BY ANN GRIPPER , RYAN BROWN
Prince William and Kate Middleton are spending two days in Bhutan as part of their royal tour this month. Here are the essentials about the tiny kingdom.
Kensington Palace has announced that Prince William and Kate will visit Bhutan, a small kingdom in the Himalayas.
As part of their Royal Tour to see the sights of India and the secretive kingdom of Bhutan this Spring, they will meet the country’s King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck and his wife, Queen Jetsun Pema.
Here’s the low-down on Bhutan so that you can understand where William and Kate are visiting – or plan a trip there for yourself.
Where is Bhutan?
Bhutan – officially called the Kingdom of Bhutan – is situated in South Asia at the eastern end of the Himalayas. Bordering China to the north and India to the South, its capital city is Thimphu, with an estimated population of around 770 thousand people.
Its economy is largely based on agriculture, tourism and the sale of hydroelectric power to India. The commissioning of the Tala Hydroelectric Power Station helped boost the country’s economy by a significant amount from 2007.
Why is happiness so important?
Based on a global survey, Business Week rated Bhutan as the happiest country in the whole of Asia, as well as the eighth-happiest in the world.
This could be because of the country’s heavy focus on happiness – with the country even measuring prosperity by gauging its citizens’ happiness levels instead of GDP.
The phrase Gross National Happiness (GNH) was coined in 1972 by the country’s fourth Dragon King, Jigme Signye Wangchuck, and is meant to represent a commitment to building an economy that would serve its culture based on Buddhist spiritual levels instead of material development.
In fact, the people of Bhutan take this so seriously that they have hand-painted signs throughout the country offering life-affirming mantras, such as ‘Life is a journey! Complete it!’ and ‘Let nature be your guide’.
The flag and what it represents
Featuring Druk, the Thunder Dragon of Bhutanese mythology, the Bhutanese affectionately call the country ‘Druk’ after the name of the mythological dragon. It’s been a prominent part of Bhutanese culture ever since the founder of the Drukpa lineage of Tibetan Buddhism set off to choose a site for construction of a monastery in 1189 and heard three pearls of thunder, a sound supposedly produced by the thunder dragon.
What is the weather like?
Bhutan tends to have a hot, humid climate that rarely changes throughout the year. Temperatures can vary between 15-30 degrees Celsius, with typically warm summers and cool, dry winters.
William and Kate can expect to visit Bhutan during its usual warm climate, so there shouldn’t be much concern over any wind or rain to spoil their experience of the wonderful country.
The national anthem
Bhutan’s national anthem is titled ‘Druk Tsendhen’m which roughly translates as The Thunder Dragon Kingdom. Composed in 1953, lyrics include the beauty of the country’s cypress trees, praises to the nation’s King and wishes for ‘happiness to shine over all people’.
The King and Queen of Bhutan
Bhutan’s ruling monarch is King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, who ascended to the throne in 2006. His wife, Jestun Pema, became Queen of the country when the couple married in 2011. The pair are beloved by the country and were once referred to as the William and Kate of the Himalayas.
Holidays in Bhutan
Tourism thrives in Bhutan, thanks to its warm climate and stunning scenery. But if you’re looking to holiday in Bhutan, it’s best to travel in Spring and Autumn as June, July and August can see more extreme weather like monsoons.
Be sure to apply for a visa in advance of your arrival via an authorised tour operator. Visas normally cost around £29 per person or US$ 40 and are essential for booking flights into the country.
What is there to see?
Mountains dominate the region and the sprawling Himalayas are a must. But Bhutan also boasts wonderful forests, hidden treasures like the Buddhist temples and waterways.