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Bhutan: Food and Culture

Loveleena Rajeev Mar 18, 2020
Bhutan, the land of Thunder Dragon is situated on the southeast slope of the Himalayas. The Bhutanese civilization dates back to 2000 B.C. Let's know more about the country with Gross Domestic Happiness as its measure.
Bhutan is inhabited by various ethnic people who still continue to live in isolation, because of the formidable mountain passes. Till the 17th century, the country's traditional name was Druk Yul, Land of the Drokpa. The fourth hereditary ruler, King Jigme Singye Wangchuck, unified the feuding regions of Bhutan in 1907.
In 1998, he voluntarily curtailed the monarchy and drafted a constitution for ushering Bhutan into a two-party democracy. In 2008, Bhutan Peace and Prosperity Party formed the first democratically elected national assembly.

Culture of Bhutan

The national religion is a branch of the Mahayana Buddhism called Drukpa Kagyupa, headed by the Je Khenpo (chief monk). The official language is Dzongkha, which is derived from the Tibetan. The national flag of Bhutan, features the wingless white dragon holding jewels in its claws represents prosperity.
The saffron yellow represents the monarchy and the orange color stands for Buddhism. 17th December is celebrated as the national day, in memory of the monarchy's establishment from 1907. The King's birthday, 11 November and Coronation Day on 2nd June, are important national holidays.
Bhutan's population is divided on ethnical and regional lines, which are Bhote (50%), ethnic Nepalese (35%) and indigenous or migrant tribes (15%). The central Himalayan region is inhabited by the Drukpa people, of Mongoloid origin.
Farming, breeding cattle and trading is the traditional way of life for these people. The Northern Himalayan Zone is home to semi-nomadic Yak herdsmen. Their dwellings are made of black yak hair, where they spend most of the year and during winters they move into dry stone walled houses, where they also store their goods.
Many Nepalese farmers are found in Southern Bhutan, who brought the Hindu religion and the Nepalese language with them from Nepal in the 19th Century.
However in 1991, a pro-democracy campaign of the Nepali immigrants, led to the eviction of more than 100,000 Nepali civilians from Bhutan. The east is home to the earliest dwellers of Bhutan, the Sharchops who are of Indo-Mongolian origin.
All festivals are celebrated as per the highly complex Bhutanese calendar, which is based on the Tibetan calendar. The most popular festivals are held in Thimphu, Paro and Bumthang, that attract a large number of tourists. The largest festival is the Tsechu, in honor of Guru Rimpoche.
The Dzong (fortress) courtyards, where most of the festivals are held, comes to life with the dances, music and colorful costumes of the local people. All dances, known as cham have spiritual meaning and are based on the teachings of the Buddhist dharma.
The dances, masks and costumes have remained unchanged, for more than 1000 years. Each dance is believed to be an exact re-enactment of visions seen by the great Buddhist saints.
The traditional dress for men is a robe known as the gho, some men also carry a dagger known as a dozom in their gho. On formal occasions, the traditional boot known as dalham, a knee-high boot made of cloth and embroidered with decorations is worn.
The women's traditional costume is a wrap around garment called the kira, which they wear with a woven sash called rachu. The textiles used to make these traditional costumes are important as they highlight the cultural aspect of the nation. The Bhutanese art forms such as thangka paintings, textile weaving, paper making are popular worldwide.
It was a law in Bhutan that the people should wear national traditional costume at public places during religious festivals. On these occasions the women were at their finest and adorned themselves with heavy jewellery.
The present King of Bhutan, His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck, expressed the term Gross National Happiness (GNH). GNH is based on Buddha's teachings of inner happiness, as the ultimate purpose of life.
Despite constant global economic onslaught and an ever present threat from China, Bhutan has managed to preserve its traditional model of development of improving quality of life and its military values and ethos.
Today, here is no better example than Bhutan, in terms of development based on non-material values. The need to hold on its peaceful co-existence with others was best seen in its systematic approach to eradicate the banned United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA) from its soil.

Food and Drink in Bhutan

Every region in Bhutan has its own distinct flavor. A vegetarian dish called 'Ema Datshi', made of cheese and chili is a delicacy.
The Capsicum annuum, a fluffy red variety is the main ingredient of every meal. Rice is the staple diet of the people and is consumed in various forms from breakfast to dinner.
The rice is available in two varieties, white and red. Rice based delicacies 'Desi' and 'Zow' are the King's favorite. In the east, the staple diet is 'puta' or wheat noodles. Yak meat, is a staple food for the non-vegetarian. Every part of the Yak is consumed.
Cheese is made from the Yak's milk and the skin is fried and served as a snack. Although a Tibetan specialty, Momos are a permanent feature in the cuisine. The barter system is still prevalent between the Yak herders and the rice cultivators.
In some parts of the eastern Bhutan, animal slaughter is sacrilege, but if the animal fell off the cliff, it can be consumed. The Bhutanese enjoy most of their meals with 'Suja' butter tea or 'Ara', a locally made wine.
Bhutan is rich in tradition and culture and its faith is the bases of all ethical, cultural and sociological development. 71% of Bhutan is still forested and is the most important part of the high bio-diversity in the Eastern Himalayan hot-spot. It is also the first country, where monarchy was curtailed and democracy was introduced by the King.