Bhutan,monarchy, southern Central Asia, in the eastern Himalayas, bounded on the north and northwest by the Tibet Autonomous Region of China and on the east, south, and southwest by India. It has a total area of 47,000 sq km (18,147 sq mi).
Land and Resources
Bhutan is almost entirely mountainous. A narrow strip along the southern border, the Duars Plain, is the country's only area of flat land. Ranges of the Himalayas rise abruptly from the plain and generally increase in elevation to the north, rising to maximum elevation at Kula Kangri (7554 m/24,784 ft) on the Chinese border. Bhutan's rivers, none of which is navigable, flow south to the Brahmaputra River in India.
Climate varies from subtropical on the Duars Plain to a temperate climate, with cool winters and warm summers, in the mountain valleys. It becomes increasingly harsh at higher elevations. Average annual precipitation is generally heavy, ranging from about 1520 mm (about 60 in) in the mountain valleys to more than 5080 mm (about 200 in) in the Duars Plain. More than two-thirds of the country is forested. Wildlife is diverse and includes elephants, leopards, deer, and bear. Known mineral resources include copper, gypsum, iron ore, limestone, lead, coal, and dolomite; commercial exploitation is minimal.
Population, Education, and Government
The largest ethnic group in Bhutan, constituting more than 60 percent of the population, is the Bhote, or Bhotia, who live mostly in the east. Nepalese constitute the largest minority. The total population (1991 estimate) was 600,000. Thimphu (1991, 27,000) is the capital and largest town. The official language is Dzongkha, a Tibetan dialect. The official religion is a Lamaist form of Mahayana Buddhism (see Tibetan Buddhism); monasteries are numerous in Bhutan, and monks number some 6000. Although all children are entitled to 11 years of primary and secondary education, few attend school. Less than 20 percent of the population is literate.
Bhutan is a limited monarchy. The king, Jigme Singye Wangchuck, is advised by the Royal Advisory Council, whose members he appoints. In theory, legislative power is held by the Tsongdu (national assembly), 106 of whose 151 members are elected by the public; the rest are chosen by the king or indirectly elected.
The economy of Bhutan is overwhelmingly agricultural. Much of the cultivated land is terraced and irrigated. The principal crops are rice, wheat, corn, and potatoes. Cardamom and fruit, including apples, pears, and plums, are grown for export. Livestock such as cattle, yaks, and sheep are raised. Some light industry has been established, producing textiles, cement, matches, and alcoholic beverages. In 1991 Bhutan produced about 1950 million kwh of electricity annually, 38 percent of it hydroelectric. The sixth development plan (1987-1992) provided for exploitation of forest and mineral wealth as well as the extension of medical facilities.
In 1974 Bhutan began to welcome tourists. In 1990, more than 1500 tourists visited Bhutan, and tourism was the largest source of foreign exchange. There are no railroads, but by 1990 there were about 2336 km (about 1402 mi) of roads linking many parts of the country. There are also scheduled flights linking Bhutan with India, Bangladesh, Nepal, and Thailand. There are international microwave and satellite telecommunications links. The monetary unit of Bhutan is the ngultrum (31.94 ngultrums equal United States $1; 1993).
Scholars believe that princes of Indian origin ruled Bhutan until the 9th century, when they were driven out by the forebears of today's dominant ethnic group, the Bhotia (derived from Bod, the ancient name for Tibet). Tibetan Buddhism was then brought into Bhutan, and by the mid-16th century, fortified monasteries (dzongs) dotted the inner Himalayan valleys. From 1300 to 1600 Bhutan's history reflected the conflict among various elites until finally power accrued to a dharma raja, who served as spiritual leader, and a deb raja, who handled civic affairs. For much of the 17th and 18th centuries aristocratic families squabbled, and Bhutan followed an aggressive policy toward its neighborseventually bringing it into conflict with the expanding British East India Company in 1772. The British annexation of Assam in 1826 heightened border tensions, but an uneasy truce prevailed until 1864, when a war broke out. At the conclusion of peace in 1865 Bhutan was forced to cede certain border areas to British India and was given an annual subsidy in return. In the late 19th century a series of civil wars plagued the country. Bhutan remained an important buffer state for British India. The 1910 treaty between the British and the newly-established (1907) monarchy granted Bhutan internal autonomy and an annual subsidy but allowed British control over the country's foreign relations, as did the 1949 treaty with newly-independent India. China's territorial claims and disputes over Tibetan refugees (1959) further strengthened Bhutan's relationship with India, followed by new economic-aid agreements, military assistance, and diplomatic representation. Bhutan became a member of the United Nations (1971) and of the Nonaligned Nations (1973).