Assembly chooses from a list of nominees proposed by the king, who also retains authority relating to security issues). The Council of Ministers, a subgroup of the cabinet, elects one of its members on a rotational basis to serve a oneyear term as chairman. It is this official who is the Head of Government. As part of his reforms, King Jigme Singye Wangchuk also introduced legislation by which any monarch would have to abdicate in favor of his hereditary successor if the National Assembly supported a vote of no-confidence against him by a two-thirds majority. And in December 2002, the king issued a draft for a first constitution for Bhutan; it was debated in the country's 20 districts before being officially presented in March 2005. As of 2006, no ratification referendum had been scheduled.


The government discourages political parties and none operate legally. Freedom of speech, the press, assembly, association and workers' rights are restricted by the government, and judicial processes are based on tradition rather than written criminal or civil procedure codes.

An opposition group known as the Bhutan State Congress (BSC) composed mainly of ethnic Nepalese has long maintained its headquarters in nearby India; other such groups, all very small and headquartered in either India or in Nepal, include the People's Forum for Democratic Rights and the Students' Union of Bhutan. A militant opposition group, operating under the banner of the Bhutan People's Party (BPP) and affiliated with the Bhutan National Democratic Party (BNDP) in Nepal, was founded in 1990 in Siliguri, India. It claims to represent the interests of the thousands of ethnic Nepalese who have migrated (or been forced to flee) from farming areas of southern Bhutan. Allegedly supported by the Communist Parties of India (CPI) and Nepal (CPN), the BPP was responsible for demonstrations in September 1990 in Bhutan; it has charged the Bhutan government with human rights violations and "ethnic cleansing" in the area.

BPP tactics in 1991 and 1992 included hit-and-run terrorist raids into Bhutan, burning schools, census and land records, and health facilities and attacking ethnic Bhutanese (as well as loyal Nepalese) in national dress; BPP activists also organized camps for the tens of thousands of refugees in southern Nepal. In 1992, Bhutan government policy toward the terrorist attacks stiffened, with arrests and long prison sentences meted out to captured BPP activists. The conflict continued throughout the 1990s. On 9 September 2001, BPP leader R. K. Budhathoki was assassinated, weakening the BPP. The BPP in October 2002 requested that Bhutanese authorities dispense justice in the case.


The country is divided into four regionsEast, Central, West, and Southeach administered by a governor appointed by the king. As of 2002 there were 20 districts (dzongkhas ) under the supervision of district commissioners (dzongdas ), who are appointed by the Royal Civil Service Commission and are responsible for law and order. Districts are further subdivided into blocks (gewog ), of which there are 202 in the country. As part of the king's efforts to encourage decentralization in decision-making, in 1991 the government began a program to establish Block Development Committees. This project allowed people to plan and implement development projects within their respective blocks (in the 1980s, a development plan was organized for the districts). The success of the district and block development programs encouraged citizens to form other types of associations, such as school management boards, village health development committees, and associations for different agricultural products, such as apples and potatoes, for example.


The legal system is based on English common law and Indian law. Local headmen and magistrates (thrimpon ) hear cases in the first instance. Appeals may be made to a six-member High Court (also known as the Royal Court of Justice), established in 1968. From the High Court, a final appeal may be made to the king. Judges are appointed for life by the king. Criminal matters and most civil matters are resolved by application of the 17th century legal code as revised in 1957. Precedence is not used in the delivery of justice. Questions of family law are governed by traditional Buddhist or Hindu law. Minor offenses are adjudicated by village headmen. Criminal defendants have no right to court appointment of an attorney and no right to a jury trial. Under the 1979 Police Act, police need a warrant to arrest a person and must bring the detainees before a court within 24 hours of arrest. Bhutan does not accept the compulsory jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice.

In keeping with the policies of modernization being pursued in Bhutan, the government formed a special committee in 1998 to review the country's laws and propose changes in the legal system. One of these changes saw the creation, in April 2000, of a Department of Legal Affairs to investigate and prosecute criminal and civil cases against civil servants. This department was predicted to be the likely forerunner of a fully fledged Attorney General's office or a Department of Justice. In 2001, a Civil and Criminal Procedure Code was enacted by the National Assembly, as a way of strengthening and reforming the legal system.

In addition, in 2003, the king approved the establishment of a five-member National Judicial Commission to oversee the appointment of judges and other judicial staff. The government prohibits collective bargaining, unions, and strikes. Capital punishment was abolished in 2004 and a new penal code was established in August of that same year.

Bhutan is a member of many international organizations including the United Nations.


The armed forces consist of the Royal Bhutan Army, the National Militia, the Royal Bhutan Police, body guards, and a paramilitary force. The army is trained and equipped by India. In 2001 military expenditures were $9.3 million, or 1.9% GDP.


Bhutan became a UN member on 21 September 1971; it participates in several specialized agencies of the UN, such as the FAO, ICAO, IDA, IFAD, IMF, ITU, UNESCO, the World Bank, UNIDO, and WHO. Bhutan is an observer in the WTO. The country also belongs to the Colombo Plan, the Asian Development Bank, the SACEP, and G-77. In addition, Bhutan is a member of the Nonaligned Movement and was a founding member of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC). Bhutan is part of the South Asian Free Trade Agreement (SAFTA). In February 2004, Bhutan joined the Bangladesh, Indian, Myanmar, Singapore, and Thailand Economic Cooperation Forum (BIMSTEC). In environmental cooperation, Bhutan is part of the Convention on Biological Diversity, the Kyoto Protocol, the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, and the UN Convention on Climate Change.


Bhutan, a tiny Himalayan kingdom with a geographic size that is about half that of the state of Indiana, has one of the smallest and poorest economies in the world. Nevertheless, international lending authorities such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) were optimistic about the country's growth potential for the first decade of the 21st century. The IMF projected that GDP would grow as much as 20% in 2006/07 and that growth rates for the rest of the decade would remain at a healthy 910%.

About 90% of its labor force subsists by farming or forestry. Much of the country consists of rugged, mountainous terrain, which has made development of roads, utilities and other infrastructure difficult. Bhutan depends heavily on neighboring India for migrant labor, foreign aid, and trade.

Until the early 21st century, Bhutan was largely sealed off from the rest of the world. The kingdom banned television and kept foreign travel to a minimum. This situation changed after 1998, when King Jigme Singye Wangchuck, who has ruled Bhutan since 1972, began taking steps to devolve power and shift the country's governance toward one of constitutional monarchy. A new constitution was unveiled in March 2005. Although it had not been approved by referendum as of 2006, it calls for universal suffrage, a two-party electoral system, and a mandatory retirement age of 65 for the king. Many observers praise the steps as measures that will pave the way for more contact with outsiders and economic development.

As of the early 2000s, Bhutan was becoming less isolated. Foreign travelers, who are environmentally conscientious and capable of spending as much as $200 a day, can visit the country. Cable television and the Internet are permitted, and the country shows potential in hydropower and further tourism development. However, Bhutan contains to keep a tight grip on development. Any economic program is only allowed to proceed if it is in keeping with the country's environmental and social traditions.

Agriculture and forestry together make up 45% of the country's GDP. Although the government has relaxed the emphasis on maintaining food self-sufficiency that characterized its most isolationist decade, 1988 to 1998, the country supplies most of its food needs through the production of grains, fruits, some meat, and yak butter. Services, with tourist-related business comprising a major share, account for a further 35% of GDP. By the mid-1970s, tourism had surpassed the sale of postage stamps as the chief source of Bhutan's limited foreign exchange revenue. In turn, since the completion the first mega hydroelectric project in 1988, power exports have become the leading source of a more comfortable hard currency position. Industrial production makes up about 10% of the country's GDP.

A series of five-year plans, initiated in 1961 and financed primarily by India, have begun to improve transportation, modernize agriculture, and develop hydroelectric power. Realization of several hydroelectric and industrial projects during the 1980s helped increase industry's share of the GDP, and helped overall GDP grow 7.3% annually during 198590. A slowdown in government project investment in the early 1990s caused GDP growth to stabilize at an average of 3%, although an upturn in economic activity brought the rate back up to 6% by 1995 and to 7.3% by 1998. In 1999, real GDP growth dropped to 5.5%, but recovered to around the long-term average of 6% in 2000 and 2001. GDP was at 5.3% in 2003, according to the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), but the rate was projected to climb to more than 7% in 2004 and 2005 by the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Bhutan's extensive forests, mineral resources, and swif-trunning rivers offer great potential for future development, although preservation of the country's environment continued to rank high among the government's priorities. Concern over the environment has also led the government to impose a strict set of regulations on tourists, although they are no longer subject to strict quotas that in the past held tourists to 2,500 to 4,000 a year, and banned individual tourism altogether. In 2002, tourism had climbed to about 7,000 visitors a year.


The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) reports that in 2005 Bhutan's gross domestic product (GDP) was estimated at $2.9 billion. The CIA defines GDP as the value of all final goods and services produced within a nation in a given year and computed on the basis of purchasing power parity (PPP) rather than value as measured on the basis of the rate of exchange based on current dollars. The per capita GDP was estimated at $1,400. The annual growth rate of GDP was estimated at 5.3%. The average inflation rate in 2002 was 3%. It was estimated that agriculture accounted for 45% of GDP, industry 10%, and services 45%.


About 93% of the economically active population consisted of agricultural workers in 2002, with 5% employed in services and the remaining 2% in industry and commerce. There is a severe shortage of skilled labor. The salaried labor market is predominantly in government service. Most of the industrial sector consists of home-based handicrafts and privately owned small or medium-scale factories producing consumer goods.

As of 2002, Bhutan had a government-set minimum wage of approximately $2.50 per day, which provided a decent standard of living for a family. The workday was set at eight hours per day, with one hour for lunch. In addition regular leisure days are required and overtime work is paid at a time-and-a-half rate. Although there is no minimum age for employment, the age of 18 was established "in all matters of the state." However, minors under the age of 18 frequently work in agriculture, perform chores on family farms and in shops during holidays and after school. While unions are not illegal, collective bargaining or the right to strike are not authorized by the law. Labor regulations do not provide a worker with the right to remove themselves from hazardous conditions without jeopardizing their employment. The government provides free medical care to workers and compensation in the event of partial or total disability, or in the case of death.


Only about 3.5% of the land area, comprising 165,000 hectares (408,000 acres), was used for seasonal and permanent crop production in 2002. In 2003, agriculture contributed about 33% to GDP, and engaged 94% of the economically active population. Nonetheless, Bhutan's near self-sufficiency in food permitted quantities of some crops to be exported to India, in exchange for cereals. Since there is little level space available for cultivation, fields are generally terraced. Stone aqueducts carry irrigation water. The low-lying areas raise a surplus of rice; in 2004, output of paddy rice was estimated at 45,000 tons. Other crops include wheat, maize, millet, buckwheat, barley, potatoes, sugarcane, cardamom, walnuts, and oranges. Part of the crop yield is used in making beer and chong, a potent liquor distilled from rice, barley, and millet. Paper is made from the daphne plant, which grows wildly. Walnuts, citrus fruits, apples, and apricots are grown in government orchards.

Agricultural holdings are restricted to 12 hectares (30 acres) per family; almost all farm families own their own land. Since the mid-1960s, the government has established demonstration farms, distributed fruit plants, and implemented irrigation schemes. High-yielding varieties of rice, wheat, and corn seeds have been introduced.


Yaks, cattle, and some sheep graze in the lowland forests and, during the summer, in the uplands and high valleys. In 2004 there were an estimated 372,000 head of cattle, 41,000 hogs, 20,000 sheep, and 30,000 goats. Draft animals that year included 28,000 horses, 18,200 donkeys, and 9,900 mules. Meat production in 2004 was estimated at 6,900 tons, 74% of it beef. Wool has been in short supply since its importation from Tibet was stopped by the government in 1960; sheep breeding is therefore encouraged. In 2004, 1,080 tons of cattle hides were produced.


The government has established a hatchery and started a program of stocking Bhutan's rivers and lakes with brown trout. Freshwater fish are found in most waterways. The total catch was 300 tons in 2003.


About 64% of Bhutan's land area was covered with forests in 2002. Although lack of transportation facilities has hampered forest development, timber has become a major export. Roundwood production in 2003 totaled 4.5 million cu m (160 million cu ft), about 99% of which was used for fuel.


The mineral industry of Bhutan was small and dominated by the production of cement, coal, dolomite, and limestone, and was insignificant to its economy. Estimated production totals, in metric tons, for 2004 were: limestone, 288,000; dolomite, 275,000; cement, 170,000; gypsum, 56,000; quartzite, 55,000; ferrosilicon, 20,000; and talc, 3,900. Marble and slate were quarried for use as a dimensional stone; production totals in 2004 were estimated at 4,000 and 9,000 sq m, respectively. Dolomite has constituted an important export to India since 1960, and almost all the ferrosilicon output is exported to India. For centuries, silver and iron have been mined in Bhutan for handicrafts. Deposits of beryl, copper, graphite, lead, mica, pyrite, tin, tungsten, and zinc have also been found. A graphite-processing plant was established at Paro Dzong.


Electric power was introduced in Bhutan in 1962. By the mid-1980s, six hydroelectric and six diesel power stations were in operation. The 336-MW Chukha hydroelectric project, in south-western Bhutan, was completed in early 1987 and is connected to the Indian power grid; the project was funded by India, which is to receive all the electrical output not used by Bhutan. As of 2002 the major hydroelectric project under construction was the 1,020 MW Tala plant, slated for completion in 2004/05. In 2002, Bhutan's electric power generating capacity totaled 0.442 million kW, of which 0.430 million kW was hydroelectric and 0.012 million kW thermal. In that same year, Bhutan produced a total of 1.880 billion kWh of electricity from hydroelectric sources and only 0.001 billion kWh from thermal sources. In 2002, electric power consumption totaled 0.277 billion kWh. Bhutan suffers frequent power outages and shortages.


The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) describes Bhutan's industrial sector as "technologically backward." However, great strides have been made in the country's hydroelectricity sector in the early 21st century. Most industrial production is craft-based, with homespun textileswoven and embroidered cottons, wools, and silksbeing the most important products. Other Bhutanese handicrafts include daphne paper; swords; wooden bowls; leather objects; copper, iron, brass, bronze, and silver work; wood carvings; and splitcane basketry.

Larger development projects such as road building and hydro-electricity projects rely on financing from Indian investors, as well as Indian migrant laborers. The building of new power projects, however, also has led to growth in the transport and construction sectors, including a number of local cement operations. The country's first cement plant was completed in 1982 in Penden, a border town, by India, to which the bulk of its output is exported. Bhutan's first mega power plant, the 336-MW Chukha hydroelectricity project (CHEP), came on line in early 1987, having been first agreed to as a turnkey operation with India in 1961, on what has become a standard arrangement of 60% grant and 40% concessional loan. 70% of the power generated by the CHEP is exported to India, and by 1996 export receipts were sufficient to produce a trade surplus with India. It is estimated that only about 3% of Bhutan's hydroelectric potential has yet tapped, and even less of its industrializing potential.

The decade following the opening of the Chukha facility (198898) saw government resistance to industrialization. However, in 1988, in conjunction with the country's sixth economic plan (19871992), the Bhutan Development Finance Corporation was established to promote small-and medium-scale businesses. A second cement plant was established in Nanglam by the late 1980s, and another, in 1995, in the same town, by an Indian investor, along with several manufacturing plants producing carbide, particle board and other products destined for the Indian market.

A major project funded by India known as the 1020 MW Tala Hydroelectric Project was begun in 1998. It was expected to become fully operational in 2006, and with it, growth rates in GDP of 20% were anticipated. Plans for the even more ambitious Sunkosh Multipurpose Project (SMP), with installed capacity envisioned at 4,060 MW, were developed by the India's Central Water Commission in 1997. It is expected to take 10 years to complete. Two other projects that have been submitted to government of India for consideration are a 360 MW plant at Mangdue Chu and a 870 MW plant at Puna Tsangchhu.

There are a large number of small, privately owned sawmills throughout Bhutan since most of its domestic energy actually comes from firewood, not electricity. A sawmill with a furniture-making unit has been established in Thimphu. Industrial estates have been set up at Phuntsholing and Geylegphug, and the ninth five-year plan (200206) called for five to be located around the country.

Besides cement, there is a narrow range of other manufactures exportedferro-alloys, calcium carbide, processed foods, and particleboardwhich tend to rely on energy-and capital-intensive methods and expatriate labor. Bhutan Ferro Alloys Ltd., which makes ferrosilicon and exports to India and Japan, began operations at a new plant at Pasakha in April 1995. Calcium carbide is produced at several private dolomite-mining operations, as well a private and joint public-private limestone mining operations. It is likely that with the emphases in the ninth five-year plan on commercial and private sector development as means of achieving economic self-sufficiency and generating employment, manufacturing will continue to grow.


Royal Bhutan Polytechnic College, founded in 1974 in Deothang, offers courses in civil, mechanical and electrical engineering. The Royal Technical Institute in Phuntsholing offers courses in electronics, mechanics, and motor mechanics. Sherubtse Degree College, founded in 1983 in Tashigang, offers science courses.


About 90% of the population is employed in agriculture. Home-made handicrafts, cement, and food processing are the primary industries. Retail sales are carried out mainly in small, local bazaars. Bartering is common at the local level, with grains, butter, and cloth being the principal commodities of exchange, although Indian and Bhutanese currencies are increasingly being employed.

Indian traders sell imported articles and buy a number of handicraft items for export to India. The ninth five-year plan (200206) for the first time envisions plans for each of Bhutan's 201 localities or geogs. Through this approach, the government hoped to enhance rural connectivity and economic activity while putting a check on rural to urban movement.


Bhutan's external sector has been almost exclusively oriented toward trade with India. With the completion in 2002 of the second hydroelectric power project financed by Indiabuilt largely with Indian migrant labor and designed to deliver the majority of its power outputs to IndiaIndia's dominance in terms of exports was about 85.6% in 2004. Import sources, however, have become increasingly diversified. In 2000, for instance, the main export destinations were India (94%) and Bangladesh, and the main import sources were India (77%), Japan, United Kingdom, Germany, and the United States. By 2004, the statistics on exports destinations revealed shifts, to India (85.6%), Bangladesh (6.7%), and Japan (4.3%). Imports that year came from Germany (41.8%), India (35.5%), Japan (9.2%), and Austria (4.3%).

Bhutan's merchandise trade balance has been persistently negative, although for three years, 1996, 1997, and 1998, the country registered a surplus in its trade with India due to the combination of power exports and the lack, until 1998, of major construction projects. With the start of construction on the Tala Hydroelectric

Country Exports Imports Balance
World 116.0 182.1 -66.1
India 109.5 136.0 -26.5
Bangladesh 4.9 0.7 4.2
Nepal 0.6 0.6
United States 0.6 0.5 0.1
Japan 0.1 6.1 -6.0
Netherlands 0.1 0.2 -0.1
Other Asia nes 0.1 0.7 -0.6
() data not available or not significant.

Project (THEP) in 1998, scheduled to be online with a 1020 MW capacity in 2006, Bhutan has incurred large and increasing trade deficits. As a percent of GDP, Bhutan's trade deficit increased from a low of 4.3% in 1996 to 40% by mid-2000 and 90% in 2004. The 2004 trade deficit was estimated at $188 million for 2004/05 by the IMF, with $123 million project for 2005/06.

Bhutan's principal exports include electric power (to India), cement, cardamom, timber, gypsum, dolomite, coal, handicrafts, fruit, vegetables, precious stones, spices, ferrosilicon, calcium carbide, particle board, some preserved food, alcoholic beverages, yak tails for fly whisks, and yak hair. The country's principal imports are fuel and lubricants, grain, machinery and parts, vehicles, fabrics, and rice.

The government has been trying to increase Bhutan's presence on the international trade scene in recent years. To this end, Bhutan joined the IFC in December 2003, the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) in February 2004 and held its first WTO working party meeting in November 2004. The IMF also noted that the financial sector was being upgraded through a series of measures in mid-2005.


The IMF reported in 2005 that while steady inflows of aid helped Bhutan maintain a surplus in balance of payments. Although a trade deficit persists, the IMF calls the country's fiscal position "sustainable."

Foreign reserves grew in 2004 and 2005, and covered more than 18 months of import costs as of mid-2005.

The IMF reported that in 2003/04, Bhutan's exports totaled $158 million, while imports totaled $245 million, resulting in a trade deficit of $73 million. Imports were projected to outpace exports in 2004/05 and 2005/06, as Bhutan brought in equipment and additional supplies in efforts to bring the Tala power plant on line by 2006.


Bhutan's central bank is the Royal Monetary Authority, established in 1982 to manage currency and foreign exchange. There are in addition four other major financial institutions. The Bank of Bhutan was founded in 1968 as a joint venture with India. A second commercial bank, the Bhutan National Bank (BNB), was established in 1997 as a public corporation, though the government retains 51%. The BNB's operations are computerized and it is connected with major foreign banks, unlike the Bank of Bhutan, which still uses handwritten ledgers. The Bhutan Development Finance Corporation (BDFC) was set up in 1988 to finance small and medium enterprises. The small Royal Bhutan Stock Exchange (RBSE) currently trades about 13 companies.

In 2001 there was a reduction of interest rates in all lending categories and on large deposits. There are no ATMs, and banking hours are mostly restricted to 9 am to 1 pm Monday to Friday, and 9 am to 11 am on Saturday, but there are some "evening banks" in Thimphu and Phuentsholing with hours between 1 to 5 pm Wednesday and Sunday, 1 to 3 pm on Monday, and closed on Tuesday. Gross foreign currency reserves reached $300 million in 2001. The International Monetary Fund reports that in 2001, currency and demand depositsan aggregate commonly known as M1were equal to $107.2 million. In that same year, M2an aggregate equal to M1 plus savings deposits, small time deposits, and money market mutual fundswas $227.1 million.


The Royal Insurance Corporation of Bhutan (RICB), founded by royal charter in January 1975, is the only insurance company in the kingdom and covers all classes of insurance. The government owns 39.25% while private and public shareholders own 60.25%. The RICB's 2000 shareholder are comprised primarily of civil servants and members of the business community. The Royal Insurance Corporation of Bhutan has reinsurance arrangements with ten companies in India, Japan, Thailand, Hong Kong, Nepal, Bangladesh, and Germany.

The use of insurance, however, is limited. In 2001, there were 15,259 policy holders of general insurance, and only 4,650 holders of life insurance, the latter figure up from 114 in 1975. Within the terms of its own business, the RICB has had a steady growth in profit and assets over its 27 years of operation, but it also manages, under a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the government, the rural house insurance scheme which it operates as a social welfare program in accordance with the terms of the MOU. In 2001, the rural house insurance scheme covered 31,172 permanent rural houses and 21,407 semipermanent houses for fire, earthquake, flood, landslide, and storm, all of which are common events in Bhutan. The scheme was revised in January 2000 to give compensation of n100,000 (about us$2,150) for a permanent house with an annual premium of n150 (about us$3.23), and n40,000 (about us$860) for a semipermanent house with an annual premium of n60 (about us$1.30). Claims have increased considerably since the revision. In 1999, under the previously less generous scheme, claims were n2.425 million (about us$52,000) against premiums of n1.77 million (about us$25,312), where as by 2001 claims had risen to n11.292 million (about us$243,000) against premiums of n5.98 million (about us$128,000). The ratio of claims to premiums improved somewhat, from 2:1 in 1999 to 1.89:1 in 2001.


The largest category of annual current expenditure is public works, which presumably includes the maintenance of monasteries. Most of the annual budget deficit is covered by grants from India and from the UN and other international agencies. By 1996, Bhutan had achieved self-sufficiency in current expenses, thanks primarily to revenues from the Chhukha power project, Bhutan's largest hydro-electric plant.

The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) estimated that in FY95/96 Bhutan's central government took in revenues of approximately $146 million and had expenditures of $152 million. Revenues minus expenditures totaled approximately -$6 million. Total external debt was $245 million.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) reported that in 2004, the most recent year for which it had data, central government revenues were n10,158.3 million and expenditures were n11,274.8 million. The value of revenues was us$224 million and expenditures us$249 million, based on an official exchange rate for 2004 of us$1 = n45.317 as reported by the IMF. Government outlays by function were as follows: general public services, 25.2%; public

Revenue and Grants 10,158.3 100.0%
     Tax revenue 3,092.5 30.4%
     Social contributions
     Grants 4,973.6 49.0%
     Other revenue 2,092.2 20.6%
Expenditures 11,274.8 100.0%
     General public services 2,839.6 25.2%
     Public order and safety 538.3 4.8%
     Economic affairs 3,807.9 33.8%
     Environmental protection
     Housing and community amenities 771.7 6.8%
     Health 1,220.7 10.8%
     Recreational, culture, and religion 183.2 1.6%
     Education 1,913.4 17.0%
     Social protection 0.0%
() data not available or not significant. f = forecasted or projected data.

order and safety, 4.8%; economic affairs, 33.8%; housing and community amenities, 6.8%; health, 10.8%; recreation, culture, and religion, 1.6%; and education, 17.0%.


The corporate income tax (CIT), excises taxes, taxes on real estate income, and nontax revenues (particularly power tariffs on the export of electricity to India) were the main sources of domestic revenue in 2001. The power tariff, at Bhutan's insistence, was doubled to r1 (about $0.028) per unit on 1 April 1997, and then raised 50% to r1.5 (about $0.034) per unit 1 July 1999. The business income tax (BIT) accounted for only about 5% of revenue in 2001 because of the weakness of the private sector. In January 2003, the government introduced a personal income tax (PIT) for individuals with taxable incomes above n100,000. The PIT is expected to raise only n110 million (or about 1%) of the 200103 budget of n11,184.6, but at this stage the government considers the social benefits of the PITreducing income disparities and instilling a sense of responsibilityto be more important than its revenue contribution. In July 2002, the government launched the Pension and Provident Fund Plan, a scheme converting the social security system to a pension plan to provide retirement benefits for civil servants, corporate employees, and the armed forces

External assistance continued to provide the bulk of Bhutan's development budget, but since 1996 domestic revenues have covered current expenses. In 2001, domestic revenues also covered a portion of the capital budget. A major goal of the ninth five-year plan (200206) is the increase of domestic revenue through taxes. In 200203, it is projected that for the first time tax revenues will exceed nontax revenues. Tax revenues are expected to come to 12% of GDP and nontax revenues to 8% of GDP.


Under the Indo-Bhutanese Treaty of 1949, goods pass from one country to another without payment of customs duties. Bhutan currently has observer status with the World Trade Organization (WTO). In 1999, the WTO accepted Bhutan's application for accession. However, as of December 2002, Bhutan had not provided the WTO with the required memorandum on its foreign trade regime, the next step in the process of negotiating an accession. In 2002, the government identified a site in Phuentsholing for the construction of a dry port to expedite export and import formalities and revised some of its more restrictive import rules.


The CIA notes that Bhutan's isolationism hampers foreign investment. The kingdom's policies on industrial licensing, trade, labor, and finance are often overly detailed and subject to change.

Foreign investment comes primarily from India, and is carried out within the context of Bhutan's special relationship with India. Bhutan's first two five-year plans in the 1960s were 100% financed by India. Since then, Bhutan has relied on an increasingly diverse set of countriesAustralia, Austria, Finland, Denmark, Japan, the Netherlands, Norway, Canada, Switzerland, Germany, Italy, New Zealand, Italy, New Zealand, Sweden, South Korea, South Korea, the United Kingdom, and the United Statesand multilateral institutionsthe United Nations (UN), the World Bank, and the Asian Development Bank (ADB)to provide capital on a concessional basis, though India remains the dominant source.

On private foreign investment, the government's stance is that foreign direct investment (FDI) it is becoming increasingly necessary to meet the country's employment and self-sufficiency goals. FDI is now permitted in certain sectors, including tourism where joint ventures with international hotel and resort chains are being pursued.


One of Bhutan's greatest challenges will be creating jobs for its growing population of youths. Much of the educated workforce has been employed traditionally by the public sector; however, the IMF encourages the nation to encourage more private-sector development to avoid the potential of unemployment. Progress in this respect, however, may be slow. Bhutan lacks railroads, helicopters, domestic airlines, and modern conveniences like automated teller machines. What hydroelectricity it produces is mainly for export. In addition, Bhutan embarked on its ninth five-year plan in 2002 with a goal of seeking "gross national happiness," not gross national income, and while this strategy is in keeping with the country's Buddhist traditions, it does risk an economic crisis down the road. Bhutan's leaders remain cautious about future development; they have emphasized a maintenance of culture and protection of environment over modernization.

Bhutan also faces a public debt that was nearly as large as its entire GDP in late 2004/5. Much of the debt resulted from investments in hydropower, and is expected to be paid off through revenue that will come from exporting electricity to India.

Despite Bhutan's growth in the early 21st century, poverty in the country remains high. The nation conducted its first Poverty Analysis Report in 2004, and found that 32% of its population was living below the poverty line, which the IMF has tagged as a concern. Many of those who fall below the poverty line are residents of Bhutan but, because they are not ethnic Bhutanese, are not recognized as citizens of the kingdom. More than two-thirds of the population lacks electricity, though a rural electrification effort was scheduled to bring electricity to the full country by 2020.

Structural reforms since 1998 showed promise of further moving Bhutan into a more modernized economy. The ninth fiscal year plan (200206) promised a continuation of the same moderate progress, with more intensive rural development. The prospect was for Bhutan to continue to proceed at its own restrained pace.


There is no national social welfare system, although the government implemented a modest maternal and child welfare program in the early 1980s, including family planning. The sick, indigent, and aged are cared for within the traditional family structure.

Bhutan's culture does not isolate or disenfranchise women. Dowry is not practiced, and land is divided equally between sons and daughters. Girls receive nearly equal educational opportunities, and, while accorded a lower status than boys, they are cherished because they are the ones who care for parents in old age. As of 2004 women made up approximately 30% of the workforce. Polygamy is legal, but only with the consent of the first wife. The law clarifies the definition of sexual assault and imposes harsh penalties. There is no societal pattern of spousal or child abuse.

A pattern of discrimination against the minority Hindus of Nepalese origin exists. Nepali is no longer taught in schools, and national dress is required for official occasions. While this policy has lead to the cultural repression of Hindus, it has also contributed to a growing number of Nepalese obtaining employment in the public sector and in government.

Although there were some improvements in 2004, human rights are restricted by the government. The king exercises control over the government, security forces, and the judiciary. Abuses include violence against Nepalese refugees and arbitrary arrest and detention.


Bhutan suffers from a shortage of medical personnel with only 65% of the population having access to any form of medical care. In 2004, there were an estimated 5 physicians, 23 nurses, and 56 midwives per 100,000 people.

The average life expectancy in 2005 was only 52.7 years. The infant mortality rate was 100 per 1,000 live births for that year. Approximately 38% of children under five were underweight. It was estimated that 2% of married women (1549 years) were using contraception. The fertility rate was reported as 5.2 per woman in 1999.

Immunization rates for children up to one year old were: tuberculosis, 81%; diphtheria, pertussis, and tetanus, 79%; polio, 77%; and measles, 82%. Although smallpox has been wiped out, malaria, tuberculosis, and venereal disease remained widespread. Bhutanese refugees in the eastern Nepal region have high rates of measles, cholera, tuberculosis, malaria, diarrhea, beriberi, and scurvy. The HIV/AIDS prevalence was 0.10 per 100 adults in 2003. As of 2004, there were approximately 100 people living with HIV/AIDS in the country.


Though a small number of urban settlements have been developed over the past few years, most of the population (80%, 2001 est.) lives in rural areas, many on small family farms. It is, however, expected that the urban population will grow by about 50% over the next two decades, an estimate that has the Beninese government taking a harder look at options for new and improved housing construction and utility services. As of 2002, the housing shortage has been most serious in urban areas, where most housing is rental property. It was estimated that in Thimphu alone, 600 new dwellings would need to built each year in order to keep up with rapid population growth. In 2002, about 10% of the residents of Thimphu were living in hut villages and squatter settlements.

The Municipal Act of 1999 was established to decentralize control of housing and utilities, resulting in greater service and improved plans for the future. As part of the government's socio-economic development policy, all homeowners are eligible for assistance through subsidized timber purchases and group fire insurance. The government has also established the National Committee on Human Settlements to oversee projects for urban development.

Traditional houses are built of stone set in clay mixed with small stones and made into blocks or layers. Roofs are gently inclined and formed of pine shingles kept in place by heavy stones. As of 2000, 80% of urban and 60% of rural dwellers had access to improved water supplies, while 65% of urban and 70% of rural dwellers had access to sanitation services.


A modern educational system was introduced in Bhutan in the 1960s. Prior to that, education was provided only by monasteries. In the interim, more than 340 schools and institutions of higher education have been established, including over 150 community schools to serve remote rural areas. However, many of these schools have no sanitation facilities, electricity, or drinking water, and students may have to walk several hours a day to get to them. A growing number of children are attending school, but over 50% still do not attend.

Primary schooling covers a seven-year course of study followed by two years of junior high. This is followed by either a general secondary program (four years of high school) or a technical course of study (three years at a technical center). In 2001, about 88,000 students were enrolled in primary schools and 26,000 were enrolled in secondary schools. The student-to-teacher ratio for primary school was at about 38:1 in 2003; the ratio for secondary school was about 34:1. Efforts have been made to improve the education of women, and girls account for 45% of primary school enrollment. However, the overall literacy rate for women is still very low and lags far behind that for men.

Bhutan's estimated rate of adult illiteracy for the year 2000 stood at 52.7% (males, 38.9%; females, 66.4%). The official language is Dzongkha (written in the Tibetan script). However, English is widely used.

In 1991, Bhutan had 209 schools altogether, including 22 monastic schools, schools for Tibetan refugees, and six technical schools. There was at the highest-level one junior college, two teacher training colleges, and one degree college which was affiliated to the university at Delhi in India. Many teachers from India are employed in Bhutan.


The largest library in Bhutan is the National Library at Thimphu. This library boast of having one of the largest collections of Mahayana Buddhist literature in the world and also features a collection of over 10,000 xylographic or wood block prints. Jigme Dorji Wangchuck Public Library in Thimphu was the only public library in the country in 2005. Most of this library's 15,000-book collection consists of donated books from countries such as the United States. The vast majority of the books are in English. Located in Konglung, Sherbutse College Library holds 22,000 volumes. The National Institute of Education in Samtse, founded in 1968, holds 12,000 volumes, and the Royal Institute of Management in Thimphu holds 5,000 volumes. The Center for Bhutan Studies Library in Langjophakha has about 2,470 books. The India House Library contains about 7,000 volumes.

The National Museum of Bhutan opened to the public in 1968 at Paro Dzong, in a seven-story 17th-century fortress, featuring religious art objects reflective of Bhutan's unique Northern Buddhist culture, as well as historical objects. Some monasteries have valuable collections of Buddhist manuscripts and art objects.


International postal service was inaugurated in 1963; there are direct postal, telex, and microwave links to India. Telephone service is said to be very poor. In 2003, there were 25,200 mainline phones in use throughout the country. In 2005, there were an estimated 22,000 mobile phones in use.

In 2005, there was only one radio station, operated by the government-owned Bhutan Broadcasting Service (BBS). It includes broadcasts in Dzongkha, Nepali, English, and Sharchop. From 1989 to 1999, the government had imposed a ban on private television reception. Television broadcasting was reintroduced to the country in 1999. The same year, the government allowed for the licensing of cable companies. In there were three main television stations, one sponsored by BBS and two cable stations. In 2004, there were about 15,000 cable subscribers. Druknet, the nation's first Internet service provider was also established in 1999. By the end of 2003, there were about 15,000 subscribers, including Internet cafés in three major cities. In 1997, the country had an estimated 11 radios per 1,000 population.

A weekly government-subsidized newspaper, Kuensel, publishes simultaneous editions in Dzongkha, English, and Nepali, with a total circulation of about 15,000 as of 2004. This is the nation's only regularly published newspaper. Indian and other foreign publications are also available.

There are no legal provisions for the right of free expression in Bhutan; the government is said to restrict criticism of the King and government policies of the National Assembly.


The Bhutan Chamber of Commerce and Industry is in Thimphu.

There are about 125 youth organizations throughout the country, which are affiliated through the Bhutan Youth Welfare Association (BYWA), established in 1985. The objectives of the BYWA are to preserve and promote the cultural and religious heritage of Bhutan and its national integration through the representation of youth to governmental authorities. Youth groups include Youths and Students Alliance for Human Rights and Democracy in Bhutan (YSAHRDB) and the Youth Organization of Bhutan, both of which focus on interests of peace and human rights. Scouting programs are available through Bhutan Scout Tshogpa. There are also sports associations representing several different pastimes, including tennis, tae kwan do, badminton, and track and field.

The National Women's Association of Bhutan is one of the few nongovernmental organizations officially registered in Bhutan. Other women's organizations, such as Bhutan Women and Children Organization and Refugee Women and Children Welfare Society have formed in exile. All of these are focused on the promotion human rights.


In 1974, Bhutan opened its door to tourists, but strict entry regulations, the remoteness of the country, and relatively limited transportation facilities have restricted the number of visitors. Tourists may only enter as a member of an established tour group. An approved visa along with a valid passport is required of all visitors to enter Bhutan. The beautiful Thimphu, Paro, and Punakha valleys, with their many monasteries, are accessible to tourists. Visitors may also enjoy the intricate weavings found in high eastern mountain regions; kayaking down the Mochhu; or the archery competitions held during festivals.

In 2003, there were 6,266 foreign visitors, including over 2,500 visitors from Europe. There were 1,239 hotel rooms with 2,366 beds, and an occupancy rate of 25%. Travelers stayed an average of eight nights.

In 2004, the US Department of State estimated the cost of staying in Bhutan at $96.


Jigme Dorji Wangchuk (192872) instituted numerous social reforms during his reign as king of Bhutan. He was succeeded by his son Jigme Singye Wangchuk (b.1955).


Bhutan has no territories or colonies.


Basu, Gautam Kumar. Bhutan: The Political Economy of Development. New Delhi: South Asian Publishers, 1996.

Berthold, John. Bhutan: Land of the Th under Dragon. Boston: Wisdom Publications, 2005.

Bhutan: Aspects of Culture and Development. Gartmore, Scotland: Kiscadale, 1994.

Bhutan: Perspectives on Conflict and Dissent. Gartmore, Scotland: Kiscadale, 1994.

Cooper, Robert. Bhutan. New York: Marshall Cavendish, 2001.

Das, B. S. Mission to Bhutan: A Nation in Transition. New Delhi: Vikas Pub. House, 1995.

Dhakal, D. N. S. Bhutan: A Movement in Exile. Jaipur: Nirala Publications, 1994.

Fraser, Neil. Geography of a Himalayan Kingdom: Bhutan. New Delhi: Concept Publishing, 2001.

Hellum, A. K. A Painter's Year in the Forests of Bhutan. Edmonton: University of Alberta Press, 2001.

Johnson, Gordon. Cultural Atlas of India: India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. New York: Facts on File, 1996.

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Kingdom of Bhutan




A landlocked country located in South Asia, north of India and south of China, Bhutan has an area of 47,000 square kilometers (18,1467 square miles). Comparatively, the area occupied by Bhutan is about half the size of Indiana. Bhutan's capital city, Thimpu, is centrally located towards the country's western border with India. Bhutan shares a 605-kilometer (376-mile) border with India and a 470-kilometer (292-mile) border with China.


In 2000 the population of Bhutan was estimated at 2,005,222 by the CIA World Factbook. The UN Statistical Yearbook gave the population as 1,034,774. Giving a third figure, the World Bank World Development Report 2000/1 estimated the population at 782,000. The disparity between population estimates is caused by 2 different ways of counting people: the government of Bhutan's population estimate, the World Bank figure, is based upon those who have "official" citizenship, and the CIA estimate seems to account for those who claim such status or live in the country and may not be recognized by the government. Uncertainty in population figures is also connected to Bhutan's ongoing problem with the Lhotshampa people (Bhutanese of Nepalese origin), who have lost their citizenship or are simply not recognized due to a series of nationality-specific laws enacted in the 1980s. The government claims that a large number of the Lhotshampa are illegal immigrants who threaten the cohesion of traditional Bhutanese society, while the Lhotshampa argue that they are rightful citizens. Another problem with such estimates is the limited number of statistical gathering mechanisms in Bhutan, partly due to the country's limited financial resources and infrastructure . As a result, statistical indicators such as gross domestic product (GDP) or the quantity of telephones per capita are difficult to estimate. Clearly, the formulation of statistical averages depends upon which population estimate is used. To encourage comparative consistency, this entry indicates what population estimates are used to express particular statistical data.

In 2000 the birth rate stood at 36.22 per 1,000, while the death rate was 14.32 per 1,000. The overall population density is very low at 12.5 people per square kilometer, but this figure does not take account for the fact that, with 92.9 percent of the population living in rural areas, access to arable land is primary in any estimate of population density. Therefore, if the ratio of population to arable land is taken into account then density rises to 100 people per square kilometer. Bhutan has a very young population with almost 50 percent aged 17 years or younger. Given the continuation of Bhutan's current annual population growth of 2.19 percent, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Bhutan projects that there will be 3.64 million people living in Bhutan by 2025, from a 1998 level of 1.91 million. The UNDP also estimates that 31,000 people live in Thimpu city (the capital and administrative center) and another 25,000 in Phuentsholing (the primary commercial center on the Indo-Bhutanese border).


In 2001 Bhutan's economy remained one of the smallest and least developed in the world, almost entirely dependent upon basic agricultural production, forestry, and hydroelectricity. In 2000 rural inhabitants constituted 92.9 percent of the total population, a slight decline from the 1990 level of 94.8 percent. A large majority of agricultural activity is subsistence-based and takes place outside of the monetized economy . In other words, subsistence farmers do not use the ngultrum (the national currency) in their day-to-day lives; they trade and barter goods for the few basic manufactured essentials that they might need. However, in 2000 the government cited indications that the monetized economy was experiencing substantial growth.

Bhutan is a very poor country with a GDP per capita of only US$197 (based upon a population of 1.03 million), although it is important to note that because the majority of subsistence farmers are outside of the monetized economy this figure is not an adequate representation of actual living standards.

After the serious attacks upon Buddhism in Tibet by the communist government in China during the late 1950s, Bhutan began to develop more links with India in order to counter the possibility of a similar fate. In 1960, Bhutan closed its borders with Tibet and, with considerable Indian financial and technical assistance, began to construct roads to link India with Bhutan. This action constituted a key turning point for Bhutan's economic development, and by 2001 the national economy was highly dependent upon Indian trade, aid, and investment.

It must be stressed that the government emphasizes the concept of "Gross National Happiness" (GNH) as an essential indicator and factor in Bhutan's development, a very specific approach to developmental ideology. The GNH idea stresses the importance of cultural heritage, the stability and protection of the natural environment, greater self-sufficiency, and human development. This approach, with its roots in the traditional Buddhist principles of compassion, compromise, and pragmatism, is in direct contrast to the globally dominant view of the primacy of economic and material development. As the government maintains in a policy document for the UNDP in 2000 that GNH "means that development is only valuable if it is an 'efficient means' to happiness and human development."

National debt in Bhutan is relatively stable and controllable in amount. The government has actually been able to reduce total public sector debt from US$139.5 million in 1993-94 to US$115.8 million by 1997-98. Consequently, over the same period debt service payments declined from US$17.6 million to US$9.6 million. Official development assistance from both individual governments and international financial institutions in 1997 consisted of US$59.9 million in grants and US$10.1 million in loans. The Asian Development Bank (ADB) made 2 loans to Bhutan in 2000. The first, of US$10 million, was to assist Bhutan in setting out a health reform program, The Bhutan Health Trust Fund, which has the aim of maintaining the free supply of medicines to the public. The second, of US$9.6 million, was for the regeneration of the country's primary road, the east-west highway. The ADB had made another loan of US$10 million in 1999 for a Sustainable Rural Electrification Project to provide electricity to the poorer and more remote areas of Bhutan.


Bhutan is the world's only Buddhist kingdom. The Bhutanese name for their country is Druk Yul which means "Land of the Thunder Dragon." Ruled by a hereditary monarchy since 1907, Bhutan received full independence from India in 1949 after the British colonial administration withdrew from India. Bhutan's political system is unlike historical precedents in the West and is most appropriately categorized as a "Buddhist monarchy."

The third hereditary monarch, Jigme Dorji Wang-chuck, ruled Bhutan from 1952 to 1972. He is generally considered the "architect of modern Bhutan." In 1953 he established the National Assembly. Consisting of representatives of the people, the civil service, and the Buddhist monastic order, the National Assembly meets once a year to debate aspects of public policy and development. The Royal Advisory Council was formed by the king in 1965 to constantly monitor the progress of National Assembly resolutions and advise the king on dayto-day policy matters.

In a similar vein, his son King Jigme Singye Wangchuk (who acceded to the throne in 1972 and continued to reign in mid-2001) has also followed a reformist approach to rule. In 1999 an analyst of Bhutanese affairs, Thierry Mathou, maintained: "Many Bhutanese . . . were stunned by the suddenness and amplitude of the changes introduced by the king. . . . [c]ontrary to most countries with monarchies where royals have resisted democratic politics, Bhutan's has always been the leading force of change." For example, in 1998 the king pushed a political reform that reduced his authority through the devolution of executive powers to the cabinet. Nonetheless, the king continued to have final say on matters relating to security and sovereignty as well direct administration of the Royal Bhutan Army.

Even though Bhutan's governmental system of monarchy is justified on the grounds of maintaining traditional values and national identity by the country's ruling elite, it has received considerable criticism both domestically and internationally. For example, Freedom House (a U.S.-based political liberties and civil rights organization) classified Bhutan in 2000 as "Not Free." Freedom House measured this conclusion upon the lack of democratic representation of the people and the apparent mistreatment of critics of the regime. In its report for 2000, Amnesty International (a London-based human rights organization) maintained that individuals in Nepali-speaking communities faced police discrimination when they attempted to get permission to open a bank account, when attempting to travel abroad for training, for work, or to send their children to school.

In fact, discrimination against Lhotshampa is rife. A series of laws passed in the 1980s revealed tough remits for the acquisition of citizenship, even if an individual were married to a Bhutanese national, and the fact that naturalized citizenship can be terminated if a person criticizes the government. Still, there is some justification for this policy because militant Lhotshampa movements have called for a merging of Bhutan into a greater Nepal. Some of these militants, whom the government calls "anti-nationals," have been involved in campaigns of violence and have done damage to some infrastructure and development projects.

Nationalism and tradition are actively promoted in Bhutan. In part due to the economic and military-political weakness of the country in international relations and also due to the perceived threat from the Lhotshampa community's tendency to reduce Bhutanese identity, the government emphasizes rules of national dress, the code of etiquette (driglam namzha), and the national language (Dzongkha).

A serious ongoing security problem for the government is the presence of the communist guerrilla group, the United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA) and the Assamese (Bodo) guerrilla insurgency in east and south Bhutan. These groups are fighting for independence for Assam. Although there has been vocal engagement between the ULFA and the Bhutanese government, a solution to their presence has yet to be reached. The existence of these anti-Indian government forces on Bhutanese territory could led to a deterioration in the special friendship between India and Bhutan.

Non-tax revenue constituted 61 percent of total revenue in 1998-99. The Chukha Hydro Power Corporation, the Department of Power, and the Department of Telecommunications are some of the key sources of this revenue. Government revenue from the power sector provided 42 percent of total national revenue in 1998-99. Direct tax collection improved in the late 1990s from Nu831 million in 1997-98 to Nu914 million in 1998-99. Of this direct tax 65 percent was from corporate income tax . Taxation on rural areas is very low, around 0.02 percent of total revenue in 1998-99, in order to encourage the population to remain on their farms and thus reduce the strain of uncontrolled urbanization. However, it should be noted that rural inhabitants contribute via the application of their labor to the construction and maintenance of local schools, water supplies, and health centers.


Bhutan's infrastructure is limited although the government is actively attempting to open the more isolated areas of the country by improving the road network. Around 14,000 passenger vehicles were in use on Bhutan's 3,285 kilometers (2,041 miles) of roads in 1999. In 1997 the Road Surface Transport Authority was established to improve the efficiency and quality of the road infrastructure and to enforce the observation of transport regulations. There are no railways in Bhutan. In accordance with the government policy of allowing a restricted opening-up of Bhutan for both citizens and foreigners, total passengers on scheduled flights rose from 8,000 in

Country Telephones a Telephones, Mobile/Cellular a Radio Stations b Radios a TV Stations a Televisions a Internet Service Providers c Internet Users c
Bhutan 6,000 N/A AM 0; FM 1; shortwave 1 37,000 0 11,000 N/A 500
United States 194 M 69.209 M (1998) AM 4,762; FM 5,542; shortwave 18 575 M 1,500 219 M 7,800 148 M
China 135 M (2000) 65 M (2001) AM 369; FM 259; shortwave 45 417 M 3,240 400 M 3 22 M (2001)
Nepal 236,816 (2000) N/A AM 6; FM 5; shortwave 1 (2000) 840,000 1 (1998) 130,000 6 35,000
aData is for 1997 unless otherwise noted.
bData is for 1998 unless otherwise noted.
cData is for 2000 unless otherwise noted.
SOURCE: CIA World Factbook 2001 [Online].

1990 to 36,000 in 1997. The national airline, Druk Air, owns 2 planes which fly to and from Paro International Airport which opened a new terminal building in the late 1990s. Bhutan is landlocked; the nearest seaport is 435 miles away in Calcutta.

Electricity, gas, and water provided 11.8 percent of value-added activity to the economy in 1997. In 2000, Bhutan's electricity-generating capacity was 3530 megawatts, 97 percent of which is hydro power and the rest thermal. The central role of electricity production to Bhutan's economy is likely to expand in the early 21st century. New large-scale hydro power stations were under construction by 2001 which are expected to provide considerable government revenue. However, over 95 percent of domestic energy consumption in Bhutan consists of biological mass, predominantly firewood.

Bhutan was cut off from the outside world for centuries. Television only began to be provided by the state-run Bhutan Broadcasting Service (BBS) Corporation in 1999 and was limited to a small number of hours a day of programming (consisting solely of national news and documentaries about Bhutan). Nonetheless, (based upon a population of 1.03 million) there were already 5.5 televisions per 1,000 population in 1997, which by 2000 received 25 channels from 2 cable television companies. By 1997, there were 19 radios per 1,000 inhabitants. According to UN estimates there is only 1 telephone per 100 inhabitants. In 1999, a Japanese-funded project to provide domestic digital telecommunications was completed. The Internet became operational in Bhutan in 1999.


Bhutan's economic sectors are small like the country; the country has limited population, domestic markets, and natural resources. Geographical isolation caused by highly mountainous terrain and political isolation due to a formerly inward-looking society means that the economy's integration into the world economy is minimum. Isolation in combination with previously low levels of education means that a medium and large-scale private sector is almost non-existent. The majority of the monetized economy is dominated by parastatals .

Bhutan's economy is primarily agricultural, mostly subsistence farming, although some export-oriented commercial farming of fruit and spices does exist. Industry is limited to the production of hydro power and basic manufactures. Services to support these sectors are basic. Tourism, whilst small in size, provides a high proportion of the country's foreign exchange.


The agricultural sector provided 38.5 percent of GDP in 1997, a significant decline from the 55 percent in 1985. The 1997 GDP consisted of a total production of 18.1 percent crops, 11.4 percent of economic activity in the forestry sector, and 9 percent livestock production. Of the 970,000 people who were employed in Bhutan in 1998 (using a population estimate of 2 million) 93.8 percent were engaged in agricultural activities. There were 160,000 hectares of arable land under permanent crops in 1998, compared to the 1980 level of 122,000. In 1998 only 40,000 hectares of this land was irrigated, an improvement upon the 1980 level of 26,000 hectares.

Cereal production increased from 95,000 metric tons in 1989 to a consistent level of 112,000 tons per annum in the period 1995 to 1998. While self-sufficient in maize, barley, millet, and buckwheat, Bhutan is only 50 percent self-sufficient in rice and 30 percent in wheat. In total the country is around 60 percent self-sufficient in cereals. Other key crops which are actually exported are potatoes, spices (mainly cardamom and nutmeg), and fruit which in 1997 consisted mainly of oranges (54,000 metric tons) and apples (13,600 metric tons). In total, agricultural goods provided 13.7 percent of Bhutan's total exports in 1997.

Bhutan continues to import substantial amounts of essential food items. The Food Corporation of Bhutan imports subsidized food items from India, among which are rice, wheat, edible oils, sugar, and salt. Between 1994-98 an annual average of 12,500 metric tons of rice, 12,500 tons of wheat, and 3,600 tons of sugar were imported. It is important to note that 58 percent of farming households own less than 2 hectares. This small level of landholding makes some households susceptible to seasonal shortages of food, to poor health, and even to malnutrition.


The government is actively trying to maintain the economic exploitation of Bhutan's extensive forestry resources at sustainable levels. In keeping with the GNH concept, plans by the Forest Services Division of the Ministry of Agriculture for improved harvesting of forests are being undertaken to assure environmental balance. For example, 60 percent of Bhutan's total land area is required to have good tree cover; by 2000 72 percent was covered. In 1997-98, 27,770 cubic meters of trees were felled for commercial logging and an additional 22,884 cubic meters for housing construction and public works. The gross sales of Bhutan Board Products in 1998 were Nu383.8 million.



The electricity sector showed an average growth of 48.2 percent in the period 1985-1995. In 1998-99 hydro power contributed 30 percent to total exports. This rate will increase considerably in the early 21st century when new hydro power stations being built in Tala, Kurichhu, and Basochhu are completed. Hydro power has also acted to stimulate the growth of the manufacturing and services sectors.


Manufacturing provided 12.8 percent of value added activity to the economy in 1997. The production of cement is one of the principal enterprises in Bhutan's industrial sector. In 1998, Penden Cement Authority had gross estimated sales of Nu564.7 million, a substantial increase from the 1997 level of Nu265.5 million. Another cement plant was due to be completed by 2002, but due to disturbances related to Assam insurgents this project was suspended. The processing of Bhutan's agricultural produce is another significant dynamic factor in the manufacturing sector. For example, Bhutan Fruit Products enjoyed gross sales of Nu112.3 million in 1998; these sales were mainly of juices and canned fruit.



Bhutan is one of the safest countries in the world. Crime rates are minimal and foreign visitors are treated politely and with respect. The country's history, culture, and isolation offer a great deal to the more adventurous tourists who have been visiting Bhutan since 1974. The privatization of the tourism sector in 1991 led to fast-paced growth in hotels and travel agencies. This growth was so rapid that by 2001 there was excess capacity in tourism services. The failure to fully exploit this capacity is primarily due to government restrictions on the number of tourists admitted into Bhutan, a policy devised to reduce outside influence upon national traditions. Consequently, only 6,203 tourists entered Bhutan in 1998, and these people provided US$7.8 million in much-needed foreign currency. Around 40 percent of these tourists came from EU countries, 24 percent from the United States, and 17 percent from Japan. Nonetheless, this is a significant rise from the 1993 level of 2,984 where only US$3 million in tourism receipts were recorded. The high level of foreign exchange earnings from tourism is partly due to a compulsory government charge on tourists of US$200 a day.


Bhutan's engagement with international trade is highly dependent upon its neighbor and ally, India. In 1997, US$114.2 million of Bhutan's exports were purchased by India, which constituted 94.6 percent of the total. Bangladesh received US$5.1 million of Bhutanese goods. In the same year, the direction of the flow of Bhutan's imports consisted of US$97.6 million from India, 69.4 percent of the national total. In addition, Bhutan imported US$23.8 million of goods from Japan, US$4 million from Singapore, and US$1.8 million from Germany.

Bhutan is a founding member of the South Asian Association for Regional Co-operation (SAARC), whose other members are Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. Bhutan will host the 2002 SAARC summit meeting. As part of its policy of engagement with the world economy, Bhutan is preparing to join the World Trade Organization.


The widespread use of money in Bhutan only began in the early 1960s with the growth of trade with India and the initiation of bilateral development aid from India to Bhutan. Even though Bhutan's economy is highly

Trade (expressed in billions of US$): Bhutan
Exports Imports
1975 N/A N/A
1980 .017 .050
1985 .022 .084
1990 .068 .078
1995 .103 .112
1998 N/A N/A
SOURCE: International Monetary Fund. International Financial Statistics Yearbook 1999.
Exchange rates: Bhutan
ngultrum (Nu) per US$1
Jan 2001 46.540
2000 44.942
1999 43.055
1998 41.259
1997 36.313
1996 35.433
Note: The Bhutanese ngultrum is at par with the Indian rupee which is also legal tender.
SOURCE: CIA World Factbook 2001 [ONLINE].

underdeveloped the price of consumer goods has remained fairly stable. The average percentage change of prices each year was only 10 percent between 1990 and 1998. Total international currency reserves by major Bhutanese holders (mainly the Royal Monetary Authority, Bank of Bhutan, and Bhutan National Bank) rose dramatically in value from US$106.9 million in 1993-94 to US$218.2 million in 1997-98.

Two banks operate in the country: the Bhutan National Bank has offices in Thimpu and a branch in Phuentsholing, and the Bank of Bhutan has branches in the country's main centers. No restrictions are placed on the quantity of currencies that can be taken into Bhutan although they are limited to the main international currencies. In the late 1990s Bhutan National Bank was partly privatized when the government sold 40 percent of its shares to Citibank and the Asian Development Bank; the government now owns only 27 percent of the bank. Bhutan has a stock exchange but it is not open to external investment.


From the 1960s free basic health services began to be provided by the government across most of Bhutan where populations were concentrated. Nonetheless, by 2000 the UNDP estimated that 20 percent of the population still lacked sufficient access to health services.

GDP per Capita US$
Country 1975 1980 1985 1990 1998
Bhutan N/A 232 292 387 493
United States 19,364 21,529 23,200 25,363 29,683
China 138 168 261 349 727
Nepal 149 148 165 182 217
SOURCE: United Nations. Human Development Report 2000; Trends in human development and per capita income.

Lack of health care is a serious drawback because the general diet lacks sufficient fruits and vegetables. Consequently, over half of the country's children 6 and younger suffer from stunting, and over 30 percent are underweight. Poor nutrition is not nation wide, however, but determined by regional, urban-rural, and socio-economic factors. For example, in Pemagatshel average calorie consumption per day is 1,647 whereas in Punakha it is 3,227.

The incidence of rural poverty is as high as 90 percent. Unhygienic conditions are prevalent in Bhutan with 42 percent of the population lacking access to safe water and 30 percent of the people living in conditions of poor sanitation. Nonetheless, poverty in Bhutan has declined as indicated by the rise of average life expectancy from 37 years in 1960 to 66 years in 1994. The increased longevity suggests that the consistent government policy of providing a socially oriented infrastructure, in accordance with the GNH concept, is effective even though much work remains to be done.


Bhutan is yet to ratify the key International Labour Organization Conventions Number 87 (Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize, 1948) or Number 98 (Right to Organize and Collective Bargaining). Trade unionism is not permitted in Bhutan, nor does it exist in practice. In fact, terms and conditions as well as salaries are generally fixed by the government, which requires employees and employers (at least in the formal economy) to engage in formal written contracts of agreement. The population employed in Bhutan is estimated at 970,000 (based upon a population of 2 million).

Education has received considerable emphasis by the government of Bhutan, and primary schooling is available in even the remotest areas. The Bhutanese government spent 7 percent of total expenditure on education in 1997. Mainly due to government initiatives in its drive to reduce illiteracy, levels fell from 71.9 percent in 1980 to 52.7 percent in 2000. The Bhutanese workforce is becoming more skilled, although this is problematic because there are serious limits upon the amount of educated workers required in what is essentially an agricultural economy. Consequently, while there are rising employment expectations amongst the literate population the labor market cannot provide sufficiently skilled work.


1616. Bhutan is unified by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal who makes comprehensive laws and local administrations.

1907. The hereditary monarchy is created.

1949. The Indo-Bhutan Treaty of friendship is signed, and Bhutan receives full independence.

1952. Jigme Dorji Wangchuck (the "architect of modern Bhutan") becomes king.

1953. The National Assembly is established.

1960. Trading is entirely oriented toward India.

1965. The king forms the Royal Advisory Council.

1972. Jigme Singye Wangchuk becomes king.

1974. Bhutan begins to encourage tourism.

1983. The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation is established.

1998. The king devolves some of his executive powers to the cabinet.


Problems with the Lhotshampa population seem likely to continue into the 21st century. Unless the Bhutanese government finds an amicable solution to this problem, Lhotshampa militancy is likely to intensify. Similarly, the security issue of the presence of Assam independence insurgencies on Bhutanese territory needs to be addressed in order to avoid embittering relations with militarily powerful India. This point is all the more important due to the ongoing flow of free trade with India. Bhutan is highly dependent upon developments within India's economy. As a result, levels of integration with the world economy will closely follow those of India. Planned membership of the WTO will exacerbate Bhutan's economic openness.

In 2001, Bhutan's excellent environmental conservation and balance meant that the economy had greater ability to use its forestry and hydroelectricity resources. For example, while the government insists that 60 percent of the country remain forested, the 2000 coverage of 72 percent indicated room for increased use without compromising governmental policy. Similarly, the 3 hydroelectricity plants to be completed early in the 21st century are projected to contribute vast amounts of government revenue without significantly damaging the environment. This revenue is intended to support human-centered development. If the government remains true to these policies and continues to widen political freedoms, Bhutan has a bright political, social, and economic future.


Bhutan has no territories or colonies.


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Liam Campling




Ngultrum (Nu). One ngultrum equals 100 chetrum. Notes in circulation are Nu1, 2, 5, 10, 100, and 500. Indian currency (rupees) is also legal tender and at par value with Bhutanese currency.


Cardamom, gypsum, timber, handicrafts, cement, fruit, electricity, precious stones, and spices.


Fuel and lubricants, grain, machinery and parts, vehicles, fabrics, and rice.


US$0.44 billion (1999). [CIA reports GDP at purchasing power parity to be US$2.1 billion (1999 est.).]


Exports: US$146 million (1999). Imports: US$243 million (1999). [The CIA World Factbook reports exports to be US$111 million (f.o.b., 1998) and imports to be US$136 million (c.i.f., 1998).]

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Kingdom of Bhutan

Major Cities:
Thimphu, Paro

Other Cities:
Punakha, Tongsa


BHUTAN is a land of great beauty and mystery. Situated in the Himalaya Mountains, this tiny kingdom was largely isolated from the rest of the world for centuries. However, the late 20th century marked an end to Bhutan's isolation. The absorption of Tibet, Bhutan's major trading partner, by China in 1959 and India's annexation of Bhutan's neighbor, the Kingdom of Sikkim, in 1975, prompted the Bhutanese to realize that they could no longer remain isolated while surrounded by two powerful neighbors. Under the guidance of its leader, King Jigme Singye Wangchuck, Bhutan joined the United Nations in 1971. Three years later, the country was opened to foreign tourists for the first time.

Today, Bhutan remains largely unknown to most Westerners. It is a land of unspoiled alpine valleys and beautiful mountain peaks dotted with dzongs (fortresses). Centuries of isolation allowed Bhutan to develop a rich religious, cultural, and artistic heritage. As more of Bhutan becomes accessible, new locations and new experiences are opening to visitors.



Thimphu, located in west-central Bhutan, is the nation's capital. Once a sleepy rural community, Thimphu is now the country's center of government, religion, and commerce. Nestled in a fertile agricultural valley, Thimphu is a trading center for the rice, corn, and wheat grown in the area. Industrial activity in and around Thimphu is extremely sparse. Most industrial production is centered on lumbering. A large sawmill is located in Thimphu. In 1966, a large hydroelectric plant was built in Thimphu. This plant produces power to the surrounding region. The city has no major airport, but is served by a small airstrip. The population of Thimphu is about 30,000 (1993 est.).


Recreation in and around Thimphu is centered on government-sponsored walking tours. Because many of Bhutan's monasteries, sacred mountain peaks, and dzongs are off-limits to foreigners, the number of accessible sites in Thimphu and other areas is extremely limited. However, beautiful attractions are available in Thimphu. One example is a chorten (shrine) in honor of one of Bhutan's earlier rulers, Jigme Dorji Wangchuck. The shrine, which has several floors, is adorned with paintings depicting various Buddhist deities. It was constructed in 1974 and offers a beautiful view of Thimphu.

Thimphu's most beautiful building is Tashichhodzong (Fortress of the Glorious Religion). Constructed in 1641 and renovated in the late 1950s, Tashichhodzong is an example of Bhutan's unique architectural style. Traditionally, Bhutanese structures are built without the use of architectural plans or nails. Tashichhodzong contains 100 rooms, including a throne room for the king, and is filled with beautiful paintings and sculptures. The structure is also the home of Bhutan's largest monastery. In the summer, when monks reside at Tashichhodzong, foreigners are not allowed to enter.


Entertainment opportunities popular in the West, such as nightclubs and theaters, are non-existent in Bhutan. As a result, most entertainment in Bhutan revolves around shopping for Bhutanese handicrafts and souvenirs. Two stores in Thimphu, the Dorji Gyeltshen Shop and Senghay Budha, offer beautiful scarves and shawls. These stores also sell long robes of wool or silk.

These robes, known as kho (for men) and kira (for women), are the native dress of Bhutan. A government-owned Handicrafts Emporium sells a wide variety of Bhutanese jewelry, handicrafts, sculpture, table linen, and thang-kas (religious scrolls).

For those interested in stamp collecting, the government's Philatelic Office sells Bhutan stamps. Bhutanese stamps are considered exquisite by many collectors and are highly popular souvenirs.

Bhutan's National Library, located in Thimphu, operates a bookstore which sells a few English-language publications. Brass replicas of Buddhist statues are also sold here.


Bhutan's second largest city, Paro, is located 40 miles (64 kilometers) west of Thimphu. The city, constructed in the 1970s, is relatively new and exhibits beautiful whitewashed buildings adorned with Buddhist symbols. As in Thimphu, all buildings are constructed without the use of nails or architectural plans. Bhutan's only major airport is located here and the city has some beautiful temples. Throughout the city, lamas can be seen in solemn prayer. The presence of the lamas makes Paro a very peaceful, tranquil city. Paro has approximately 10,000 residents.


Several walking tours are available for those who wish to view the temples, dzongs, and monasteries in Paro and the surrounding area. Paro is the home of the Paro Dzong. This fortress is the official residence for several monks and serves as a Buddhist headquarters for Paro and the surrounding region. The building, constructed in the 1600s, was nearly destroyed by fire in 1907. The structure sustained heavy damage and many priceless statues, artifacts, and religious scrolls (thang-kas ) were lost. Only one thang-ka was saved and can be viewed by the public during special festivals. The Drukgyel (Victorious Druk) Dzong located in a valley near Paro, offers a beautiful view of Mt. Chomolhari. Much of this dzong was destroyed by fire in 1954. Another popular attraction has been the Taktsang (Tiger's Nest) Monastery, nestled on a cliff 2,952 feet above Paro. This monastery, however, was destroyed by fire in 1998.

One of Paro's principal attractions is the National Museum. This five-story building offers beautiful and informative displays of Bhutanese costumes, masks, jewelry, weapons, stamps, books, and textiles. Of particular interest are statues carved from butter, priceless religious scrolls, and an enormous carving of the Tree of Life. This carving, which pays homage to Buddhism's four sects, is located on the top floor of the museum.


The town of PUNAKHA , located in west-central Bhutan, was established in 1577 and served as the capital of Bhutan. Punakha's primary attraction is the Punakha Dzong, a fortress located at the confluence of the Pho Chu and Mo Chu Rivers. This fortress serves as a winter retreat for monks living in central Bhutan. Punakha Dzong has been severely damaged by fires and earthquakes over the centuries. In recent years, the fortress has been threatened by high water levels on the Po Chu and Mo Chu Rivers. The town's population has been estimated at 1,100 residents.

TONGSA , a town situated in central Bhutan, is the ancestral home of Bhutan's royal family. The town is noted for the large Tongsa Dzong, which used to guard the only east-west route through Bhutan. Today, Tongsa Dzong is occupied by several government offices and is a home for a large group of Buddhist monks. Tongsa has approximately 5,000 residents.


Geography and Climate

The Kingdom of Bhutan is a small country nestled in the Himalaya Mountains. It occupies an area of 18,147 square miles, approximately the size of Vermont and New Hampshire combined. Bhutan is land-locked, surrounded on the north by China and on all other sides by India. The northern part of the country is extremely mountainous, containing some of the most rugged terrain in the world. The central part of Bhutan has fertile valleys and arable land. Southern and eastern Bhutan contain densely forested foothills.

Each region of Bhutan exhibits a different climate. The mountainous northern regions are extremely cold with perpetual snowfall. Central Bhutan's climate is more temperate, with warm summers, cold winters, and moderate rainfall. Warm, humid temperatures and heavy rainfall characterize the climate in southern and eastern regions of the country.


The population of Bhutan is estimated at 2,049,000 (2001 est.) and can be divided into three ethnic groups. The most numerous group are the Sharchops. They are often considered the earliest inhabitants of Bhutan and predominantly settle in eastern regions of the country. Western regions of Bhutan are inhabited by Ngalops, an ethnic group of Tibetan origin. The Shar-chops and Ngalops comprise about 50 percent of Bhutan's population. Thirty-five percent of the population are Nepalese who emigrated to Bhutan in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. They are farmers and live in southern areas of the country. Over 85,000 Nepalese were expelled to Nepal in the early 1990s, and live in refugee camps monitored by the United Nations. The remaining 15 percent of Bhutan's population are small minorities of indigenous or migrant groups.

The official language of Bhutan is Dzongkha, although Nepali is predominant in southern regions of the country. English is widely used in schools, colleges and by government officials.

Buddhism is the state religion and is practiced in nearly two-thirds of the country. Southern Bhutan is predominantly Hindu. The Bhutanese government promotes religious freedom and celebrates all major Buddhist and Hindu religious festivals.

The life expectancy in Bhutan in 2001 was approximately 53 years for males, 52 years for females. Bhutan's literacy rate is 42%.


Very little is known of Bhutan's early history. It is believed to have been inhabited as early as 2000 B.C. Bhutan's recorded history began in the eighth century A.D. with the introduction of Tantric Buddhism. From the 12th to the 17th century, Tibet ruled Bhutan. Under the tutelage of Tibetan lama, Ngawang Namgyal, Bhutan developed an intricate and comprehensive system of laws that served as a check against the ambitions of various ecclesiastical and civil administrators. This system worked effectively until Namgyal's death. Without the presence of a strong leader, Bhutan dissolved into a 200-year period of political chaos as numerous regional governors and local administrators vied for power. By 1907, the management of Bhutan's civil affairs were controlled by Sir Ugyen Wangchuck, who became Bhutan's first hereditary king. In an attempt to stabilize the political situation, King Ugyen invited the British to establish a presence in Bhutan. Bhutan and Great Britain signed a friendship treaty in 1910. The British government agreed not to interfere in the internal affairs of Bhutan, but reserved the right to guide Bhutan's relations with other countries. After the British relinquished their control of the Indian subcontinent, Bhutan signed a treaty with the new Indian government in 1949. The provisions of the treaty were nearly identical to those made with Britain 40 years earlier. The main difference was that India agreed to pay yearly compensation to Bhutan for portions of its territory annexed by the British in India in 1864. The treaty between these two nations is still in effect.


Since 1907, Bhutan has been ruled by a monarchy. Each Bhutanese monarch has brought political stability to the country and implemented numerous reforms. In 1926, the son of Bhutan's first monarch, Jigme Wangchuck, created Bhutan's first public school and repaired monasteries that had been damaged after fires, earthquakes, and centuries of wear and tear. Jigme Wang-chuck was succeeded in 1952 by his son, Jigme Dorji Wangchuck. Jigme Dorji implemented many positive changes during his reign. He supported the creation of Bhutan's postal system, built modern roads, launched long-range economic planning, welcomed trained medical personnel into Bhutan, and dissolved the kingdom's ancient serfdom system. In 1953, King Jigme Dorji instituted a constitutional monarchy and created a National Assembly. The National Assembly, or tshogdu, has 151 members and meets twice a year. All Bhutanese citizens 25 years or older are eligible for election to the Assembly. Once elected, each representative serves a three-year term. The king established the Royal Advisory Council in 1965, which is responsible for advising the king on governmental matters and regulating the policies of the National Assembly. In 1968, a Council of Ministers was formed and given the authority to implement government policy. The Bhutanese government does not allow the formation of political parties.

Upon his death in 1972, King Jigme Dorji was succeeded by his son Jigme Singye Wangchuck. For the most part, the present monarch has continued the governmental changes implemented by his father. King Jigme Singye's most notable contributions to Bhutan are the development of the country's telephone system, the construction of numerous factories and hospitals, and the building of over 100 schools. In September 1990, government forces ruthlessly crushed pro-democracy rallies in southern regions of Bhutan.

The flag of Bhutan is divided diagonally with yellow on the left over orange on the right. A white dragon is located in the center.

Arts, Science, Education

There is no compulsory educational system in Bhutan and only half of the children attend school. The educational system consists of seven years of primary schooling followed by four years of secondary school. In 1993, there were 235 primary schools with 1,859 teachers and 56,773 students. For those who complete a secondary education (junior high and high school), the majority of Bhutanese university students receive higher education in India.

Commerce and Industry

Bhutan is an agrarian society, with over 90 percent of the population engaged in farming and animal husbandry. The main crops are corn, rice, millet, wheat, oranges, apples and potatoes. Bhutan is also the world's largest producer of cardamom.

The industrial capacity of Bhutan is small. Chemical, cement, and food processing factories have been developed. Homemade handicrafts also comprise part of Bhutan's industrial sector.

Bhutan has a wealth of untapped natural resources. These include forests, rivers with excellent hydro-electric potential, and rich deposits of limestone, marble, graphite, copper, lead and coal.

Over 90 percent of Bhutan's trade is with India, although timber, cardamom and liquor are exported to Singapore, the Middle East and Western Europe. Principal exports are agricultural products, timber, cement and coal. Textiles, cereals and consumer goods are Bhutan's primary imports.

Bhutan's estimated per capita gross national product (GDP) was $420 million in 1995. The paper currency, the Ngultrum, was introduced in the early 1970s. Coinage is known as Chetrum. Indian currency is also legal tender in Bhutan.


In 1996, there were more than 805 miles (1,296 kilometers) of roads, 260 miles (418 kilometers) of which were paved. Fairly good roads connect Bhutan with India. The Bhutan Government Transport Service and about 30 private operators provide bus service. Within most of the country, however, travel is by foot or pack animal.

The national airline is Druk Airlines (Royal Bhutan Airlines). It is based at an international airport near Paro and provides service to Calcutta, Dhaka, Katmandu, New Delhi, and Bangkok.


Telephones are available in Thimphu and Paro. International calls can be made from hotels in the city. However, it often takes over an hour for connections to be completed. In remote locations, wireless telephones are the only reliable communication device.

Bhutan has excellent postal and teleprinter services. An international microwave link connects Bhutan's capital, Thimphu, to Calcutta and Delhi. International telegraph and telex communication is available.

There were approximately 28,000 radio receivers (1994 est.) in Bhutan. Although Bhutan does not have its own television station, broadcasts are transmitted from India and Bangladesh. In 1989, however, the Bhutan government ordered the destruction of all television antennas and satellite receiving dishes, claiming that it wanted to protect Bhutan's national culture.

There are 39 radio stations for internal government communications. However, the Bhutan Broadcasting Service offers shortwave programming in Dzongkha, Sharchopkha, Lhotsam and English.

Health and Medicine

Medical facilities in Bhutan are limited. Some medicine is in short supply. Serious medical problems requiring hospitalization and/or medical evacuation to the United States can cost thousands of dollars or more. Doctors and hospitals often expect immediate cash payment for health services.

Cholera, typhoid fever and malaria are health concerns throughout the country.

Diligent water purification and food preparation methods must be exercised when visiting Bhutan. Immunizations for tetanus, typhoid, polio and hepatitis are recommended.


Tourists are admitted only in groups by pre-arrangement with the Tourism Authority of Bhutan, P.O. Box 126, Thimpu, Bhutan, tel. (975-2) 23251, 23252; fax (975-2) 23695. Entry is available only via India, Bangladesh, Nepal, and Thailand. The border with China is closed.

Visitors to Bhutan are required to book through a registered tour operator in Bhutan. This can be done directly or through a travel agent abroad. The minimum daily tariff is regulated and fixed by the Royal Government. The rate includes all accommodations, all meals, transportation, services of licensed guides and porters, and cultural programs where and when available.

A passport and visa are required for entry into and exit from Bhutan. All visitors, including those on official U.S. Government business, must obtain visas prior to entering the country. There are no provisions for visas upon arrival.

For additional entry/exit information, please contact the Bhutan Mission to the United Nations (Consulate General), 2 UN Plaza, 27th floor, New York, NY 10017, tel. (212)826-1919, fax (212)826-2998, or via the Internet at

There is no U.S. Embassy or Consulate in Bhutan. Although no formal diplomatic relations exist between the United States and Bhutan, informal contact is maintained through the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi. Updated information on travel and security in Bhutan may be obtained at any U.S. consulate or embassy in India or Bangladesh. Americans living in or visiting Bhutan are encouraged to register at the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi. They may also obtain assistance from the U.S. consulates in India or, to a more limited degree, from the U.S. Embassies in Dhaka, Bangladesh or Kathmandu, Nepal.

The U.S. Embassy in New Delhi is located at Shanti Path, Chanakyapuri 110021, tel. (91)(11)419-8000, fax:(91)(11)419-0017. The Embassy's Internet home page address is

The U.S. Consulate General in Mumbai (Bombay) is located at Lincoln House, 78 Bhulabhai Desai Road, 400026, tel. (91)(22) 363-3611/ Internet home page address is

The U.S. Consulate General in Calcutta is at 5/1 Ho Chi Minh Sarani, 700071, tel. (91)(033)282-3611 through 282-3615. The Internet home page address is The U.S. Consulate General in Chennai (Madras) is at Mount Road, 600006, tel. (91)(44) 827-3040. Internet home page address is

The U.S. Embassy in Dhaka is located at Diplomatic Enclave, Madani Ave, Baridhara, Dhaka 1212, tel. (880) (2) 882-4700-22, fax (880)(2) 882-3744.

The U.S. Embassy in Kathmandu is located at Pani Pokhari, Kathmandu, tel. (977)(1)411179, 410531, fax (977)(1)419963. The Internet home page address is


Jan. 25 Traditional Day of Offering

June 2 Coronation Day of His Majesty the King

Aug. 8 Independence Day

Nov. 11 Birthday of His Majesty the King

Dec. 17 National Day


The First Sermon of Lord Buddha *

Thimphu Drubchen*

Thimphu Tshechu (3 days)*


Descending Day of Lord Buddha*



The following titles are provided as a general indication of the material published on this country:

Apte, Robert Z. Three Kingdoms on the Roof of the World: Bhutan, Nepal, Ladakh. Berkeley, CA: Parallax Press, 1990.

Aung San Suu Kyi. Let's Visit Bhutan. London: Burke Publishing, 1985.

Bhutan & Its Natural Resources. New York: Advent Books, 1992.

Buck, Stuart H. Bhutanese Newspaper Reader. Kensington, MD: Dunwoody Press, 1988.

Edmunds, T.O. Bhutan: Land of the Thunder Dragon. London: Elm Tree Books, 1988.

Foster, Leila M. Bhutan. Chicago, IL: Children's Press, 1989.

The Himalayan Countries: North Pakistan, North India, Bhutan, Tibet, Nepal. Updated ed. New York: McKay, 1990.

Kamatsu, Yoshio. Children of the World: Bhutan. Milwaukee, WI: Gareth Stevens, 1988.

Karan, P.P. Bhutan: Environment, Culture & Development Strategy. Columbia, MD: South Asia Books, 1990.

Misra, H.N. Bhutan: Problems & Policies. Columbia, MD: South Asia Books, 1988.

Olschak, Blanche C. The Dragon Kingdom: Images of Bhutan. Translated by Michael W. Kohn. Boston, MA: Shambhala Publications, 1988.

Robinson, Francis, ed. The Cambridge Encyclopedia of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan & the Maldives. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1989.

Sinha, A.C. Bhutan: Ethnic Identity & National Dilemma. New York: Apt Books, 1991.

Williamson, Margaret D., and John Snelling. Memoirs of a Political Officer's Wife in Tibet, Sikkim & Bhutan. Boston, MA: Wisdom Publications, 1987.

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POPULATION: 816,0001.8 million (including Nepalese immigrants and other minorities)

LANGUAGE: Dzongkha (official); Nepali; Assamese; Gurung; Tsangla; Hindi

RELIGION: Mahayana Buddhism (official); Bon (shamanism); mix of Hinduism and Buddhism; Islam


Bhutanese is the name given to the people who live in the Kingdom of Bhutan. Bhutan is a small, landlocked country in the mountainous area north of India. The name Bhutan is derived from a word that means the "borderland" of Bhot, or Tibet. The Bhutanese themselves call their country Druk-Yul or the "Land of the Thunder Dragon." The ruling monarch of the country carries the title Druk Gyalpo or "Dragon King."

From the beginning of the ninth century ad, the region was settled by Tibetans migrating south. Bhutan was born in the early seventeenth century when a Tibetan Buddhist monk established his authority as king, taking the title of Dharma Raja. As of the late 1990s, the king was Druk Gyalpo Jigme Singye Wangchuk.

The British held colonial power over India in the early nineteenth century. In 1910, Bhutan's relations with other countries were controlled by British India. In return, Britain agreed not to interfere in Bhutan's internal affairs. In 1949 when India gained its independence, India took control of Bhutan's relations with other countries. Chinese forces took control of Bhutan's neighbor, Tibet, in 1950. Bhutan saw its ties with India as a way to fight off a threat from China. During the 1960s, Bhutan started to modernize and allowed people from other countries to visit without a special invitation from the king.


There is no reliable census of the population of Bhutan. The government estimates the total population at over 800,000 people, but they do not include immigrants. If immigrants from Nepal and other minorities are included, the population is estimated to be over 1.8 million. There are three major ethnic groups in Bhutan: the Bhutia (also Bhotia, or Bhote), Nepalese, and Assamese. Bhutia comprise roughly 50 percent of Bhutan's population. The Nepalese account for another 35 percent, while the Assamese make up 15 percent of the country's inhabitants.

Bhutan, with an area of 18,217 square miles (47,182 square kilometers), lies in the eastern Himalayan Mountain Range. Bhutan has three distinct geographic regions. In the south is a narrow strip of lowland known as the Duars Plain. The area receives between 200 and 300 inches (500 and 760 centimeters) of rain a year. It is covered with dense subtropical forest and undergrowth and is hot, humid, and a generally unhealthy atmosphere in which to live. North of the Duars is the Inner Himalaya, a region of mountains extending southward from the main Himalayan Range. Between these spurs lie fertile valleys at elevations between 5,000 and 9,000 feet (1,500 and 2,700 meters). With a relatively moderate climate, these valleys support agriculture. Most of Bhutan's population lives in these valleys. Further to the north, along the Tibetan border, are the main ranges of the Great Himalaya. The highest peaks approach 24,000 feet (7,300 meters), with Kula Kangra soaring to 24,784 feet (7,554 meters). Below the high peaks are alpine meadows used for grazing yaks in the summer months.


The official language of Bhutan is Dzongkha, a dialect of Tibetan. In its written form, Dzongkha is identical to Tibetan. Other languages spoken in Bhutan include Nepali, Assamese, and Gurung. Some Hindi is spoken in southern areas that border India.


There are many folktales in Bhutan that relate to events and personalities of the past. One tradition tells of a prince from India who settled in Bhutan in the eighth century ad. He invited the monk Padmasambhava to his kingdom. Known in Tibet as Guru Rimpoche ("Precious Teacher"), Padmasambhava was primarily responsible for introducing Buddhism in Bhutan. Other stories center on the fifteenth-century lama Pemalingpa, who is seen as an incarnation of Padmasambhava. Another heroic figure of Bhutan is Shabdrung, the lama who assumed the title of Dharma Raja in the seventeenth century and laid the political foundations of Bhutan State.


Approximately three-fourths of Bhutanese are Buddhist. The dominant religious order in the country is the Red-Hat sect (Kargyupa). Belief in sorcerers, spirits, demons, and the need for exorcisms as undertaken in the "devil dances" are a part of everyday Bhutanese religious practices. Lamas (religious leaders) skilled in rituals perform the necessary religious observances. Animal sacrifice has been replaced in Bhutan by the offering of torma, ritual figures made from dough and butter. Hinduism, or a mix of Hinduism and Buddhism, is the religion of the Nepalese peoples of Bhutan.


Losar, the Tibetan New Year, is one of the most important festivals in Bhutan. It is celebrated in February with feasting and drinking. Folk dances, including masked dances, are performed and archery competitions held. Friends and relatives exchange greeting cards. Domchheo and Tsechu are annual religious festivals marked by worship ceremonies and performances of the ritual masked dances by monks. These are held at monasteries and dzongs, the forts around which many Bhutanese villages are built. Various other Buddhist and Hindu festivals are observed. The king's birthday (September 22) and the National Day of Bhutan (December 17) are celebrated as public holidays.


Birth and marriage in Bhutan are social or family events. Funerals, on the other hand, are elaborate religious affairs. After a death, a lama (Buddhist religious leader) is called in to extract the sem (spirit) from the body and speed it on its way. The body is placed in a sitting position before an altar, on which various ritual objectsincluding torma (figurines made of dough and butter)are placed. A lama leads the service for the dead, reciting passages from various Buddhist texts. Cremation is the usual form of disposal of the corpse, although bodies may be buried or thrown in a river. Rituals are performed for forty-nine days after death. During this period an effigy (symbolic model) of the dead person is kept in the house. Both the end of the mourning period and the one-year anniversary of the death are celebrated with a feast.


A Bhutanese host greets a guest by bowing slightly, extending his or her hands towards the ground with palms facing the visitor, and moving the hand in a gesture inviting the guest into the house. The host may also say, "Yala! Yala! Kuzu zangpola?" ("Hello! Hello! How do you do?"). The guest, after responding in an appropriate manner, is then seated in the drawing room. She or he is served tea, beer, or other refreshments. Men and women mix and converse freely, without restrictions.


Bhutan was isolated from the outside world until around 1960. As a result, health care services in Bhutan are not very well developed. Leading causes of death include respiratory infections, diarrhea and dysentery, skin infections, infections from parasites, and malaria. Over 10 percent of all babies die shortly after birth.

Ninety percent of Bhutan's population live in villages scattered throughout the country. Although there are a handful of small towns in Bhutan, only Thimphu, the capital, exceeds 20,000 inhabitants in size. Living standards are generally low, with per capita income (money earned by one person) less than $200 per year. Bhutan's mountainous terrain makes communications difficult.


Most people in Bhutan marry within their own ethnic group. The legal age for marriage is set by the government at sixteen years for women and twenty-one years for men. In the past, marriages were arranged by the parents. By the 1990s, more and more young couples were selecting their own marriage partners. Bhutanese marriages are relatively simple. A lama (Buddhist religious leader) officiates at the ceremony. Offerings of chang (beer) are made to ghosts and spirits. Betel leaves, areca nuts, and fruits are distributed to wedding guests and observers. More food and entertainment follow the ceremony.

The Bhutanese are essentially monogamous (have only one husband or wife). Polyandry (more than one husband) has been abolished (made illegal). Polygyny (more than one wife) is restricted to a maximum of three wives per husband. A bride does not necessarily move into her husband's household. The new husband may live with his wife's family, if her family needs laborers to help with their work. Alternatively, the new couple may set up their own household on their own plot of land. Divorce is permitted, but the spouse who wants the divorce must compensate the other with money or goods.


Bhutanese dress for men consists of a ko (long, loose robe) that reaches the ankles. During the day, the ko is hoisted up and fastened at the waist by a woven belt so that it reaches the knees. At night, it is let down to the ankles. A coat, worn over the ko, fastens at the neck but is worn open during the day. The sleeves are long and loose. Bhutanese men seldom wear a hat, but they sometimes wrap a scarf around the head at night. Shoes are rarely worn, though some men wear sandals. Wealthier men wear woolen boots. Every man carries a long knife slung from his belt. When the ko is tied in the "up" position, it forms a pouch that is used for carrying objects.

Bhutanese women wear the kira, a woven dress that is fastened at each shoulder by silver buckles. A woven belt is tied around the waist. Women commonly wear necklaces of coral and turquoise, strung together with silver amulets (charms). The hair is usually cut short.


Rice is the main food in Bhutan. Rice is accompanied by meat whenever it is available. Though most Bhutanese are Buddhists, they are not vegetarians. They eat beef, pork, goat, chicken, and eggs. A typical Bhutanese meal might consist of thugpa, a meat soup prepared with herbs, rice (of the round, red variety), and a meat curry or omelet. Sweet rice (white rice cooked in milk and sugar) is served on special occasions. Tea, made with salt and butter, is a Bhutanese staple. Chang (beer) is made from grain and is served to guests and offered to the gods.

At high altitudes, barley and buckwheat (cereal grains) are grown. The cereals are ground, then roasted or fried, and stored for future use. Fried corn powder is popular among the Bhutanese. Milk is scarce and of poor quality, although a hard cheese is made from yak milk.


No formal schools existed in Bhutan before the early 1960s, except for those associated with religious institutions. The government has tried to improve education, but Bhutan still lags behind its neighbor countries in education. Only about 20 percent of children from ages five to twelve are enrolled in school. Only 2 percent of children thirteen to eighteen are enrolled in high school. About 20 percent of adults can read and write.


Bhutan's culture is deeply rooted in Tibetan Buddhism. The country began as a theocracy (its ruler was a religious leader). Even in the 1990s, lamas (Buddhist religious leaders) influence government affairs. The dzongs (forts) and monasteries remain centers of political, economic, social, and religious life. It is in these places that festivals are celebrated with religious music and masked dances. Lamas continue the traditions of Buddhist learning. Religion finds architectural expression in numerous chorten (mounds of relics) and temples. Dzongs are often patterned after the Potala in Lhasa, Tibet (part of China since the 1950s). The Potala is the home of the Buddhist leader, the Dalai Lama. Religious objects such as the mandala (Buddhist Wheel of Life) and thanka (a painted religious scroll) are works of art in their own right.


Bhutan is essentially an agrarian (farming) country. Over 90 percent of all workers are involved in subsistence agriculture (growing enough food for the family's use, with little left to sell) and raising livestock. Only 3 percent of Bhutan's area is used for farming, since much of the land is mountainous or heavily forested. Rice, wheat, maize (corn), and millet are the main crops grown in the country. Fruit production is important, with apples, peaches, plums, and apricots among the varieties grown. Livestock raised in the region include cattle, sheep, pigs, chickens, and the yak, an animal adapted to high altitudes.


The Bhutanese are well known for their archery skills, and archery competitions are commonly held at the time of festivals and national holidays.


Bhutanese have limited access to modern forms of entertainment. For radio, FM broadcasts are aired in Thimphu, and short-wave broadcasts can be received in the rest of the country. In 1989 the government banned the viewing of television by ordering all TV antennas in the country to be dismantled. The government publishes a weekly newspaper, Kuensel, but with the country's low literacy rate, the paper has a very small circulation. Religious festivals and folk traditions such as singing and dancing are the primary forms of entertainment and recreation.


Bhutanese women are skilled at weaving. They make their own clothing, bedding, tablecloths, floor coverings, and items for religious use. Embroidery is a favorite art. Much effort goes into making costumes and masks for the ritual dances performed at festivals. Smiths excel in working gold, silver, brass, and other metals.


The Bhutanese live in the least-developed country in all of South Asia. Despite efforts at modernization, poverty, lack of potable (clean) water, inadequate health care, illiteracy, and difficulties in transportation remain serious problems. Tensions between the Bhutanese and Nepalese minority have created a problem in the country. Since 1990, antigovernment extremists among the Nepalese have been waging a terrorist war in Bhutan.


Chakravarti, B. A Cultural History of Bhutan. Chittraranjan, India: Hilltop Publishers, 1980.

Karan, P. P. Bhutan: A Physical and Cultural Geography. Lexington, Ky.: University of Kentucky Press, 1967.

Matles, Andrea, ed. Nepal and Bhutan: Country Studies. Washington, D.C.: Federal Research Division, Library of Congress, 1993.


Bhutan Tourism Corp., Ltd. [Online] Available

World Travel Guide. Bhutan. [Online] Available, 1998.

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Bhutan (bōōtän´), officially Kingdom of Bhutan, kingdom (2005 est. pop. 2,232,000), 18,147 sq mi (47,000 sq km), in the E Himalayas, southern Asia. It is bordered on the west, south, and east by India and on the north by the Tibet region of China. Punakha is the traditional capital; Thimphu is the official capital and largest city.

Land and People

Great mountain ranges, rising in the N to Kula Kangri (24,784 ft/7,554 m), Bhutan's tallest peak, run north and south, dividing the country into forested valleys with some pastureland. The perpetually snow-covered Great Himalayas are uninhabited, except for some Buddhist monks in scattered monasteries. Bhutan is drained by several rivers rising in the Himalayas and flowing into India. Thunderstorms and torrential rains are common; rainfall averages from 200 to 250 in. (508–635 cm) on the southern plains. The valleys, especially the Paro, are intensively cultivated.

Bhutan's people are mostly Bhotias, who call themselves Drukpas (dragon people). They are ethnically related to the Tibetans and practice a form of Buddhism closely related to the Lamaism (see Tibetan Buddhism) of Tibet; many Bhutanese live in monasteries. Dzongka, the official language, is also basically Tibetan. In S Bhutan there is a sizable minority of Nepalese (about a third of the population), who practice Hinduism and speak various Nepalese dialects. Large numbers of ethnic Nepalese have been expelled to Nepal since the late 1980s, and the government has pressured the Nepalese to adopt Bhutanese dress, customs, religion, and language. In addition, some 15% of Bhutan's people are from indigenous or migrant tribal groups.


The chief occupations, which employ more than 60% of the workforce, are small-scale subsistence farming (producing rice, corn, root crops, citrus fruit, barley, wheat, and potatoes) and the raising of yaks, cattle, sheep, pigs, and tanguns, a sturdy breed of pony valued in mountain transportation. Wood and leather products, processed foods, alcoholic beverages, calcium carbide, textiles, and handicrafts are also important. Hydroelectric power is a most important resource, with some electricity being exported to India; it is the country's most important export. Fuels, grain, aircraft, machinery, vehicles, and fabrics are the major imports; cardamom and other spices, gypsum, timber, handicrafts, fruit, and precious stones are the other primary exports. Tourism is a significant though restricted activity, and it is the country's largest source of foreign exchange. Bhutan's economy is closely tied to that of India, both through trade and monetary links.


Bhutan is governed under the constitution of 2008. The hereditary monarch, the Druk Gyalpo (Dragon King), is head of state; the government is headed by a prime minister. The national Parliament, which was established in 2008 and replaced the unicameral National Assembly, comprises two houses. The upper house, the National Council, has 20 elected members and 5 members nominated by the monarch. The lower house, the National Assembly, has 47 members, all of whom are popularly elected. Administratively, Bhutan is divided into 20 districts (dzongkhag).


Although its early history is vague, Bhutan seems to have existed as a political entity for many centuries. At the beginning of the 16th cent. it was ruled by a dual monarchy consisting of a Dharma Raja, or spiritual ruler, and a Deb Raja, or temporal ruler. For much of its early history the Deb Raja held little real power, as the provincial governors (ponlops) became quite strong. In 1720 the Chinese invaded Tibet and established suzerainty over Bhutan. Friction between Bhutan and Indian Bengal culminated in a Bhutanese invasion of Cooch Behar in 1772, followed by a British incursion into Bhutan, but the Tibetan lama's intercession with the governor-general of British India improved relations.

In 1774 a British mission arrived in Bhutan to promote trade with India. British occupation of Assam in 1826, however, led to renewed border raids from Bhutan. In 1864 the British occupied part of S Bhutan, which was formally annexed after a war in 1865; the Treaty of Sinchula provided for an annual subsidy to Bhutan as compensation. In 1907 the most powerful of Bhutan's provincial governors, Sir Ugyen Wangchuk, supported by the British, became the monarch of Bhutan, the first of a hereditary line. A treaty signed in 1910 doubled the annual British subsidy to Bhutan in return for an agreement to let Britain direct the country's foreign affairs.

After India won independence, a treaty (1949) returned the part of Bhutan annexed by the British and allowed India to assume the former British role of subsidizing Bhutan and directing its defense and foreign relations; the Indians, like the British before them, promised not to interfere in Bhutan's internal affairs. When Chinese Communist forces occupied Tibet in 1950, Bhutan, because of its strategic location, became a point of contest between China and India. The Chinese claim to Bhutan (as part of a greater Tibet) and the persecution of Tibetan Buddhists led India to close the Bhutanese-Tibetan border and to build roads in Bhutan capable of carrying Indian military vehicles. In the 1960s, Bhutan also formed a small army, trained and equipped by India. The kingdom's admission to the United Nations in 1971 was seen as strengthening its sovereignty, and by the 1980s relations with China had improved significantly.

Bhutan's third hereditary ruler, King Jigme Dorji Wangchuk (reigned 1953–72), modernized Bhutanese society by abolishing slavery and the caste system, emancipating women, dividing large estates into small individual plots, and starting a secular educational system. Although Bhutan no longer has a Dharma Raja, Buddhist priests retain political influence. In 1969 the absolute monarchy gave way to a "democratic monarchy." In 1972 the crown prince, Jigme Singye Wangchuk, became the fourth hereditary king of Bhutan upon his father's death; he was crowned in June, 1974. The new king gradually democratized the Bhutanese government. By 1999 the king was no longer head of government; that position was held by head of the cabinet, which is responsible to the national assembly. Since then the country has moved slowly toward adopting a new constitution; in 2005 the draft of the proposed constitution was released.

Meanwhile, an uprising by the Nepalese minority in 1989, a national policy of forcing non–ethnic Bhutanese to adopt Bhutanese Buddhist traditions, and the expulsion of thousands of ethnic Nepalese regarded by the government as illegal aliens were a source of tension within Bhutan, and with Nepal and India, in the 1990s. Also, Assamese and West Bengali separatist guerrillas have established bases in Bhutan, from which they make attacks into India. After attempts to negotiate the Assamese guerrillas' withdrawal failed, Bhutan mounted attacks (2003) to demolish their bases. An agreement between Bhutan and Nepal in 2003 permitted some of the ethnic Nepalese expelled from Bhutan and living in refugee camps in Nepal to return to Bhutan, but most remained in the camps; some began being resettled abroad in 2008. In late 2005 the king announced plans to abdicate in favor of his son in 2008, when the first democratic elections for a parliament are to held. However, at the end of 2007 the king stepped down and was succeeded by Crown Prince Jigme Kesar Namgyel Wangchuk (the formal coronation occurred a year later). Bhutan subsequently signed a revised treaty with India that gave Bhutan greater control over its foreign policy.

In Dec., 2007, the country began its transition to constitutional monarchy with nonpartisan elections for the National Council. Elections for the National Assembly were held in Mar., 2008; nearly all the seats were won by Bhutan Prosperity (or Bhutan Harmony) party (DPT), whose leader, Jigme Thinley, had twice previously served as prime minister. In the July, 2013, elections, the People's Democratic party (PDP) won a majority; PDP leader Tshering Tobgay became prime minister.


See studies by T. O. Edmunds (1988) and L. M. Foster (1989).

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Official name: Kingdom of Bhutan

Area: 47,000 square kilometers (18,147 square miles)

Highest point on mainland : Kula Kangri (7,553 meters/24,781 feet)

Lowest point on land: Drangme Chhu (River) (97 meters/318 feet)

Hemispheres : Northern and Eastern

Time zone: 5:30 p.m. = noon GMT

Longest distances: 306 kilometers (190 miles) from east to west; 145 kilometers (90 miles) from north to south

Land boundaries : 1,075 kilometers (668 miles) total boundary length; China, 470 kilometers (292 miles); India, 605 kilometers (376 miles)

Coastline: None

Territorial sea limits: None


Bhutan is a small, landlocked country in the Himalaya Mountains, between China and India in Southern Asia. To the north and northwest, it borders the Chinese autonomous region of Tibet (Xizang Zizhiqu); to the south and southwest, the Indian states of West Bengal and Assam; and to the east, the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh (formerly the NorthEast Frontier Agency). Bhutan has an area of 47,000 square kilometers (18,147 square miles), making it slightly more than half as large as the state of Indiana.


Bhutan has no territories or dependencies.


Bhutan has three distinct climates, corresponding to its three topographical regions. The Duārs Plain areas in the south have a hot, humid, subtropical climate, with heavy rainfall. Temperatures generally average between 15°C (59°F) and 30°C (86°F) year-round. Temperatures in the valleys of the southern foothills of the Himalayas may rise as high as 101°F (40°C) in the summer. The central Inner Himalayan region has a temperate climate, with hot summers, cool winters, and moderate rainfall. Temperatures in the capital city of Thimphu, located in the western part of this region, generally range from about 15°C (59°F) to 26°C (79°F) between June and September (the monsoon season), falling to between -4°C (25°F) and 16°C (61°F) in January. The high mountains of the Greater Himalayas in the north have more severe weather than the regions to the south. At their highest elevations, they are snow-covered year-round, with an arctic climate.

Like other aspects of Bhutan's climate, rainfall varies by region. The northern Himalayas are relatively dry, and most precipitation falls as snow. The Inner Himalayan slopes and valleys have moderate rainfall, averaging between 100 and 150 centimeters (39 and 59 inches) annually. Rainfall in the subtropical southern regions averages between about 500 centimeters and 750 centimeters (197 and 295 inches) per year. The greatest amount of rain falls during the summer monsoon season, from late June through the end of September.


All of Bhutan is mountainous except for narrow fringes of land at the southern border where the Duārs Plain, the lowland of the Brahmaputra River, protrudes northward from India. The rest of Bhutan can be divided into two mountain regions: the Lesser Himalayas, or Inner Himalayas, which extend from the Duārs Plain through the central part of the country; and the snow-capped peaks of the Great Himalayas in the far north.


Bhutan is landlocked.


There are no notable inland lakes in Bhutan.


All of Bhutan's numerous rivers flow south through gorges and narrow valleys, eventually draining into the Brahmaputra River in India. The headwaters of most streams are in the regions of permanent snow along the Tibetan border. None of the rivers in Bhutan is navigable, but many of them are potential sources of hydroelectric power.

Bhutan contains four main river systems. The Tongsa River and its tributaries, the Bumtang and Drangme Rivers (river names in Bhutan are often followed by Chu or Chhu, which means river), drains the area east of the Black Mountain watershed. West of the Black Mountains, the drainage pattern changes to a series of parallel streams, beginning with the Sankosh (or Puna Tsang) River and its tributaries, the Mo Chhu and Pho Chhu. These two waterways flow southward to Punakha; there they join the main river, continuing their southward course into the Indian state of West Bengal. Farther west is the third major system, the Wong Chhu and its tributaries. These flow through west-central Bhutan, joining to form the Raigye Chhu before flowing into West Bengal. Still farther west is the smallest system, the Torsa Chhu (called the Amo Chhu farther north), which flows through the Chumbi Valley before entering India.


There are no notable desert regions in Bhutan.


The Duārs Plain, which lies mostly in India, extends northward across Bhutan's border in strips 10 to 15 kilometers (6 to 9 miles) wide. The northern edges of these plains, which border the Himalayan foothills, have rugged terrain and porous soil. Fertile flatlands are found farther south. At the southern edge of the Inner Himalayas, sloping down to the Duārs Plain, are low, densely forested foothills called the Siwalik (or Southern) Hills.


The mountains of Bhutan are known for their dramatic differences in elevation. Elevations vary from approximately 305 meters (1,000 feet) in the south to almost 7,620 meters (25,000 feet) in the northin some places as close together as 100 kilometers (60 miles). The snowcapped Great Himalayas rise along the Tibetan border, stretching across Bhutan in a belt about 16 kilometers (10 miles) wide. Four peaks in this range have elevations above 6,096 meters (20,000 feet). The highest is Kula Kangri, north of Gasa Dzong, at 7,553 meters (24,781 feet). Next in height is the country's most famous peak, picturesque Chomo Lhari, which towers over the Chumbi Valley at an elevation of 7,314 meters (23,997 feet).

Spurs extending southward from the Great Himalayas make up the north-south ranges of Bhutan's Inner, or Lesser, Himalayas. The fertile valleys between its peaks form the watersheds of Bhutan's major rivers. The dominant range in this system is the Black Mountain Range, which divides the country almost exactly down the middle from north to south and forms the water-shed between the Sankosh and Drangme Chhus (Rivers). Its peaks range from 1,500 to 2,700 meters (4,922 to 8,859 feet) above sea level.

Several strategically important passes follow the major river courses through the valleys of Bhutan's Himalaya Mountains. Formerly of great significance for trade, they now serve as escape routes for Tibetan refugees.


There are no notable canyons or caves in Bhutan.


There are no notable plateaus or monoliths in Bhutan.


A 90-meter (295-foot) suspension bridge at Chazam, spanning the Dangmechu River, was opened on March 16, 2001. It is the most extensive single-span bridge of this type in the Himalayas.



Dompnier, Robert. Bhutan, Kingdom of the Dragon. Boston: Shambhala, 1999.

Hellum, A. K. A Painter's Year in the Forests of Bhutan. Edmonton: University of Alberta Press, 2001.

Zeppa, Jamie. Beyond the Sky and the Earth: A Journey into Bhutan. New York: Riverhead Books, 1999.

Web Sites

The Kingdom of Bhutan. (accessed June 22, 2003).

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ETHNONYMS: Bhote, Bhotia, Bhutia


The name "Bhutan" is derived from the compound bhotente, the ente or "borderland" of Bhot. The Bhutanese know their country as "Druk-yul," the land (yul ) of the thunder dragon (druk ). The country's association with the dragon is explained by the evolution of the early sects of Buddhism in Tibet and its adjoining territories. It was the Indian saint Padma Sambhava, "the lotus-born," known in Tibet as Guru Rimpoche or "precious teacher," who was primarily responsible for the introduction of Buddhism into Bhutan, Sikkim, and Tibet in the eighth century a.d.

Bhutan has an area of 47,182 square kilometers. It is flanked on the north by Tibet, on the south by Bengal and Assam, on the east by Arunachal Pradesh and on the west by Sikkim. In 1990 the estimated population of Bhutan was 1,566,000, the second most populous Himalayan kingdom after Nepal. At least another 100,000 live in West Bengal and Nepal. However, its density of population, about 32 persons per square kilometer, is the lowest of the three Himalayan kingdoms. Bhutan's population is entirely rural. The Kingdom has no towns, no banks, and no shops worthy of the name. Thimbu is the capital, built up with Indian aid, and is just a cluster of houses around the dzong, a fortress built in the architectural style of the potala or palace of the Dalai Lama at Lhasa. In the north and center of the country Tibetan is spoken, in the southeast Sangla; both are Tibeto-Burman languages. In the southwest live Rai, Gurung, and Limbu settlers from Nepal, and some Nepalese Brahmans and Chhetris, all of whom speak Nepali.


Bhutan's economy is based on agriculture. The main crops are rice, wheat, maize, and millet. The country is heavily Forested, but the absence of good communications has prevented any effective exploitation. The forests of teak and sal (Shorea robusta ) along the southern foothills are within easy reach of railheads in India. That rail system provides a way for timber to be dispatched to a ready market. The larger proportion of Bhutan's forests is inaccessible. These forests consist of conifers extending over mountain ranges rising to a height of 3,600 meters and more. Bhutan does have limestone, gypsum, and other valuable mineral deposits that will provide raw material for setting up industries, but the field of hortiCulture is the most significant source of advancement for the country. The Bhutan apple is much favored in India, and the climate is also ideally suited for the cultivation of peaches, plums, and apricots. Some liqueur is manufactured.

Kinship, Marriage and Family

The king has worked on modernizing the social structure of Bhutan. For example, besides declaring serfdom illegal, he has abolished polyandry and restricted polygamy to a maximum of three wives per man. Before taking a new wife, the man must obtain the permission of his first wife, who is free to seek a divorce and maintenance for life from the husband. The age for marriage has been raised to 16 for women and 21 for men. Once married the bride does not necessarily leave her home; it all depends on the strength of the two families as an agricultural labor force. The groom moves in if the bride's family's labor needs are greater. If both families have ample labor, then the couple may stake out their own plot of land and home.

Sociopolitical Organization

Bhutan is divided into fifteen districts, each with its own dialect, that grew out of history and tradition and formerly were isolated by the mountain ranges. This geographic pattern of fertile valleys surrounded by mountains gives the background to the whole administrative and political concept of the country. One-quarter of Bhutan's people are Nepalese Immigrants, and there are strict restrictions against their settling north of a specified middle line running from east to west across the entire country. The Bhutanese have seen how in neighboring Sikkim the original inhabitants have been Gradually outnumbered by Nepalese immigrants, and they are determined to stop the process in their own country before it assumes unmanageable proportions. The Nepalese are a polygamous people and a household of three or four wives and a dozen to fifteen children is not an uncommon phenomenon. The Bhutanese worry that, unless restrictions are set on further settlement, the Nepalese will in time emerge as the majority community, as in Sikkim, and seek to exert political and cultural dominance. Twenty-five percent of the 130 members of the Tsongdu (the national assembly) are government officers appointed to the assembly by the king. Included in the membership are influential lamas and the abbot of the chief monastery at Pimakha, who is a member of the ruler's council of eight ministers. The rest of the body consists of Village headmen elected for five-year terms from all over the kingdom. Each family in the villages has one vote.

Religion and Expressive Culture

The dominant religious cult in Bhutan is that of the Red-Hat sect (Kargyupa), a Tibetan lamaistic order of Mahayana Buddhism. Tibetan shamanism in the form of Bon, a more ancient religious tradition, is also practised. Only among the Nepalese immigrants does one find Hinduism, or a combination of that tradition with Tibetan lamaism, being followed. The idea of ablution has diffused here from India. The inherent idea is that purification of the body leads to the purification of the mind as well. The Bon practice salutation, circumambulation, and offering of water; devotions are part of the Buddhist mode of worship in Bhutan. The offering of Sacrifices is accompanied by ritual dances and dramatic representations. The special dance sequences known as acham, where trained and inspired actors impersonate gods and goblins, wearing appropriate masks and mimicking mystery actions, are essentially frameworks for offering the torma (see below). These dances are described by some Western scholars as "devil dances," because the chief purposes of these performances are to exorcise evil spirits and secure blessings or, allegorically speaking, to drive out bad luck and usher in the good year and good luck. Whenever a domestic or public rite of greater importance is to be performed, lamas expert in ritual are called to prepare the altar and appropriate accessories and to conduct the elaborate worship. An indispensable part of all such ritual performances is the torma, figures made of dough and butter, shaped to symbolize deities and spirits and presented to the deities invoked.

See also Brahman and Chhetri of Nepal; Gurung; Lepcha; Limbu; Rai


Chakravarti, Balaram (1980). A Cultural History of Bhutan. Chittaranjan: Hilltop Publishers.

Karan, Pradyumna P. (1967). Bhutan, a Physical and Cultural Geography. Lexington: University of Kentucky Press.

Jenkins, William M. (1963). The Himalayan Kingdoms: Bhutan, Sikkim, and Nepal. Princeton: D. Van Nostrand.

Olschak, Blanche C. (1971). Bhutan: Land of Hidden Treasures. New York: Stein & Day.

Rustomji, Nari (1978). Bhutan: The Dragon Kingdom in Crisis. New York: Oxford University Press.


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Basic Data
Official Country Name: Kingdom of Bhutan
Region: East & South Asia
Population: 2,005,222
Language(s): Dzongkha
Literacy Rate: 42.2%

Bhutan is a small, landlocked South Asian country of 47,000 square kilometers located in the eastern Himalayas between China and India. In the year 2000, Bhutan had a population of about 2 million people with 40 percent below the age of 14 years. (Official statistics do not include people of Nepalese origin, though, and place the population count at 600,000 people.) Nearly 90 percent of the population lives in rural areas in the 5,000 scattered villages and hamlets. The population growth rate is 2.2 percent with a life expectancy of 52 years. Agriculture, animal husbandry, and forestry employ 94 percent of the population and account for 40 percent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in the world's smallest and least developed economy.

In 1616, for the first time, Bhutan became unified under the leadership of Ngawang Namgyel. The nineteenth century witnessed constant conflicts with the British that divided the country. The second unification occurred under the regimes of Ugyen Wangchuk and Jigme Dorji between 1873 and 1948. Jigme Dorji Wangchuk succeeded in 1952, and after his death in 1972, then Jigme Singye Wangchuk became the youngest king. He has paved way for slow modernization of this traditional country.

Bhutan is a monarchy. The country is divided into twenty dzongkhags (districts). The head of the state is the King with a unicameral Tshogdu (National Assembly). Tshogdu has 154 seats of which 105 are elected from village constituencies, 12 from religious bodies, and 37 nominated by the king. The supreme court of appeal is the king. The government is committed to universal education as a signatory to the policy of "Education for All" and the Convention of the Rights of the Child (in 1991 at New Delhi, India). In 2000, the literacy rate in Bhutan was 42 percent, with female literacy being only 28 percent.

Until the twentieth century the only schools that existed in Bhutan were the monasteries set up by the Drukpa subsect of Kargyupa sect of Mahayana Buddhism. The growing influence of the British in the late nineteenth century influenced Ugyen Wangchuk (1907-1926) toward Western style education, and he set up English-medium private schools for the elite in Ha, Bhumthang, and Thimphu (the national capital). In the 1950s, Jigme Dorje Wangchuk began government-supported primary schools for common people. In 1960, there were 29 public and 30 private schools that enrolled nearly 2,500 children. Secondary level schooling was available only in neighboring India. Systematic efforts toward developing the education sector began in 1961, with the introduction of the First Development Plan (1961-1966) that provided for free and universal primary education. By 1998, the government had established 400 schools, of which 150 were primary community schools in remote areas, 188 regular primary schools, 44 junior high schools, and 18 high schools. However, in the twenty-first century there is still a shortage of schools with adequate facilities.

The schooling begins with preschool (at age four) for one year, followed by five years of primary school, three years of junior high (grades six through eight), and then three years of high school (grades nine through eleven). The National Board of Secondary Education in the Department of Education conducts nationwide examinations at the end of the eleventh grade. Instruction is in English and the national language, Dzongkha. The Department of Education is responsible for producing textbooks, course syllabi, in-service teachers training, organizing interschool tournaments, recruiting, testing and promoting teachers, and procuring foreign assistance. Curricula have been developed in assistance with UNESCO, the University of London, and the University of Delhi.

In 1998, gross primary school enrollment was 25 percent with a total enrollment of 77,300. The proportion of girls among primary students was 45 percent. In addition, in the remote areas, 12,600 students were enrolled in community schools. In 1998, the percentage of primary school entrants completing fifth grade was 82 percent. Also in 1998, gross secondary school enrollment ratio was 7 percent for males and 2 percent for females.

In 1998, there was only one four-year degree college, located in Kanglung, that offered undergraduate degrees in arts and commerce, as well as nine technical institutes. Under a national service plan and fellowships, many Bhutanese students receive higher education abroad.

Bhutan's government spends 22 percent of its budget on health and education. The Department of Education sets educational policies. In the 1990s, Asian Development Bank funding boosted the Department of Education and its Technical and Vocational Education Division.

Nonformal education (NFE) supported by UNICEF, UNESCO, and ESCAP has established 54 centers with an enrollment of about 4,000 participants, of which 70 percent are women. The course, in Dzongkha, is designed for completion within 6 to 12 months. The course materials deal with everyday situations and messages concerning health and hygiene, family planning, agriculture, forestry, and the environment.

In 1998, there were a total of 2,785 teachers in Bhutan. Each primary school teacher has an average of 37 students, but the class size goes up to 70 in some schools. Although the government offers special incentives to those who join the profession, it has not been able to train enough teachers. The National Institute of Education (NIE) does provide distance education courses to already-trained teachers.

Bhutan is a slowly modernizing, traditional country that had approximately 100,000 students in its educational system in 1998. The country is still grappling with the problem of illiteracy with more than half of its population being illiterate and more than two-thirds of its women being without education. Since the 1960s, the country has been able to develop a basic educational infrastructure that is slowly expanding with foreign aid. The governmental commitment toward universal education is a healthy sign for its continued progress.


The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The World Factbook 2000. Directorate of Intelligence, 1 January 2000. Available from

Central Statistical Organization, Planning Commission. Bhutan at a Glance 1999 Thimpu, Bhutan: Central Statistical Organization, 1999.

Cooper, Robert. Bhutan. New York: Marshall Cavendish, 2001.

Dompnier, Robert. Bhutan: Kingdom of the Dragon. Boston, MA: Shambhala Publications, Inc., 1999.

Karan, Pradyumana P. Bhutan: Environment, Culture, and Development Strategy. Columbia, MO: South Asia Books, 1990.

Planning Commission. Eighth Five Year Plan 1997-2002. Thimpu: Royal Government of Bhutan, 1998.

Savada, Andrea M. Bhutan Country Study. Washington, DC: Federal Research Division. Library of Congress, 1993.

Manoj Sharma

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Basic Data

Official Country Name: Kingdom of Bhutan
Region (Map name): East & South Asia
Population: 2,005,222
Language(s): Dzongkha
Literacy rate: 42.2%

Bhutan is a small country in South Asia that had a population of about 2 million in 2001. (Official statistics do not include people of Nepalese origin and thus place the count at 800,000.) Nearly 90 percent of the population lives in rural areas. The literacy rate is nearly 42 percent. The four main languages spoken in Bhutan are Dzongkha (the national language and spoken largely in Western Bhutan), English (the language of instruction), Nepalese (with its dialects spoken by close to 1 million people of Nepalese origin in Bhutan), and Sharchopkha (spoken in Eastern Bhutan). The main occupations, which employ 94 percent of the population and account for 40 percent of the Gross Domestic Product, include agriculture, animal husbandry, and forestry.

Bhutan is a monarchy, run by a king and a unicameral Tshogdu (National Assembly). Jigme Singye Wang-chuk has been the king of Bhutan since 1972. He has paved the way for a gradual modernization of this traditional country. His slogan is that Gross National Happiness (Gakid ) is more important than Gross National Product.

Journalism is fairly small-scale and new to the country of Bhutan. Bhutan has only one newspaper, one radio station, one television station, and one Internet provider, Druknet, which was started in 1999. The government monitors these enterprises closely, under the guise of preserving culture and tradition, and restricts freedom of speech and the press. Bhutan's only regular publication is Kuensel, a weekly newspaper that is published and controlled by the government. Its circulation is about 10,000, and editions are published in Dzongkha English, and Nepalese. An online version of the newspaper was introduced in 1999. The government ministries regularly monitor the subject content and have the constitutional right to prevent or alter publication of the content. There are no tabloids published in Bhutan, but some Indian and Nepalese tabloids are available.

In 1989, the Bhutan government banned reception of all private television and ordered dismantling of satellite dishes and antennas. It introduced a local television service through the Bhutan Broadcasting Service. In early 2002, the daily programming consisted of about four hours of programs with half of it in Dzongkha and the other half in English. The programs consisted of imported programs from other countries, such as the British Broadcasting Corporation and Doordarshan (India). In 1997 it was estimated that about 11,000 television sets were being used in Bhutan.

Bhutan's one radio station includes one short-wave program and one daily FM broadcast from Thimphu, the national capital. In 1997 it was estimated that there were about 37,000 radios in Bhutan.

Bhutan is a traditional country that is slowly modernizing but resists Western influences. In such milieu, the press has focused more on providing information to the people, assuming an objective reporting style, and serving as the long arm of the government.


The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The World Fact-book 2001. Directorate of Intelligence. Available from

Central Statistical Organization, Planning Commission. Bhutan at a Glance. Thimphu, Bhutan, 1999.

Cooper, Robert. Bhutan. New York: Marshall Cavendish, 2001.

Dompnier, Robert. Bhutan: Kingdom of the Dragon. Boston, MA: Shambhala Publications, Inc., 1999.

Karan, Pradyumana P. Bhutan: Environment, Culture, and Development Strategy. Columbia, MO: South Asia Books, 1990.

Planning Commission. Eighth Five Year Plan 1997-2002. Thimphu: Royal Government of Bhutan, 1998.

Savada, Andrea M. Bhutan Country Study. Washington, DC: Federal Research Division, Library of Congress, 1993.

Manoj Sharma

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Bhutan Mountainous kingdom in the e Himalayas, bordered n by Tibet, e and s by India, and w by Sikkim; the capital is Thimbu. In the 17th century, Bhutan unified under the leader of the Drukpa Kagyu (‘Thunder Dragon’) sect of Tibetan Buddhism. Villages developed around the dzong (castle-monastery), and many Bhutanese continue to live in monastic communities. War with Britain (1865) resulted in the British annexation of s Bhutan. In 1907, with British support, Bhutan became an hereditary monarchy. Britain directed its foreign policy until India gained independence (1949) and assumed Britain's former role. King Jigme Dorji Wangchuk (r.1952–72) reformed Bhutanese society, abolished slavery (1958), and established a national assembly. In 1971 Bhutan joined the United Nations (UN). In 1990 pro-democracy demonstrations were suppressed and political parties banned. Bhutan is one of the world's poorest nations (2000 GDP per capita US$1100). It is also the world's most rural country, with more than 90% of the workforce engaged in agriculture, mostly at subsistence level. Tourism, a vital source of foreign currency, is restricted. Area: 47,000sq km (18,000sq mi). Pop. (1999) 657,548.;

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Culture Name


Alternative Names

Kingdom of Bhutan; Druk-Yul


Identification. Druk-yul means "Land of the Thunder Dragon." Most Bhutanese refer to their homeland as Druk-yul, the original and still official name. Bhutan, the name given to the country by the British, is the name used for most official and international business and reference. The name Bhutan may be derived from the ancient Indian term "Bhotania," which means "end of the land of the Bhots" (Tibet).

Because a number of stone tools and megaliths (large stones used in prehistoric monuments) have been found in Bhutan, it is believed that Bhutan was populated as early as 20001500 b.c.e.

The society of Bhutan today is made up of several ethnic groups. The Sharchops, who are believed to be ancestors of those earliest residents, live mostly in eastern Bhutan. Their early ancestor tribes may have originated from Burma (Myanmar) and northeast India. It is also believed that Indo-Mongoloids (usually referred to as Monpas, which means non-Tibetans) migrated into Bhutan two thousand years ago from Arunchal Pradesh, Nagaland, northern Burma, and Thailand. The Ngalops live in western Bhutan and migrated from the Tibetan plains; they are credited with being the first to bring Buddhism to the country. The other main ethnic group is the Lhotshampas, who were from Nepal originally. The Lhotshampas migrated to Bhutan toward the end of the nineteenth century.

Location and Geography. Bhutan is located in the northern area of South Asia and is also in the eastern Himalayan mountain area. It is 18,000 square miles (46,620 square kilometers) in size and is bordered in the north by the People's Republic of China and to the south, east, and west by India.

Geographically, Bhutan is divided into three zones: the southern zone, which has low foothills that are covered with dense tropical forests; the central zone, which primarily consists of fertile valleys at altitudes that range from 3,500 to 10,000 feet (1,060 to 3,050 meters); and the northern zone, which has valleys at heights that range from 11,000 to 28,000 feet (3,350 to 8,535 meters). It is this northern section that forms part of the Himalayas with its high peaks along the Tibetan borders.

The largest percentage of the population lives in the central zone. The federal capital of Thimphu is located along the river of the same name in this section of the country.

Demography. According to the most recent government census, Bhutan's population consists of approximately 600,000 people. However, Bhutanese dissident groups have argued that the population is, in fact, much bigger than government estimates. These groups contend that the Bhutanese government dramatically undercounted the number of ethnic Nepalese in the country as part of a campaign to limit the influence of this fast-growing minority population. Ethnic conflicts between the Buddhist majority and the largely Hindu Nepalese in the late 1980s and early 1990s forced tens of thousands Nepalese into refugee camps in Nepal and India. The Bhutanese government does not recognize the citizenship of the majority of these refugees, estimated at 112,000.

Linguistic Affiliation. Bhutan's national language is Dzongkha. Most of the schools conduct classes in English, although more textbooks are being written in Dzongkha. Different dialects are spoken by residents of the east and west, which sometimes makes it difficult for them to understand each other.

A large proportion of the populationespecially urban residentsspeak English. Kuensel, the national newspaper, is published in Dzongkha, English, and Nepali, both in print and on the Internet.

Symbolism. The national emblem is a circle with two double diamond thunderbolts placed above a lotus, topped by a jewel, and framed by two dragons. The thunderbolts represent harmony between secular and religious power. The lotus represents purity, the jewel represents sovereign power, and the two dragons represent Druk-Yul ("Land of the Thunder Dragon") the original name of Bhutan.

The national flag is divided diagonally by two blocks of different colors with a white dragon across the middle. The top part of the flag is golden yellow, which represents the secular power of the king, and the lower part is orange, which symbolizes the Buddhist religion. The dragon, who represents Bhutan, holds jewels in its claws, which stand for the wealth and perfection of the country.

The national flower is the blue poppy, which grows at the high altitudes. The national tree is the cypress. The Bhutanese people associate with it because it is straight and strong and can grow even in inhospitable soil. The national bird is the raven, which also adorns the royal hat. The national animal is an extremely rare mammal called the takin. It lives in flocks in areas 13,000 feet (4,000 meters) high and eats bamboo.

History and Ethnic Relations

Emergence of the Nation. Nearly all the historic records of early Bhutan were destroyed by fire, flood, earthquake, and war.

In the sixteenth century, the region came under Tibetan rule. Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal (15941651), who was referred to as "Zhabdrung Rinpoche" (which translates to "the precious jewel at whose feet one submits"), set up a dual system of administration headed by a spiritual leader and a civil government leader. This system endured until 1907 when a hereditary monarchy was established.

In the nineteenth century, the British sought to incorporate Tibet within their influence, which posed a threat to Bhutan, but this problem was successfully eliminated by Penlop Ugyen Wangchuck, who played the role of mediator between British India and Tibet. Wangchuck became the first hereditary monarch of Bhutan in 1907. In 1949 Bhutan officially became an independent nation.

National Identity. Bhutan's national identity is intimately bound up with its religious identity as a Buddhist nation. Buddhism influences both the daily lives of its people as well as the government, in which Buddhist religious leaders have considerable power.

Ethnic Relations. Bhutan has a wide diversity of ethnic groups, starting with a number of small tribal groups (related to similar tribes in India and Sikkim) whose ancestry goes back almost three thousand years. More recent centuries have seen large migrant groups from Tibet, Nepal and Mongolia. The rapid growth of the largely Hindu Nepalese population in Bhutan towards the end of the twentieth century resulted in significant ethnic conflicts with the Buddhist majority. The government responded by tightening immigration and citizenship laws to reduce the flow of Nepalese into Bhutan. When many Nepalese responded to this action with protests and demonstrations, ethnic violence and repression broke out against them in Bhutan's southern districts in the late 1980s and early 1990s. As a result, tens of thousands of Nepalese fled the country in 1991 and 1992. There are an estimated 112,000 Nepalese refugees currently residing in refugee camps in Nepal and India.

Urbanism, Architecture, and the Use of Space

A large percentage of Bhutanese are rural residents who live in houses built to withstand the long, cold winters, with wood-burning stoves for both heat and cooking. Nearly all these rural houses are surrounded by some land that is used for growing vegetables. There are also a number of cities, including the capital of Thimphu, which is home to the royal family and government buildings. Other cities include Wangdue Phondrang and Tongsa. Bumthang is the spiritual region and has a number of monasteries and places of religious pilgrimage, as well as numerous religious legends associated with it.

The use of the space involves preserving both the environment and the quality of life of Bhutan residents and at the same time using space to preserve wildlife. As part of Bhutan's Buddhist heritage, this includes preserving the numerous Dzongs (monastery fortresses) that are located throughout the entire country.

Food and Economy

Food in Daily Life. Because of the ethnic diversity of the people, there is a certain ethnic diversity in the food. Northern Indian cuisine is often mixed with the chilies of the Tibetan area in daily dishes. Mushrooms, apricots, asparagus, a variety of chilies and numerous spices are grown in abundance in nearly all the valleys. Spices, fruits, and vegetables are cooked with beef, chicken, pork, and dried yak, and resemble Chinese and Indian cuisine. The typical meal also features rice, dried beef or pork, and chilies sometimes cooked with soft, white cheese. The most popular beverage is tea, which is served in a variety of ways.

Basic Economy. The economy is based on agriculture and forestry and provides the livelihoods for 90 percent of the population. Agriculture is primarily subsistence farming and animal husbandry. The economy of Bhutan is aligned with that of India through strong trade and monetary links.

Commercial Activities. Cottage industries, which include weaving, account for the majority of production.

Major Industries. Manufactured goods include cement, wood products, processed fruits, alcoholic beverages, and calcium carbite. Electricity is another important industry.

Trade. The 1998 estimate of exports was $111 million. Electricity is a major export item and is exported to India. Other exports include spices, gypsum, cement, and precious stones. Chief imports are fuels, fabrics, and rice, and amounted to $136 million (estimate) in 1998. Major import partners are India, Japan, and the United Kingdom.

Division of Labor. The majority of Bhutanese are not skilled labor workers: 93 percent are in agriculture, 5 percent in services, and 2 percent in industry and commerce.

Social Stratification

Classes and Castes. While Bhutan has no caste system, a pattern of discrimination against the minority Hindus of Nepalese origin exists. Thousands of Nepalese were deported from Bhutan in the late 1980s, and many others fled to refugee camps in Nepal. The government launched an effort to promote the cultural assimilation of the remaining Nepalese. Nepali was no longer taught in schools, and national dress was required for official occasions.

Political Life

Government. Bhutan is a constitutional monarchy, ruled by a hereditary king, the "Druk Gyalpo," who governs with the aid of a Royal Cabinet and a National Assembly (the Tsongdu). In the past, the king appointed members to a Royal Advisory Council and to a Council of Ministers. Following the political reforms of 1998, however, these two councils were combined to form the cabinet. This body consists of six ministers elected by the National Assembly, six advisors also elected by the National Assembly, a member nominated by the king, and two representatives of the clergy.

The unicameral National Assembly (established in 1953), known as the Tsongdu, consists of one-hundred fifty members. Of these, thirty-five are appointed by the king to represent government and other secular interests; one-hundred five are elected to three-year terms by groups of village headmen, who are, in turn, elected by a one-family, one-vote system; and the remaining ten are chosen by the lamas acting in concert. The Tsongdu meets twice a year at Thimphu, the capital. Candidates file their own nominations. The assembly is charged with addressing the king on matters of national importance. It also enacts laws and approves senior government appointments. A simple majority is needed to pass a measure and is conducted by secret ballot. While the king may not veto legislation, he may return bills for further consideration; the king generally has enough influence to persuade the assembly to approve legislation he considers important or to withdraw proposals which he opposes.

Previously an autocracy, Bhutan moved closer to becoming a true constitutional monarchy when King Jigme Singye Wangchuk announced ambitious political changes in 1998. He relinquished his role as head of government and assigned full executive powers to a cabinet consisting of ministers and advisors to be elected by the National Assembly (in reality, the National Assembly chooses from a list of nominees proposed by the king, who also retains authority relating to security issues). The Council of Ministers, a subgroup of the cabinet, elects one of its members on a rotational basis to serve a one-year term as chairman. It is this official who is the head of government. As part of his reforms, King Jigme Singye Wangchuk also introduced legislation by which any monarch would have to abdicate in favor of his hereditary successor if the National Assembly supported a vote of no-confidence against him by a two-thirds majority.

The government discourages political parties and none operate legally.

Social Problems and Control. The legal system is based on English common law and Indian law. Local headmen and magistrates (Thrimpon) hear cases in the first instance. Appeals may be made to an eight-member High Court, established in 1968. From the High Court, a final appeal may be made to the king. Criminal matters and most civil matters are resolved by application of the 17th century legal code as revised in 1965. Questions of family law are governed by traditional Buddhist or Hindu law. Minor offenses are adjudicated by village headmen. Criminal defendants have no right to court appointment of an attorney and no right to a jury trial. Under the 1979 Police Act, police need a warrant to arrest a person and must bring the detainees before a court within twenty-four hours of arrest.

In the past, Bhutan was virtually crime-free. However, with modernization and development, crimes such as burglary, theft and robbing of the "chortens" (religious stupas) are becoming common.

Military Activity. The army consists of five thousand soldiers. The army headquarters are located in the capital city of Thimbhu. The regular activities of the soldiers include service with the palace guards, the royal police force, and the militia.

Nongovernmental Organizations and Other Associations

Nongovernmental associations include the National Women's Association of Bhutan and the Bhutan Youth Development Association.

Gender Roles and Status

The Relative Status of Women and Men. Bhutan's culture does not isolate or disenfranchise women. Dowry is not practiced, and land is divided equally between sons and daughters. Girls receive nearly equal educational opportunities, and, while accorded a lower status than boys, they are cherished because they are the ones who care for parents in old age.

Division of Labor by Gender. Men and women usually work side by side in the field. Women fill most of the nursing and teaching positions.

Marriage, Family, and Kinship

Marriage. Marriages may be arranged by the parents or by the individuals entering the marriage. To get married, a certificate is required from the Court of Law, but most marriages are performed by a religious leader. The Bhutanese are essentially monogamous. Polyandry (multiple husbands) has recently been abolished; the practice of polygamy is legal provided the first wife grants her consent.

A bride does not necessarily move into her husband's household, as is common throughout much of the Indian subcontinent. The new husband may reside with his wife's family if their need for labor warrants it. Alternatively, the new couple may set up their own household on their own plot of land. Divorce is permitted in Bhutanese society, although compensation is required from the party seeking the separation.

Child Rearing and Education. A modern educational system was introduced in Bhutan in the 1960s. Prior to that, education was provided only by monasteries. A growing number of children are attending school, but over 50 percent still do not attend. Education is not compulsory. The educational system consists of seven years of primary schooling followed by four years of secondary school. In 1994, primary schools enrolled 60,089 pupils. In the same year, secondary schools enrolled 7,299 students.

Higher Education. Bhutan has one college, which is affiliated with the University of Delhi. The Ministry of Education consists of the Department of Education, the Department of Adult and Higher Education, and the Department of Youth Culture and Sports. Scholarships are available for Hindu students to study at Venares Univesity in India.


As a traditional society, the Bhutanese follow a highly refined system of etiquette, which is called "driglam namzha." This traditional code of conduct supports respect for authority, devotion to the institution of marriage and family, and dedication to civic duty. It governs many different sorts of behavior, including how to send and receive gifts, how to speak to those in authority, how to serve and eat food at public occasions, and how to dress. A royal decree issued in 1989 promoted the driglam namzha as a means of preserving a distinct national identity and instituted a national dress code.

Men and women mix and converse freely, without the restrictions that separate the sexes among other groups in South Asia.


Religious Beliefs. Buddhism, which was introduced in the seventh century, is the official religion of Bhutan. Bhutan is the only country in the world that has retained the Vajrayana form of Mahayana Buddhism as its national religion. Throughout all of Bhutan there are Buddhist stupas, believed to be a form of protection for tourists and residents.

Hinduism is practiced by the southern Bhutanese. In 1980 King Wangchuck declared Dussera, one of the sacred festivals of Hinduism, a national holiday.

Religious Practitioners. There are ten thousand Buddhist monks and they are vitally involved in both the religious and social lives of the Buddhist population. Because of the religious significance of nearly every important event in the life of a Buddhist, the monks visit households and perform rites on such occasions as birth, marriage, sickness, and death.

Rituals and Holy Places. A number of annual festivals highlight different events in the life of Buddha. Many of the festivals feature symbolic dances, which are thought to bestow heavenly blessings on the participants or viewers.

During religious festivals, tourists are allowed to enter the Dzong (monastery/fortress) and view masked and sword dances; most of the dances date back to before the Middle Ages and are performed only once or twice a year. A fire dance performed at Bumthang is intended to help childless women who are at the festival conceive during the following year.

Death and the Afterlife. Both Buddhists and Hindus believe in reincarnation and the law of karma. The law of karma dictates that an individual's decisions and behaviors in one life can influence his or her transmigration into the next life; for example, if someone lived life in harmony with others, that person would transmigrate to a better existence after death. In contrast, someone who had lived selfishly would inherit a life worse than the previous one after death.

Medicine and Health Care

Bhutan suffers from a shortage of medical personnel with only 65 percent of the population having access to any form of medical care. The sick, indigent, and aged are cared for within the traditional family structure. Leading causes of death include respiratory tract infections, diarrhea and dysentery, various skin and parasitic infections, and malaria. Infant mortality rates are extremely high, running at one-hundred eighteen deaths per one thousand live births in 1995.

Secular Celebrations

One of the largest annual festivals takes place on National Day, 17 December, which commemorates the establishment of the monarchy. At this event, the king participates by serving foods and joining the attendees in games and dances.


Aris, Michael, and Michael Hutt, eds. Bhutan: Aspects of Culture and Development, 1994.

Coelho, Vincent Herbert. Sikkim and Bhutan, 1971.

Crossette, Barbara. So Close to Heaven: The Vanishing Buddhist Kingdoms of the Himalayas, 1995.

Harris, George Lawrence. Area Handbook for Nepal, Bhutan, and Sikkim, 2nd ed., 1973.

Olschak, Blanche C. Bhutan: Land of Hidden Treasures, 1971.

. The Dragon Kingdom: Images of Bhutan, 1988.

Rose, Leo. The Politics of Bhutan, 1977.

U.S. Dept of State, Editorial Division. Background Notes: Bhutan.

World Bank. Bhutan: Development Planning in a Unique Environment, 1989.

Zeppa, Jamie. Beyond the Earth and the Sky: A Journey into Bhutan, 1999.

Connie Howard

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The people of Bhutan are known as Bhutanese. There are three major ethnic groups: the Bhutia (also Bhotia, or Bhote), comprising roughly 50 percent of the population; the Nepalese, accounting for another 35 percent; and the Assamese, making up 15 percent. Small numbers of aboriginal (native) people live in villages scattered throughout Bhutan. For more information on the Nepalese, consult the chapter on Nepal in Volume 6.

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BhutaneseAchinese, Ambonese, appease, Assamese, Balinese, Belize, Beninese, Bernese, bêtise, Bhutanese, breeze, Burmese, Cantonese, Castries, cerise, cheese, chemise, Chinese, Cingalese, Cleese, Congolese, Denise, Dodecanese, ease, éminence grise, expertise, Faroese, freeze, Fries, frieze, Gabonese, Genoese, Goanese, Guyanese, he's, Japanese, Javanese, jeez, journalese, Kanarese, Keys, Lebanese, lees, legalese, Louise, Macanese, Madurese, Maltese, marquise, Milanese, Nepalese, Nipponese, officialese, overseas, pease, Pekinese, Peloponnese, Piedmontese, please, Portuguese, Pyrenees, reprise, Rwandese, seise, seize, Senegalese, she's, Siamese, Sienese, Sikkimese, Sinhalese, sleaze, sneeze, squeeze, Stockton-on-Tees, Sudanese, Sundanese, Surinamese, Tabriz, Taiwanese, tease, Tees, telegraphese, these, Timorese, Togolese, trapeze, valise, Viennese, Vietnamese, vocalese, wheeze •superficies • Héloïse • Averroës •rabies • pubes • Maccabees •headcheese

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