Nestling in the eastern Himalayas, sandwiched between giants (India and China), lies the hidden Kingdom of Druk Yul, the land of the Thunder Dragon.
Known to the world as Bhutan, the last bastion of Mahayana Buddhism, this remote, mystical country must be one of the last unspoiled places on the planet. Occupying 46,000 square kilometres, the landlocked kingdom’s eco-system ranges from sub-tropical to alpine with a staggering 75 per cent forest coverage.
As its tourism industry is a little over two decades old, dating back to 1974, the Coronation Year of the present King, His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck, Bhutan is still one of the world’s most exclusive destinations, with the added incentive of its owning some of the most spectacular landscapes on earth.
From the majestic ice-bound mountains in the north down to the lush tropical forests of the south, Bhutan encapsulates a wonderful natural diversity and, when you add to that a large dose of fresh air and sparkling water, with a dash of the unique art, architecture and culture, and top it up with a pleasant people, you’re served up with a feast the like of which you’d have to travel far to find!
Written Bhutanese history begins in the 1600s, during the first visit of Tibetan Saint Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgay, who fought several wars for protection of Bhutan from other neighboring countries’ invasion. Bhutan till the time of Crowning of First Herediatary King in 1907, it was rule by various Desis, (appointed rulers of Zhabdrung) under his code of conduct and form of government that he published before his death.
All other histories are legend, folklore and myth passed down through generations. Many of the stories are dramatized through dance in “Tsechus” religious festivals. One often told story is how the Guru Rinpoche, who brought Buddhism to Bhutan, flew in on the back of a flaming tigress. He landed in Paro (fittingly where the only airport is today) and founded the Taktshang Monastery (called Tigers Nest) perched on a cliff, surveying the valley.
Unification from groups of scattered tribes or clans into a loosely defined country occurred in the 12th Century, and the Divine Monarchy took root in 1907 when the first hereditary King, Ugyen Wangchuck, was crowned.
In the 1960s, the 2nd King, Jigme Dorji Wangchuck instituted the National Assembly and shared power with 150 elected representatives who serve three year terms. Now the fourth King is in charge, walking the tightrope between tradition and modernity. The King educated at Oxford. It was at his coronation in 1974 that the country was first opened to tourism.