In 2000 the population of Bhutan was estimated at 2,005,222 by the CIA World Factbook. The UN Statistical Yearbook gave the population as 1,034,774. Giving a third figure, the World Bank World Development Report 2000/1 estimated the population at 782,000. The disparity between population estimates is caused by 2 different ways of counting people: the government of Bhutan's population estimate, the World Bank figure, is based upon those who have "official" citizenship, and the CIA estimate seems to account for those who claim such status or live in the country and may not be recognized by the government.

In 2000 the birth rate stood at 36.22 per 1,000, while the death rate was 14.32 per 1,000. The overall population density is very low at 12.5 people per square kilometer, but this figure does not take account for the fact that, with 92.9 percent of the population living in rural areas, access to arable land is primary in any estimate of population density. Therefore, if the ratio of population to arable land is taken into account then density rises to 100 people per square kilometer. Bhutan has a very young population with almost 50 percent aged 17 years or younger. Given the continuation of Bhutan's current annual population growth of 2.19 percent, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Bhutan projects that there will be 3.64 million people living in Bhutan by 2025, from a 1998 level of 1.91 million. The

UNDP also estimates that 31,000 people live in Thimpu city (the capital and administrative center) and another 25,000 in Phuentsholing (the primary commercial center on the Indo-Bhutanese border).

People of Bhutan

There are many ethnic groups in Bhutan, and no one group constitutes a majority of the Bhutanese population. The Bhutanese population comprises four main ethnic groups, which themselves are not necessarily exclusive: the politically and culturally dominant Ngalong of western and northern Bhutan; the Sharchop of eastern Bhutan; the Lhotshampa concentrated in southern Bhutan; and Bhutanese tribal and aboriginal peoples living in villages scattered throughout Bhutan.


The Ngalong (meaning "earliest risen" or "first converted" according to folk etymology are people of Tibetan origin who migrated to Bhutan as early as the ninth century. For this reason, they are often referred to in literature as "Bhote" (people of Bhutia/Bhotia or Tibet). The Ngalop introduced Tibetan culture and Buddhism to Bhutan and comprised the dominant political and cultural element in modern Bhutan. Their language, Dzongkha, is the national language and is descended from Old Tibetan. The Ngalop are dominant in western and northern Bhutan, including Thimphu and the Dzongkha-speaking region. The term Ngalop may subsume several related linguistic and cultural groups, such as the Kheng people and speakers of Bumthang language.


The Sharchop (meaning "easterner"), are an Indo-Mongoloid people who migrated from Assam or possibly Burma during the past 1000 years. Van Driem (1993) indicates the Sharchop and closely related aboriginal Monpa (Menba) are descendants of the plurality ethnicity of Bhutan and the principal pre-Tibetan (pre-Dzongkha) people of that country. The Sharchop comprise most of the population of eastern Bhutan. Although long the biggest single ethnic group in Bhutan, the Sharchop have been largely assimilated into the Tibetan-Ngalop culture.[1] Most Sharchop speak Tshangla, a Tibeto-Burman language. Because of their proximity to India, some speak Assamese or Hindi. They traditionally 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, however  the practice has been officially banned since 1969.


The remaining population are the Lhotshampa (meaning "southerners"), mostly of Nepalese origin. Officially, the government stated that 28 percent of the national population was Nepalese in the late 1980s, however unofficial estimates ran as high as 30 to 40 percent, and Nepalese were estimated to constitute a majority in southern Bhutan. Mostly Hindus, the Nepalese settled in the southern foothills. The Lhotshampa are generally classified as Hindus. However, this is an oversimplification as many groups that include the Tamang and the Gurung are largely Buddhist;the Kiranti groups that include the Rai and Limbu are largely animist followers of Mundhum (these latter groups are mainly found in eastern Bhutan). Whether they are Hindu or Tibetan Buddhist, most of them abstain from beef, notably those belonging to the orthodox classes who are vegetarians. Their main festivals include Dashain and Tihar, a festival superficially similar to the Indian Diwali.

Traditionally, Lhotshampa have been involved mostly in sedentary agriculture, although some have cleared forest cover and conducted tsheri agriculture.

Indigenous and Tribal Groups

Small aboriginal or indigenous tribal peoples live 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 Brokpa, 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 constituted up to 72 percent of the population in the late 1980s according to official Bhutanese statistics. The CIA Factbook, however, estimates Ngalong and Sharchop populations together to total about 50 percent, with indigenous and migrant tribes constituting 15 percent – or 65 percent altogether.