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Into the dragon’s kingdom
Draped over the Himalayas and squeezed
between China and India, this tiny kingdom,
which honours nature, treasures tradition and
values happiness over wealth, packs a massive
punch. By Angela Dewar
en, dressed in traditional robes,
practise archery against a
backdrop of jagged snow-capped
mountain peaks – it could be
a scene from medieval times,
but this is 21st-century Bhutan. Here, in
the Himalayas’ last independent Buddhist
kingdom, life carries on the way it has for
hundreds of years.
Over the centuries, the Bhutanese have
remained virtually cut off from the rest of the
world for only one reason: because that’s just
the way they like it.
Thanks to the doors of this magical,
mystical country having only been cracked
slightly open to the outside, it remains
incredibly unspoilt. Those tourists who’ve
been lucky enough to witness life in Druk-
Yul, or ‘Land of the Thunder Dragon’, know
it’s an unforgettable experience.
The people are proud and dignifi ed, and
Buddhist values affect every facet of daily life.
The government’s refreshingly unique policy
of Gross National Happiness, which puts
the wellbeing of its citizens above money-
making, continues to keep people smiling.
Their other progressive policies, like banning
smoking outright, leave many Western
nations playing catch-up.
A former king, the father of the current
ruler, was forward-looking and had an
interest in environmental issues. He steered
his country well away from the collision-
course economic policies of neighbours
like India and Nepal, and the results are
breathtaking. Today, over 70 per cent of
the kingdom is forested, and well-executed
conservation programmes are making sure it
stays that way.
The tour of Bhutan was great. Our guide, Tobgay, was
It’s not just the surroundings that are
excellent and full of knowledge. The driver, Wungchuck, was
pristine – the air is too. Pollution and traffi c
1 TAKTSHANG (TIGER’S NEST) The jams are non-existent; in fact, Thimphu is
also very good, keeping us safe. Bhutan is amazing... The scenery,
nation’s most famous monastery. possibly the world’s only capital city without a culture, tradition and people leave a lasting impression that
2 THIMPHU A tour of the intriguing set of traffi c lights. Set at an altitude of 2350m
words cannot describe. ANNETTE DAVIS, TORONTO
(and quiet!) capital and its markets. and surrounded by forested hills strung with
3 BUMTHANG Spiritual heartland of coloured prayer fl ags, strategically placed to The country’s most famous monastery, On strategic hilltops presiding over
Bhutan, home to its most ancient carry their blessings off in the wind, there can Taktshang, sits perched on a cliff 900m above every town are dzongs, massive white
and precious Buddhist sites. be few other cities as peaceful. the Paro valley. According to local legend, fortresses that house the administrative,
4 TRONGSA DZONG One of the most Another contributing factor to Bhutan’s Guru Rinpoche fl ew to the site on the back military and social centres for the area
aesthetic and splendid works of other-worldly feel is its architecture: hand- of a tigress, then meditated in a cave for – Punakha and Trongsa are among the most
traditional Bhutanese architecture. painted window frames, which almost have a three months. Fittingly, the name translates outstanding in the kingdom. The dzongs’
5 PUNAKHA Tour this ancient surreal alpine feel to them, adorn houses; and to ‘Tiger’s Nest’. Today, devotees still make huge courtyards are where tsechus, or
capital and its dramatic dzong. glittering golden rooftops crown monasteries pilgrimages to the temple and pray in front of festivals, take place. Wise tourists consult
and temples. the entrance to the cave. the Bhutanese Buddhist calendar and try to
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