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Bhutan the Dragon Kingdom

History:

Mystery surrounds Bhutan’s distant past, as priceless irretrievable documents were lost in fires and earthquakes. In the 8th century CE, Guru Padma Sambhava made his legendary trip from Tibet to Bhutan on the back of a flying tigress. He meditated at Taktsang, Tiger’s Nest, in the Paro Valley. Bhutan is a small country, and is located at the south of Tibet and the north of north east section of India as Assam and Sikkim. Area is as large as Switzerland and is 46,500 square Kilometer. Most of the country are in the steep slope of the Himalayas. The king, His Majesty of the King Jigme Singye Wangchuck, is the king of the 4th reign is governing. A kingdom is taking forms called the Separation of a politics and a religion, and a king takes charge of politics and a archbishop Je Khempois conducting a religion. Bhutan’s early history is steeped in Buddhist tradition and mythology. Bhutan’s medieval and modern history was a time of warlords, feuds, giant fortresses and castles. The visit of Padama Sambhava in 747 AD is the important landmark in the history of the country. The kingdom’s recent history begins with a hereditary monarchy that was founded in the 20th century and continued the country’s policy of isolationism. It was under the leadership of the third king that Bhutan emerged from its medieval past of serfdom and reclusion. Despite the speed of modernization, Bhutan has maintained a policy of careful, controlled policy of development in order to preserve its national identity. Though known as Bhutan to the outside world, to the Bhutanese, the country is known as Druk Yul, ‘land of the thunder dragon’. The people are known as the Drukpas.

Geography:

Bhutan is situated in the eastern Himalayan, bordered by Tibet in the North, Sikkim in the West, Indian States of Arunachal Pradesh in the east and Bengal and Assam, the famous lands of the tea in the South. It is a land of drastic contrast 18,000 sq. miles nestled in the heart of the Himalaya. It has the snow capped mountain peaks and in the north, glacier melt rivers cascade down steep granite slopes watering the lush valleys and passing into the tropical jungle near the border of India.

Religion:

The State religion is Drukpa Kagyupa a branch of Mahayana Buddhism. It has been institutionalised in the Dratshang (Central Monk body), headed by the Je Khenpo (Chief Abbot) who is chosen from among the most learned lamas and enjoys an equal rank with the King. Bhutan is the only country in the world to have adopted Mahayana Buddhism in its Tantric form as its official religion. The Buddhist faith has played and continues to play a fundamental role in the cultural, ethical and sociological development of Bhutan and its people. It permeates all strands of secular life, bringing with it a reverence for the land and its well being. Annual festivals (tsechus and dromches) are spiritual occasions in each district. They bring together the population and are dedicated to the Guru Rinpoche or other deities. Throughout Bhutan, stupas and chortens line the roadside commemorating places where Guru Rinpoche or another high Lama may have stopped to meditate. Prayer flags dot the hills, fluttering in the wind. They allow Bhutanese people to maintain constant communication with the heavens.

People:

Early records suggest scattered clusters of inhabitants had already settled in Bhutan when the first recorded settlers arrived 1,400 years ago. Bhutan’s indigenous population is the Drukpa. Three main ethnic groups, the Sharchops, Ngalops and the Lhotsampas (of Nepalese origin), make up today’s Drukpa population. Bhutan’s earliest residents, the Sharchops reside predominantly in eastern Bhutan. Their origin can be traced to the tribes of northern Burma and northeast India. The Ngalops migrated from the Tibetan plains and are the importers of Buddhism to the kingdom. Most of the Lhotsampas migrated to the southern plains in search of agricultural land and work in the early 20th century.

Bhutan’s official language is Dzongkha. Given the geographic isolation of many of Bhutan’s highland villages, it is not suprising that a number of different dialects have survived. Bhutan has never had a rigid class system. Social and educational opportunities are not affected by rank or by birth. Bhutanese women enjoy equal rights with men in every respect. Bhutanese men wear a gho, a long robe tied around the waist by a small belt called kera. The women’s ankle length dress is called a kira, made from beautifully colored and finely woven fabrics with traditional patterns. Necklaces are fashioned from corals, pearls, turqoise, and the precious agate eye stones which the Bhutanese call ‘tears of the gods’.

Climate:

Bhutan’s climate ranges from tropical in the south, to temperate in the center of the country, to cold in the north… and like much of your adventure in the Himalayas it will be quite unpredictable. The weather can vary dramatically from place to place and can vary equally dramatically from day to day or within the same day.

In the Thimphu and Paro valleys, the winter daytime temperature averages 60 degrees Fahrenheit during clear winter days but drops well below freezing during the night. Mid December to early January can be a beautifully clear and dry time in Western Bhutan. The fluctuations are not quite so great during the summer and daytime temperature often rises to the mid-eighties Fahrenheit.

Punakha and the central valleys are lower than their Western neighbours and tend to always be a few degrees warmer. The higher peaks will be snow-covered all year. The higher passes, particularly Thrumsing La between Bumthang and Mongar, can be treacherous during the winter as snow falls frequently and ices up the road. Light snow will often dust Thimphu and Paro in winter but infrequently will there be heavy snowstorms despite their location in the Central Himalayas.

The Summer monsoon from the Bay of Bengal affects Bhutan from late May to early October. Views over the Himalayas from the higher passes are usually obscured from May to August. There are notable advantages to visiting Bhutan during the wet season including the spectacular rhododendron blossom from March through May and the deep green valleys.

The Spring season in Bhutan can only be compared to a master artist’s palette. Colors that, until now, have only existed in the imagination. Truly a spectacular time.

The Autumn season, October through November, is usually very mild and clear. The Fall colors surround and embrace your senses.

Festivals

There are many religious festivals in Bhutan. The best known festivals are the Tsechus which are held at different times of the year in different locations. Tsechus are celebrated for three to five days with both monks and laymen taking part in the ritual mask dances.

Thimpu Tsechu : The Thimphu Tsechu held every year in the capital city, this is one of the most attended Tsechus by the Bhutanese themselves. Tsechus are held annually district to district and are a great time of rejoicing for Bhutanese. Family members travel great distances to be reunited at this time of year.

Paro Tsechu : The Paro Tsechu is held each year in early to mid April with dates set by the lunar calendar as is Chinese new year. The Tsechu is a commemoration of arrival of the Mahayana Buddhist saint Guru “Rimpoche” Padmasambhava (747 CE) and his influence on Bhutan. Different from the original form of Buddhism begun by the Indian Guyatama Buddha about 500 BCE, The Guru Rimpoche established a Buddhism simular to Tibetan Lamanism with the synchronitation of the indigenous “Bon” religions of the Himalayas and their magical powers. The Guru Rimpoche used his own powers and authority to convert local demons to Buddhism. This year’s Paro Tsechu promises to one of the best ever. Here you will get a glimpse of the Bhutan that has been kept a secret for so long. See the “Shinje Yab Yum” (Dance of the Lord of Death and his consort) as well as the unfurling of the Paro Thongdrel (world’s largest thankha!).

This victory of the Buddhist doctrines of “Dharma” over evil powers is the theme of the Bhutanese Tsechu celebration. Lasting several days the Tsechu is an epic pageant of dance and drama. The “gods of death”, the dance of the stagg and the hound, kings and queens, the triumphal entrance of the Guru are all portrayed here in dance. The Tsechu is a Bhutanese act of worship of the ideals of Dharma. During most of the year Bhutanese life revolves around planting and harvesting. Held during breaks in the farmer’s spring planting and fall harvest, tsechus afford travelers a rare glimps into Bhutanese traditions. Most Buddhist monasteries are closed to outsiders except during the tsechu season. This next year’s Paro Tsechu promises to be the bigest Tsechu Bhutan has ever had.

Black Necked Crane Festival : Bird watch, party at the festival and attend a Tsechu in Trongsa. Ultimately, the goal is the conservation and protecting the endangered Black Necked Cranes and their habitat. This can only be obtained if people see economic benefits resulting from conservation activities. The Festival effort is to establish a clear link to conservation and the material well being of the people. Visit Bhutan and help save this beautiful, rare and vanishing fowl.

Accommodation:

Hotels vary in style and quality from town to town. During the colder months hotels are heated and extra blankets or comforters are provided in each room. Bathrooms are reasonably modern with running hot water common in Thimphu & paro but less often further east.