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Bhutan: a brief history
Nestled between two emerging superpowers, China and India, Bhutan is the last remaining Mahayan Buddhist
Nation in the world. Buddhism, the chief religion of the country, forms an integral part of her rich
political and social history. Thus, it is a country where lives are influenced largely by religious beliefs.
Today there are evidences that suggest Buddhism in Bhutan can be traced back to centuries before Guru Rinpoche
made his first visit to the country in the 8th century. Since then many Buddhist saints from different neighbouring
countries have visited Bhutan including Phajo Drugom Zhingpo, who in the 13th century built a stronghold of drukpa
kagyud in Bhutan. Phajo's effort would eventually pave way for the formation of a Drukpa state.
In the 17th century Bhutan was united by one of the most important figure in her history, Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal.
A Tibetan born lama and a Political refugee, he became the sovereign head of the country after leading a
unification campaign based solely on religious ground. It was after this unity, Bhutan came to be known
as the land of Drukpa. All the while suffering numerous Tibetan invasion as well as internal aggressions,
the country for the first time became united under a single leadership and gained its sovereign status as a
It was Zhabdrung Rinpoche who formally started the dual (secular and spiritual) system of governance in Bhutan.
The dual system known as choesid nyiden is still existent however it has undergone some marked changes since its
After zhabrung Rinpoche passed away, his death was kept a state secret for 57 years. Following the official
announcement of his death, the country was plagued by a period of political instability and civil strife. It
continued for two centuries until the emergence of Trongsa Poenlop Jigme Namgyal, the ancestor of the present
Wangchuck Dynasty, as the undisputed leader. Even then the period of political instability did not end until
his son, Gongsar Ugyen Wangchuck, was enthroned as the first hereditary King of Bhutan.
It was also during this period when Bhutan first came in contact with the most powerful nation of that time, The Great
Britain. The relationship between the two countries went from being friendly to hostile to friendly again.
During the hostile period, in the mid and late 19th century, Bhutan lost the area called Assam and Bengal Duars
to the British. After India gained her independence in 1947, the friendship between the two nations continued and
it was India who provided full financial and technical support during Bhutan's first five year plan period.
In a power struggle that lasted for two centuries between powerful local leaders, Gongsar Ugyen wangchuk emerged as
the most able of them all. He was thus, unanimously enthroned as the first hereditary king of Bhutan on 17th
December, 1907. Since then Bhutan has seen five kings including the present Monarch, His Majesty
Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck.
Each King has contributed immensely to the overall development of the country. It was in 1960s with the start
of the first five year plan, during the reign of the late third King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck, when the country shed
off its policy of isolation and started opening its door to the outside world.
After the fourth king, His Majesty King Jigme Singye Wangchuk, was enthroned he carried on with his father's
legacy of modernizing the nation however His Majesty also brought along a new political reform that defines the
country today. He changed the form of government from Absolute Monarchy into Constitutional Democratic Monarchy
in 2008. It is this legacy that he will always be remembered for, from the numerous reforms he brought about into
the country. The 4th Druk Gyalpo abdicated the throne in favour of his son on 14th December, 2006. The first
general election took place in March, 2008 while the election of the member of National Council took place
in December, 2007.
2008 was a historic year for the country. It marked the centenary celebration i.e 100 years of Monarchy, the
start of Democracy in the country and the formal enthronement of the 5th Druk Gyalpo. The 5th Druk Gyalpo, King
Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuck is the head of the state. The country is currently undergoing the 10th five year
plan period under the leadership of the first democratically elected Government of Bhutan, The Druk Phuensum
Tshogpa, headed by Prime Minister Jigme Y. Thinley. The next general election will take place in 2013 which also
marks the end of the 10th five year plan period.
Many people view Bhutan as an experiment in sustainable changed by its tourism policy of "High Value and Low
Volume", Even Bhutan accepts the realities of globalization; the world appreciates the need for humanity to
preserve its social-culture environment and spiritual Heritage. Given the exoticism that Bhutan represents and
the deep spiritual atmosphere that prevails in the kingdom, this evolution is mythology coming alive and that
is what we try to capture in pictures and stories within.
BHUTAN AT GLANCE
PEOPLE AND CULTURE The unique Bhutanese culture has become the main attration for the visitors from outside. Bhutanese people are very friendly, their warmth, hospitable nature is liked by most visitors from around the globe and Bhutanese culture is deeply rooted in their way of life. The spiritual value has also helped the Bhutanese in making their living in harmonious environment.
ECONOMY Agriculture is the backbone of the economy. Farmer export potatoes, apples, Orange etc to its neighbouring countries. Due to its continous flow of river from beautiful glacial mountain, Bhutan has huge potential for hydropower and many hydropower projects are comming up. Due to its increasing number of tourist in Bhutan, tourism is also playing important role in shaping the country's economy.