The field of archaeology is at its nascent stage in Bhutan. The Division for Conservation of heritage Sites (DCHS) under the Department of Culture (DoC) , Ministry of Home and Cultural Affairs is monitoring and executing archaeological works in Bhutan. The first ever scientific archaeological excavation was executed in Bhutan by the DCHS in collaboration with Swiss Liechetenstein Foundation of Archaeological Research Abroad (SLSA) and Helvetas Swiss Intercooperation Bhutan, under the Bhutan Swiss Archaeological Project phase I which resulted in excavation of Drapham Dzong.

Drapham Dzong Archaeological project spanned over three years from 2008-2010. The ruins of the dzong/fortress are situated in the Bumthang district in central Bhutan. The main fortress ruin is approximately 200m long and runs in north and south direction. Two fore-fortress ruin built at lower platforms supplement the main fortress. The dzong dates back to early 16th Century and is currently monitored by the DCHS office. The excavation of Drapham Dzong is one of the biggest achievements in the field of archaeology in Bhutan.

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Heritage Sites


Tongsa is an ancestral home of the Wangchuk Dynasty, the last royal family of Bhutan. The Wangchuk dynasty controlled the country from the Tongsa Dzong till the time democracy was officially incorporated in Bhutan. It also houses some of the best shopping destinations of handwoven textiles.

Bumthang Valley

This valley is considered as one of the most sacred  religious destinations of Bhutan and has some of the oldest Buddhist temples and sacred sites in its vicinity. Natural sceneries and old forts add on to its beauty.

Semtokha Dzong

This is the oldest fortress/dzong of Bhutan built in 1629 by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal. Its name is derived from Simtokha (‘Sinmo’ meaningdemoness and ‘do’ meaning stone) and is considered to be chosen to guard over a demoness that had vanished into the rock nearby. It is about seven kilometers away from the main Thimpu town and now houses the School for Buddhist Studies.

Punakha Dzong

Pungthang Dechen Phodrang (Palace of Great Happiness) or Punakha Dzong was built in 1637 and is beautifully located between  the two rivers called Pho (male) and Mo (female) chhu (river). Many stories and myths are associated with this dzong. It was the capital of Bhtan till 1955 and the establishment of Wangchuk dynasty on 17th December 1907 took place here. The first National Assembly was also held in this Dzong in 1953 and it continues to be the winter residence of  Je Khenpo (Chief Abbot) and the central monk body. The war materials captured during the Tibetan invasion are kept in this dzong.

Bhutan Information Brochure. Tourism Council of Bhutan. 2008.


Dzongkha and Nepali are two most spoken languages of Bhutan. Dzongkha is the national language and is spoken in most parts of Bhutan. Nepali is spoken by people of southern Nepal, for most of them have their roots in Nepal. Assamese, Limbu, Santhali, Sherpa, Gurung, Western Gurung and Eastern Magar are other languages and dialects spoken in Bhutan.

Traditionally, public and private communications, religious materials, and official documents were written in chhokey (classical Tibetan script). A Bhutanese adaptive cursive script was developed for correspondence and now, like in past, chhokey only exists in written form and can be understood by few well educated Bhutanese. Dzongkha has developed since the 17th Century and is an offshoot of Tibetan language, but at the same time, it uses a different style of scripting. Meaning of Dzongkha is the language spoken by the dzong. Study of Dzongkha is compulsory in all schools of Bhutan, and English is used to teach subjects like mathematics, science and geography. Twenty-four dialects are listed in Bhutan and all these are living dialects.

Sharma, Rashmi. Bhutan and SAARC. New Delhi: Regal Publications, 2007.

Traditions & Rituals

The distinctiveness of Bhutanese traditions and rituals are visible in everyday life of its people. The unique culture of Bhutan is also a means of protecting the sovereignty of the nation. As a tiny county in terms of geographical size and population, the need to preserve culture and tradition is amplified.


The birth of child in Bhutan is welcomed without gender discrimination. The outsiders visit the child only after first three days, when a purification ritual (Lhabsang) is conducted in the house, since the house is considered polluted by kaydrip (defilement by birth) prior to that. Gifts are brought for the newborn and these range from rice and dairy products in the rural area to clothes and money in the urban

The child is not named immediately and the name is usually given by a religious person. The horoscope of the newborn known as kye tsi is written based on the Bhutanese calendar and from time to time rituals are executed in the lifetime of the newborn as a remedy to possible illness, problems and misfortune. Moreover, the tradition of celebrating birthdays did not exist earlier in Bhutan, but it is now becoming popular in urban areas.


Traditionally, arrange marriages were popular in Bhutan till a few decades back. People generally married among relatives, like cross-cousin marriage was popular in eastern Bhutan. This is now becoming unpopular among the literate mass and most marriages take place based on personal choice.

Marriages are conducted in simple ways with a small ritual being performed by a religious person, followed by a dinner reception in some cases. The couple is presented with scarves (khadar) along with gifts from friends and relatives. The tradition of husband going to the wife’s house after marriage is prevalent in western Bhutan and in the eastern Bhutan it’s the reverse. This practice is not mandatory and the new couple may set up their own household. Divorce is accepted in the Bhutanese society and carries no stigma.


Rituals and traditions associated with death are most elaborate and expensive in Bhutan, since it does not mean the end of life, but signifies passing on to another life. Many rituals are performed to help the departed soul get a better rebirth, with rituals taking place after the 7th, 14th, 21st and the 49th day of the death. Elaborate rituals are also performed on the death anniversary for the three consecutive years with the erection of prayer flags in the name of the deceased. Alcohol, rice and other sundry items are brought by relatives and other people who come to attend these rituals.

Cultural Festivals & Events

People of Bhutan are deeply associated with their age-long customs and festivals. Dance, music and food, along with plethora of customs are inextricably associated with these festivals.


Dromche festival is dedicated to Yeshe Gompo (Mahakala) or Palden Lhamo, the two main protective deities of Drukpas (Drukpas means people of Druk land or Bhutanese) and generally includes dance. Punakha Dromche is celebrated in the first month of the lunar year and ends with ‘Serda’, that is, a magnificent procession which re-enacts an episode of the war against the Tibetans in the 17th century.

Jambay Lhakhang Drup

This festival is celebrated for two reasons: to commemorate an establishment of Jambay Lhakhang (temple) in the 7th century and to honour Guru Rimpoche, a saint who introduced Tantric form of Buddhism in Bhutan. To celebrate Jambay Lhakhang Drup a variety of traditional and mask dances are performed and each dance signifies an important meaning. This is one of the most important festival in Bhutan. ‘Mewang’ (the fire ceremony) and the ‘Tercham’ (a religious dance) are the highlights of the festival.

Paro Festival

Paro Festival/Tshechu is celebrated with sequences of dance being showcased. Most dances are the same as at other Tshechus, but the sequence varies. Shinje Yab, dance of the lord of death and his consort is performed on day one; and the costume is of buffalo mask and long brocade dress. The second day of the festival begins with “chipdrel

Cultural Identities

Bhutan has three main ethnic, religious and linguistic groups and a dozen smaller groups. It is a nation of immigrants and can be characterized as a multi-religious, multi-cultural and multi-linguistic society. The ancestors of ethnic group of Ngalungs/Ngalops (commonly known as Drupkas) migrated from Tibet and speak Dzongkha. They are called Drupkas as they follow the Drupka Kargyupa school of Tibetan Buddhism. The last royal family and king of Bhutan belong to this group.

Sharchops are the second ethnic group settled in the eastern and central region of Bhutan. They practice nyingmapa sect of Mahayana Buddhism and belong to the Tibeto-Burman ancestry.  Lhotshampas(Southern Bhutanese) of Nepali origin form the third ethic group of Bhutan. They inhabit six southern foothill districts, speak Nepali language and practice mostly Hinduism. They migrated to Bhutan from Nepal, Darjeeling and Sikkim in India.Caste system is only prevalent amongst them in Bhutan. For the rest of the ethnic groups, social status is based on a family’s economic position. These three ethnic tribes migrated to Bhutan at different points of time in history and now they live clustered together in separate regions.

There are numerous smaller ethnic groups in Bhutan having their own distinct characteristics in terms of language, culture and religious practices. These groups are: Tibetans, Doyas,  Khengs, Adivashis, Brokpas monpa, gongduk Lhop/Doya and  Kurteops. In terms of religious identity, Bhutanese people practice Hinduism, Christianity, Drukpa Kargyupa and Nyingmapa sects of Buddhism and Animism.


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Sharma, Rashmi. Bhutan and SAARC. New Delhi: Regal Publications, 2007.