10 things you didn’t know about Bhutan

Bhutan’s king has married his commoner bride in a colourful ceremony in the tiny Himalayan country. Here are 10 unusual facts about the nation:

  1. Bhutan is the happiest country in Asia, and the eighth in the world, despite widespread poverty and illiteracy. A survey pointed to the landlocked Himalayan kingdom’s beautiful mountain scenery, isolated culture and strong sense of national identity as reasons for the contentment of its citizens.

  2. The national identity was strictly and sometimes brutally enforced by the country’s ruling monarchy by banning foreign tourism, expelling thousands of ethnic Nepalese and Gurkhas, and by forcing its people to wear national costume – a tartan judo-style jacket known as Driglam Namzha – during daylight hours.

  3. Television was banned until 1999, when King Jigme Singye Wangchuck decided it would help to modernize his isolated kingdom.

  4. King Jigme Singye Wangchuck had a democratic epiphany in the late 1990s, introduced a new constitution in 2005 and abdicated in favour of his young son, today’s royal groom, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, in 2008.

  5. The former King’s greatest legacy was his concept of the ‘Gross National Happiness’ to measure of a nation’s wellbeing as an alternative to the Gross National Product. Bhutan is rated as far more ‘happy’ on a range of indicators than its powerful and wealthy neighbour India, which is ranked as only the 125th happiest country ion the world. The idea has inspired similar approaches in France and by David Cameron in Britain.

  6. The nation’s strong sense of identity grew in high altitude isolation and amid fear of invasion by Tibetan armies or colonization by Britain.

  7. Bhutan was unified under Tibetan warlord and lama Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal who fled Tibet in the 17th century and built the country’s famous Dzong fortresses to defend against foreign invaders.

  8. The country was never colonised by Britain but its forces were defeated in North Bengal and Bhutan was forced to sign a treaty which gave Britain control of its foreign relations. India inherited that power when it became independent in 1947 and remains a powerful influence over the country.

  9. Bhutan is overwhelmingly Buddhist, with a large Hindu minority, but remains deeply superstitious. Traditional homes have carved wooden erect phalluses protruding from the main door lintels to ward off evil spirits.

  10. Bhutan’s national sport is a form of archery in which rival teams face each other across a field, and fire sharp arrows at one another, while each team waves its arms to distract their opponents. Players battle it out wearing national costume.

  11. source: The Telegraph, 13 OCT 2011

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