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Bhutan currency

Ngultrum History of Bhutan’s currency

Ngultrum History of Bhutan currency

In 1974, in a short and simple but traditional ceremony, the Bhutan Currency, Ngulturm was formally launched in Thimphu as the legal tender of the country. Five years later, in 1979, the national currency was declared as the only legal tender money in Bhutan. 

If you’re planning on traveling to Bhutan or looking at possible currency exchange, you need to learn more about the Bhutanese currency. 

Whether you’re traveling from India or somewhere else in the world, this is all you need to know about the Bhutan currency.

The Bhutanese Ngultrum

The Bhutanese currency is known as the ngultrum. Once referenced at an exchange center, the monetary symbol is “Nu.” When you decide to look up the currency via a Forex trading service, it will either be listed as Nu or under the code “BTN” (short for Bhutanese Ngultrum). A single Ngultrum is broken down into 100 Chetrum.

Bhutanese currency different Notes

The Nu 10 note was printed in purple colour with undertones of orange and white. The note had the portrait of His Majesty the Third Druk Gyalpo Jigme Dorji Wangchuck printed on it. The back of the note had a sketch of the Simtokha Dzong.

Similarly, the Five Ngultrum note had a portrait but that of His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo Jigme Singye Wangchuck. The back of the note had a colour sketch of the Paro Dzong.  The note was printed in reddish brown with undertone of orange and green.

The Nu One note did not have any portrait but had juxtaposed Dorji (Vajra) and a pair of Dragon. It was blue in colour and, like the Nu 10, came into immediate circulation.

The India Security Press printed these notes for the first and last time. Located in the state of Maharashtra, the government press was charged with the task of printing various Indian government documents, including postage stamps.

Like the Indian currency, the words, “I promise to pay the bearer the sum of  Ten Rupee,” was printed in the currency but only in Dzongkha. 

On June 3, the Ngultrum was distributed for the second time to the people of Bhutan who had congregated in Changlimithang to celebrate the coronation.

The tradition of distributing money to the people known as changgyaps during important and national occasion continues to this day. For many who flocked to the coronation, receiving of the money was their highlight.

Five years after the Ngultrum was formally released, in 1979, His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo announced it as the only legal tender money in the country. 


There are at least three theories of the etymology of Ngultrum.  The first is that the word Ngultrum is dngul-tam. Dngul means silver and tam means distribution. In Dr John Ardussi’s thesis, “Bhutan before the British, a Historical Study,” he states, “the question of currency values and types circulating in Bhutan during the 18th century is little known from the native literature.

The dngul-tam may have been a local silver coin of moderately high value. In the 18th century, prize horses were given to princes of Cooch Bihar as gifts. These horse were worth 130 dngul-tam.” 

Dr Wolfgang Betsch, a numismatist, thinks that “Ngultrum” is a combination of two words: Ngul or Silver and Trum which means Tangka. The term “Tangka” refers to a Tibetan silver coin that has been coined since the mid 1600s.

The third popular theory of the origin of the etymology of Ngultrum is that it is derived from Taka. Also known as the Tanka or Tangka, it was one of the major historical currencies of Asia, particularly in the  Indian subcontinent and Tibet and became a currency of the Silk Road.

It was inscribed in numerous languages across different regions, including in Sanskrit, Arabic, Persian, Hindustani, Bengali, Nepali, Tibetan and Mandarin. The taka was traditionally equal to one silver rupee in Islamic Bengal. 


Before the Ngultrum was released, Tigchung coins were in circulation. For example, in 1966, during the 25th session of the National Assembly, it proposed minting of one crore of Tigchung in India. At the time, Tigtsa was not available in India so it had to be imported. “This would cost the government of Bhutan about 9 Lakhs in hard currency which was procured. The House also learnt that the country would be benefitted by Rs 36 lakhs after having the costs for the minting materials and the mint charges.”


National currency is one of the symbols of an independent country. So far, there has been no national discourse on the etymology of the Ngultrum. In 1974, the Ngultrum replaced the Tigchungs and was formally launched as national currency. This ceremony was quiet, simple but traditional and held in the capital. 

Contributed by 

Tshering Tashi

Courtesy: Kuensel