The name 'Bhutan' originates in the Sanskrit term 'Bhotant,' signifying 'the end of Tibet,' or 'Bhu-uttan,' suggesting 'high land of coronation.' While the world knows it as Bhutan, the Bhutanese fondly refer to their homeland as Druk Yul, which translates to the 'Land of the Thunder Dragon.' The term 'Druk' means 'Dragon,' a reference to the predominant Drukpa school of Tibetan Buddhism.
The documented history of the kingdom can be traced back to 747 AD, with the arrival of Guru Padmasambhava, also known as Guru Rinpoche. According to legend, he made a remarkable journey from Tibet, crossing the mountains while riding on the back of a tigress, eventually arriving in the Paro Valley at Taktsang Lhakhang, famously known as the Tiger's Nest. Guru Rinpoche is not only credited as the founder of the Nyingmapa religious school but is also revered as a second Buddha. Over the ensuing centuries, many revered masters propagated the faith, resulting in the flourishing of Buddhism by the middle ages. Although initially divided along sectarian lines, the nation eventually came together under the Drukpa Kagyupa sect of Mahayana Buddhism, which Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, a saint and administrator, led in the 17th century. Ngawang Namgyal introduced a comprehensive system of laws and constructed a network of Dzongs, which served as religious and administrative centers while guarding each valley during turbulent times.
Subsequently, over the next two centuries, intermittent civil wars erupted, and regional governors gained increasing power. Towards the end of the 19th century, the Trongsa Governor emerged victorious over his rivals and was acknowledged as the paramount leader of Bhutan. Sir Ugyen Wangchuck, the Governor of Trongsa, was elected as the first King of Bhutan in 1907 through a gathering of representatives from the monastic community, civil servants, and the people. This marked the establishment of the country's constitutional monarchy.
Bhutan's medieval and modern history is more extensively documented than its ancient history, yet it is no less captivating. This era is characterized by warlords, conflicts, imposing fortresses and castles, intrigue, betrayals, fierce battles, and grand pageantry. The country's recent history begins with the establishment of a hereditary monarchy in the 20th century, which continued the policy of isolationism. It was only under the leadership of the third king that Bhutan transitioned away from its medieval legacy of serfdom and seclusion. Until the 1960s, the country lacked a national currency, telephones, schools, hospitals, postal services, and tourists. Development efforts have since introduced all these amenities, including a national assembly, an airport, roads, and a comprehensive healthcare system. Despite rapid modernization, Bhutan has maintained a prudent, controlled growth policy to safeguard its unique national identity. The government has cautiously embraced tourism, television, and the internet and is now poised to undertake one of its most significant challenges - the embrace of democracy.