Beautiful, mystical Bhutan, the ‘Thunder Dragon Kingdom’ is a jewel in the crown of the Himalaya, a last Shangri-La and bastion of the Vajrayana school of Mahayana Buddhism.
This tiny, largely medieval kingdom, has a rich and unique cultural heritage that has largely remained intact because of its isolation from the rest of the world until the early 60’s, where buying cigarettes is illegal and the men still dress in a traditional knee length gho tied with a kera, and walk around with mobile phones, and women wear an ankle length kira and a long sleeved toego.
A unique finely balanced blending of old traditions and an ultra-modern advancement into the computer age; where the ban on having a television or the internet was lifted in just 1991.
Identified as a global biodiversity hot spot of natural unspoilt beauty, Bhutan still has over 72% forest cover, and is seen as a model for conservation initiatives hosting its 17th SAARC Summit last November.
Landlocked between the Tibetan Autonomous Region and India, the landscape falls from steep icy mountain ranges to a lush sub-tropical forest in the south, consisting of deep valleys and swift moving rivers, with the Black Mountains in the middle; with an abundance of wildlife from the Takin, the national animal, tigers, clouded leopard, rhino, water buffalo, birds and plants.
Buddhism came to Bhutan in the 7th century when the Tibetan King SongtsanGampo fled religious intolerance in Tibet; with the Buddhist Saint, Guru Rinpoche arriving on a flying tiger in 747. Much of the past history remains fragmented due to the fire which ravaged through the ancient capital of Punakha in 1827, destroying all the documents.
Last year the new young King JigmeKhesarNamgyeiWangchuk, married JetsunPema with huge international coverage, everyone wanted a glimpse of this magical kingdom and a glimpse of the royal wedding.
This is a place where inheritance passes through the female and equality is clearly defined in the workplace, and education is at an exceptional standard.
Archery is the national sport, and is seen also as a social event with competitions organized between villages and towns, with plenty to drink and eat, music singing and dancing. Darts is also highly popular but definitely an outdoor event, using heavy wooden darts pointed with a 10 cm nail, which is then thrown at a target 10 – 20 m’s away.
Festivals are many and very colourful, with wooden masks depicting heroes, demons, death heads, animals, gods and caricatures of common people; with a whirl of dancing, music and again food and drink and huge crowds.