Much of Bhutan’s history is steeped in myth and mystery. But ancient evidence preserved in museums proves that there were people living in the country as early as the Stone Age. Bhutan’s national museum in Paro houses ancient stone implements and pillars.
Physicians from outside often travelled to Bhutan to collect medicinal herbs and practitioners from India found a perfect environment to practice meditation in the cold, serene and tranquil mountains of Bhutan. In those days Bhutan was known by many names such as the Land of Medicinal Herbs or the Dark Land of the South.
The country also came to be known as Druk, or the land of the thunder dragon. According to one oral history, most outsiders believed that the country was infested with dragons, as there were frequent thunderstorms and lightning and the high mountains of Bhutan were thought to be the abode of the dragons.
Bhutan’s earliest written records begin during the 7th century when Guru Padmasambhava visited the country to spread Buddhism to a nation that largely followed no religion or nature worship.
Guru Padmasambhava or the ‘Lotus Born’ is highly revered in Bhutan and is considered as the second Buddha. The Guru is said to have vanquished most of the highly feared and harmful deities of Bonism. Guru Padmasambhava travelled across the country converting people to Buddhism and meditating at various places.
The next important phase of Bhutan’s history begins in the seventeenth century, when Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel who fled Tibet due to religious persecution reached Bhutan and founded a nation state. The Zhabdrung defended Bhutan from several Tibetan invasions and built huge fortresses called dzongs. These structures can still be seen today and they are one of the major tourist attractions.
The Zhabdrung founded a nation state, codified laws and unified the country. The end of his rule was followed by a long duration of internal strife and rivalries between different factions. Two centuries later, Jigme Namgyel, the father of the first king of Bhutan who was the Trongsa Penlop (Governor) emerged as the most powerful.
In 1907, the people of Bhutan then appointed Ugyen Wangchuck, the son of Trongsa Penlop Jigme Namgyel as the first hereditary king of Bhutan. The current king Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck is the fifth king. His father, the fourth king Jigme Singye Wangchuck abdicated in favor of his son in 2008 and introduced democracy.