What Is The Ethnic Composition Of Bhutan?

Bhutanese people at a temple.
Bhutanese people at a temple.

Bhutan is a country in South Asia situated in the Eastern Himalayas. It is the third least populated country in Asia, with a population of approximately 727,000 people. Bhutan is a country of great diversity with several ethnic groups. However, despite the presence of many ethnic groups, no particular group constitutes a majority of the population. The population of Bhutan is made up of four major ethnic groups, listed below. 


The Ngalops, also known as “earliest risen people” are people who may have originated in from the Tibet region and moved into Bhutan around the 9th century. Thus, they are always referred to as “Bhote” people in most literature, meaning “people of Bhotia or Tibet.” The term, which also applies to the Tibetan people, is now rarely used in reference to the Ngalop people to avoid the confusion. The Ngalop together with the Sharchops comprises about 63% of the population of Bhutan or 450,000 people.


Sharchop is Bhutan’s largest single ethnic group. The group comprises a population of mixed South Asian, Tibetan, and Southeast Asian descent. They are part of the various indigenous groups of people who migrated from Assam or Burma and are related to the Monpa. Although they are Bhutan’s single largest ethnic group, the majority have been absorbed by the politically and culturally dominant Ngalop culture. 


The Lhotshampa people are the third-largest ethnicity Bhutan, comprising about 22% of the population. They are of Nepalese origin and native to Southern Bhutan. Starting in 2007, the majority of the Lhotshampa have been resettled in several countries including the US, the UK, Australia, and Canada.


There is a significant number of Tibetans in Bhutan, mainly comprising of Tibetan refugees. However, there are no Tibetan villages and communities in the country. The ethnic group numbers about 10,000, of which a large number (6,000) arrived in the country in 1959 during the Tibetan Rebellion. 

Indigenous Ethnic Groups

A small number of the indigenous tribal people are spread throughout Bhutan. They are generally part of the population of Assam or West Bengal and practice Hindu religion. Some of the indigenous groups include Lepcha, Brokpa, and Doya tribes. Descendants of slaves brought into the country from India are also considered part of the aboriginal population of Bhutan. Most of the ethnic groups practice wet-rice and dry-rice agriculture.


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