The Land of the Thun­der Dragon

Asian Geographic - - Heritage -

“The Land of the Thun­der Dragon”, Bhutan is the last great Hi­malayan king­dom. All around it, monar­chies have fallen, but some­how, the tiny King­dom of Bhutan has sur­vived.

When you start to dig, how­ever, you re­alise that this should come as no sur­prise. Bhutan’s moun­tain­ous land­scape, and the fortresses and dzongs (for­ti­fied monas­ter­ies) within them, have his­tor­i­cally been con­sid­ered im­preg­nable. The Bhutanese have been largely left to them­selves. Recog­nis­ing the ben­e­fits of good re­la­tions with their neigh­bours, how­ever, Bhutan’s kings have taken prag­matic ap­proaches. They worked hard to unite their po­lit­i­cal en­e­mies within the coun­try, signed a sub­sidiary al­liance with the Bri­tish to keep con­trol of every­thing but their for­eign af­fairs, and looked out­side Bhutan to see what forms of gov­ern­ment worked best in the mod­ern world.

It was the king of Bhutan, Jigme Dorji Wangchuck, who took the ini­tia­tive and set up Bhutan’s Na­tional As­sem­bly in 1953. He cre­ated a royal ad­vi­sory coun­cil and a cab­i­net. When his son in­her­ited the throne in the 1970s, he con­tin­ued his fa­ther’s re­formist ten­den­cies.

To­day, Bhutan is a con­sti­tu­tional monar­chy. Al­most all of the king’s pow­ers have been trans­ferred to the Coun­cil of Cab­i­net Min­is­ters, and the Na­tional As­sem­bly has the right to im­peach him. Bhutan’s cur­rent king, Jigme Kh­e­sar Nam­gyel Wangchuck, is one of the youngest mon­archs in the world. He, like his fa­ther and grand­fa­ther be­fore him, is a reformer, gen­uinely well liked by his peo­ple, and is at pains to en­sure they are all ben­e­fi­cia­ries of his na­tional pol­icy of Gross Na­tional Hap­pi­ness.

“I will fol­low in my fa­ther’s foot­steps. My fa­ther set the bar very high. He was a won­der­ful leader” – King Jigme Kh­e­sar Nam­gyel Wangchuck

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