2. Geographical Setting

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We already described the natural, historical and cultural contexts of our investigations in the report for 1999 (Blumer and Vial 1999: 208-218). Nevertheless, it is useful to give a short overview of the natural and human setting in which our discoveries are set.

Kingdom of Bhutan

The Kingdom of Bhutan is a small independent state located on the southern fringe of the Himalayas (Fig. 1). Its vernacular name is Druk Yul – the Land of the Thunder Dragon. With a surface of 46’500 km2 stretching from 88°45’ to 92°10’ eastern longitude and from 26°40’ to 28°15’ northern latitude, the Bhutanese territory is encompassed by Tibet to the north and India to the south (the states of Arunachal Pradesh to the east, Assam to the southeast, West Bengal to the southwest and Sikkim to the west). Not far from the Bhutanese borders, we also find eastern Nepal and northern Bangladesh. The country stretches.

Fig. 1

Geographical Zoning

Bhutan can be divided into three geographical zones: Sub-Himalayas consists in hilly terrain and represent the southern part of the country. The climate is warm and precipitations are important in monsoon time. The Inner-Himalayas is represented by the central belt and consists of higher mountain ridges and valleys receiving limited rainfall. To the north, the Great Himalayas features high mountain ranges and everlasting snow.

Choskhor Valley

The Choskhor drainage is one of the important drainage systems of the central belt described above. It waters four valleys in the concerned area of Bumthang: the Choskhor valley (Fig. 2), the Tang valley, the Chhume valley and the Ura valley. The Choskhor chu is an impressive river draining water from the Great Himalayas from north to south. It is a confluent stream of the Mangde chu, which runs through the southern Bhutanese border into the Indian plain.

Fig. 2

The altitude of the Choskhor valley in the area of Jakar, the capital-city of the Bumthang district, is averaging 2600 m above sea level. This rather high elevation does not enable the cultivation of rice, which is traditionally replaced by large buckwheat fields.

Today’s access to Bumthang is possible through the east-west transnational road. One enters into the Bumthang District from the west through the Yotong La (3425 m) and down into the Chhume valley. Another pass, the Kiki La (2750 m) must be climbed before entering the southern Choskhor valley. Jakar lies a few kilometers north along the Choskhor chu, at about 2580 m.

The town of Jakar is as well the administrative and the commercial center of the district. With a few thousand inhabitants, the center of the locality is small in surface and consists in an admixture of low shops along the main roads and impressive traditional housing units in the backyards (Fig. 3). Toward the north and on a distance of about 10 km, large extents of the broad valley are settled. This is not the case toward the south, where the valley is getting narrow a few kilometers below Jakar.

Fig. 3

The district center is overlooked by the Jakar dzong – officially named Yuelay Namgyal Dzong – its fortified monastic fortress (Fig. 4). Built in 1667 atop a promontory on the western flank of the valley, the dzong is said to be the largest such historical monument in Bhutan with a circumference of more than 1500 m. Traditionally, the dzong housed as well the spiritual and the temporal powers of the region. Nowadays, the monastic body of Trongsa, the neighboring district center, only occupies the monument in wintertime and, with the extension and modernization of the administrative organization, the dzong serves as the administration core center of the dzongkhag (district). It features one of the most impressive dzong of Bhutan, erected in 1667. In the same valley, some of the most renowned monasteries and temples are increasingly becoming tourist attractions.

Fig. 4

Local Economy

The economy in Bumthang is still based mainly on subsistence agriculture, but in the last decade, the national government fostered the implementation of cash crop economy, implemented industrial projects, and introduced services. On national level, the agricultural activities represent 85 % of the economy (Fig. 5). Since thirty years, successfully implemented N.G.O. and governmental projects developed cattle breeding and herding in Bumthang. On the local level of Bumthang, one important project led to the early appearance of a cooperative including Brown Swiss cattle breeding, Haflinger horse breeding, orchard development, and cheese production. This cooperative is located a few kilometers to the northeast of Jakar, at a place known as Batpalathang or Boeplagthang.

Fig. 5


The population of the Bumthang district consists in numerous ethnic groups of different stocks and origins. A majority of the population is considered to be descendant of the Ngalong originating in Tibet. Numerous waves of Ngalong immigration occurred between the 8th century and 1959, date at which the Popular Republic of China occupied Tibet. In the Choskhor valley, people of Tibetan origin are said to be good traders and hold many shops.

In the northern part of the valley, in the region of Dur, we find the Bromi, a group that used to live at higher elevations in the northern part of the district. The Bromi have developed a seasonal culture system and are reputed for their basketwork of bamboo.

In the Ura valley, a population of ancient stock is eventually holding the memory of many Bön traditions, an animistic belief in which local natural deities are playing a central role.

Overall, the valley’s society appears as very colorful and is characterized by an intermingled relationship between representatives of different local traditions and professional backgrounds (Fig. 6).

Fig. 6

Linguistic Variety

Although the official language of the kingdom is Dzongkha, many local languages and dialects are still spoken in many regions. In Bumthang, the dominating language is originating from old Tibetan and is called Bumthangkha. If numerous affinities exist between Bumthangkha and Dzongkha, it is not the case between Bumthangkha and Sharshopkha, the language spoken in the eastern districts of the country, which seem to be of the oldest stock in Bhutan (emerging earlier than the 7th century AD). If English is widely spoken and written by government officials at national and regional levels, by school pupils and young people having received their education recently, it is generally not mastered by the population of the rural areas, villages and hamlets. In the most areas around Jakar, the foreigner needs the help of a translator to get in touch with the population.


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Copyright 2001, Reto Blumer, Switzerland
Copyright 2001, SLFA Zürich, Switzerland

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Last updated: 29-05-2001.