June 14, 2012

0248 BHUTAN – A mountain from the Land of the Thunder Dragon

Located along the southern slopes of the great Himalayan range, the kingdom of Bhutan (with an area of 38,394 km2 and a population of about 708,000) lies like a picturesque fairyland between China to the north and India to the south, east and west. The recorded history dates as far back as the 6th century A.D., while the real historical period started with the introduction of Buddhism from 7th century A.D., which taken firm root in the country after the visit of Guru Rimpochey (also known as Padma Sambhava) in 747 A.D. Since then, Buddhism has largely shaped the history of Bhutan and the way of life of its people.

For many centuries, Bhutan existed only as a patchwork of minor warring fiefdoms, until when the area was unified by the Tibetan lama and military leader Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, who fled from religious persecution in Tibet on the early 17th century. To defend the country against Tibetan forays, Namgyal built a network of fortresses (dzong), and promulgated the Tsa Yig, a code of law that bring local lords under centralized control. Shrouded in the misty serenity of the great Himalayas, Bhutan, the Land of the Thunder Dragon, developed its own distinct civilization, derived essentially from a fertile religious and cultural heritage. An ambience of near sacred tranquility permeates the land, fostering an environment of spiritual affluence.

In 1907 Ugyen Wangchuck was unanimously chosen as the hereditary king of the country, and since 1953 Bhutan's political system evolved from an absolute monarchy to a constitutional monarchy, in 1999 the Druk Gyalpo (Dragon King), the king of Bhutan, creating a Council of Ministers (Lhengye Zhungtshog), which exercises executive power. The first national parliamentary elections took place in December 2007 and March 2008. In 2006, Bhutan was rated as the happiest country in Asia and the eighth-happiest in the world, and in 2007, was considered the second fastest growing economy in the world, with an annual economic growth rate of 22.4 percent. The crime rate in the country is currently extremely low, making Bhutan one of the safer places in the world.

On the other hand, in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Buthan expelled or forced to leave nearly one fifth of its population, in the name of preserving its Tibetan Mahayana Buddhist culture and identity. According to the UNHCR, more than 107,000 Bhutanese refugees living in seven camps in eastern Nepal have been documented as of 2008. Until 1999, television and the Internet were banned in Bhutan, which is also the only country in the world that totally ban the import and sale of all tobacco products. Plus, if you want to enter in Bhutan as tourist, you have to pay to a local tour operator between $200 and $250 (depending on month) per a night halt in country. In other words, even in the last Shangri La exists slippages.

Geographers divide Bhutan into three distinct zones: southern (low foothills covered with dense tropical forests), central (fertile valleys at altitude ranging from 1,000 to 3,000m), and northern (valleys at altitude ranging from 3,000 to 5,500m). The valleys of the northern region are sparsely populated, mainly by nomadic yak herdsmen. The zone is part of the great Himalayas, with high peaks along the Tibetan borders, the most prominent among which are the Chomolhari, or Jomolhari, in the west (7,326m), and Masa Gang (7,165m) and Tshering Gang (6,789m) in the north. In image is the last one, Tshering Gang.

The most popular route in this zone is via Jomolhari Trek (accessible from Paro and Thimphu), which takes you from 2,600m up to 4,000m and even 5,224m. It offer the chance to trek to the base of the impressive Jomolhari Mountain, and to see beautiful campsites and the amazing views of Mountain Jichu Drakey, Jho Drakey, Tshering Gang and Masang Gang.

The stamp is part of Textiles of Bhutan series, issued on September 28, 2009, and consisting of 4 stamps with the same value (20 NU):
Kushuthara - a silk on silk weaving technique, with intricate hand laced patterns. It is the most expensive textile in Bhutan and highly sought after by collectors.
Lungerma - made of raw silk after colouring by traditional vegetable colour, mostly green and red. It's hand woven on back strap loom by the rural weavers. Lungerma is used to make clothes for special occasions and ceremonies.
Yathra - a hand-woven fabric made from wool of yak and sheep and mainly used for making items like bags, scarf’s, sofa cover, car seat cover etc. - it's on the postcard
Mentse mathra - mostly made of silk and synthetically dyed, with complex design.

sender: Mukul Bhowmik (direct swap)
sent from Thimphu (Buthan), on 05.06.2012

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