The Tibeto-Nepalese are of Tibeto-Mongol (Tibeto-Burman) origin. They have Tibetan, more Asian, features and speak Tibeto-Burmese languages. These groups have settled higher valleys and mountainous areas and are associated most with the Himalayas. The Bhotes, of Tibetan origin, are the main inhabitants of northern Nepal. The Bhote or Bhotia groups inhabiting the foothills of the Himalayas — among whom the Sherpas have attracted the most attention in the mountaineering world — have developed regional distinctions among themselves, although clearly related physically as well as culturally to the Tibetans. The term Bhote literally means inhabitant of Bhot, a Sanskrit term for the trans-Himalayan region of Nepal, or the Tibetan region. However, Bhote is also a generic term, often applied to people of Tibetan culture or Mongoloid phenotype. As used by the Paharis and the Newars, it often had a pejorative connotation and could be applied to any non-Hindu of Mongoloid appearance. [Source: Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1991 *]

Most of the Tibeto-Nepalese groups traditionally could be considered agro-pastoralists. Because their physical environment offered only limited land and agricultural possibilities, the Tibeto-Nepalese groups who occupied the high mountainous areas, such as the Bhote and particularly the Sherpa, were almost forced to rely more on herding and pastoral activities than on crop farming. They also participated in seasonal trading activity to supplement their income and food supply. *

Tibetan-speaking groups of the northern region of the Himalayas include the Sherpas, Dolpa-pas, Lopas, Baragaonlis and Manangis. The Sherpas are mainly found in the east, Solu and Khumbu region; the Baragaonlis and Lopas live in the semi-desert areas of Upper and Lower Mustang in the Tibetan rain-shadow area; the Manangis live in Manang district area; while the Dolpa-pas live in Dolpa district of west Nepal. [Source: Nepal Tourism Board welcomenepal.com ]

Lifestyle of Himalayan Tibetan People (Bhotes)

Many groups like the Sherpas and the people that live in Dolpo and Mustang are of Tibetan origin. They are mostly Tibetan Buddhists and their culture is basically Tibetan. They look more like Tibetans and have lived in the high mountain valleys and have traditionally been looked down on by the Indian-looking Hindus that dominate the Kathmandu Valley and the middle hills region. The Tibetan Himalaya people and their language is sometimes referred to as Bhote, which has traditionally been a derogatory term meaning “bumpkin” used by Nepalis to describe them.

The Himalayan people generally practice a mix of Tibetan Buddhism and traditional Tibetan Bon religion. They often rely equally on shaman and lamas. They raise barley, potatos and buckwheat and herd yaks that provide them with milk and butter. Tea mixed with yak butter is their staple drink. Tsampa (smashed barley) is their staple food.

The women in the Himalayan region have a reputation for being very independent and feisty. It is not unusual for them to shout ribald jokes at men who walk past them in the fields where they are working. Many run businesses such as guesthouses while their husbands are away trading or portering.

In the homes of Tibetan people the hearth and cooking area is often a gathering place. This contrasts sharply with Hindu homes, were the kitchen is strictly off limit for caste and pollution reasons.

High Himalayan People of Nepal

Sherpas are the most famous Himalayan and Tibetan group in Nepal. Sherpa literally means “People of the East” in the Tibetan language. Originally from Tibet, first arriving about 500 years ago, they have a close affinity with Tibetans and their language, culture and religion. The main Sherpa occupations are agriculture, animal husbandry, trade and portering. They are famous for their mountaineering and Mt. Everest climbing skills. Many make a living in the trekking and mountaineering businesses. They follow Tibetan Buddhism. [Source: visitnepal.com ]

Dolpa People live in high Himalayas of western Nepal. They are considered the highest-living ethnic group in the world and operate regular caravans over 5,000-meter passes to Tibet. The Dolpo are mainly associated with the mountainous area, west of the Kali Gandaki river valley. They practice Tibetan Buddhist incorporating shamanism, animism and the Tibetan Bonpo religion and have some unusual customs tied to these beliefs.

Larke and Siar People live in Larke, the northern most part of Nepal's Gorkha district, and Siar, the northern part of the Dhading district. These people mainly speak the Tibetan and Gurung languages and have ethnic affinity with Gurungs.

Manang Bas are the people of Manang. Also called the Manangis, They are known as traders and businessmen. They have their own language and scripts and maintain their own local religious practice, centered in 12 villages called Bara Gaule-Baragaun. The famous pilgrimage spot on the Annanpurna Circuit, Muktinath, lies in their area. Although Buddhism is part religion, they follow Bonpo which pre-dates Buddhism in Tibet.

Lo Pas live in Mustang, particularly the Lo area. They carry on trade between Nepal and Tibet in the Upper and Lower Mustang areas. They practice Tibetan Buddhism. They have their own local language and engage festivals that are somewhat different from those of other Buddhist groups.

Olangchung are the inhabitants of Olanchung Gola, the main trading route along Eastern Nepal. Besides Buddhism, they have their own customs and practices. Thudam, Topke Gola and Lhomis are other ethnic groups within Nepal's alpine region.



The Manangis live in Manang, a valley cut off from most rain by the enormous Annapurna massif. Because the semi-arid wasteland they inhabit has little fodder for sheep or yaks and produces only minimal amounts of potatoes, barley and buck wheat, the Manangis traditionally made a living through long-distance trade and are recognized throughout Nepal as traders with good business acumen and an eye for profit.

Also called Manang Bas, the Manangis have their own language and scripts and maintain their own local religious practice, centered in 12 villages called Bara Gaule-Baragaun. The famous pilgrimage spot on the Annanpurna Circuit, Muktinath, lies in their area. Although Buddhism is part religion, they follow Bonpo which pre-dates Buddhism in Tibet.

Two centuries ago the King of Nepal gave the Manangis special trading and business privileges. The Managis and people that allied themselves with them took advantage of this and Manang became a major smuggling center between Nepal, India and China. Gold, drugs and art were among the items that were smuggled. Some Manangis live in huge mansions in Kathmandu. Others are Interpol lists. Those that remain in Manang struggle to eke out a living.

Manangi physically resemble Tibetans and follow Tibetan Buddhism but take pride in and believe themselves akin to the Gurungs who live in the middle hills and valleys of Nepal. The Manangi inhabit the upper reaches of the Marsyangdi river. Manang district is enclosed by three distinct areas — Neshyang, Nar and Gyasumdo — all of which are culturally interrelated. The harsh and cold climate limits agriculture to buckwheat, barley, wheat, maize, potatoes and radishes. They also breed sheep and other cattles. [Source: manang.com]

The Manangi are divided into different exogamus clans. Like the Gurungs in the lower hills, they are divided into Char jat and Sor jat ( group of four and sixteen clans respectively). They practice polyandry (the tradition of two or more brothers marrying one common wife). This tradition , similar to that of other northern Himalayan people, is is not practiced by the Gurungs. The Manangi like feasting, singing and dancing at their weddings. The dead are either cremated, thrown into a river or cut the flesh into pieces and fed to the vultures (Tibetan sky burial) under the direction of a lama. Losar, Tibetan New Year's, in February, is their main celebration. Archery competitions are held in April- May.



The Nyinda are a small Tibetan ethnic group that lives in Humal Karnali, a rugged area between 2,850 and 3,300 meters in elevation in Nepal near the Tibetan border. There are only a few thousand of them. They have traditionally raised high elevation crops like buckwheat and millet and were involved in the Tibetan salt trade. They are also known as Barthapalya (in Nepali), Bhotia, Bhutia and Tamang.

What is significant about the Nyinda is their widespread adoption if polyandry (a wife with multiple husbands). Traditionally, all Nyinda brothers married the same woman. Over time some of the marriages became monogamous as brothers died and occasionally divorced.. A survey in the 1980s found that 70 percent of all marriage began as polyandrous but only half remained that way. Tensions between brother is minimized by granting them equal sexual access to the common wife and the designation of paternity, which give all brothers a chance to be a father, Divorce is rare. Some marriage are both polygynous and polyandrous. Sometimes brothers jointly marry sisters. Men whose wives are childless are encouraged to take second wives. Unions are sometimes shaped depending on whether individuals are descendants of slaves or slaveowners.

Nancy E. Levine wrote in the “Encyclopedia of World Cultures”: “The Nyinba are one of many small, largely endogamous groups positioned along the northern border-lands of Nepal that can be identified as ethnically Tibetan by their language, by the Tibetan Buddhist religion, and other features of culture and social structure. The Nyinba live in Humla, a district of the Karnali Zone in far northwestern Nepal. Tibetan speakers in this region call their territory "Nyin Yul Tshan Zhi," literally, "the four villages on a southfacing [sunny] slope." Nepali speakers call the community "Barthapale," thapale referring to its high valley location. Government documents originally identified these people as "Bhotia," meaning Tibetan. Later, to affirm their Nepali nationality, they became classified as "Tamang," the ethnonym of Tibeto-Burman-speaking hill people from central Nepal. [Source: Nancy E. Levine, “Encyclopedia of World Cultures Volume 3: South Asia,” edited by Paul Hockings, 1992 |~|]

“Nyinba villages are located at approximately 30° N and 81°51 E, in a valley carved out by the Humla Karnali and Dozam rivers. The terrain in this region is rugged and the arable land limited, creating strong competition for land. Nyinba control a narrow band of territory beginning at 2,550 meters and extending to the valley summit, with the villages located between 2,850 and 3,300 meters. This elevation is associated with a temperate climate. Much of the force of the summer monsoon is spent on mountains to the east and south, limiting annual rainfall. A second, western monsoon brings heavy snowfalls in winter. In 1983, the Nyinba included 1,332 Individuals, 716 males and 616 females. The high sex ratio, 116 males for every 100 females, can be attributed to a pattern of preferential treatment of male infants. Almost 35 percent of the population is less than age 15, and the intrinsic rate of natural increase appears to be relatively low: between 1 and 1.5 percent per year. |~|

“The Nyinba are known for their finely made, beautifully executed textiles, including woven carpets, tie-dyed shawls, and embroidered boots. Religious artifacts used in their temples, such as drums, bells, statues, and paintings, are produced by artisans from Tibet. |~|



The Thakali is an ethnic group that lives in the Jomson area near Annapurna, a major trekking area. Occupying a fairly inhospitable area between the Tibetan highlands and the Hindu lowlands, they number around 13,000 to 14,000 and have been powerful merchants since the 1850s when they provided the Nepalese rulers with vital intelligence during a war with Tibet and was rewarded with a monopoly on the lucrative salt trading routes with Tibet. The Thakali have traditionally lived in Thak-Khola Valley, which lies on an ancient and relatively easy trade route through the high Himalaya.

When China closed the border with Tibet they turned to other businesses. They own many of the guest houses and hotels and restaurants for foreign travelers along the Annapurna trekking route and also run hotels and restaurants for Nepalese along the major trucking routes. They are also active in business in Mustang. The Thakali form unique private financing group with around 25 members. On a rotating basis, each member of the group are allowed to use the money pooled by the group to finance a business,

Also known as Tamang and Tamu the Thakali have traditionally practiced Buddhism but also have incorporated elements of traditional Bon religion and Hinduism into their religious scheme. The Thakali are divided into four clans, each with its own god: the lion, the yak, the dragon and the elephant. Thakali territory is called Thakhola or Thak-Satsae, in Jomson District in central Nepal. According to the 1961 census there were 4,130 Thakali-speaking people. By the 1990s there were around 10,000 of them. The majority of the Thakalis lived in Thakhola until the late 1950s, when China invaded Tibet and most Thakalis migrated to cities and towns in the southern lowlands of Nepal. [Source: Shigeru Iijima, “Encyclopedia of World Cultures Volume 3: South Asia,” edited by Paul Hockings, 1992 |~|] |~|

“In common with the rest of the Nepalese Himalayan region, Thakhola has a summer monsoon season that usually begins in July and ends in September. But as Thakhola is located on the northern side of the main Himalayan ridges, there is less summer precipitation and some snowfall in winter months. Therefore, rain-based farming is practiced only in summer, and the cultivation of winter crops in the upland fields is dependent on irrigation. Buckwheat is the summer crop, and barley and wheat are the winter crops; maize was introduced to Thakhola before World War II. The cultivation of garden vegetables is rather rare in Nepal outside the Kathmandu Valley, but the Thakalis are very fond of gardening, even growing both vegetables and flowers.”


Mustang and the Loba People That Live There

Mustang (pronounced moo Stong) is a remote, semi-autonomous kingdom in northern Nepal, where Tibetan Buddhism is practiced in one of its purest forms. Situated between the Annapurna range and Tibet, it is an isolated place where some people still believe the earth is flat, noblemen still keep serfs, sheep skulls are kept outside houses to keep out bad spirits and nomads sleep in yak hair tents. For a long time there were no telephones, no cars, roads, no airport, no banks. The post offices was often closed because there were no stamps. What Mustang does have is wonderful temples untouched since the 15th century.

Mustang is located in large canyon that ranges in elevation from 2,700 to 4,500 meters. The canyon if formed by the Kali Gandaki River, a tributary of the Ganges. Only about 15,000 people live in the entire kingdom and the average elevation of the region is over 4,572 meters (15,000 feet). Mustang is dotted with villages, each of which as its own Gompa (monastery), some of whom welcome visitors and give them a tour of the facilities. Most families have horses and a few have mortobikes. Household light is provided by candles and oil lamps. Without streetlights the sky is filled with stars at night.

The landscape of Mustang is barren, brown and grey. The Himalayas block the monsoon rains that nourish most of Nepal. The handful of small, green valleys in the kingdom are nourished by a few mountain stream that flow through it. Most days the skies are radiant blue and most nights the sky is full of thick concentrations of stars. On top of the ridges you can see snowcapped Himalayan peaks in the distance. The grays and browns can turn lovely yellows and reds in the late afternoon sun.

Mustang is a Nepali mispronunciation of Manthang the kingdom's capital. Contacts between Tibet and Mustang have been cut off due to political tension between the Chinese government, the Nepalese government and the Tibetans.

Book: “Mustang: the Forbidden Kingdom” by Michel Peissel. A chronicle of his visit in 1964.


Dolpo Region

Dolpo is a remote region northwest of the Annapurna region. Immortalized by the “Snow Leopard”, Peter Mathiessesn's account of Himalayan exploration,the Dolpo is inhabited by Bhotias who embrace the Bon-Po faith, an animist religion that predates and influenced Tibetan Buddhism. Trekkers have only recently been allowed to travel in this region which has more in common with Tibet than Nepal. The Dolpo region is located in Dolpa district, the largest district in Nepal. The people that live there are called the Dolpa or Dolpa-pa.

Dolpa is the remotest and least populated region of Nepal, cut off from the rest of the country by the massive Dhaulagiri range. Even Tibetans called it the “Sbas-Yul” ("Hidden Country"). Snow leopards were studied here and yak caravans still traverse passes between 5,200 and 5,500 meters (17,000 and 18,000 feet) high to get to Tibet.

Located in the rain shadow of the Dhaulagiri range, the Dolpo region is characterized by barren brown knolls, slopes of scree, sheer cliffs, and snow-covered peaks. In the summer when some monsoon rains trickle in the bottom of the valleys are green from irrigated farms. Otherwise the land is brown and gray.

Western Nepal is the most isolated part of Nepal. Places with no electricity, roads and running waters are common and they can be more than a week's walk away from the nearest road. Here trekkers often have to bush walk through forests and scale sheer rock faces because no tracks or trails are marked on their maps. The eastern parts of Nepal are richer in biodiversity and receives more rain than western parts of the country, where arctic desert-type conditions are more common at higher elevations.

Shey Phoksundo National Park is Nepal's largest national park. Covering about 6,500 square kilometers (2,500 square miles), the park is located in the Dolpo region. Sights here include vast conifer forests, Lake Phoksumdo, Tibetan gompas, and towering Himalayan peaks (but not as towering as peaks found elsewhere in Nepal). The region is so remote it was chosen for a study of snow leopards.

Dolpa People

The people of the Dolpo region— the Dolpa-pa — are a Tibetan people who have lived pretty much the same way for the last 1,000 years. The food they grown in their valleys is only enough to feed them for half a year. The key to their existence is the yak caravan. From Dolpa they travel up to Tibet and trade barely and corn for salt. The salt is then taken to the south were it is traded for corn, beans and rice. [Source: Eric Valli and Diane Summers, National Geographic, December 1993 [☺]

The Dolpo is inhabited by Bhotes (Bhotias) who embrace the Bon-Po faith, an animist religion that predates and influenced Tibetan Buddhism. The Bhotes, or Tibeto-Nepalese, are of Tibeto-Mongol (Tibeto-Burman) origin. They have Tibetan, more Asian, features and speak Tibeto-Burmese languages. These groups have settled higher valleys and mountainous areas and are associated most with the Himalayas. The Bhotes are the main inhabitants of northern Nepal and the foothills of the Himalayas. The group includes Sherpas of mountaineering and Mt. Everest fame. The term Bhote literally means inhabitant of Bhot, a Sanskrit term for the trans-Himalayan region of Nepal, or the Tibetan region. However, Bhote is also a generic term, often applied to people of Tibetan culture or Mongoloid phenotype. As used by the Paharis and the Newars, it often had a pejorative connotation and could be applied to any non-Hindu of Mongoloid appearance. [Source: Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1991]

The Dolpa people in the high Himalayas of western Nepal are considered the highest-living ethnic group in the world. They operate regular caravans over 5,000-meter passes to Tibet and are mainly associated with the mountainous area west of the Kali Gandaki river valley. Tibetan culture found in Dolpo is considered purer and less disturbed than Tibetan culture in Tibet. The Dolpa people provided a lot of support to the Maoist rebels, who promised to address their poverty.

Dolpa people have traditionally been very isolated. A women that met geographer Barry Bishop in the early 1970s said, "You clothing is strange; you are from a distant village. Did you come on the windship I have seen in the sky?" Later she asked him if she had seen her husband. He left the village fifteen years ago to find work and never came back. "Please look for him," she said, "and tell him to return. He is needed here." [Source: Barry Bishop, "Nepal's Roadless Karnali", National Geographic November 1971 ♬]



Sherpas are a Tibetan Buddhist people that are essentially Tibetans who have lived in Nepal long enough to develop some of their own unique traits and characteristics. They are quite different from Hindu Nepalese. The Sherpas of the Khumbu valley near Mt. Everest are famous mountaineers and guides. They have been nicknamed the "Tigers of the Snow." They are so famous that term Sherpa has grown into a generic term for loyal helper and guide. [Sources: T.R. Reid, National Geographic, May 2003; Desmond Doig, National Geographic, October 1966 ~; Robert A. Paul, “Encyclopedia of World Cultures Volume 3: South Asia,” edited by Paul Paul Hockings, 1992 |~|]

There are about 75,000 to 120,000 Sherpas, depending on how they are counted. They live mostly in eastern Nepal but are also found in India. About 10,000 live in the Solu-Khumbu Valley region below Mt. Everest. In Nepal, Sherpas are classified as Tibeto-Nepalese or Bhote (Bhotia), the Tibetan-related ethnic groups that inhabit the high valleys of northeastern Nepal. The Sherpas language is a Tibetan dialect that has no writing system. Sherpas generally speak Nepali and can read and write in Nepali. They often have one name or use Sherpa as their last name.

Sherpa, shar pa in the Tibetan language, literally means “People of the East”, a reference to their origin in the eastern Tibetan region of Khams. They first arrived in Nepal about 500 years ago and have a close affinity with Tibetans in terms of their language, culture and religion. The main Sherpa occupations are agriculture, animal husbandry, trade and portering. They are famous for their mountaineering and Mt. Everest climbing skills. Many make a living in the trekking and mountaineering businesses. They follow Tibetan Buddhism. [Source: visitnepal.com ]

Robert A. Paul wrote in the “Encyclopedia of World Cultures”: “Sherpas practice the Nying ma pa, or "old" version of Tibetan Buddhism. The main present homeland of the Sherpas is Solu-Khumbu in the northern part of the Sagarmatha District in eastern Nepal. The main valleys settled by Sherpas are the Khumbu, Pharak, Shorong (Nepali Solu), Arun, and Rolwaling. There are also permanent Sherpa settlements in Kathmandu, and in the Indian hill towns of Darjeeling, Kalimpong, Siliguri, and others. Most Sherpa villages in Nepal are at elevations between 2,400 and 3,600 meters, on the southern slopes of the Himalayan range, concentrated around the base of the Everest massif. They constitute less than 1 percent of the total population of Nepal. It appears that population in Solu-Khumbu is remaining stable or, if anything, declining, partly due to out-migration to the towns. [Source: Robert A. Paul, “Encyclopedia of World Cultures Volume 3: South Asia,” edited by Paul Hockings, 1992 |~|]

Book: “Life and Death on Mt. Everest, Sherpas and Himalayan Mountaineering” by Sherry Ortner (Princeton University Press). The title of the book is a little misleading. It is more about Sherpas than mountaineering.

See Separate Article SHERPAS


According to the “Encyclopedia of World Cultures”: “The Sikkimese live in the Himalayan kingdom of Sikkim, with a population of 316,385 in 1981. Tibet, Nepal, India, and Bhutan all touch the borders of this kingdom. The Sikkimese live in villages of wooden buildings that hug the Himalayan slopes. The Sikkimese easily traverse passes that give access to the Tibetan Chumbi Valley. The country occupies a commanding position over the historic Kalimpong-Lhasa trade route. India and Tibet have frequently intervened in Sikkim's internal affairs. The British Indian government particularly put pressure upon the Sikkimese for access to central Asia. Sikkim is the political core of the larger former Kingdom, and more recently the Sikkimese feel very strongly about keeping the Lhasa route between India and China under their control. Sikkim's location favors a dynamic role in international relations between the two great powers of Asia, India and China. [Source: “Encyclopedia of World Cultures Volume 3: South Asia,” edited by Paul Hockings, 1992 |~|]

“The mountainous environment of Sikkim is generally inhospitable. There are adverse surface features that seriously impede human development over large areas; cultivated land amounts to only a small proportion of the total area of the kingdom. The harsh climate damages economic development. The Sikkimese live in an enclosed basin nearly 65 kilometers wide, placed between two deeply dissected northsouth transverse ridges stretching for 125 kilometers. A huge mountain mass some 19 kilometers south of the main chain of the Himalayas called the Kanchenjunga range constitutes a distinctive physical unit of Sikkim. The range receives heavy discharges from the monsoon, and it is covered with snow and ice as much as a hundred or more meters thick. These masses of snow and ice move downward slowly in the form of glaciers and great avalanches. The avalanches are an ever-present source of danger in northern Sikkim. The continuous creaking and groaning of the moving ice and the roar of avalanches combine to create a sense of instability and apprehension. The Sikkimese tribes regard Kanchenjunga as the seat of an all-powerful god. The outstanding feature of the physical landscape in the Sikkim Himalayas is the variety of temperature zones and vegetation. On the lowest level, less than 300 meters above sea level, tropical growth flourishes. From the bottom valleys, one moves north to the subtropical zone that finally leads to the alpine region. |~|

“The official language is English, though comparatively few speak it; Sikkimese and Gurkhali are the primary Languages. Existing language divisions do not affect the overall political stability of Sikkim because the people are bonded Together by what they call "a feeling of kinship." |~|


Bhutan's society is made up of four broad but not necessarily exclusive groups: the Ngalop, the Sharchop, several aboriginal peoples, and Nepalese. The Ngalop (a term thought to mean the earliest risen or first converted) are people of Tibetan origin who migrated to Bhutan as early as the ninth century. For this reason, they are often referred to in foreign literature as Bhote (people of Bhotia or Tibet). The Ngalop are concentrated in western and northern districts. They introduced Tibetan culture and Buddhism to Bhutan and comprised the dominant political and cultural element in modern Bhutan. [Source: Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1991 *]

The Sharchop (the word means easterner), an Indo-Mongoloid people who are thought to have migrated from Assam or possibly Burma during the past millennium, comprise most of the population of eastern Bhutan. Although long the biggest ethnic group in Bhutan, the Sharchop have been largely assimilated into the Tibetan-Ngalop culture. Because of their proximity to India, some speak Assamese or Hindi. They practice slash-and-burn and tsheri agriculture, planting dry rice crops for three or four years until the soil is exhausted and then moving on.

The third group consists of small aboriginal or indigenous tribal peoples living in scattered villages throughout Bhutan. Culturally and linguistically part of the populations of West Bengal or Assam, they embrace the Hindu system of endogamous groups ranked by hierarchy and practice wet-rice and dry-rice agriculture. They include the Drokpa, Lepcha, and Doya tribes as well as the descendants of slaves who were brought to Bhutan from similar tribal areas in India. The ex-slave communities tended to be near traditional population centers because it was there that they had been pressed into service to the state. Together, the Ngalop, Sharchop, and tribal groups were thought to constitute up to 72 percent of the population in the late 1980s.

The remaining 28 percent of the population were of Nepalese origin. Officially, the government stated that 28 percent of the national population was Nepalese in the late 1980s, but unofficial estimates ran as high as 30 to 40 percent, and Nepalese were estimated to constitute a majority in southern Bhutan. The number of legal permanent Nepalese residents in the late 1980s may have been as few as 15 percent of the total population, however. The first small groups of Nepalese, the most recent major groups to arrive in Bhutan, emigrated primarily from eastern Nepal under Indian auspices in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Mostly Hindus, the Nepalese settled in the southern foothills and are sometimes referred to as southern Bhutanese. Traditionally, they have been involved mostly in sedentary agriculture, although some have cleared forest cover and conducted tsheri agriculture. The most divisive issue in Bhutan in the 1980s and early 1990s was the accommodation of the Nepalese Hindu minority. The government traditionally attempted to limit immigration and restrict residence and employment of Nepalese to the southern region. Liberalization measures in the 1970s and 1980s encouraged intermarriage and provided increasing opportunities for public service. More in-country migration by Nepalese seeking better education and business opportunities was allowed.

Bhutan also had a sizable modern Tibetan refugee population, which stood at 10,000 persons in 1987. The major influx of 6,000 persons came in 1959 in the wake of the Chinese army's invasion and occupation of Tibet. The Tibetan expatriates became only partially integrated into Bhutanese society, however, and many were unwilling to accept citizenship. Perceiving a lack of allegiance to the state on the part of Tibetans, the government decided in 1979 to expel to India those who refused citizenship. India, after some reluctance, acceded to the move and accepted more than 3,100 Tibetans between 1980 and 1985. Another 4,200 Tibetans requested and received Bhutanese citizenship. Although Bhutan traditionally welcomed refugees — and still accepted a few new ones fleeing the 1989 imposition of martial law in Tibet — government policy in the late 1980s was to refuse more Tibetan refugees.


Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Nepal Tourism Board (ntb.gov.np), Nepal Government National Portal (nepal.gov.np), The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Wikipedia and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated February 2022

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