The history of Bhutan goes back as early as 2000 B.C. with theological tales that people had entered Bhutan in between 500 B.C. and A.D. 600. The names Lhomon Tsendenjong (southern Mon sandalwood country) and Lhomon Khashi (southern Mon country of four approaches), found in ancient Bhutanese and Tibetan chronicles, may also have credence and have been used by some scholars to demarcate the existence of a separate state in south of Tibet.
Variations of the Sanskrit words Bhota-ant (end of Bhot, Tibet) or Bhu-uttan (meaning highlands) have been suggested by historians as origins of the name Bhutan, which has been adopted as the official name of the country and is used in Bhutan in English-language official correspondence. The traditional name of the country has been Drukyul- -country of the Drokpa or the Land of the Thunder Dragon.
Early Bhutanese inhabitants were fierce mountain aborigines, the Monpa. They practiced the shamanistic Bon religion, which emphasized worship of nature and the existence of good and evil spirits.
Buddhism introduced in the country in the 7th century A.D, when Tibetan king Tsrongtsen Gampo (reigned A.D. 627-49) ordered the construction of two Buddhist temples, at Bumthang and at Paro. As the civilization developed in its many fertile valleys, Buddhism matured and became a unifying element.
In 747, an Indian Buddhist saint, Padmasambhava also called Guru Rimpoche came to Bhutan from India at the invitation of a local ruler. He subdued eight classes of demons and converted the king to Buddhism. He founded the Nyingmapa sect or Red Hat sect of Mahayana Buddhism.
Foreign attack was frequent to this land since long time. By the eleventh century, all of Bhutan was occupied by Tibetan-Mongol military forces.
In the seventeenth century, a theocratic government having Tibetan political influence was established in the country under the leader of Tibetan Lama Shabdrung Nwgawang Namgyal who arrived in Bhutan in 1616 seeking freedom from the domination of the Gelugpa sect led by the Dalai Lama in Lhasa. He became the temporal and spiritual ruler of the country. Considered the first great historical figure of Bhutan, he named the land Drukyul. He promulgated a code of law and built a network of impregnable dzong (The fortress), a system that helped bring local lords under centralized control and strengthened the country against Tibetan invasions.
Tibetan armies invaded Bhutan in 1629, 1631, 1639, 1641, 1642 and 1647 hoping to end Namgyal’s power. The invasions were thwarted. During the first war with Tibet, two Portuguese Jesuits–the first recorded Europeans to visit the Himalayan kingdom–passed through Bhutan on their way to Tibet. They met with Namgyal, presented him with firearms, gunpowder, and a telescope.
In 1643 a joint Mongol-Tibetan force attacked the kingdom to end the presence of Nyingmapa refugees who had fled to Bhutan, Sikkim, and Nepal. But the Mongol force was easily defeated.
Namgyal formed state monastic body with an elected head, the Je Khenpo, and a theocratic civil government headed by the druk desi, also known as deb raja, who was either a monk or a member of the laity elected for a three-year term by a monastic council and later by the State Council (Lhengye Tshokdu). The State Council was a central administrative organ that included regional rulers, the Shabdrung’s chamberlains, and the druk desi. The seat of government was at Thimphu and the winter capital was at Punakha. The kingdom was divided into three regions–east, central, and west–each with an appointed ponlop, or governor. Districts were headed by dzongpons, or district chief. Country’s major revenues came from the trade with Tibet and India and from land taxes in kind.
Ngawang Namgyal’s had developed a legal code called the Tsa Yig, which described the spiritual and civil regime and provided laws for government administration and for social and moral conducts. He died in 1651 but was kept secret for the next fifty-four years. Namgyal’s son and stepbrother, in 1651 and 1680, respectively, succeeded him.
The political stability in the country continued to deepen after the death of Namgyal. The regional heads fought each other for power and succeeded the former Deb Raja through a war.
The origins of the name Bhutan are unclear. Historians have suggested that it may have originated in variations of the Sanskrit words Bhota-ant (the end of Bhot – a variation of the Indian Sanskrit word “Buddha” meaning enlightened, another word for Tibet), or Bhu-uttan (highlands). The word Bhutan as a name for the country dates from the late 19th century.
The Dzongkha (and Tibetan) name for the country is Druk Yul (“Land of the Dragon”).
Historically, Bhutan was known by many names, such as Lho Mon (Southern Land of Darkness), Lho Tsendenjong (Southern Land of the Sandalwood), Lhomen Khazhi (Southern Land of Four Approaches), and Lho Men Jong (Southern Land of Medicinal Herbs).
The Royal Bhutan Army is Bhutan’s military service. It includes the Royal Bodyguard and the Royal Bhutan Police. Membership is voluntary, and the minimum age for recruitment is 18. The standing army numbers about 6,000 and is trained by the Indian Army. It has an annual budget of about US$13.7 million—1.8% of the GDP.
Though the 1949 Treaty with India is sometimes interpretted to mean that India controls Bhutan’s foreign affairs, Bhutan today handles all of its foreign affairs itself including the sensitive border demarcation issue with China. Bhutan has diplomatic relations with 22 countries, including the European Union, with missions in India, Bangladesh, Thailand and Kuwait. It has two UN missions, one in New York and one in Geneva. Only India and Bangladesh have residential embassies in Bhutan, while Thailand has consulate office in Bhutan.
By a longstanding treaty, Indian and Bhutanese citizens may travel to each other’s countries without a passport or visa using their national identity cards instead. Bhutanese citizens may also work in India without legal restriction. Bhutan does not have formal diplomatic ties with its northern neighbour, China, although exchanges of visits at various levels between the two have significantly increased in the recent past. The first bilateral agreement between China and Bhutan was signed in 1998, and Bhutan has also set up consulates in Macau and Hong Kong. Bhutan’s border with China is largely not demarcated and thus disputed in some places.
In late 2005, Bhutan claimed that Chinese soldiers were building roads and bridges within Bhutanese territory. Bhutanese Foreign Minister Khandu Wangchuk took up the matter with Chinese authorities after the issue was raised in Bhutanese parliament. In response, Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang of the People’s Republic of China has said that the border remains in dispute and that the two sides continue to work for a peaceful and cordial resolution of the dispute. An Indian intelligence officer has also said that a Chinese delegation in Bhutan told the Bhutanese that they were overreacting. The Bhutanese newspaper Kuensel has said that China might use the roads to further Chinese claims along the border.
Bhutan receives 75 percent of the annual rainfall from monsoon wind from Bay of Bengal between May and September. The climate is humid and subtropical in the southern plains, temperate in the inner valleys, and cold in the north, with year-round snowfall.
Temperatures vary in short distance, but in average it ranges from 10 to 400C. Rainfall varies between 20 mm and 220 mm with annual rainfall of nearly 650 mm.
Spring is dry. In winter northeast monsoon brings gale-force winds down through high mountain passes from Tibet.
The country has four major river systems: the Drangme Chhu (also called Manas); the Puna Tsang Chhu, (also called the Sankosh); the Wang Chhu; and the Amo Chhu. They originate in the Himalayas and join the Brahmaputra River in Duars in India. The largest Drangme Chhu flows southwesterly from India’s state of Arunachal Pradesh. The 320-kilometer-long Puna Tsang Chhu rises in northwestern Bhutan as the Mo Chhu and Pho Chhu and flows southerly into India’s state of West Bengal. The 370-kilometer-long Wang Chhu rises in Tibet, flows southeasterly through west-central Bhutan, drains the Ha, Paro, and Thimphu valleys, and continues into the Duars, where it enters West Bengal as the Raigye Chhu. The smallest Torsa Chhu or Amo Chhu flows out of Tibet into the Chumbi Valley and swiftly through western Bhutan before broadening near Phuntsholing and then flowing into India.
Glaciers in northern Himalayas covering about 10 percent of the total surface area are major source of river water.
Most past of the country is covered by mountains and peaks of Himalayan range. Very little strip of land in the south is suitable for cultivation and urbanization. Major mountains and their heights: