Not much is identified with Bhutan's history before the 7th century, which is when Buddhism was introduced. After this time, the chronicles kept by Buddhists record Bhutan's history. Buddhism was brought in to Bhutan when feudal lords in their separate valleys, not a central government, ruled the country.After monks from the Kargyupa sect of Mahayana Buddhism built monasteries throughout the valleys, the Drukpa subsect became the most popular form of religion. A Drukpa monk, Ngawang Namgyal, started the first formal government in 1616 – that of a theocratic government. Namgyal was able to unite the influential Bhutanese families, this after he defeated many challengers’ subsect leaders.
Namgyal's government consisted of two leaders – one with spiritual responsibilities (dharma raja) and the other with civil responsibilities (deb raja). This split form of government continued until the early 1900's. Conflict occurred in Bhutan approximately 100 years after the deb raja formed a peace treaty with the English East India Company. Rivalry was rampant between two governors in Bhutan (of Tongsa and Paro) who held staunchly opposite views toward the British. Ugyen Wangchuck, the pro-British governor, was able to unite the country after defeating all his opponents.
In 1907 Ugyen Wangchuck became the first druk gyalpo of Bhutan and he ruled from 1907 to 1926. Jigme Wangchuck, Ugyen's son, ruled from 1926 to 1952 and was followed by Jigme Dorji Wangchuck who ruled from 1953 to 1972. The fourth druk gyalpo, Jigme Singye Wangchuck began his reign in 1972.
Peoples of Bhutan
The official estimate of Bhutan's population in 1990 was about 600,000 but other sources estimate the population for 2000 was just under 2 million. Those living in Bhutan of Nepali origin have been excluded from the official census since 1990 which results in such a large discrepancy in population numbers.
Bhutan has four major ethic groups: Bhutia, Sharchops, Nepali, and other indigenous groups. The Bhutia, who are descended from Tibetans, live in the central and northern regions of Bhutan. This ethnic group basically dominates politics in Bhutan particularly with it's contribution of government officials and monks that come from it.
Believed to be Bhutan's earliest settlers, the Sharchops live in the southeastern and eastern region. They speak both Tibeto-Burman languages as well as Hindi.
The Nepali people are the latest immigrants to Bhutan. Living in the southwestern and south central section of Bhutan, immigration of Nepali's has been forbidden by the Bhutanese government since 1959. Fear of Bhutan becoming too heavily populated with Nepalis brought about this and the ban on living in the central Himalayan region. Bhutan traditions and culture are to be retained and not dilute Bhutanese distinctiveness.
There are small groups of ethnic minorities that live all throughout Bhutan with the largest group living in the Duars. This group is related to those groups living in India's Assam and Bangla states.
Bhutan's climate is as diverse as it's land. Depending on the altitude, area and amount of sunlight, the climate can range from bitter cold to a humid, hot tropical climate. The precipitation that Bhutan gets comes between the months of June to September and averages for the year about 25 inches (650 mm). A small country covering a little over 18,000 sq mi (47,000 sq km), Bhutan's land is very varied. Snow peaks in the Himalayas, swamps and highlands are just some of the land conditions that are found in a short range from each other. The three main areas in Bhutan are the Great Himalayan Region, Middle Himalayan Region and the Duars.
The Duars, a plain only 5-8 miles wide (8-13 km), are located along the Indian border and have a tropical climate. The northern section of the Duars is home to wildlife such as tigers and deer with its rugged, coarse terrain. The southern portion of the Duars is cultivated for rice, but had at one time been a jungle filled with bamboo.The Middle Himalayan region is part of the Himalayan range that spreads down from the north and surrounds rich, broad valleys. The valleys, with their mild climate are cultivated and populated. The rainfall in this region is average, not humid and wet like the Duars.
The Great Himalayan Region borders Tibet and is relatively uninhabitable. The highest peak in Bhutan is located here, Kula Kangri (4,900-9,200 ft/1,500-2,800 m). The high valleys are home to a few people, but the main inhabitants in the bitterly cold climate are Bhutanese yaks.