History, Heritage and Culture of Bhutan – A discussion with Mrs. Ruchira Kamboj

Taktshang Goemba, Tiger nest monastery, Bhutan

Anuradha Goyal: Dear friends, today I take you on a journey to Bhutan, a gem nestled in the lap of amazing nature. Who would be better than Ruchira Kamboj ji, who is currently our ambassador to Bhutan, to know about this beautiful country located in the Himalayan mountain region. Many years ago I came in contact with Ruchira ji. At that time Ruchiraji was appointed as India’s permanent representative to UNESCO, Paris. When Nalanda and Chandigarh were selected by UNESCO, we both participated in that festival together. Ruchira ji has done important work for many such sites to get them nominated by UNESCO. Today we will discuss with him about Bhutan, its history and culture. Ruchira ji, you are heartily welcome to this edition of Detours.

Ruchira Kamboj: Thanks Anuradha. I am also extremely happy to participate in this discussion. I remember we met when I was posted at UNESCO between 2014-2017. Moreover, I have always admired your knowledge and enthusiasm about the rich culture of India. In my opinion, every Indian should be proud of being an Indian and being a part of the great Indian civilization. You are a commendable representation of that rich culture and incomparable heritage. It is a privilege for me to participate in this project of yours.

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A discussion with Ruchira Kamboj on the history, heritage, and culture of Bhutan

Watch the video of the discussion on the history, heritage, and culture of Bhutan with Indian Ambassador Ruchira Kamboj Ji.

Anuradha: Thank you Ruchira ji. I visited Bhutan about 13 years ago. At that time it was a monarchical country. The first elections were not even held there. I have very pleasant memories of this trip. It is a dream country. Amidst the Himalayan mountain ranges, this is a mysterious region hiding many stories. I request Ruchira ji to reveal to us the treasury of excellent and valuable characteristics of Bhutan.

Ruchira ji, how ancient is Bhutan? Since when did people establish civilization in this country? What are the oldest heritage sites that we can see here?

Ancient charm

Ruchira: 1907 is an important date for Bhutan. At that time the monarchy was established for the first time in Bhutan. When the first hereditary monarchy was nominated. Gongsar Ugyen Wangchuck was declared the first Druk Gyalpo i.e. the first king of Bhutan.

The temporal and secular administration was organized and unified and brought under the rule of the Maharaja. His Majesty kept Bhutan united, ensured domestic peace and strengthened friendship and cooperation between Bhutan and British India. So it can be said that the seeds of the nation of Bhutan were sown around 1907. After almost a century, in the year 2008, the Constitution here came into existence. Today Bhutan is both a monarchy and a constitutional democracy. This is a brief history of this country.

Like India, Bhutan also has a very rich cultural heritage which is gradually moving towards modernity with time. In 1999, Bhutan ended the policy of isolationism and included itself in the mainstream. Today you will see a new form of it.

Different forms of Bhutanese architecture

Bhutan has maintained its unique style while keeping itself ahead in the race of modernity. All around in Bhutan you can see a mesmerizing blend of ancient, distinctive, and charming Bhutanese architectural styles. You will experience this by seeing Dzong or forts, Bhutan’s popular Buddhist monasteries, Chorten or stupas, Lhakhang or temples, and traditional Bhutanese houses, etc.

Simtokha Dzong in Thimphu is a direct example of this. This first Dzong of Bhutan was built by Shabdarung Namgyal in 1629. When our Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi was on his visit to Bhutan, he gifted a beautiful statue of Shabdarung Namgyal to the people of Bhutan. It was an unforgettable gift from the Government and people of India to Bhutan and its people.

Tiger Nest

Taktsang Monastery, also known as Tiger’s Nest, is a unique heritage of Bhutan. Any tourist who visits Bhutan must visit this unique and grand monastery. Apart from this, there is the National Museum of Bhutan in Paro which is very worth seeing. There is an ancient iron bridge in Tachogang Lhakhang of Paro. Zorig Chusum of Thimphu is a national institution that preserves the cultural heritage and heritage of thirteen traditional handicrafts and crafts of Bhutan.

These are some of the prominent names of Bhutan’s rich cultural and historical heritage. Despite being ancient, all of them are still very beautiful and worth seeing due to good conservation and improvement. Tourists must visit them.

Conservation and promotion of the cultural heritage of Bhutan

The Constitution of Bhutan gives utmost importance to the preservation and promotion of the country’s cultural and historical heritage. An institutional framework has been created for this in the Constitution. For example, in Clause 1 of Article 4 of the Constitution, the importance of conservation and promotion of cultural and historical heritage of the country and the importance of handicrafts and crafts has been clearly mentioned. Emphasis has also been placed on the promotion of tangible and intangible arts, including Bhutan’s popular mask dances.

Dramatse Festival

The mask dance of the Dramatse tribes is a sacred dance performance. This dance performed at the Dramatse festival is dedicated to Guru Padmasambhava who is considered the second Buddha in Bhutan. UNESCO included it in the representative list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2008.

India has very important and cordial relations with Bhutan. Every tourist of India should visit these cultural and historical heritages after getting adequate prior information.

National Museum – Mirror of Bhutan’s history, heritage and culture

Anuradha: I visited the National Museum of Paro. As I remember, it was in the shape of a conch. My belief about Bhutan is that along with preserving its cultural and historical heritage, it is also moving towards its future in a modern way and wants to keep itself connected to the mainstream of the world. You can experience this directly in Bhutan.

Ruchira: You are right. Ideally, this is what is required. While becoming contemporary, it is extremely important to remain firmly connected to our heritage. This is extremely essential for the moral values ​​of any country. Bhutan is mature in this principle. The recent modernization of the National Museum of Paro is an excellent example of this principle.

India has also cooperated in this project. Not only has the museum been beautified, but the way the artifacts have been displayed is also unmatched. This is also a matter of pride for India.


Anuradha: Paro was a small but beautiful town. Here mainly there was an airport and unmatched natural beauty. Have there been any developments or changes?

Ruchira: You came here many years ago. Apart from the airport, now many amazing hotels have been built here and many tourist places have been developed. Tourists visiting Bhutan will not be disappointed if they visit Paro as their center.

Indo-Bhutan Relations

Anuradha: Please throw some light on India-Bhutan relations.

Ruchira: Bhutan has always been an independent country. It is a very friendly country of India. Both countries have cooperated with each other in various fields for centuries. India-Bhutan relations are a living example for the whole world of how two neighboring countries can cooperate with each other while maintaining cordial relations. The Prime Minister of India first visited Bhutan in 1958. That was a historic event that laid the foundation of India-Bhutan relations.

These relations increased with time. The kings and leaders of India have always played a positive role in this. These relations gained momentum in 2014 when Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Bhutan. It was his first foreign trip after accepting the charge of Prime Minister. Even in 2019, at the beginning of his second term, he included Bhutan in his list of foreign trips. India has always considered its relations with Bhutan important.

Bhutan has also maintained these relations enthusiastically. In 2018, Prime Minister Dr. Lotay Tshering visited India for the first time after accepting his charge. India-Bhutan relations have grown at all levels, political, financial, cultural, public opinion, science, and technology. Today many Bhutanese students are studying in India. We can say that Bhutan and India are each other’s best friends and allies.

Spirituality in Bhutan

Anuradha: If we discuss the spirituality of Bhutan, it is basically a Buddhist country. At the same time, Buddhism originated in the eastern parts of India. So, in a way, India and Bhutan have some similarities in this matter also?

Ruchira: There is a deep spiritual relationship between India and Bhutan. Buddhism has reached Bhutan from India. We all know the story of Siddhartha Gautam becoming Lord Buddha. We also know about the second Buddha Guru Padmasambhava who was an Indian saint. Here he is also called Guru Rinpoche. It is believed that he originated from a lotus growing in the Dhankosh lake of Oddiyan state.

Guru Rinpoche, who is today considered one of the patron saints of Bhutan, visited here in the 8th century. They are considered to play an important role in the lives of the residents here. You can see their statues in homes, monasteries, temples and festivals. They are the center of Bhutanese spiritual and religious culture. Therefore, apart from Lord Buddha, Guru Rinpoche is also a strong link between India and Bhutan which makes the relationship between the two special.

Book on Oddiyan’s Padmasambhava

In 2018, we did important research work on Padmasambhava in the Embassy, ​​under which we published the book “Padmasambhava of Oddiyana” in English language. Subsequently, it was also translated into the local national language Dzongkha. This translated book was released on 9 January at the Royal University of Bhutan. This book focuses on the great spiritual bond between the two countries.

Bhutan-a spiritual country

Anuradha: I have memories of Bhutan as a very spiritual country. Many people are seen rotating prayer wheels in their hands all around. Wherever they go, you will definitely see someone’s prayer wheel in some shape or form, be it a temple or monastery or a hotel or restaurant. At one place I even saw a water-powered wheel.

Ruchira: Yes, our embassy also has a beautiful water-powered prayer wheel. Here the prayer wheel is omnipresent. Spirituality is present in the atmosphere here. Therefore, I would like to tell the tourists that when they visit the monuments and monasteries during their trip, they should also experience the spirituality there. Bhutan travel takes you to a different dimension of spirituality and peace.

Math Darshan

Anuradha: Bhutan is the first country where I actually entered a monastery. That monastery was situated on the border of Thimphu. There he welcomed me lovingly and also offered me butter tea. I also talked to many lamas in a language they could understand. That monastery visit was an unforgettable experience for me. More than the physical beauty, the spiritual energy inside the monastery fascinates.

I was also very attracted by the clothes of Bhutan. It is a small country where there are not many clothing shops. Still the textile museum there is famous. I saw handlooms in almost all the houses. This shows that they give great importance to their traditional clothes. In the museum also, traditional clothes and costumes have been displayed with excellence and dignity.

Traditional clothes and apparel

Ruchira: Yes. You have immense knowledge about Bhutan. It is very common to have a handloom in almost all the houses here. The weaving method and design of each region of Bhutan is different. Among them, Lhuntse, the ancestral region of the royal family, which is in the eastern region of the country, is especially famous for textiles and weaving. Bhutanese textiles are a rich and complex repository of an entire art style.

Bhutanese textiles are characterized by rich colors, wide variation in patterns and complex dyeing and weaving techniques. Like India, it is also a country of bright and attractive colors. Here mostly women weave on handlooms. Due to being preserved for centuries, their innovation and craftsmanship are highly developed. Watching them weave is a special experience in itself.

Anuradha: In Bhutan, there is a tradition of weaving one’s own clothes for clothing. So don’t they use handloom as a business?

Ruchira: In ancient times, clothes were woven from threads which were obtained from nettle grass and hair of animals like yak and sheep. Over time, artificial threads were introduced and due to modernity, people have started giving more preference to artificial things. The arrival of such items in the market also started increasing. moreover. The ancient method is extremely lengthy and laborious.

Presently people are becoming health conscious. Now their inclination towards organic colors and clothes is increasing instead of artificial clothes. Therefore, the ancient tradition of weaving clothes is still alive. It is indicative of the rich culture and tradition of Bhutan.

Khadi and Thakjo

Last year we did a unique experiment. In collaboration with the Royal Textile Academy, the Chairman of Khadi and Village Industries Commission, and Fashion Design Council of India, a fashion show was organized to promote Khadi and Thakjo. In this function organized on the birthday of Mahatma Gandhi, many models from India and Bhutan promoted and promoted Khadi and Thakjo clothes. The Royal Queen Mother Jigme Singye Wangchuck also came to witness and grace the event.

Anuradha: She is a very good speaker. I heard him at the Jaipur Literature Festival.

Ruchira: Yes, we were fortunate that he gave a royal touch to our celebration too. Tourists visiting here must see the Royal Textile Academy.

Bhutan’s festivals

Anuradha: Yes. Ruchira ji, tell us about some major festivals of Bhutan. What was the experience like for you going from a highly populated country like India to a small country like Bhutan?

Ruchira: It is my privilege and honor to be the current Ambassador of Bhutan. I have closely experienced the growing relations between India and Bhutan. As soon as you enter, this small country and its beauty mesmerize you. The people of Bhutan are very disciplined and united. He is very soft-spoken and friendly. You may also have experienced this.

Anuradha: I came here by road, there were neither mobile phones nor internet at that time. Therefore, I could not get much information about it before going there. Bhutan has presented many wonders to me. The residents here seemed very friendly to me.

Ruchira: Do your upcoming journey by airplane. You will directly reach Paro which is full of natural beauty.

Ruchira: Like India, religion plays an important role in the lives of Bhutanese people. The culture here has connected the entire country so beautifully. The monarchy of Bhutan is not only very enlightened but also very pro-service and pro-people. There is no visible difference of any kind among the people. All are followers of Buddhism and respect both their king and their guru equally.

Anuradha: I remember, people in Bhutan were very happy with their king. They were blessing their king to their heart’s content. At that time he did not have even the slightest understanding of democracy. Ruchira ji, let us discuss something delicious about the cuisine of Bhutan.

Bhutan’s special dishes

Ruchira: I want to tell you about a special dish of Bhutan. Ema Datsi, which is the national dish of Bhutan. Green chilies and cheese are mainly used in this. This delicious dish is served with rice.

Here rice, wheat, maize, soybean, and some traditional grains like barley, pea, millet, mustard, and buckwheat are cultivated. These are called the nine basic grains of Drungu. Apart from these, potato, sugarcane, cardamom, walnut, and orange are also produced. Along with Bhutanese cuisine, foreign dishes are also available in the hotels here. The butter tea here is famous which is called Suja.

Bhutan’s music and festivals include many traditional songs and dances, such as Bhutan’s popular mask dance. Be sure to enjoy them. I have also enjoyed many such festivals during my ambassadorship. Have also participated in group dances.

Anuradha: When I was on my Bhutan trip, it was not a time of celebration. So I have not seen that festival. But I remember, I ate the most delicious pizza of my life in Thimphu.

Ruchira: I support you in this. I also had the best pizza there at a restaurant called Cloud Nine. Since all the ingredients were local and organic, it was extremely tasty and fresh.

Archery – National Sport of Bhutan

Ruchira: Another specialty of Bhutan is sports. Sports are an integral part of Bhutan’s cultural environment. Their national sport is archery. One of their traditional games is Kuru, in which small spears are thrown at targets. Taking a step forward, he is also interested in modern sports like football, golf, tennis, badminton, volleyball, cricket etc. They also have a women’s cricket association. Thus, Bhutan is moving towards modernity while connecting with traditions.

Anuradha: According to Indian tradition, the deeper your roots, the more you will flourish. Bhutan is a living example of this. The men and women there are also proud of their national dress, which they wear with elegance in their daily lives.

National costume of Bhutan

Ruchira: The national costumes of Bhutan are very attractive. The women there wear a long skirt ‘ Kera ‘ and over it ‘ Tego ‘ and the men wear ‘ Gho ‘. These are special clothes that they wear in every public events and formal occasions. They often wear national costumes even in their workplaces.

Anuradha: If you want the world to respect your culture, then first you have to respect it yourself.

Ruchira: Rightly said. Bhutan is an excellent example of this.

Anuradha: Ruchira ji, hearty congratulations to you for providing this informative and interesting darshan! You gave us important information related to many aspects of Bhutan and also took us on a tour. Hope you will spare your precious time to interact with such untouched and fascinating gems again. I thank you heartily.

Ruchira: Of course. I would also be happy to discuss this topic. Thanks for inviting me.

The original talk has been modified as necessary for publication as a written version.

The written transcript of this audio conversation has been prepared by Anshika Garg under the IndiTales Internship Program.