Bhutan has a distinct culture from the rest of South Asia, which developed over centuries of isolation shaped by an extremely mountainous terrain and strong Buddhist faith.
Bhutan’s culture is deeply influenced by Buddhism, in fact culture and religion are so intertwined it is one identity. This can be seen from the thousands of monasteries, prayers flags and stupas that dot the Bhutanese landscape as people spend much of their time praying and circumambulating temples, monasteries and holy sites. Although a tiny country with a population of around 700,000 there are at least 19 spoken languages in Bhutan. The rugged terrain and remoteness of its valleys in the past led to the formation of many scattered communities speaking different languages.
Broadly, the population is categorised as Ngalong from the western region, Sharchop from the eastern region and Lhotsampas of ethnic Nepali origin in the south. The Lhotsampas are largely Hindus by faith.
Bhutan also has several small remote communities that differ from the mainstream population. These include the Doyas in the south, the Layaps in the north-west, the Monpas of central Bhutan, and the nomads of Merak and Sakteng in the north-eastern Bhutan.
Like many Asian cultures some of the prominent cultural traits are close knit and joint families and respect and obedience to elders. In the western districts family property passes on to daughters while sons must make their own living.
Bhutan is a rice eating country though wheat, buckwheat, barely and maize are important crops. Potato is also a staple. Bhutanese consume an enormous amount of chillies as a vegetable, raw, dried or powdered.
In recent years there has been an initiative to promote organic farming since most of the farm produce available locally such as broccoli and asparagus come from backyard kitchen gardens.
Preserving and promoting culture is a national policy and is a means to protect Bhutan’s identity and sovereignty as a nation. Bhutanese are required to wear the national dress, gho for men and kira for women, at schools and government offices and institutions and observe traditional etiquette called Driglam Namzha.
Although rapid changes have come about to Bhutanese society in the past 50 years it is still largely an agrarian economy with 70 percent of the population dependent on agriculture for livelihood.
Archery is the national sport and matches between communities and villages are more of a festive social occasion rather than a competition.
There is a national code for the etiquette of Bhutanese people called Driglam Namzha.