Geographically Bhutan’s more accurately the size of Switzerland and to an extent, been sometimes called rather ambiguously the ‘Switzerland of the East’. When initial pride at being compared to what is a breathtaking anti-war-beautiful-bountiful-alpine-nation-never-invaded in the heart of Europe was quite elating, we are glad that over some political street talks in the gossip bars of Thimphu that a proposal to transform Bhutan into some ‘Switzerland of the East’ had been politely refused by the government. We have absolutely no idea from where this idea sprang, whether it’s even true, nonetheless, it serves to point out a few important pointers. One being that Switzerland was quite distinct and unique, was our impression, without having to clone another like it.
Bhutan has always been a ‘proud Himalayan kingdom of the East’, with its own little contributions of chilies, archery and gross national happiness. Never colonized, even in that bygone era of the white man’s mad frenzied rush for colonization, when old Europe scrambled to claim sovereignty and lordship over the five continents and whatever islands dotted the oceans and the seas – independent countries whose histories and cultural sensitivities were to change over the years as they gained independence and still find themselves strung out and hung over to the ‘old lordship ties’, ties that cannot be broken so easily, no matter how subtle or nuanced these knots.
Thus Bhutan lies tucked and nudged in-between the high Tibetan Plateau and what is the vastness of confounding neighboring India. Bhutan’s geographical location makes it a buffer of sorts between two very big giants, two established nuclear powers, together accounting for a staggering portion of the world’s total population; the Republic of India and the People’s Socialist Republic of China; stuck in between the largest democracy in the world and the world’s last biggest strong hold of communism. The country’s natural geography acts as its frontiers -the northern mountains of what forms the north eastern Himalaya, the southern jungles and the kingdom’s guardian deities. Most countries can afford, rely on and make use of conventional and non-conventional arms and armies to safeguard or further their goals of nationalistic politics. Bhutan has none of that. What it does have is protector-deities, keeping the country safe and preserving the continuum of the Buddhist way of life in what is officially the last Mahayana Kingdom in the world- pretty refreshing in an age of technological high tech worship, ideological wars and quasi religious leanings that now plague and burden the world.
Thankfully spared of the psychological scars of an often long and brutal colonization that have been the fate of many, the Bhutanese have survived, keeping, holding and building forth a country in the hot political cauldron that is south Asia and in a world growing more scarier by the day.
So Bhutan’s no Switzerland of the east, it’s never been colonized, is neither a protectorate nor a part of India, is not a part of Tibet or China, is not an authoritarian country but rather a constitutional democracy with a beloved king at its helm and elected representatives of the people at the highest levels of governance who are subject to the peoples votes with checks, balances and rotations in place. People are free, the laws are just, and the government just doesn’t tell people what to do and what not to do. There are debates and discussions at all levels before a decision is reached.
Bhutan’s now officially a constitutional democracy, in which it combines the good elements from all forms of governance and makes it suitable for the Bhutanese and their uniquely Buddhist way of life, and it’s proven to be a well governing functioning one at that.
Bhutan Himalayan Mountains Considering its size, Bhutan’s been blessed with an abundance of flora and fauna, as it rises from the tropical plains and foothills at 700m above sea level to the alpine north where the highest peak stands at some 7450m. There are hundreds or so of mushrooming travel agencies and their brochures will highlight you on those ascending descending and facts.
The kingdom is thus much bigger than it appears to be. Just as nothing much is what it appears to be. Among the kingdom’s many rich collection of flowers, butterflies, birds, orchids, rhododendrons, magnolias, blue sheep, yaks and the takin with tigers and snow leopards, elephants and one horned Indian rhinos, golden languor and the enormous horn-bills. For further information on flora and fauna, contact the National Environmental Conservation or the Royal Society for the Protection of Nature. If you happen to be a botanist, naturalist or one of those folks with a lot of affection for our four legged cousins, or of the winged feathered kind, this bountiful kingdom is well worth your money.