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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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).
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