Of all Himalayan countries, Bhutan is the most alluring to Westerners, at least to those with a romantic vision of the past. Bhutan is also the ideal place for trekking in a beautiful landscape of sacred mountains, lush valleys, remote temples and fortress-monasteries. Tucked between China and India at the eastern end of the Himalayan chain, it is the most remote, the least touched by modernity, and – apart from Assamese insurgents taking refuge from the Indian army inside the southern border – the least affected by violent political conflict. Its survival into the present century as an independent country is something of a marvel. With the neighbouring Indian state of Sikkim and Tibet, Bhutan is the only remaining Buddhist state in the region. With less than a million inhabitants and about a dozen languages it is also, arguably, the most varied, both in its terrain and human geography.
Bhutan obtained its first television sets in 1999. Its first election was in 2008, when it became a constitutional monarchy. During the 1970s, the then monarch, King Jigme Singye Wangchuck, developed the theory of promoting GNH (gross national happiness) above GDP.
He said: “We do not have military muscle. We cannot play a dominant international role. The only factor we can fall back on which can strengthen Bhutan’s sovereignty and our different identity is the unique culture we have.”