Bhutan’s population can be called in many ways, one large family. Living in scattered sparsely populated villages of the Himalaya’s rugged terrain, more than 70 percent of the people live on subsistence farming. Rice is the staple diet in the lower regions, and wheat, buckwheat, and maize in other valleys. Farming is done in narrow terraces cut into the steep hill slopes.The first records of people settling in Bhutan go back 14.000 years ago. It is very wel possible though that Bhutan was already inhabited by scattered clusters of tribes. The Drukpa are Bhutan’s indigenous population. They can be divided into three main ethnic groups: the Sharchops, Ngalops and Lhotsampas.
The Sharchop are believed to be Bhutan’s original inhabitants, living predominantly in Eastern Bhutan. Their roots lie in North Burma and Northeast India. Bhutan’s second tribe are the Ngalop. Importers of Buddhism to the kingdom, they migrated in the late 19th century from the Tibetan plains. You find them mainly in Western Bhutan.
In the early 20th century, the Lhotshampa nestled in the southern plains of Bhutan, looking for agricultural land and work. They are of Nepalese origin and you’ll recognise them by their ‘topi’, a very specific headgear. This minority group was so heavily discriminated in the late 1980’s, that in 1990 they massively fled to Nepal. Nowadays they still can’t return back to Bhutan and live mostly in Nepalese refugee camps of the United Nations.
One of Bhutan’s major ‘secrets’ is the exact number of people living there. The United Nations have estimated that Bhutan is inhabited by about 2.1 million people, but there are also rates of no more than 810.000 inhabitants. However, Bhutan is one of the countries in the world with the least dense population, with 79% of the people living in rural areas. More than 90% of the people are selfproviding and spread across the country in sparsely populated villages. It was only in the mid 1900’s - when roads were built to connect the different regions of the country - that ethnic groups started to mingle.
Bhutanese communities settled in the valleys with limited communication in the past. This factor led to the development of a strong sense of individuality and independence, which is an innate characteristic of the people. It is because of the very same reason that, Bhutan has developed a number of languages and dialects, despite its very small population. Physically strong and fiercely independent by nature, Bhutanese are an open minded people with a ready sense of humor. Hospitality is an in-built social value in Bhutan.