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The Kingdom of Bhutan is a small, land-locked mountainous nation in Asia, located in the eastern Himalaya Mountains north of India and south of China. It is a Himalayan country known for its strong ancient Buddhist culture, architecture and archery, but in many ways it has remained almost completely cut off for centuries to avoid foreign influences.Its isolation, domestic policies and decision to limit tourism have helped to protect its culture and its natural beauty. These are among the reasons it is referred to as the Last Shangri-la and the crown jewel of the Himalayas.Bhutan’s unmatched high-altitude beauty, peaceful folks, tradition-steeped way of life, and pristine environment are just about non-existent elsewhere in the world. About third-fourth of its population follows Buddhism, around one fourth population follows Hinduism and hardly one percent account for Muslim and non-religious communities. It is the most peaceful and almost crime free country in the world.

People of Bhutan

Bhutan is comprised of a mosaic of different ethnic groups. Southern Bhutan is inhabited mainly by Nepalese farmers who migrated into the country at the end of the 19th century. They brought the Hindu religion with them as well as the Nepalese language, which is still spoken today over much of Southern Bhutan. There is not the same mingling of Buddhism and Hinduism as is apparent in Nepal, and the two tend to keep apart.

The central Himalayan region is the home of the Drukpa people, who are of Mongoloid origin. Most breed cattle or cultivate the land, and their dwellings are spread over a wide area.

The Northern Himalayan Zone, over 3,000 meters (9,000 feet), is the haunt of semi nomadic yak herdsmen. They spend most of the year in their black yak hair tents, but also possess dry-stone walled houses, where they spend the coldest months of the year and which are used to store their goods. Additives to a diet composed mainly of yak milk, cheese, butter and meat are barley and winter wheat, plus a few root vegetables grown in small fields.

Believed to be the earliest inhabitants of Bhutan, the Sharchops are of Indo-Mongolian type, though their exact origin is unknown (Tibet being the most likely source). At present, they live mainly in the east of Bhutan.

Religion of Bhutan

Buddhism is practiced throughout the country and the majority of the Bhutanese are Buddhist. Hinduism is practiced particularly in Southern Bhutan among the Bhutanese of Nepali origin. As practiced by the Southern Bhutanese, Hindu religion has many common saints and divinities with Vajrayana Buddhism, the school of religion prevalent in Bhutan. The main protective deity of the country, Yeshey Gonpo or Mahakala, is a Tantric Buddhist form of Hindu God Shiva and often appears in the form of a raven.

Prior to the advent of Buddhism, various forms of animistic religions including Bon were followed in Bhutan. In some parts of the country these traditions and rituals are still practiced by minority groups.

Bhutan has been home to many sages and saints over the centuries since Guru Rinpoche brought Buddhism to Bhutan in the 8th century. Kuenkhen Longchen Ramjam, Phajo Drukgom Zhigpo, Pema Lingpa, Drukpa Kuenley, Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal and Gyalse Tenzin Rabgye are some of the key figures of Bhutanese Buddhism. Drukpa Kagyu, school of Tantric Mahayana Buddhism, is the official state religion. Although it is similar to Tibetan Buddhism, it has its own set of unique beliefs and practices.

Religious Institutions continue to play an important role in Bhutan. Besides the formal monastic structure that is supported by the state, the monk body also includes monks and nuns who are not part of state sponsored institutions. Monks continue to play an important role in people’s daily lives. They perform religious ceremonies, and preserve and promote traditional scholarships.

Culture of Bhutan

Bhutanese culture and Buddhist influence go hand-in-hand. The influence of religion is highly visible in everyday life and is a major reason for Bhutan’s spiritual and cultural legacy. The hundreds of sacred monasteries, stupas, religious institutions, prayer flags and prayer wheels make Buddhism a faith that nowadays still is very alive and probably always remain the same in the kingdom. The people of Bhutan wear the traditional woven garments, posses refined architecture and follow the splendid cultural festivals which are steeped in Buddhism. All of this combines making Bhutan into a unique cultural setting.