People of Bhutan


It is difficult to state for certain which populations inhabited Bhutan at which time in its history. Some suggest that three small groups  theMonpas in central Bhutan, related to them the Oleps in the west, and the Lhops in the southern region “ could be aboriginal groups of Bhutan. However, further anthropological and linguistic studies are needed to corroborate these suggestions. In general terms, there seem to have been different waves of migration from Tibet perhaps from the 6th Century onwards, although this is not stated anywhere as a fact. The southern belt is inhabited by people of Nepali descent who arrived in Bhutan since the beginning of the 20th Century.

The Bhutanese are known to be friendly and hospitable. In our folktales, descriptions of journeys invariably talk of crossing mountains and deep valleys. In many ways, this landscape has shaped our identity. Inaccessibility meant that people had to rely on themselves, as a result of which the Bhutanese are known to be strong, independent, and resourceful.


The difficulties in access between settlements have resulted in diversities in languages and ways of life that visitors do not expect in a country of less than a million people. There have been 19 recorded languages and numerous dialects in Bhutan. The national language is Dzongkha (language of the fortress) which belongs to a branch of the Tibeto-Burman family, and is used as the official language of correspondence. Other major languages include Tshangla or Sharchopkha (literally translated as language of the east)indigenous to mainly four districts in the eastern and south eastern Bhutan; Lhotsamkha (˜language of the south which is Nepali, an Indo-European language), spoken largely in the southern parts; and Khengkha, spoken in the south central region. However, these languages cannot be distinctly associated with one region or sometimes even one district. For example, there are districts in the east whose native language is not the language of the east but distinct from it. In the modern education system, English is the medium of instruction.


The traditional wear is a gho (an ankle length gown, lifted to the knees and tied with a fabric belt called kera) for men and kira (ankle length dress secured at the waist by a fabric belt called kera and fastened at the shoulders by brooches called koma) for women. The range of fabrics and designs used to weave ghos and kiras are remarkable and is best witnessed during local festivals. The kira is worn with a blouse underneath called wonju and a jacket called tego on the outside. For visits to the Dzongs, offices, and official functions, men wear a scarf called kabney over their gho and women wear a sash called rachu over their left shoulder. The colour of the kabney or rachu and the presence or absence of fringes on them identifies the rank of a person. Traditional footwear called Tshoglham for higher ranking persons and Yulham worn by ordinary people that are knee high silk and cotton or polyester boots, respectively, with leather soles.

Food ways

Traditionally, nine food crops (dru-na gu) are recognized in the Bhutanese agriculture system. These are rice, maize, wheat, barley, buckwheat, millets, amaranth, mustard and pulses. Rice and chilli with cheese is generally represented as the major Bhutanese food. Although this is the unsurpassed national favorite for many Bhutanese, there are varieties in the kind of food grown, the cooking processes, preservation methods and even values attached to certain kind of food. At higher altitudes are semi-nomadic communities who herd yaks and produce dairy products, and grow barley, buckwheat, mustard and vegetables. Further down in the cool temperate zone, yaks, sheep and cattle are raised and crops like barley, wheat, potatoes, buckwheat and mustard, and some fruit trees are grown. In the warm temperate zone, rice is grown on irrigated land, wheat, mustard and potatoes on dry land, and one can find a variety of temperate fruit trees and vegetables. Cattle and pigs are also raised. In the sub-tropical zone, depending on the attitude and humidity, maize, rice, pulses, millet are some crops usually grown. Tropical fruit trees and vegetables are also grown, and cattle, poultry, pigs and goats are raised. In addition, a variety of non-wood forest products are harvested, ranging from wild ferns and shoots to the over 137 varieties of edible mushrooms.

As one would expect, the kind of food grown determines the staple diet of a locality. Some examples are buckwheat pancakes (Khulay), buckwheat and barley noodles (puta), milled corn kernels (kharang), barley dough (drango) and varieties of red rice. Fresh vegetables are cooked almost always in combination with either chilli and cheese, or meat, and sometimes all together. A traditional habit that is still widely prevalent is the drying of vegetables, even in situations where off-season vegetables are available or where kitchens are equipped with modern storage facilities. Dried spinach, pumpkins, egg plants, or chillies normally accompany meat cuisines. Suja is the much-loved salted butter tea and sometimes mistaken for an entr


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