There are three main ethnic, religious and linguistic groups and a dozen smaller groups in Bhutan. Bhutan is a nation of immigrants and a multi-religious, multi-cultural and multi-linguistic society.
Ngalungs/Ngalongs or Ngalops
The Ngalungs or Ngalops (often called Drukpas) ethnic group live in the north-western region. They speak Dzonkha language and wear robe like dresses. Their ancestors migrated from Tibet. They are called Drukpas as they follow the Drukpa Kargyupa school of Tibetan Buddhism. The king and royal family belong to this group.
The second ethnic group is called Sharchops, who inhabit in eastern and central region and practice Nyingmapa sect of Mahayana Buddhism and belong to Tibeto-Burman ancestry. They speak Sharchopkha, Tsangla, Kurteop, Kheng and Brokpa dialects. Their ancestry can be traced to the tribes of northern Burma and northeast India.
Lhotshampas of Nepali Origin
The third ethnic group is called Lhotshampas (meaning Southern Bhutanese) of Nepali origin. They live in six southern foothill districts, speak Nepali language, practice mostly Hinduism and migrated from Nepal, Darjeeling and Sikkim in India.
All three ethnic groups migrated to Bhutan at different points of time in history. There are other smaller ethnic groups having their own distinct characteristics in terms of language, culture, religious practices etc. They are Tibetans, Doyas, Khengs, Adivashis, Brokpas Monpa, Gongduk Lhop/Doya, Kurteops. In terms of religion and faith, Bhutanese people practise Hinduism, Christianity, Drukpa Kargyupa and Nyingmapa sects of Buddhism and Animism.
Each ethnic group of Bhutan have lived clustered together in separate regions. For example, the Nepali-speaking Lhotshampas lived in southern foothills, the Sharchops lived in eastern region and the Ngalungs or Ngalops lived in north-western regions.
Bhutan’s population in 2000 was 677,934 according to the Yearbook released by the Central Statistical Organization of the Royal Government of Bhutan in march 2002. There are approximately 125,000 Bhutanese refugees living in Nepal and India.
In the eighties the population figure was put at 1,165,800 and even increased to 1.4 to 1.8 million. The reason and the need for this inflated figure could not be ascertained.