Of all Himalayan countries, Bhutan is the most alluring to Westerners, at least to those with a romantic vision of the past. Bhutan is also the ideal place for trekking in a beautiful landscape of sacred mountains, lush valleys, remote temples and fortress-monasteries.
Tucked between China and India at the eastern end of the Himalayan chain, it is the most remote, the least touched by modernity, and – apart from Assamese insurgents taking refuge from the Indian army inside the southern border – the least affected by violent political conflict. Its survival into the present century as an independent country is something of a marvel.
With the neighbouring kingdom of Sikkim swallowed by India, and Tibet taken over by China in the 1950s, Bhutan is the only remaining Buddhist state in the region. With less than a million inhabitants and about a dozen languages it is also, arguably, the most varied, both in its terrain and human geography.
Although a new king was crowned in 2008, democracy has replaced the country’s medieval system of absolute monarchy.