Bhutan, or “Druk Yul,” means Land of the Thunder Dragon. It is a speck on the map bordered by Tibet (China) in the north and India in the south, east and west. The land area covers 38,394 square kilometers – comparable to Switzerland (about half the size of the State of Indiana in the U. S.).
Although small in size, Bhutan is rich in terms of culture and bio-diversity. It has often been referred to as the “world’s last Shangri-La” because of its remotness. Himalayan scenery, unsurpassed numbers of birds, mammals and plants, Buddhist temples, shrines, dzongs and traditional Bhutanese houses are among the rarest sights in the world. While traveling there you will find the Bhutanese people friendly and hospitable. Their traditions of hard work and sincerity are passed on one generation to another well-preserved.
Bhutan has been blessed by the rule of a Divine Monarch, King Jigme Singe Wangchuck for 32 years. The King has diligently seen to the needs of the country by protecting cultural traditions and fragile ecosystems from outside exploitation while simultaneously improving the lives of citizens. Education and healthcare are free in this egalitarian society.
Written Bhutanese history begins in the1600s. All other history is legend, folklore and myth passed down through generations. Many of the stories are dramatized through dance in “tsechus,” religious festivals. See Religion. One oft 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, has four wives, all sisters, and resides in the outskirts of the capitol, Thimphu. It was at his coronation in 1974 that the country was first opened to tourism.