top of page



BHUTAN is a landlocked Himalayan nation on the geopolitical pivot between the world's two most populated  nations of China to the north and India to the south. It became a unified country in the early 17th century and has always been a sovereign nation that was never colonised. It has been a member state of the United Nations since 1971 and became a parliamentary democracy in 2008. With a land area similar in size to Switzerland its elevations range from 160 meters above sea level at its topical southern border with India up to 7,314 meters at the highest peak of Mount Jhomo Lhari near the alpine northwestern border with the Chinese region of Tibet. Why did we include Bhutan in this study? It is a uniquely placed country and culture that grapples with land management as it attempts to balance modernity with traditional Buddhist values, practices and traditions. Bhutan is also widely known for its rich biodiversity, 70% forest cover and a landscape filled with sacred sites and meaning. It offers a fertile place to explore regenerative land practices and their relationship with contemporary land governance systems.


As highlighted in the Practices and Cultures pages, in the Bhutanese belief system all aspects of the landscape including trees, rocks, rivers, lakes and mountains are deeply imbued with meaning and recognised as living beings. Ancient animistic beliefs feared the power of these beings which were often identified as deities. Later on, the Buddhist relationship to the land was more confident. Especially powerful spiritual leaders had the ability to tame negative beings of the land and bring them into the service of humans. As such they become identified local deities that have their abode within specific landscape features that become sacred sites [1]. To this day, spirits and deities are seen to inhabit the land and are recognised as the original land owners [1]. Meanwhile, human inhabitants are considered as guests on  the land [2]. These beliefs still determine what kind of human activities can take place and where, depending on the extent to which a local deity exerts power and influence over a particular place [2]. The restriction of human activity around these abodes of the deities has significant biodiversity implications by minimising human interference and allowing for the uninterrupted evolution of species [3] .

Within this context of a spiritual geography, land ownership suddenly became overlayed with a different paradigm when the Bhutan Forest Act was passed in 1969. All forests were nationalised as Government Reserved Forests. In 2007 a new Land Act set out to nationalise all communal and private rangelands by 2017 [4]. All land in Bhutan is now governed by the Royal Government of Bhutan and private land ownership was introduced for the first time. While these two paradigms co-exist, many of the old rituals and practices to appease the local deities are still maintained. Yet, with increasing urbanization, modernization and development, places are less "known in association with local divinities, but merely in terms of agroecological and cartographic characteristics"[3]. One of Bhutan's foremost scholars Karma Ura suggested in 2001 it may be necessary to "transition from relying largely on internalised cultural and spiritual restraints, which weaken during modernisation, to externalised legislative and administrative measures..." [3] Today, the local spiritual beliefs and the ancient relationship between people and landscapes in Bhutan is recognised in many government documents, policies and regulations including the Constitution of Bhutan [1].​


The customary practices of Ridum/Ladam were known in many parts of Bhutan and commonly practiced by mountain communities and helped to maintain a healthy and productive mountain ecosystems and a subsistence safety net for those communities. Both of these practices involve restricting access to humans and domestic animals to specific mountain areas and forests, for certain time periods usually between March and October. Most forestry related activities such as firewood and mushroom collection or cow herding during the spring and summer months were prohibited. While Ridam is focused on ritual closure of  specified forests, Ladam refers to the closure of biological corridors and mountain pass across forest areas. The explicit rules of ridam and ladam are defined by each local community and people [8].


The practices had foremost a spiritual purpose in appeasing local deities but coincided with the main regeneration season within mountain and forest ecosystems. It ensured biodiversity and habitat protection, as well as continued forest productivity and livelihoods for many communities during the winter season.


Today, Ridam/Ladam is still practiced in some parts of Eastern Bhutan but knowledge of it is dwindling, with only 35% of Bhutanese still observing the Ridam/Ladam practice (2008) [9]. The practices were used in the first survey of Bhutan's Gross National Happiness Index as one of the indicators for cultural knowledge within the community. Subsequent GNH surveys in 2010 and 2015 did not include this indicator, so unfortunately it is unknown how the knowledge and practice of Ridam/Ladam practices has evolved in the last decade.


A collaboration was established between the Royal University of Bhutan's College of Language and Cultural Studies (CLCS)  and the Regenerative Place project. Two researchers from the CLCS are supporting the fieldwork which includes  observation of the ridam / ladam practice on 8 May 2024 in Trashiyangtse and interviews with relevant stakeholders. Interviews are being conducted in April & May 2024 with the local practitioners and officials of  ridam/ ladam in Eastern Bhutan and with policy-makers in Thimphu. 



REFERENCES 1. Allison, E. (2019), Deity Citadels: Sacred Sites of bio-cultural resistance and resilience in Bhutan, Religions, Vol 10, 268  2. Montes, J., Bhuwan, K. and Dema, T. (2020), Territory, relationality and labour of deities: Importing Raffstin on the Bhutanese spiritual landscape, Rig Tshoel, Research Journal of the Royal Thimphu College, Vol 3:1, pp 27- 45 3. Ura, K. (2001), Deities and Environment, Centre for Bhutan Studies  4. Tshering K., Nung W., Phuntsho K., Chhetri N., Bidha N., Dema K. (2016),  The Fate of Traditional Rangeland Management Practices under Bhutan’s Changing Policies and socio-economic Conditions, Bhutan Journal of Research & Development, Autumn 2016, pp. 53-66 5. Kuyakanon Knapp, R. (2014). Contemplations on a Bhutanese Buddhist Environmental Narrative. Bhutanese Buddhism and Its Culture. Vajra Publications, Kathmandu, 183-205. 6. Katel, O. and Grung, D.B. eds (2017), An Introduction to the Biodiversity of Bhutan. Centre for Rural development studies, College of Natural Resources, Royal University of Bhutan, Punakha 7. Wangdi, S., Norbu, N., Wangchuk, S., & Thinley, K. (2015). Social restriction in traditional forest management systems and its implications for biodiversity conservation in Bhutan. J. Bhutan Ecol. Soc, 1, 112-122. 8. Dey, D. (2003) Community Forestry in Bhutan Himalayas: Sustaining Life and environment through participation, World Forestry Congress 9. Wangdi, K. (2010), Education, in Gross National Happiness Findings, Royal Government of Bhutan, Thimphu

bottom of page