The history of Bhutan is not only very interesting, but explains a lot about present day culture, which is grounded in its Buddhist past.
The Kingdom of Bhutan was hidden from the outside world for centuries and has never been colonized. This isolation resulted in a blend of remarkable culture and a rich natural biodiversity. Its 'modern' history began around 747 A.D. when Guru Padmasambhava, also known as Guru Rinpoche, came from Tibet and brought Buddhism to Bhutan. It is said that he flew to Bhutan on the back of a tiger and landed at what is now known as Taktsang Monastery, where he vanquished the spirits that were standing in the way of spreading Buddhism throughout Bhutan. He and his followers meditated in a cave on the cliff where the famous Tiger's Nest Monastery now stands. Today, visitors can find a connection to Guru Rinpoche by making the same climb to the monastery and meditating in the same cave.
The Bhutanese state was unified in the early 17th century when it developed a distinct national identity based on Buddhism. Headed by a spiritual leader known as Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, the territory was composed of many fiefdoms and was governed as a Buddhist theocracy. Following a civil war in the 19th century, the House of Wangchuk united the country and established the monarchy that exists today. In 2008, the fifth and current King His Majesty Jigme Khesar Mangyel Wangchuck, transitioned Bhutan from an absolute to a constitutional monarchy. Through all of this, the Bhutanese have sustained a unique identity, derived largely from a religious and cultural heritage and the guiding development philosophy of Gross National Happiness (GNH).
Life in Bhutan Today
Life in Bhutan moves at a much slower pace than elsewhere. It did not open its doors to tourism until 1974 and is fiercely protective of the environment, so much so that Bhutan is the only country in the world with a negative carbon footprint. It was not until 1999 that television and the internet were permitted and now cell phones are ubiquitous. Since 1974, Bhutan has become the ultimate destination from those seeking adventure to those seeking spiritual enlightenment. Bhutan has it all: fascinating colorful festivals and rituals, a society free of a class or caste system, stunning ancient fortresses, high mountains, astounding escarpments, lush valleys and plunging waterfalls, the quaintness of its villages, textiles, handicrafts and stunning flora and fauna. If it’s not Shangri-La, it is as close as it gets.