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  • Colorful mask dances during festivals serve dual purposes: Entertainment and Medium of Religious Teachings
  • The majestic Punakha Dzong: Showcasing the beauty and intricacy of Bhutanese architecture
  • Bhutan has more than 5400 species of plants.
  • Despite its small geographical area, Bhutan has about 770 species of birds

History

Stone tools, weapons, elephants, and remnants of large stone structures provide evidence that Bhutan was inhabited as early as 2000 BC, although there are no existing records from that time. Historians have theorized that the state of Lhomon (literally, "southern darkness"), or Monyul ("Dark Land", a reference to the Monpa, the aboriginal peoples of Bhutan) may have existed between 500 BC and AD 600. The names Lhomon Tsendenjong (Sandalwood Country), and Lhomon Khashi, or Southern Mon (country of four approaches), have been found in ancient Bhutanese and Tibetan chronicles.

Bhutan existed as a patchwork of minor warring fiefdoms until the early 17th century, when the lama and military leader Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal unified the area and cultivated a distinct Bhutanese identity. To defend the country against intermittent Tibetan forays, Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal built a network of impregnable dzong (fortresses), and promulgated the Tsa Yig, a code of law that helped to bring local lords under centralized control. Many such dzong still exist and are active centers of religion and district administration.

During the 1870s, power struggles between the rival valleys of Paro and Tongsa led to civil war in Bhutan, eventually leading to the ascendancy of Ugyen Wangchuck, the ponlop (governor) of Tongsa. From his power base in central Bhutan, Ugyen Wangchuck defeated his political enemies and united the country following several civil wars and rebellions during 1882–85.

In 1907, an epochal year for the country, Ugyen Wangchuck was unanimously chosen as the first hereditary king of the country by an assembly of leading Buddhist monks, government officials, and heads of important families.