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Image by Raimond Klavins

Frequently Asked Questions (Travel FAQ)

    There were early inhabitants in Bhutan much early as 8th century in various parts of the country. Of high mountains, dense forests and difficult terrains people lived in far flung isolated places with limited connections with each other which gave rise to different dialects and ethnic group’s adopting distinct tradition and cultures. Even marriages happened within the village and that’s how all people in the village are related to one another. They practiced subsistence farming and produced everything that they want for consumption. But the most difficult issue was to get the salt. Villagers formed in groups need to go for weeks and weeks to trade for salt from India or Tibetan rock salt for the nomads living in extreme north. In many villages they have their own local kings who ruled and looked into the political matters so that everyone enjoys equal status and fair treatment. Many a time these local leaders were spiritual masters to whom we depend most of our lives from birth to death for spiritual advices and helps. There were practice of Bonism which worshipped mountains, rivers, lakes, trees and rocks. To appease a local deity to bring good fortunes, ward off evil spirits and for a good harvest there were many unique ritual practices where whole people from the village are actively involved. With advent of Buddhism these practices vanished slowly. The first advent of Buddhism came in upon visit of Guru Padmasambava in 746 A.D in Bumthang to recover the life-force of the Indian King Sindhu Raja and founded the sacred Kurjey temple. He blessed the entire country and left behind religious artifacts and had hidden many treasures for the spread of Buddhism. We believe that there is no place left even like hoof print of a horse where Guru hasn’t been and stepped over. Following the Guru’s discovery of this hidden land what we call it as ˴ Baeyul’, subsequently came lots of Spiritual masters and Choejeys (Religious Clans) from Tibet to establish and spread Buddhism in this Southern Land of Darkness. Out of many few prominent spiritual masters were Phajo Drugom Zhipo(12th century), Drupthop Thangtong Gyalpo and Lama Drukpa Kuenley (Divine Madman) in 15th century.
    Bhutan is a landlocked country bordered by India in the East, West and South and China in the north. It has a total land area of 38,394 and 72% is under natural forest cover. We have a population of 7, 35,000 (census record 2013 approximately) and more than 70 % is still dependent on agriculture. Bhutan is a place of hidden valleys with dense forests, lofty mountains and snowcapped peaks and swift flowing rivers. Our wide range of climatic zones stretches from Subtropical hot and humid places with thick undergrowths of forest and plants. In the inner Himalayas we have cool temperate vegetation with ample rainfalls adapted by wide range of flora and fauna biodiversity. In the Greater Himalayas we have the splendors of pristine Alpine vegetation with Fir, Rhododendrons, Himalayan birches, Junipers and cedars. Above tree line there is a breathtaking view of spectacular high Himalayan peaks and glacial lakes with flower carpeted meadows.
    Of the total land area 72% is covered by natural forest enriched with great varieties of tropical and alpine vegetation. We have over 5000 plant species which thrives in these wide climatic zones. These include about 300 species of medicinal, about 46 species of rhododendron and over 600 species of wild orchids. Our innumerable variety of fauna like tigers, elephants, wild boars, buffalos, rhinos (rhinoceros unicornis), crocodiles, pythons, barking deer, rein deer(rangifer tarandus), mountain goats, goral(genus naemorhedus), musk deer(moschus moschiferus), leopards, Himalayan black bear, wild dogs, monkeys, languor, squirrels, Himalayan picas, Brown trout. The endangered and exotic species of animals are Tiger, Snow leopard, red panda, Takins(budorcas taxicolor), Himalayan blue sheep, Himalayan Black Bear, Serow, Golden languor, raven, White- bellied Heron, Himalayan Monal pheasants, black -necked cranes, rufous- necked Hornbill, Wood Snipe, Himalayan Marten, Leopard, Leopard cat, Musk Deer.
    Generally Bhutanese people are subdivided into three main groups of Ngalops of Tibetan origin speaking Dzongkha in the West, Sharchops pre inhabitants speaking ancient Tshangla in eastern Bhutan and Lhotsampas a Nepali origin in south. Besides this major categorization we have some notable ethnic minorities like Doyaps in Samtse, Highlander yak herder nomads; Layaps in the North West and Brokpas of North Eastern borders. Bhutan is endowed with rich heritage of living culture perplexed together by intangibles of myths and legends. Secluded by difficult terrains, thick jungles and high mountain peaks each valley has some distinct cultures and traditions not prevalent in other areas. For instance we have around sixteen local dialects which are completely different from one another proves the very fact. To live independent and self sufficient people were skilled at the 13 arts and crafts that produced the desired goods for the domestic usage. Thirteen Arts and Crafts includes weaving, sculpturing, painting, wood carving, carpentry, iron smith, embroidery, sewing, calligraphy, bamboo work, etc. One of the finery of the art works are showcased in the exquisite decorations of architectural designs of Dzongs, temples and private homes. We follow a strict set of artistic rules which have spiritual meanings adding values to the work. If somebody fails to follow the rules, as long as the art work remains that much sin will be caused since the symbols and designs have strong meanings. The religious objects and instruments used for the Buddhist rituals have the most detailed display of art work and skills. Our Buddhist belief of rebirth and being kind to others are deeply rooted in our daily life. We believe that where we stand today is the result of our past karma and being born in the realm of human being the most valuable and powerful rebirth we dedicate our merits of thoughts and actions for better rebirth in our next life. In our seek for better life after death besides following the basic teachings of Buddha we practice more advanced practices of meditation visualizing Buddhas and deities and read or chant mantras to achieve our main goal of life to relieve from the cycle of rebirth and achieve the permanent state of enlightenment.
    A child boy or girl being born gets welcomed by the family with great joy and happiness respecting the valuable rebirth that has the greatest chance to stop the cycle of rebirth. After three days a child is born we take to the astrologer and find about her predictions of past and present life which is a detailed astrological narrations depending on the time, day and year the child is born. We don’t owe family name as it is named either by the astrologer or a high lama and some they even get the names from the local temples. While young you grow up as a child the basic principles of Buddhism like being kind and not harming other beings are taught by the parents or you learn more living in a society. In the course of life one attends religious discourses and receives teachings for more advanced practices. A marriage used to be arranged in the past to keep wealth in the family but now dominant of love marriages. Customs of marriages are very simple with no dowry and sometimes we don’t even know when the couples are married. Usually it is the daughter’s one who owns the family properties and boys move out of the parental house. It is a joint family of grandparents and children living together. Polygamy for both male and female was very prevalent. We celebrate no birthdays and there is a long ritual process after a death of a person. We conduct ritual for the period of 49 days which is the intermediate stage between death and next rebirth known as Bardo where one’s soul suffers to find a next rebirth. Especially on the eve of 49th day we try to receive a high spiritual master who has the power to send the soul of the death to higher rebirths. One of the best examples of unique cultures are displayed during the annual festivals of each Dzongs and Village temples held around the country all year round. Dramatic performances of mystical dances by monks and lay persons are in honor of 8th century tantric master recognizing his conquer of evil forces in the event of spreading of Buddhism. By watching a festival one earns merit and attains liberation. Besides its religious significances it is time for social gathering where all members of the family get together. They appear in their finest dresses and celebrate with joy and merrymakings. One of the highlights of the festival is a display large scroll Painting (a giant tapestry) which covers whole buildings and the religious processions of the monks. There are many unique village festivals performed in honor of local deities to bring good harvest and ward off evil spirits or for anything similar reasons. Some notable local festivals unique to the place are Mewang a fire blessing festival from Bumthang, Yak Dance from Merak and sakteng, Festive ritual offering to Ap Chundu (Devine proprietor of Haa valley). Thus there are immensely rich and diverse intangibles of cultural heritages which are inseparable to the core essence of daily life in beliefs and their practices.
    Bhutanese taste over food is spicy and something hot. We don’t use much spices like in Indian food but rather use seasoning herbs like spring onions, ginger, and garlic, cilantro, and pepper to the main dishes of vegetables or meat items. We are typically not great fan of sweets and we don’t have any local sweets or chocolates. Our most popular national dish is Ema Datsi (chili and cheese) can be prepared in couple other styles with add in vegetables of your choices like potato, mushroom, fiddle head ferns, spinach. Beef, pork, chicken and fish are available meat items either fried dry with some vegetables or made gravy obviously with plenty of chilies. All meat items come from India as we don’t slaughter and we eat less meat but not full vegans. Import of meat from India in first and fourth months of lunar calendar are completely banned. Dried beef, bacons and blood sausages are very typical. Our popular fast food is momos (dumplings), rice porridges and bakthuk (flat noodle with meat soup). The main staple food is rice, buckwheat in the Central and corn in the eastern Bhutan. Generally our meal is simple with major portion of rice and some hot vegetables accompanied by a soup from cane shoot or river weed. Suja (butter tea) and Ara which is home distilled alcohol made from rice; wheat and corn are popular drinks. Other versions of alcoholic drinks are Bangchang and singchang nothing than alcoholic juice extracted directly with add of some water to the fermented cereals. Butter tea goes very well with float over of corn flakes and roasted rice.
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