Bhutan, the final frontier: a magical paradise in a child’s imagination. On the roof of the world, shoehorned into the grand Himalaya, Bhutan, the Thunder Dragon, is a fiercely independent kingdom. Its isolation has helped it to repel colonists and its geography has enabled it to remain free from the acquisitive whims of its giant neighbours. In a world where all countries are intertwined with economic and political treaties, Bhutan stands alone – self-sufficient and proud of it. The kingdom asks for few favours and expects little in return.
It was only in 1971 that Bhutan broke from its traditional isolation to become a member of the United Nations. At that time the monarchy wanted the outside world to open the kingdom to the prospect of outside trade, education and limited tourism. For the first ten nears tourist traffic came over land from Calcutta or Darjeeling through Phuentsholing in the south to the Paro Valley. IN 1982, a long-awaited airstrip was completed at Paro; Druk-Air, the national airline, was born, and tourism to Bhutan began in earnest. That does not mean the kingdom is now swamped with busloads of trippers. In 1994, a total of 3,900 tourists (or 11 a day) arrived. The government is determined to restrict the number of visitors to the kingdom to preserve its priceless independent spirit. This independence has enabled a people to evolve with a pure and unadulterated vision of life. Void of the egocentricity that is rife in so many of its neighbours, Bhutanese people are gracious, gentle and generous.
The kingdom is also spellbindingly beautiful. The land and people change from north to south and east to west. From the lowlands close to the Indian border, the land steps upwards to the Great Himalaya in the far north and the border with Tibet. Bhutan is also a deeply religious country. Bhutanese people are driven by their respect for the tantric strain of Mahayana Buddhism. Bhutanese practice their beliefs as an integral part of their everyday lives - with none of the fears so often associated with religious practice in the Western world. Almost all visitors approach Bhutan by air but but there are still land crossings to northern India in the south west through Phuentsholing and in the south east through Samdrup Jonkar. Few visitors leave uninitiated. The kingdom and its people cast a kind of spell: a luring, addictive potion that ensures they come back again and again.