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Bhutan (bo͞otänˈ), officially Kingdom of Bhutan, kingdom (2020 est. pop. 771,612), 18,147 sq mi (47,000 sq km), in the E Himalayas, southern Asia. It is bordered on the west, south, and east by India and on the north by the Tibet region of China. Punakha is the traditional capital; Thimphu is the official capital and largest city.

Land and People

Great mountain ranges, rising in the N to Kula Kangri (24,784 ft/7,554 m), Bhutan's tallest peak, run north and south, dividing the country into forested valleys with some pastureland. The perpetually snow-covered Great Himalayas are uninhabited, except for some Buddhist monks in scattered monasteries. Bhutan is drained by several rivers rising in the Himalayas and flowing into India. Thunderstorms and torrential rains are common; rainfall averages from 200 to 250 in. (508–635 cm) on the southern plains. The valleys, especially the Paro, are intensively cultivated.

Bhutan's people are mostly Bhotias, who call themselves Drukpas (dragon people). They are ethnically related to the Tibetans and practice a form of Buddhism closely related to the Lamaism (see Tibetan Buddhism) of Tibet; many Bhutanese live in monasteries. Dzongka, the official language, is also basically Tibetan. In S Bhutan there is a sizable minority of Nepalese (about a third of the population), who practice Hinduism and speak various Nepalese dialects. Large numbers of ethnic Nepalese have been expelled to Nepal since the late 1980s, and the government has pressured the Nepalese to adopt Bhutanese dress, customs, religion, and language. In addition, some 15% of Bhutan's people are from indigenous or migrant tribal groups.


The chief occupations, which employ more than 60% of the workforce, are small-scale subsistence farming (producing rice, corn, root crops, citrus fruit, barley, wheat, and potatoes) and the raising of yaks, cattle, sheep, pigs, and tanguns, a sturdy breed of pony valued in mountain transportation. Wood and leather products, processed foods, alcoholic beverages, calcium carbide, textiles, and handicrafts are also important. Hydroelectric power is a most important resource, with some electricity being exported to India; it is the country's most important export. Fuels, grain, aircraft, machinery, vehicles, and fabrics are the major imports; cardamom and other spices, gypsum, timber, handicrafts, fruit, and precious stones are the other primary exports. Tourism is a significant though restricted activity, and it is the country's largest source of foreign exchange. Bhutan's economy is closely tied to that of India, both through trade and monetary links.


Bhutan is governed under the constitution of 2008. The hereditary monarch, the Druk Gyalpo (Dragon King), is head of state; the government is headed by a prime minister. The national Parliament, which was established in 2008 and replaced the unicameral National Assembly, comprises two houses. The upper house, the National Council, has 20 elected members and 5 members nominated by the monarch. The lower house, the National Assembly, has 47 members, all of whom are popularly elected. Administratively, Bhutan is divided into 20 districts (dzongkhag).


Although its early history is vague, Bhutan seems to have existed as a political entity for many centuries. At the beginning of the 16th cent. it was ruled by a dual monarchy consisting of a Dharma Raja, or spiritual ruler, and a Deb Raja, or temporal ruler. For much of its early history the Deb Raja held little real power, as the provincial governors (ponlops) became quite strong. In 1720 the Chinese invaded Tibet and established suzerainty over Bhutan. Friction between Bhutan and Indian Bengal culminated in a Bhutanese invasion of Cooch Behar in 1772, followed by a British incursion into Bhutan, but the Tibetan lama's intercession with the governor-general of British India improved relations.

In 1774 a British mission arrived in Bhutan to promote trade with India. British occupation of Assam in 1826, however, led to renewed border raids from Bhutan. In 1864 the British occupied part of S Bhutan, which was formally annexed after a war in 1865; the Treaty of Sinchula provided for an annual subsidy to Bhutan as compensation. In 1907 the most powerful of Bhutan's provincial governors, Sir Ugyen Wangchuk, supported by the British, became the monarch of Bhutan, the first of a hereditary line. A treaty signed in 1910 doubled the annual British subsidy to Bhutan in return for an agreement to let Britain direct the country's foreign affairs.

After India won independence, a treaty (1949) returned the part of Bhutan annexed by the British and allowed India to assume the former British role of subsidizing Bhutan and directing its defense and foreign relations; the Indians, like the British before them, promised not to interfere in Bhutan's internal affairs. When Chinese Communist forces occupied Tibet in 1950, Bhutan, because of its strategic location, became a point of contest between China and India. The Chinese claim to Bhutan (as part of a greater Tibet) and the persecution of Tibetan Buddhists led India to close the Bhutanese-Tibetan border and to build roads in Bhutan capable of carrying Indian military vehicles. In the 1960s, Bhutan also formed a small army, trained and equipped by India. The kingdom's admission to the United Nations in 1971 was seen as strengthening its sovereignty, and by the 1980s relations with China had improved significantly.

Bhutan's third hereditary ruler, King Jigme Dorji Wangchuk (reigned 1953–72), modernized Bhutanese society by abolishing slavery and the caste system, emancipating women, dividing large estates into small individual plots, and starting a secular educational system. Although Bhutan no longer has a Dharma Raja, Buddhist priests retain political influence. In 1969 the absolute monarchy gave way to a “democratic monarchy.” In 1972 the crown prince, Jigme Singye Wangchuk, became the fourth hereditary king of Bhutan upon his father's death; he was crowned in June, 1974. The new king gradually democratized the Bhutanese government. By 1999 the king was no longer head of government; that position was held by head of the cabinet, which is responsible to the national assembly. Since then the country has moved slowly toward adopting a new constitution; in 2005 the draft of the proposed constitution was released.

Meanwhile, an uprising by the Nepalese minority in 1989, a national policy of forcing non–ethnic Bhutanese to adopt Bhutanese Buddhist traditions, and the expulsion of thousands of ethnic Nepalese regarded by the government as illegal aliens were a source of tension within Bhutan, and with Nepal and India, in the 1990s. Also, Assamese and West Bengali separatist guerrillas have established bases in Bhutan, from which they make attacks into India. After attempts to negotiate the Assamese guerrillas' withdrawal failed, Bhutan mounted attacks (2003) to demolish their bases. An agreement between Bhutan and Nepal in 2003 permitted some of the ethnic Nepalese expelled from Bhutan and living in refugee camps in Nepal to return to Bhutan, but most remained in the camps; some began being resettled abroad in 2008. In late 2005 the king announced plans to abdicate in favor of his son in 2008, when the first democratic elections for a parliament are to held. However, at the end of 2007 the king stepped down and was succeeded by Crown Prince Jigme Kesar Namgyel Wangchuk (the formal coronation occurred a year later). Bhutan subsequently signed a revised treaty with India that gave Bhutan greater control over its foreign policy.

In Dec., 2007, the country began its transition to constitutional monarchy with nonpartisan elections for the National Council. Elections for the National Assembly were held in Mar., 2008; nearly all the seats were won by the Bhutan Peace and Prosperity party (DPT), whose leader, Jigme Thinley, had twice previously served as prime minister. In the July, 2013, elections, the People's Democratic party (PDP) won a majority; PDP leader Tshering Tobgay became prime minister. In mid-2017 Bhutan accused China of building a road in a disputed western border region contrary to a 2012 agreement, and sought India's help, leading to a three-month standoff between Indian and Chinese troops. Sections of the border continued to be a source of contention with China in subsequent years. In the 2018 elections, Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa (DNT; the former Social Democratic party), led by Lotay Tshering, won a majority, and he became prime minister.


See studies by T. O. Edmunds (1988) and L. M. Foster (1989).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



(in the language of the Bhotias, Druk-yul), a state in Southern Asia, situated in an isolated part of the eastern Himalayas between China and India. Area, 47,000 sq km (according to UN data). Population, 1 million (1970 estimate). The chief city is Thimbu. Bhutan is a kingdom that has special treaty relations with India.

Natural features. Bhutan occupies the southern part of the eastern Himalayas, which is cut through by the deep valleys of the rivers of the Brahmaputra basin (the Amo, Sankosh, Kuru and other rivers). The highest peak is Mount Choma Lhari at 7,314 m. The climate is monsoon, mostly humid, tropical, and in the upper zone, cold. Wooded vegetation predominates (deciduous evergreens and deciduous trees, as well as coniferous forests). Mountain meadows appear above 3,500-4,000 m; there are massifs of permanent snow and glaciers. The most widespread mammals are elephants, rhinoceroses, tigers, leopards, panthers, wild bulls and boars, monkeys, musk deer, Himalayan bears, and foxes.

Population. A larger part of the population is made up of Bhotias (450,000, 1967 estimate) and kindred tribes (Abors, Mishmis, and Miris, 30,000), who speak languages that are close to Tibetan. The southwest is inhabited by settlers from Nepal—Gurungs (150,000), Kirantis (10,000), Limbus (10,000), and Lepchas (10,000). Their languages belong to the Indie (Indo-Aryan) branch. There are many Assamese (the Indie language group, about 100,000 people) and Santals (5,000), who speak a language of the Munda family, in the south and east. Bhotia is the state language. The majority of the population practices Buddhism of the Lamaist form; the Assamese, Santals, and a segment of the Gurungs are Hindus. Several tribes have retained ancient traditional beliefs. The towns are small—Punakha (26,000), Paro, Thimbu, and Phuntsholing.

Historical survey. For a long time the Bhutanese regarded the lamas of Tibet as the spiritual mentors of their own lamas and lamaseries. The Bhutanese carried out attacks on their neighbors, including areas of Tibet. After entrenching themselves in India, the British colonizers established control over Bhutan. As a result of a series of treaties between the Anglo-Indian authorities and the rulers of Bhutan (the most important in 1841, 1865, and 1910), Bhutan was deprived of mountain passes bordering on Assam and Bengal, foreign policy making was turned over to the British, and the ruler of Bhutan was to be paid an annual subsidy (100,000 rupees from 1910 on). After the proclamation of India’s independence in 1947, Bhutan concluded a treaty with the Indian government (Aug. 8, 1949) under which Bhutan agreed to follow India’s advice on questions of foreign relations; the district of Dewangiri, which was annexed by the British in 1865, was returned to Bhutan; the Bhutanese ruler’s subsidy was increased to 500,000 rupees. A parliament was created in 1954. The 1973 convocation of the parliament consisted of 150 members, of which 110 were appointed by village elders, 10 were sent by lamaseries, and 30 were government officials. In 1971, Bhutan was accepted into the United Nations.

Economy. Bhutan is an agrarian country dominated by feudal relations. Farming predominates in agriculture, and individual plots are tilled along river valleys and on mountain slopes, where the fields are arranged in terraces and are partially irrigated. Rice, wheat, barley, millet, corn, buckwheat, potatoes, mustard, and cotton are cultivated. Vegetables and fruits (mangoes, oranges, and others) are grown, mainly in the southeast. There is transhumance and mountain-pasture livestock raising; the livestock comprises cattle (including yaks), sheep, mules, horses (including ponies), and hogs. The forests are rich in valuable wood (sal and others); there is substantial logging, and lacquer, shellac, and wax are gathered. Cottage-industry production of woolen and cotton fabrics, rugs, paper, woven objects, simple farm implements, sidearms, and household utensils is widespread; artistic metalworking and woodcutting is popular. Some mining of iron ore (in the region of Paro Dzong), coal, gypsum, dolomite, mica, and graphite is done. There is a small power plant in Thimbu, as well as a fruit-juice factory and a distillery. Programs of economic development (1961-65, 1966-70) were carried out with financial assistance from India; construction is being completed on an east-west highway between the airport in Paro and Tashigang; roads have been built between Thimbu and Phuntsholing and between Tashigang and Darrang, India. The roads, totaling 1,300 km of highway, mostly run along river valleys. There is an air connection with India. Bhutan trades mostly with India, exporting wood, canned fruits, coal, musk, lacquer, wax, and ivory. The monetary unit (since 1968) is the tikchunga, which is equal to half an Indian rupee.

Education. Public education in Bhutan is at a low level; 95 percent of the adult population is illiterate (1968). There is no law on compulsory education. In addition to state secular schools, there are ecclesiastical schools at Buddhist monasteries. Primary school is free, and primary education is about five years. Schooling is conducted in the Bhotia language. Hindi and English are required subjects. Several incomplete secondary schools with about three years of schooling have been opened. In the 1966 academic year there were 12,300 pupils in state primary schools and more than 2,000 students in incomplete secondary schools. Teachers for primary and incomplete secondary schools are trained by a pedagogical school. Bhutan has no higher educational institutions.


Prazauskas, A. A. Butan. Sikkim. Moscow, 1970.
[4-456-1; updated]
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


Official name: Kingdom of Bhutan

Capital city: Thimphu

Internet country code: .bt

Flag description: Divided diagonally from the lower hoist side corner; the upper triangle is yellow and the lower tri­angle is orange; centered along the dividing line is a large black and white dragon facing away from the hoist side

National anthem: “In the Kingdom of Druk, where cypresses grow” (first line in English translation)

Geographical description: Southern Asia, between China and India

Total area: 17,953 sq. mi. (46,500 sq. km.)

Climate: Varies; tropical in southern plains; cool winters and hot summers in central valleys; severe winters and cool summers in Himalayas

Nationality: noun: Bhutanese (singular and plural); adjective: Bhutanese

Population: 634,982 (2006 government est.)

Ethnic groups: Bhote (Drukpa) 50%, ethnic Nepalese (including Lhotsampas) 35%, indigenous or migrant groups 15%

Languages spoken: Dzongka (official), English, Tibetan dialects, Nepalese dialects

Religions: Lamaistic Buddhist (state religion) 75%, Indian-and Nepalese-influenced Hinduism 25%

Legal Holidays:

Coronation AnniversaryJun 2
Independence DayAug 8
National DayDec 17
Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary, Fourth Edition. © 2010 by Omnigraphics, Inc.


a kingdom in central Asia: disputed by Tibet, China, India, and Britain since the 18th century, the conflict now being chiefly between China and India (which is responsible for Bhutan's external affairs); contains inaccessible stretches of the E Himalayas in the north. Official language: Dzongka; Nepali is also spoken. Official religion: Mahayana Buddhist. Currencies: ngultrum and Indian rupee. Capital: Thimbu. Pop.: 2 325 000 (2004 est.). Area: about 46 600 sq. km (18 000 sq. miles)
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005