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Bhutan's development objective is to maximize ‘gross national happiness’

Bhutan has three main geographical zones. The north falls within the high Himalayas which reach altitudes of 7,300 metres. To the south are the ‘inner’ Himalayas which include a number of fertile and well–cultivated valleys—though travel between them can be arduous. To the far south these descend to the narrow, subtropical Duars Plain that runs along the border with India.

The main ethnic group are the Ngalop, who live mostly in the west and centre. Of the other groups, the largest are the Sharchops in the east and ethnic Nepalese in the south.

Concerned at a largely unauthorized influx of Nepalis, the king from the late 1980s enforced a national language and dress. This prompted an exodus of refugees and 107,000 still live in camps in Nepal. Other security problems include the presence of Indian insurgents who use southern Bhutan as a base.

Bhutan has made remarkable progress in human development since it began to open up to the rest of the world after 1959. Between 1960 and 2001, life expectancy increased from 37 to 66 years. This was based on a uniquely Bhutanese model, balancing modernization with Buddhist values and characterized by the king as the pursuit not of gross national product but of ‘gross national happiness’.

Around 75% of people work in agriculture, growing subsistence crops such as rice, maize, and potatoes. The best land is in the fertile valleys and is fairly equally distributed though plots are small. Three-quarters of the territory is forested, and timber is an important export.

Bhutan's recent spurt of economic growth has been based on the development of hydroelectric power for export to India. This is not based on dams but mostly uses ‘run-of-river’ systems to harness the country's fast-flowing rivers.

Development has largely been financed by aid but now that the Tala power project has been completed the country should need less support. Tourism is also a useful source of income, though careful control of numbers makes this an exclusive and expensive destination.

Until 2008, Bhutan was an absolute monarchy, ruled from 1972 by King Jigme Singye Wangchuk who steered Bhutan to democracy and in 2006 abdicated in favour of his son, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuk. The first-ever election for the 47-member lower house of parliament in 2007 was won by the Druk Phuensum Tshogpa party with more than 90% of the vote.

www.bhutan.gov.bt/government/index_new.php Government portal

www.kuenselonline.com/ Kuensel - Main newspaper

Land area:47,000 sq. km.

Population:0.7 million—urban 37%

Capital city:Thimphu, 99,000

People:Ngalop, Sharchop, Nepali

Language:Dzongkha, Tibetan, and Nepalese dialects

Religion:Buddhism 75%, Hinduism 25%

Government:Constitutional monarchy

Life expectancy:66 years

GDP per capita:$PPP 4,837


Major exports:Electricity, timber

Subjects: World History — Theatre.

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