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September 2009



Bhutan, officially The Kingdom of Bhutan, lies between the countries of China and India. Encompassing an area of 38,394 sq km, Bhutan is roughly half the size of the U.S. state of Indiana. Its climate varies from tropical in the southern plains with cool winters and hot summers in the central valleys, and severe winters and cool summers in the Himalayas. The lowest point in Bhutan is Brangme Chhu (97 m above sea level) and the highest point is Kula Kangri (7,553 m above sea level).

The natural resources of Bhutan include: timber, hydropower, gypsum, calcium carbonate. The natural hazards include violent storms from the Himalayas, the source of the country's name which translates as Land of the Thunder Dragon, frequent landslides during the rainy season, and earthquakes. The population of Bhutan was approximately 672,425 according to a 2005 census. Ethnic groups of Bhutan include: Drukpa 50% (which is also inclusive of Sharchops), as well as ethnic Nepalese (Lhotsampas) 35%, and indigenous or migrant tribes 15%. Religions in Bhutan are: Lamaistic Buddhist 75% (state religion), Indian- and Nepalese-influenced Hinduism 25%. Languages most commonly spoken in Bhutan are: Dzongkha (official language), Bumthang-kha, English (medium of instruction), Sharchop-kha, and Nepali.

The Ngalops make up the majority of the population, living mostly in the western and central areas. The Ngalops are thought to be of Tibetan origin, arriving in Bhutan during the 8th and 9th centuries A.D. and bringing Buddhism with them. Most Ngalops follow the Drukpa Kagyupa discipline of Mahayana Buddhism. In a country that is deeply rooted within the Buddhist religion, many people's sect of religion, as opposed to their ethnic group, characterizes them. The Ngalops predominate in the government, and the civil service and their cultural norms have been declared by the monarchy to be the standard for all citizens.

The Sharchops, who live in the eastern section of Bhutan, are considered to be descendants of the earliest major group to inhabit Bhutan. Most follow the Ningmapa discipline of Mahayana Buddhism. Sharchop is translated as "people of the east." The Ngalops, Sharchops, and the indigenous tribal people are collectively known as Drukpas and account for about 65% of the population. The national language is Dzongkha, but English is the language of instruction in schools and an official working language for the government.

The Lhotsampas are people of Nepali descent, currently making up 35% of the population. They came to Bhutan in the 19th and 20th centuries, mostly settling in the southern foothills to work as farmers. They speak a variety of Nepali dialects and are predominantly Hindu.

CIA World Factbook; U.S. State Department Background Notes; US Geologic Survey, 09/2009; 10/2008; 09/2009