Bhutan is an unusually beautiful, deeply Buddhist land, where ancient temples hang on the edges of mist-covered cliffs, unconquered snow-capped peaks rise above lush green forests, and prayer flags flutter in the wind. It is also a country of surprises, where anatomically explicit penises are painted on white-washed walls and hung from the roofs of many homes, where men wear tunics with knee socks to work and Gross National Happiness is deemed more important than Gross National Product.
A place the size of Switzerland squeezed into the mountainous folds between two giants, India and China, this tiny country – known by locals as Druk Yul, “land of the thunder dragon” – has survived more than a thousand years in self-imposed isolation. Until the 1960’s, Bhutan had no national currency, no telephones, no hospital, no electricity, no motor vehicles, no postal service and very few tourists. Development efforts have now produced all of these – plus a national assembly, airport, roads and a system of nationalized health care. Although no longer a secret, as the last independent Buddhist kingdom in the Himalayas, Bhutan remains a refuge for a rapidly disappearing way of life.
BANFF Published November 28, 2011