Bhutan (Dzongkha: འབྲུག་ཡུལ་; Wylie transliteration: ʼbrug-yul "Druk Yul"), officially the
Kingdom of Bhutan, is a landlocked country in South Asia located at the eastern end of the Himalayas. It is bordered to the north by China and to the south, east and west by India. To the west, it is
separated from Nepal by the Indian state of Sikkim, while further south it is separated from Bangladesh by the Indian states of Assam and West Bengal. Bhutan's capital and largest city is
Bhutan existed as a patchwork of minor warring fiefdoms until the early 17th century, when the lama and military leader Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, fleeing religious persecution in Tibet, unified the area and cultivated a distinct Bhutanese identity. Later, in the early 20th century, Bhutan came into contact with the British Empire and retained strong bilateral relations with India upon its independence. In 2006, based on a global survey, Business Week rated Bhutan the happiest country in Asia and the eighth-happiest in the world.
Bhutan's landscape ranges from subtropical plains in the south to the sub-alpine Himalayan heights in the north, where some peaks exceed 7,000 metres (23,000 ft). Its total area was reported as approximately 46,500 km2 (18,000 sq mi) in 1997 and 38,394 square kilometres (14,824 sq mi) in 2002. Bhutan's state religion is Vajrayana Buddhism and the population, now (as of 2012/2013) estimated to be nearly three-quarters of a million, is predominantly Buddhist. Hinduism is the second-largest religion.
In 2008, Bhutan made the transition from absolute monarchy to constitutional monarchy and held its first general election. As well as being a member of the United Nations, Bhutan is a member of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) and hosted SAARC's sixteenth summit in April 2010.
Names similar to Bhutan – including Bottanthis, Bottan and Bottanter – began to appear in Europe around the 1580s.
Jean-Baptiste Tavernier's 1676 Six Voyages is the first to record the name Boutan. However, in every case, these seem to have been describing not modern Bhutan but the Kingdom of Tibet. The modern
distinction between the two did not begin until well into Bogle's 1774 expedition—realizing the differences between the two regions, cultures, and states, his final report to the East India Company
formally proposed labeling the Druk Desi's kingdom as "Boutan" and the Panchen Lama's as "Tibet". The EIC's surveyor general James Rennell first anglicized the French name as Bootan and then
popularized the distinction between it and greater Tibet.
The precise etymology of "Bhutan" is unknown, although it is likely to derive from the Tibetan endonym "Bod" used for Greater Tibet. Traditionally, it is taken to be a transcription of the Sanskrit Bhoṭa-anta (भोट-अन्त, "end of Tibet"), a reference to Bhutan's position as the southern extremity of the Tibetan plateau and culture.
Locally, Bhutan has been known by many names. One of the earliest Western records of Bhutan, the 1627 Relação of the Portuguese Jesuits Estêvão Cacella and João Cabral, records its name variously as Cambirasi (among the Koch Biharis), Potente, and Mon (an endonym for southern Tibet). The first time a separate Kingdom of Bhutan did appear on a western map, it did so under its local name as "Broukpa". Others including Lho Mon ("Dark Southland"), Lho Tsendenjong ("Southland of the Cypress"), Lhomen Khazhi ("Southland of the Four Approaches") and Lho Men Jong ("Southland of the Herbs").
Stone tools, weapons, elephants, and remnants of large stone structures provide evidence that Bhutan was inhabited as early as 2000 BC, although there are no existing records from that time. Historians have theorized that the state of Lhomon (literally, "southern darkness"), or Monyul ("Dark Land", a reference to the Monpa, the aboriginal peoples of Bhutan) may have existed between 500 BC and AD 600. The names Lhomon Tsendenjong (Sandalwood Country), and Lhomon Khashi, or Southern Mon (country of four approaches), have been found in ancient Bhutanese and Tibetan chronicles.
Buddhism was first introduced to Bhutan in the 7th century AD. Tibetan king Songtsän Gampo (reigned 627–649), a convert to Buddhism, who actually had extended the Tibetan Empire into Sikkim and Bhutan, ordered the construction of two Buddhist temples, at Bumthang in central Bhutan and at Kyichu (near Paro) in the Paro Valley. Buddhism was propagated in earnest in 746 under King Sindhu Rāja (also Künjom; Sendha Gyab; Chakhar Gyalpo), an exiled Indian king who had established a government in Bumthang at Chakhar Gutho Palace.
Buddhist saint Padma Sambhava (also known as Guru Rinpoche) came to Bhutan in 747. Much of early Bhutanese history is unclear because most of the records were destroyed when fire ravaged the ancient capital, Punakha, in 1827. By the 10th century, Bhutan's political development was heavily influenced by its religious history. Various sub-sects of Buddhism emerged which were patronized by the various Mongol warlords. After the decline of the Yuan Dynasty in the 14th century, these sub-sects vied with each other for supremacy in the political and religious landscape, eventually leading to the ascendancy of the Drukpa sub-sect by the 16th century.
Until the early 17th century, Bhutan existed as a patchwork of minor warring fiefdoms, when the area was unified by the
Tibetan lama and military leader Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal who had fled religious persecution in Tibet. To defend the country against intermittent Tibetan forays, Namgyal built a network of
impregnable dzong (fortresses), and promulgated the Tsa Yig, a code of law that helped to bring local lords under centralized control. Many such dzong still exist and are active centers of religion
and district administration. Portuguese Jesuits Estêvão Cacella and João Cabral were the first recorded Europeans to visit Bhutan, on their way to Tibet. They met Ngawang Namgyal, presented him with
firearms, gunpowder and a telescope, and offered him their services in the war against Tibet, but the Shabdrung declined the offer. After a stay of nearly eight months Cacella wrote a long letter
from the Chagri Monastery reporting on his travels. This is a rare extant report of the Shabdrung. After Ngawang Namgyal's death in 1651, his passing was kept secret for 54 years; after a
period of consolidation, Bhutan lapsed into internal conflict. In the year 1711 Bhutan went to war against the Mughal Empire and its Subedars, who restored Koch Bihar in the south. During the chaos
that followed, the Tibetans unsuccessfully attacked Bhutan in 1714.
In the 18th century, the Bhutanese invaded and occupied the kingdom of Cooch Behar to the south. In 1772, Cooch Behar appealed to the British East India Company which assisted them in ousting the Bhutanese and later in attacking Bhutan itself in 1774. A peace treaty was signed in which Bhutan agreed to retreat to its pre-1730 borders. However, the peace was tenuous, and border skirmishes with the British were to continue for the next hundred years. The skirmishes eventually led to the Duar War (1864–65), a confrontation for control of the Bengal Duars. After Bhutan lost the war, the Treaty of Sinchula was signed between British India and Bhutan. As part of the war reparations, the Duars were ceded to the United Kingdom in exchange for a rent of Rs. 50,000. The treaty ended all hostilities between British India and Bhutan.
During the 1870s, power struggles between the rival valleys of Paro and Tongsa led to civil war in Bhutan, eventually leading to the ascendancy of Ugyen Wangchuck, the ponlop (governor) of Tongsa. From his power base in central Bhutan, Ugyen Wangchuck defeated his political enemies and united the country following several civil wars and rebellions during 1882–85.
In 1907, an epochal year for the country, Ugyen Wangchuck was unanimously chosen as the hereditary king of the country by an assembly of leading Buddhist monks, government officials, and heads of important families. The British government promptly recognized the new monarchy, and in 1910 Bhutan signed the Treaty of Punakha, a subsidiary alliance which gave the British control of Bhutan's foreign affairs and meant that Bhutan was treated as an Indian princely state. This had little real effect, given Bhutan's historical reticence, and also did not appear to affect Bhutan's traditional relations with Tibet. After the new Union of India gained independence from the United Kingdom on 15 August 1947, Bhutan became one of the first countries to recognize India's independence. On 8 August 1949, a treaty similar to that of 1910, in which Britain had gained power over Bhutan's foreign relations, was signed with the newly independent India.
In 1953, King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck established the country's legislature – a 130-member National Assembly – to promote a more democratic form of governance. In 1965, he set up a Royal Advisory Council, and in 1968 he formed a Cabinet. In 1971, Bhutan was admitted to the United Nations, having held observer status for three years. In July 1972, Jigme Singye Wangchuck ascended to the throne at the age of sixteen after the death of his father, Dorji Wangchuck.
King Jigme Singye Wangchuck introduced significant political reforms, transferring most of his administrative powers to
the Council of Cabinet Ministers and allowing for impeachment of the King by a two-thirds majority of the National Assembly.
In 1999, the government lifted a ban on television and the Internet, making Bhutan one of the last countries to introduce television. In his speech, the King said that television was a critical step to the modernisation of Bhutan as well as a major contributor to the country's Gross National Happiness (Bhutan is the only country to measure happiness), but warned that the "misuse" of television could erode traditional Bhutanese values.
A new constitution was presented in early 2005. In December 2005, King Jigme Singye Wangchuck announced that he would abdicate the throne in his son's favor in 2008. On 14 December 2006, he announced that he would be abdicating immediately. This was followed by the first national parliamentary elections in December 2007 and March 2008.
On 6 November 2008, 28-year-old Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, eldest son of King Jigme Singye Wangchuck, was crowned King.