Bhutan has a rich and unique cultural heritage that has largely remained intact due to its isolation from the rest of the world until the early 1960s. One of the main attractions for tourists is the country’s culture and traditions. Bhutanese tradition is deeply steeped in its Buddhist heritage. Hinduism is the second dominant religion in Bhutan, being most prevalent in the southern regions. Both religions co-exist peacefully and receive support from the government , and enjoy royal patronage. The government is increasingly making efforts to preserve and sustain the current culture and traditions of the country. Due to its largely unspoilt natural environment and cultural heritage, Bhutan has aptly been referred to as the The Last Shangri-la.
While the Bhutanese are free travel abroad, Bhutan is seen to be inaccessible to many foreigners. There is a widespread mis perception that Bhutan has set limits on tourist visas. However it is the high tourist tariff and requirement to go on packaged tours that makes Bhutan an exclusive tourist destination.
The National Dress for Bhutanese men is the gho, which is a knee-length robe tied at the waist by a cloth belt known as the kera. Women wear an ankle-length dress, the kira, which is clipped at one shoulder and tied at the waist. An accompaniment to the kira is a long-sleeved blouse, the toego, which is worn underneath the outer layer. Social status and class determine the texture, colours, and decorations that embellish the garments. Differently coloured scarves and shawls are important indicators of social standing, as Bhutan has traditionally been a feudal society. Jewellery is mostly worn by women, especially during religious festivals and public gatherings. To strengthen Bhutan’s identity as an independent country, Bhutanese law requires all Bhutanese citizens to wear the national dress in public areas and as formal wear.
Rice, buckwheat, and increasingly maize, are the staple foods of the country. The diet also includes pork, beef, yak meat, chicken, and mutton. Soups and stews of meat and dried vegetables spiced with chillies and cheese are prepared. Ema datshi, made very spicy with cheese and chilis, might be called the national dish for its ubiquity and the pride that Bhutanese have for it. Dairy foods, particularly butter and cheese from yaks and cows, are also popular, and indeed almost all milk is turned to butter and cheese. Popular beverages include butter tea, tea, locally brewed rice wine and beer. Bhutan is the only country in the world to have banned the sale of tobacco.
Bhutan’s national sport is archery, and competitions are held regularly in most villages. It differs from Olympic standards not only in technical details such as the placement of the targets and atmosphere. There are two targets placed over 100 meters apart and teams shoot from one end of the field to the other. Each member of the team shoots two arrows per round. Traditional Bhutanese archery is a social event and competitions are organized between villages, towns, and amateur teams. There are usually plenty of food and drink complete with singing and dancing. Wives and supporters of the participating teams cheer. Attempts to distract an opponent include standing around the target and making fun of the shooter’s ability. Darts (khuru) is an equally popular outdoor team sport, in which heavy wooden darts pointed with a 10 cm nail are thrown at a paperback-sized target ten to twenty meters away.
Another traditional sport is the digor, which can be best described as shot put combined with horseshoe throwing. Cricket has gained remarkable popularity in Bhutan especially since the heavy influx of Indian Television. Their national Cricket Team is one of the more successful associate nations in the region. Football is an increasingly popular sport. In 2002, Bhutan’s national football team played Montserrat – billed as ‘The Other Final’, the match took place on the same day Brazil played Germany in the World Cup Final, but at the time Bhutan and Montserrat were the world’s two lowest ranked teams. The match was held in Thimphu’s
Changlimithang National Stadium, and Bhutan won 4-0. A documentary of the match was made by the Dutch filmmaker Johan Kramer.
Rigsar is the new emergent style of popular music, played on a mix of traditional instruments and electronic keyboards, and dates back to the early 1990s; it shows the influence of Indian popular music, a hybrid form of traditional and Western popular influences. Traditional genres include the zhungdra and boedra.
Characteristic of the region is a type of castle fortress known as the dzong. Since ancient times, the dzongs have served as the religious and secular administration centres for their respective districts.
Bhutan has numerous public holidays, most of which centre around traditional seasonal, secular and religious festivals. They include the winter solstice (around January 1, depending on the lunar calendar), the lunar New Year (February or March), the King’s birthday and the anniversary of his coronation, the official start of monsoon season (September 22), National Day (December 17), and various Buddhist and Hindu celebrations.
Masked dances and dance dramas are common traditional features at festivals, usually accompanied by traditional music. Energetic dancers, wearing colourful wooden or composition facemasks and stylized costumes, depict heroes, demons, demons, death heads, animals, gods, and caricatures of common people. The dancers enjoy royal patronage, and preserve ancient folk and religious customs and perpetuate the ancient lore and art of mask-making.
Inheritance in Bhutan generally goes in the female rather than the male line. Daughters will inherit their parents’ house. A man is expected to make his own way in the world and often moves to his wife’s home. Love marriages are the norm in the urban areas nowadays but the tradition of arranged marriages is still common in the villages. Although uncommon, polygamy and polyandry are accepted; often being a device to keep property in a contained family unit rather than dispersing it.