Bhutan: Land of the Thunder Dragon
As the country cautiously modernizes, it is careful to preserve its Buddhist cultural traditions
The Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan is a country devoted to the preservation of the Mahayana Buddhist religion and culture. It is the world’s only country where Mahayana Buddhism remains the national religion.
Visiting Bhutan is like walking backwards in time – to a time and place where religious devotion is paramount to the way of life. Monasteries, temples and shrines dot the landscape, and incense sweetens the air. Of the country’s 2 million population, more than 12,000 are monks or nuns. Some 75% of the population is Buddhist, while another 25% is Hindu.
A democratic monarchy, Bhutan’s government is currently headed by King Jigme Singye Wangchuk. The supporting Council of Ministers, National Assembly and Royal Advisory Council all have strong Buddhist representation, and the government subsidizes many monasteries, stupas, monks and nuns.
Mindful of preserving its culture and the environment, the government is cautious of modernizing too quickly and severely restricts the number of visitors allowed in the country. Citizens are required by law to wear traditional dress. The internet was allowed in only two years ago. And the government granted just 5,600 tourist visas last year. Many Western visitors are stared at, because many local people have never met Caucasian people.