Bhutan has a rich and unique culture, closely tied in with religion, that has been passed down from generation to generation. Bhutan sees the preservation and promotion of its distinct cultural identity as an important means for its survival as an independent and sovereign kingdom. The Bhutanese government has made determined efforts to promote its rich spiritual and cultural heritage so that values and customs are preserved in the process of modernization.
In the last few decades Bhutan has become one of the fastest developing nations after slowly opening it’s doors to the world. The country’s development efforts are guided by the development philosophy of Gross National Happiness (GNH). His Majesty King Jigme Singye Wangchuck first introduced the philosophy and objectives of Gross National Happiness stating that achieving GNH was more important than Gross National Product. GNH is supported by four important pillars of: a) economic growth and development, b) preservation and sustainable use of the environment, c) good governance and d) preservation and promotion of cultural heritage.
Although towns are now growing in Bhutan, more than 70% of the population still live off the land – even though only 10% of the land is cultivatable. After hydro-electricity, agriculture, livestock and forestry are still the mainstay of the economy with most of the farms and villages located in the fertile river valleys.
The Bhutanese population is made up of three main ethnic groups; the Ngalongs (the early risers to religion) settled in the west, the Sharchops (the inhabitants of the eastern region) and the Lhotshampas (the people living in the south). Before the arrival of Buddhism to Bhutan the people were known as the Monpas or the followers of Bon religion. The origin of the Ngalongs can be traced to Tibet whereas the Sharchops are supposed to have come from the northeast state of Arunachal Pradesh in India. The Lhotshampas are natives of Nepal who had migrated to Bhutan in the early part of the 20th century. Apart from these three dominant ethnic groups other sub-groups are Layaps in the northwest, Brokpas in the northeast and Doyas in the southwest of Bhutan. In the Dzongkha language, the people of Bhutan are known as Drukpas. The official language in Bhutan is English, with the national language is Dzongkha, however there are 19 languages spoken in Bhutan, including Nepali which is mostly spoken in the south.
Although in the towns people are increasingly wearing Western clothes,you will see many Bhutanese wearing the traditional dress. The men wear a Gho- a long robe tied at the waist by a small belt and a traditional scarf – a ‘Kabney’. The women wear a Kira, an ankle length costume made from colorful woven fabrics with traditional designs and patterns. The traditional scarf for females is the Rachu.