Bhutan is one of those mysterious Distant Lands that people don’t know much about, which makes it even more appealing! Just in case it comes up in conversation, we’ve put together 10 Facts about Bhutan for you – a quick profile of the country and the things that make Bhutan Bhutan – so you can talk with some authority on the Land of the Thunder Dragon
With modern development for the last 50 years, the government is still cautiously making every effort the preserve its unique cultural heritage. Bhutan is today widely referred to as The Last Shangri-la because of its unique living cultural heritage and its pristine environment.
The National dress of Bhutan is one of the most distinctive and visible aspects of The Last Shangrila. A Gho, worn by men, is a long robe similar to Tibetan Chhuba and often also compared to a Scottish Kilt, while women wear, ankle length wrap-around robe called the Kira. The Bhutanese textile is made from fine, hand-woven fabric, with the colorful distinctive patterns.
The Bhutanese traditional dress is not only worn on formal or traditional occasions but also by people from all walks of life on a daily basis. While it is required by law to wear a Gho or a Kira while visiting Monasteries and Government Offices, the vast majority of people also opt to wear the national dress on other non-formal occasions. Wearing a Gho or a Kira in Bhutan does not seem like a formal dress but it rather comes instinctively to most people as the first choice of dress. When walking around town, you will see that most shopkeepers and people wear the national dress. With modernization, this trend is slowly beginning to change, but it is still not uncommon at all to see people wear the Gho or the Kira as the preferred casual dress – be it in public places or even at home.
Traditional Bhutanese food is rather simple. Rice is a staple with every meal. It is accompanied by one or two side dishes consisting of meat (beef, pork, chicken, river fish) or vegetables dishes cooked with chili and/or cheese. Traditional Bhutanese food is rather simple because Bhutan is a land-locked country with no access to the sea for sea food. Sea food is however available in hotels and the ingredients are generally imported from India or Thailand by road and air.
Traditionally, family members eat while sitting cross legged on the wooden floor with food first being served to the head of the household or the oldest person. With modernization, eating habits have changed in urban areas, and many people now eat with cutlery whilst seated around a dining table.
Bhutanese food has one predominant flavour – hot chili. This small red condiment is not only added to every dish but is also often eaten raw. Chilies are an essential part of nearly every dish and are Bhutanese are so accustomed to eating hot chillies that most Bhutanese people would not enjoy a meal that was not spicy.
Ema Datshi is the de facto National Dish of Bhutan. A spicy mix of chillis and the delicious local cheese known as Datshi. This dish is a staple of nearly every meal and can be found throughout the country. Variations on Ema Datshi include adding green beans, ferns, potatoes, mushrooms or swapping the regular cheese for yak cheese.
Ara is a local spirit brewed from rice or corn. It is popular in rural areas.
Tea: Both Sweet milk tea and Suja, a salted butter tea are enjoyed with meals and in the evenings. Tea is the first things Bhutanese people offer to guests visiting their homes.
The coffee culture that has swept most of the planet is just beginning to creep into the country. However, for the most part, coffee in Bhutan means the instant coffee and it is served simply black or with milk. However there are a few cafeterias in the urban areas that serve fresh brewed coffees.
The national language is Dzongkha and also the mother tongue for most of the people residing in Western Bhutan. Dzongkha is the national language because it has a written text. However, despite being a small country, there exists many dialects and languages in Bhutan:
West: Dzongkha of Western Bhutan & Che-Cha-Nga-Cha of South Lhuentse and parts of Mongar and Trashiyangtse;
South: Lhotsamkha (Nepali) of Southern Bhutan;
East: Scharchop (Tsangla) of Eastern Bhutan;
Central: Bumthangpa, Mangdip (Trongsa), Au-Gayma-la(of North Lhuentse), Khengkha (Zhemgang and parts of Mongar and Dagana).
English is understood by most people in urban areas as well as all students throughout the country as English is the medium of instruction in all schools. When Bhutan started modern development in the early 1960s, the government took a conscious effort to introduce modern education in English language since Bhutan is a small country with a small population and the language is not understood by people outside the country.
La. The suffix 'la' is an honorific and polite way of ending a sentence. So, don't be surprised if you hear expressions such as "Yes-la" or "I'm not sure-la". It just implies politeness.
The state religion is Vajrayana Buddhism, which was introduced to Bhutan in the 7th century AD by the Tibetan king Songtsän Gampo. He built two temples, one at Bumthang and the other at Kyichu Lhakhang in the Paro Valley. It is estimated that three-quarters of Bhutan’s population are adherents and the government pays annual subsidies to the Buddhist monasteries and shrines.
Bhutan is known for its colorful festivals or tshechus, elaborate and colorful Buddhist celebrations held at temples, dzongs and monasteries throughout the country usually to mark important events in the life of the second Buddha, Guru Rinpoche.
Monks perform sacred cham masked dances to the sound of horns and cymbals, interspersed with performances of folksongs, whilst atsaras, naughty clowns with vast wooden phalli, entertain the crowd! People flock from surrounding villages dressed in their best clothes to enjoy these lively, high-spirited festivals. They receive blessings, catch up with friends and family and share meals of red rice, spicy pork, ema datshi and momos (pork dumplings) whilst drinking the heady traditional rice wine known as ara.
Good food is an essential part of any holiday. The quality of the food in Bhutan comes as a very pleasant surprise – based largely on grains and fresh vegetables, there is lots of choice for vegetarians as well. Almost all Bhutanese meals consist of a generous helping of rice and one or more meat and vegetable dishes with ingredients cultivated, foraged or homemade such as butter and cheese. Although as Buddhists the Bhutanese do not condone the slaughter of animals, lots of imported chicken, beef and locally raised yak make their way onto the table which will keep meat eaters happy too!