A Guide to Bhutan - The Last Shangri - La
This tiny landlocked kingdom of less than 40,000 sq km was for centuries one of the most isolated spots on earth.
However with the recent advent of mobile phones, internet access and cable television,the country is now globally reknowned and hailed as the last Shangri - La.
A country where cigarettes are illegal, rice is red and gross national happiness is more important than gross national wealth, it also has the dubious title of the most expensive tourist location in the world.
This is of course, done in order to maintain it's rich and diverse culture and to safeguard it's stunning environment, which has been hailed by some as the most beautiful location on earth.
It's government is at great pains to also preserve it's national identity, in order to stop it being turned into another backpackers haven like it's Himalayan neighbours of Tibet and Nepal.
Therefore, if you wish to travel to the country classified as the happiest nation in Asia and 18th happiest nation in the world, ( HPI 2009 )* be prepared to pay at least $200 a night at any of it's hotels.
Entry can only be gained into the country by way of flights by it's national airline Drukair - Dragonair - from locations in china, india, Nepal and Thailand, to the country's main airport at Paro,hailed as the world's most beautiful location for an airport.
Before entry is even considered, a $20 visa has to be purchased, which is only issued on receipt of a fully paid up tour.
The Kingdom of Bhutan was founded in the mid 1600's, but it's monarchy was not established until as late as 1907.
Internationally known as the Land of the Thunder Dragon, with the king known as the Dragon King,- Druk Gyalpo - Bhutan's current ruler is Jigme Khesar Namgyel, 5th Dragon King, and head of the Wangchuk Royal Family.
His mountainous kingdom nestles amongst peaks of over 7,000 metres which sports 4 National Parks and 5 Nature Reserves that are situated amongst acres of unspoilt beauty along the banks of the country's five river systems.
The country is only acessible by way of an 8000 km road network - half of which are unpaved - as the country has no rail network.
The climate is sub tropical in and around it's green and fertile valleys, rising to sub alpine along it's mountain peaks.
THE HAA VALLEY.
The culture of the country is closely related to that of it's neighbour Tibet and has remained unspoilt due to it's lengthy isolation from the rest of the world.
It's language is Dzongkha, an ancient language which hails from the Tibetan language family.
Three quarters of the country's 700,000 population belong to the Mahayana denomination of the Buddhist religion.
The country's capital is Thimpu built along the banks of the river Wong Chhu, a subsidiary of the Indian River Brahmaputra.
The capital has only been sited here since 1961, after the previous king moved the capital from it's old site at Punakha.
Since 1961, the capital has undergone major urban expansion and is now home to the country's main universities, hospitals, hotels and the royal family's Palacial residence.
THIMPHU, ON THE BANKS OF THE RIVER WONG CHHU.
Bhutan's highest peak is the Ganghar Puensum, at 7,570 metres.The mountain, which is situated on Bhutan's northern border with china has yet to be climbed and has the distinction of being the world's highest unclimbed mountain.
AREA; 38,394 sq km.
CURRENCY; Ngultrum and Indian Rupee.
TIME ZONE; + 6 UTC.
INTERNET TLD; .bt
CALLING CODE; 975.
* HPI - Happy Planet Index. University of Leicester, United Kingdom.
FOR MORE INFORMATION ABOUT THE KINGDOM OF BHUTAN :
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© D.B.Bellamy. June 2010
Images courtesy of wikimedia commons and Stephen Shephard CC - BY - SA - 2.5.