Bhutan is an independent state landlocked in the Eastern Himalayas in South Asia. Bhutan borders China to the north and India to the south, east and west. To the west, it is separated from Nepal by the Indian state of Sikkim; and further south it is separated from Bangladesh by the Indian states of Assam and West Bengal.
Thimphu is Bhutan’s capital and largest city, while Phuntsholing is Bhutan’s financial centre. The King of Bhutan is known as the Druk Gyalpo, meaning the “Thunder Dragon King”.
The country was originally known by many names including Lho Jong, ‘The Valleys of the South’, Lho Mon Kha Shi, ‘The Southern Mon Country of Four Approaches’, Lho Jong Men Jong, ‘The Southern Valleys of Medicinal Herbs’ and Lho Mon Tsenden Jong, ‘The Southern Mon Valleys where Sandlewood Grows’. Mon was a term used by the Tibetans to refer to Mongoloid, non-Buddhist people that populated the Southern Himalayas.
Bhutan was located on the Silk Road between China and the Indian subcontinent and enjoyed strong cultural links with Tibet. Bhutan is one of a few countries, which have been independent throughout their history, never conquered, occupied, or governed by an outside power. Its territory was composed of minor internal feuds until the early 17th century. Ngawanag Namgyal, a lama from western Tibet known unified and cultivated a distinct Bhutanese identity from 1616.
In 1885 Ugyen Wangchuck began cultivating closer ties with the British in the subcontinent. During the rise of Chinese communism and its spread to Tibet, Bhutan signed a friendship treaty with newly independent India in 1949. The country departed from its historic isolation under the fourth Druk Gyalpo. In 2008, Bhutan transitioned from an absolute monarchy to a constitutional monarchy and held its first general election. During the same year, the throne passed to the fifth Druk Gyalpo. Bhutanese democracy has evolved as a two-party system.
Buddhism is the main religion practised in Bhutan, also with a long history of influences and Buddhist schools. People say that Bhutan is the last stronghold of Vajrayana Buddhism. Indian Tantric master Guru Padmasambhava was the first to introduce Buddhism in the 8th century. Until then, the people practised Bonism, a religion that worshipped all forms of nature, remnants of which are still evident in some remote villages in the country. Read more about religion in Bhutan, people from Bhutan and society in Bhutan (link to people and culture)