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Monday, February 9, 1998 Published at 11:25 GMT


Country profile

Bhutan: a land frozen in time

All buildings must conform to ancient Bhutanese designs

The tiny kingdom of Bhutan lies in the Himalayan Mountains, with Tibet and China to the north and India to the south.


[ image:  ]
This remote and isolated country has been described as the Eldorado of the East, the last Shangri-la.

Indeed, the autocratic monarch, King Jigme Singye Wangchuck, has gone to great lengths to preserve the culture and purity of the land and its people and to keep out Western influences.

Television and jeans are banned; only about 5,000 tourist permits are granted each year; and Westerners can only travel in organised tour groups.


[ image: Women wear the brightly coloured Kira]
Women wear the brightly coloured Kira
Traditional Bhutanese costume, the Gho for men and the Kira for women, is compulsory. Those who wear anything else face a 2 ($3.30) fine, which amounts to three days' wages.

By royal decree, all buildings must be constructed in traditional style with multi-coloured wood frontages, small arched windows and sloping roofs.

Bhutan is an absolute monarchy without a written constitution.

Its system of government is unusual in that power is shared by the King, the Council of Ministers, the National Assembly and the Head Abbot of Bhutan's 4,000 Bhuddist monks.

The King, who has four wives, all sisters, has been in power for 25 years and rules from a monastery-fortress on the outskirts of Thimphu, the capital.

Economy

Bhutan is one of the poorest nations in the world: in 1992 GNP per head was reckoned to be $468 a head.


[ image: An ecologist's dream: no tree can be cut down without a permit]
An ecologist's dream: no tree can be cut down without a permit
The King answers his critics with the slogan, "We seek Gross National Happiness, not Gross National Income."

Agriculture is the main source of income for most of the 600,000 Bhutanese citizens who grow potatoes, oranges and cardamom.

Timber is also important as about 60% of the total land area is covered in forest.


[ image: Weaving has been turned into an art form]
Weaving has been turned into an art form
However, a permit is required before any tree can be chopped down, making Bhutan the most ecologically pure land in Asia and possibly the world.

Only one paved road crosses the country and there is very little traffic.

On farmland and in the forest, no mechanised vehicles are used. Rice and potatoes are gathered by hand, planks are sawn and taken down the mountains on yaks and ponies.


Bullseye! Archers hoot and sing triumphantly (0'37")
Archery is the national sport and favourite past-time for men, and the women have turned weaving into an art form.


[ image: Archery is the national sport]
Archery is the national sport
Religion and ethnic unrest

The state religion is Mahayan Buddhism, although the ethnic Nepalese, called "southern Bhutanese", are Hindu.


[ image: Rush-hour in the capital, Thimphu]
Rush-hour in the capital, Thimphu
The treatment of this minority has come under fierce international criticism. A report by Amnesty International says that Bhutan's absolute ruler has ordered the imprisonment and torture of anyone suspected of "anti-national " activities.

These include organising demonstrations demanding democratic rights and refusing to recognise the King's authority, which amounts to treason.

History

1907 The first hereditary King of Bhutan is crowned.

1910 An Anglo-Bhutanese Treaty places Bhutan's foreign relations under the supervision of the Government of British India.

1949 After India becomes independent, the Indo-Bhutan Treaty of Friendship allows Bhutan to seek advice on foreign relations with the right to decide whether or not to accept such advice.

1953 King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck establishes the National Assembly.

1959 China takes control of Tibet and Bhutan grants asylum to 6,000 Tibetan refugees.

1972 The king dies and is replaced by his son, the Western-educated Crown Prince Jigme Singye Wangchuck.

1979 The National Assembly decrees that by the end of the year, refugees must accept Bhutanese citizenship or be repatriated.

1988 A census finds thousands of "illegal immigrants" in southern Bhutan. Many are in fact ethnic Nepalis, resident in Bhutan for some 20 years. The authorities impose highly unpopular measures requiring them to adopt northern Bhutanese traditions and culture.

1990 Following pro-democracy demonstrations in southern Bhutan and demands from ethnic minorities for a greater role in the country's political and economic life, thousands of Nepalis flee to refugee camps in Nepal.

The small and faction-ridden Bhutan People's Party (BPP) embarks on a campaign of violence and intimidation, blowing up bridges and looting schools.

1992 The former leader of the BPP, D K Rai, is sentenced by a Bhutanese court to life imprisonment.

The Bhutan National Democratic Party (BNDP) is founded in Kathmandu.

1993 Teknath Rizal, alleged to be the mastermind behind 'terrorist' activities in southern Bhutan, is jailed for life.


[ image: The Gho robe is compulsory -  but Western influence is creeping in]
The Gho robe is compulsory - but Western influence is creeping in
The governments of Nepal and Bhutan try to solve the crisis and resettle the 85,000 refugees in Nepalese camps.

They would be placed in four categories: bona fide Bhutanese forcefully evicted; Bhutanese who emigrated; non-Bhutanese and Bhutanese who committed criminal acts

1996 The situation remains unresolved as Nepal demands all refugees should be accepted by Bhutan.

Bhutan suspects that many who claim to be Bhutanese are simply Nepalis attracted by a better standard of living, free education and health care.

1998 Prince Charles visits Bhutan.

Amnesty International Reports human rights violations against the ethnic Nepalese community and other groups.





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Bhutan Official Homepage

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Amnesty International report on Bhutan


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