martes, 31 de mayo de 2011



Bhutan is a small country in South Asia located at the eastern of the Himalayas and bordered to the south, east and west by India and to the north by China (Tibet). Bhutan is separated from the nearby country of Nepal to the west by the Indian state of Sikkim, and from Bangladesh to the south by West Bengal.

Eighty percent of the economy is based on agriculture, forestry, tourism and the sale of hydroelectric power to India. The currency is the ngultrum (70 ngultrums are about 1 euro). With an area of 46,500 square kilometres, Bhutan could be compared to Switzerland in its size and topography. However, it is more mountainous and there is only one main paved road that goes from east to west. It was built about 1960’s. Most of the route is quite narrow and it is plenty of bends due to the mountains. Therefore, travelling in the country takes more time than expected. You have to count that in most of the routes the maximum speed that can be reached is about 30-40 Km/hour. The road from Paro to Timphu is new and wider.

Bhutan has a small population of about 700,000 people. The main cities such as Paro and Timphu are quite small with only with 1-2 main streets. About 85% population of country still live in small villages scattered over rugged mountain land. The country’s development policies disregard sacrificing its natural resource base for short term economic gains and are consistent with the central tenets of sustainable development, environmental conservation and cultural values. Therefore, tourism is relatively limited.

The traditional dresses are widely used. For men is the gho, a knee-length robe tied at the waist by a cloth belt known as the kera. For women, the kira, an ankle-length dress, which is clipped at one shoulder and tied at the waist. A long-sleeved blouse, the toego, is worn underneath the outer layer. Social status and class determine the texture, colours, and decorations that embellish the garments. They are used especially in schools, offices and public places, festivals, celebrations, but also in common life. Pitifully, young people start to wear jeans and casual clothes.

In the country there are many national parks and preserved areas such as Jigme Dorji National Park, Royal Manas National Park and Phipsoo Wildlife Sanctuary. The country has a very richness fauna and flora, with many species. Bhutan’s national flower, Blue Poppy grows above the tree line about 3500 altitude. Ant the most characteristic of high Himalayan fauna include the blue sheep and the goat-antelope named takin, which is the Bhutan’s national animal.

Etnics & languages.
The main ethnics are Ngalop (west) and Scharchop (east). The official language is the Dzongkha, one of 53 languages with tibeta-burmese routes. In Bhutan there are 24 different languages of tibetan-burmese origin. The most frequent minority languages are Dzala (11%), limbu (10%, nepali immigrant) and kheng (8%). The lhotshampa language is mainly used for nepali peoples in the south of Bhutan. Due to the restrictive immigration laws, in 1990's about 90.000 nepalis had to return to Nepal.
The official scripts is the Chhokey, it is similar to the classic tibetan. I could see that its grammar is not well known. Some scholarized young people were not able to read complete sentences of Chhokey script. This is due to in the schools the classes are given in english. Small children speak a correct english. About 59% of the people in Bhutan speaks english. Some people who lives in the country, when they don’t know the native language, (eg. Sharchop people talking with Ngalop people) they use the english to talk each other. This is problems that the Government would like to solve.
The main newspapers in the country are Bhutan Times, Observer Times and Bhutan Today. They usually have about 10 -12 pages written in English. Bhutan times have few central pages written in dzongkha. As a curiosity, TV arrived in Bhutan in 1999. Therefore, you can imagine the “nice” isolation that has lived the country, deeply rooted to the traditions and religion and respectful of the environment and landscape.
In December 2005, the King Jigme Singye Wangchuck abdicated in favour his son's favour in 2008. This was followed with the first national parliamentary elections in December 2007 and March 2008. In the country there are two main parties.

Culture is very close to the tibetan. Although in ancient times wars between tibetans and `buthanese´were common. Seventy-five of the populations follow the Buddhist religion of Vajrayana. The reaming people are manly hinduist. Thousands of dzongs (fortress) and monasteries are spread thru the country. They use to be a garrison and a religious place. Nowdays, they are a religious place used by monks and also as administrative area of the district. Some of them are included in the tourist route for foreigns. The most beautiful and interesting are the Trongsa Dzong, Punakha Dzong, Simtoka Dzong, the old Drukgyal Dzong, Wangdue Phodrang Dzong and the hangged in a cliff named “Tiger’s nest” or Taktsang Dzong.

Tiger's Nest

The most popular sport is archery. Inheritance in Bhutan generally goes in the female rather than the male line. Daughters will inherit their parents' house. A man often moves to his wife's home. Love marriages are common in urban areas, but the tradition of arranged marriages is still common in the villages.

Entrance to the country is free for people from India and Bangladesh. Visa is required for the foreign tourist. For entering/travelling in the country it is compulsory make it thru a Tour Agent. Since 2011 a Tax of $250 have to be paid (includes car, meals, hotel and guide). The policy of the Government is "low volume, high value" tourism in order to preserve environment and cultural identity. Most of the foreign people enter to the country thru the Bhutan's only airport of Paro. There is no other airport in the country. Now is in construction the airport of Bumthang. By car is possible to enter through the border town of Phuentsholing, Bhutan's southern gateway.. The town is a three-hour drive from the airport at Bagdogra in the Indian state of West Bengal.
Druk Air is the national airline and is the only company operating in the country. Druk Air fllies in from link Paro with New-Delhi, Bangkok (via Calcutta) and Kathmandu. I also read that flies to Chengdu (China), but this destination it is not the company page.


Many songs and dances are used for entertainment and in festivals or celebrations. Mask songs and dances are sometimes used as offerings to the Gods. Some songs has a form of prayers, hymns, or expresing happines. The buthanese songs are classified in three main styles:

Zhungdra. They are traditional songs that originated in the monasteries and spread to the villages. If you are interested in this style check:

Jigme Drukpa. The Grappa label from Norway published the CD "Endless songs from Bhutan".

Am Nimchu Pem sings old-folk songs accompained by bhutanese traditional instruments. His music is availabre from an US based organization.

Boedra. They are traditional songs popularized by Boed Garps. It is said that pilgrins from Tibet adapted tibetan songs to bhutanese, although the rhythm is different.

Rigsar. It is the name of the popular songs and music, which developed in the 60'. It has modern arrengements and it is very popular in the young people of the cities. They are commonly songs of love.

There are other songs used for dancing or only singing. Songs that can be danced are Yuedra, Zhey (sang in local festivals) and Zheym. On the other hand, Tsangmo, Alo, Ausa and Khorey are only sang. Religious songs for rituals and prayers are Tshoglu and Gurma. Lozey is a form of narrative, expresing feelings or love, that is recited.

There are very few CDs available outside Bhutan. As far as I know only the Jigme Drukpa CD and An Nimchu Pem CD are available, as I mentioned above. Even in Bhutan, there are few recorded music available, few CDs and few tapes. There is not specializated shops of music. Some tapes here some CDs there. I saw no more than 25 albums available, taking in to account a few tapes. This surprised me because music (religious, traditional and even modern pop musici) is everywhere you go, specially during, weddings, ceremonies, festivals and for enterteiment in the villages.

Tibetan Buddhist Rites From Monasteries of Buthan. Lyrichord released in 1994 a set of four albums, which included mainly buddist, ceremonial and ritual music. However, this is another type of music with diferent instruments (mainly horns, shawns and long-trumpets), and for my taste it is nice to see alive, but to listen to a CD it is little monotonous. The last volume contains folk songs.

Jigme Drukpa. Born in Eastern Bhutan. He started to play the flute (lim). In Timphu he learned to to play the dramnryen (lute). In 1989 he started to record for the National Radio of Bhutan, wile he was in the Sherubtse school. His teacher was Ap Wawpal (see below). He moved to Norway. He is involved in the Royal Academy of Performing Arts, which they are trying to catalogue the old traditional songs. He has produced several bhutanese albums. He also sings in the album entitled "Yoga Meditation, Chanting & Prayers and Music" released in Bhutan by Phuensum Entertaiment.

1) "Endless songs from Bhutan" 1998 Helio (Grappa, Norway). It is a very nice album of traditional songs accompanied of the lute, hammered dulcimer and bamboo flute. It is available tru Grappa or Amazon. Very recommended!!!

2) "The songs of Bhutan". Not available outside Bhutan. It is quite similar than the first album: Bhutanese traditional songs, zhungdra and boedra songs. In the song entitled Ah-lou mitang seyna, which is a farewell song from a village, it is possible to listen to the kongtha o jew's harp and the Dungkar Lim or ocarina.

3) "Homage". It is his third album. It is a tribute to Druk Gyalpo, patron of bhutanese folk songs and dances. As the previous albums it contains zhungdra and boedra styles played with folk traditional instruments.

Ap Dawal. He is from Talo, Punakha. He was a mask dance master from the Talo Monastery. He learned how to play the traditional folk instruments by himself. He lived his youth in the Punakha Dzong or Monastery, where he learnt many traditional songs from Swela Pem Dorji, a dramnryen player. Nowdays some of his songs are part of the oral-musical tradition in Bhuhan. He plays Zhungdra and Boedra. He was the teacher of Jigme Drukpa.

In 2003 it was released Ap Wawpel. Songs from the Master. Traditional Bhutanese music. Pitifully, this CD it is only available in Bhutan (e-mail: It is a great album of dramnryen music!!!!

Boedra Collections. A three CD collection with 8 songs for album was released by GJ Entertaiment in Timphu. Each album include nice boedra songs from renowed singers such as Pema Lhamo, Pema Sandrup, Yeashi Wangchuk, Jigme Nidup, Dorji, Tshering Dorji, Sangay Wangmo and Tenzin Lhadoen. The traditional folk instruments of Bhutan may be heard thru the songs.

Namkha Lhamo - Nechen Dongkola - Aum Thinley Om.

These are three singers who sing traditional songs and boedra. These were all the albums from her that I could found. The singer of the first album is from Trongsa and the music is by Norbu. The second album from Nechen Dongkola sings boedra songs from D.Pem. The third album is the one tha has a most traditional feeling. All three albums are very good and her voices are wonderful. The arrangements are traditional (eg. dramnyen, lim).

Traditional Bhutanese Instrumental - Bhutan: Temple & Traditional Music - Chiyang Therd Lamb Den. The first and second albums are for me the best of these three albums. They include a collection of intrumental songs of lim, yangchen, piwang and dramnyen played by several musicians, solo, in duo or trio. The second album includes some religious songs. The third album is complete different than the others. There is no boedra songs here. It includes eight religious songs accompained by dramnyen with very few keyboards and some esporadic bells and gongs.

Raphael and Kutira. Sacred Femining Voices of Bhutan. Modern arrangements with keyboards and percussion of religious, prayers, love songs and weddings songs. The albums has a very "religious" feeling. Lead vocals are sung by Thinley Lhamo. A choir of woman voices is listened to thru the album. The female vocals are wonderful. It is not strictly a folk album, but it is quite enjoyable. Don't be confused, this is not another awful new age album. Some songs are instrumental, playing the yanchin with a layer of keyboards on the back. This album was recorded in Hawai in 2008, This duo had also an album of contemporay tibetan music.

Chung Chung. Dreams of the rural weaver. Performed by various artists named Happy Academy of Performing Arts. This is rigser music. Bhutanese songs and melodies overarranged by keyboards and synthesized percussive drums.

Karma Thsering & Tshewang Peden. Gawarai Charo - Sampai Rewa. Various Artists. These are two tapes. As the previous one, overarranged and too commercial for my taste. I would leave them for bhutanese people, but not for foreigners.

If you go to Bhutan I recommend Jigme Drukpa (you may try or grappa music), Ap Dawpel, Nechen Dongkola, Mamkha Lhamo and the Boedra collections.

It is the musical school located in Timphu. It is possible to study how to play the folk instruments of Buthan. I met Mr.Lopen Tashi Pwatsho, who is teacher of the school for 25 years and Mr Tenzi for 18 years. They play and teach how to play all the folk instruments of Bhutan, such a the dramnryen, piwang, yanchin or lim. At that moment, there were eight students of dramnryen. This school and musicians helps to keep alive the bhutanese musical folk traditions and songs. I have to thank to both musicians for his kindness with me and for their exlanations about bhutanese music.

If you can't go to Bhutan, you should see these two films by Khyentse Norbu. They are available thru

Travellers and Magicians. It´s a delightful movie from 2003. You can see the traditional dresses, wonderful landscapes and the typical buthanese wooden houses and roads. The script is quite simple, but the movie it is very well developed. A young government official feels trapped and he wants to travel to America. After missing the bus to Timphu, he try to go by walking and hitchhiken. He meets a monk (with a dramnyen!!) and a young woman with his father that goes to the city to sell vegetables.

The Cup. It is from 1999. It shows the life of a monastery, where a novice monk makes the impossible to watch the final football World Cup between Brazil and France on TV. A nice movie.

Prof. Lopen Tashi Pwatsho playing the yanchin

Prof.Tenzi playing the piwang and the author of this blog

Aknowledgments: I am very grateful to Mr Basanta Bhatta, from Yeti Travels Pvt. Ltd in Kathmandu that helped me to obtain the VISA for Bhutan and Tibet, to organize the trip as I wished, and to let me his office in Kathmandu during the night before coming back to my country. I also thanks to Norbu Travel Pvt Ltd, in Bhutan for giving at my disposal to excellent people as the guide Mr. Tenzin Norbu and the driver Mr. Chencho Dorji. They made that the trip was very enjoyable and they made that everything went very smooth.