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Map of Bhutan. Bhutan

Where is that? This is the response you invariably get if you tell someone you are going to Bhutan? The Bhutanese Govenment controls the number of foreign visitors allowed to visit each year, but whether some were tourists, others offical guests or on a professional trip - all have come home captivated by this far off, secret land.

Secluded in the Eastern Himalayas between India and Tibet, about as large as Switzerland, but sparsely populated (around 650,000 inhabitants), Bhutan certainly exudes charm and magic. The mountains are magnificent, the forests dense, the air pure, the architecture imposing, the art superb, and above all, the people are delightful!

There are no beggars, few thefts, little violent crime and travelers' safety is virtually guaranteed. All this is true--a near mythical country hidden deep in the mountains in a distant corner of the world.

Two smiling Bhutanese schoolboys. The purpose of restricting tourism is to minimize the impact larger numbers of visitors would have on the natural environment and the traditional values and lifestyle of the people, potentially upsetting this delicate balance.

While the Bhutanese themselves are aware they live in a privileged land, their day-to-day reality allows no time for dreaming. The hard life of the peasants, consisting of basic household chores and long hours of work in the fields and care of livestock, is scarely mechanized as of yet. Religious festivals and pilgrimages are the only moments of rest.

Bhutan remains a rural country almost devoid of industry. The Bhutanese do not reject their cultural and spiritual heritage in favor of modern imported values. Using common sense, they accept only those concepts that help them to improve their way of life and develop their country within the framework of their own traditions without destroying either the spirit or the environment.

Three smiling, Bhutanese children. Experiencing Bhutan imparts a kaleidoscope of images. Fluttering prayer flags, red-robed monks, fortress monasteries, houses with brightly decorated window frames and shingled roofs, patchworks of green paddy fields, plots of tawny buckwheat, oak forests, a covered bridge, fences of intricately woven bamboo, a woman weaving in the open air, a baby laced into a horse's saddlebag, yaks browsing in a groove of giant rhododendrons - such scenes remain in the memory forever.

In 2008 a peaceful transition of Bhutan from Monarchy to Parliamentary Democracy and the coronation of the Fifth King took place. The Gross National Product, the measure of economic success in most countires of the world, is officially subsumed in Bhutan as "Gross National Happiness" and the road to development is a cautious one.

What has sustained Bhutan is its vision to be a self-reliant country with a rich legacy of culture, tradition and people living in harmony with nature and the environment. The inter-relatedness of all living things is revealed in the strongly embedded Buddhist philosophy, values, and local beliefs that have contributed to a healthy and intact environment.