Bhutan’s capital Thimphu

It seems fitting that Bhutan’s most famous animal is the Takin: an odd-looking beast that resembles an unlikely mix of antelope and yak. Unique, charming and fantastically exotic – a little like its home country. With its unconventional policies, perhaps Buddhist Bhutan’s government has reached enlightenment: no plastic bags or traffic lights, tobacco prohibited, strict conservation laws and tight building controls. In Bhutan, spiritual development is placed on a par with material improvement, the ‘Gross National Happiness’ an intrinsic consideration for every government policy. It’s this kind of pub-trivia that gives travelling in this already lovable country a unique, otherworldly edge. Bhutan isn’t so much an historical throwback as somewhere that has chosen to develop in its own inimitable way. And Thimphu, its small, charming capital, is the perfect illustration. Here, for example, with their elaborately painted trefoil-shaped windows and delicate wooden frames, new buildings are still based on traditional designs. The surrounding hills aren’t given over to urban sprawl, but still provide a pleasingly green and russet, natural backdrop. Above all though, it’s the people that make Thimphu, and all Bhutan, a place apart. Distinctively dressed in their wraparound robes, a smile invariably at the ready, this is a movingly uncynical, welcoming place, a friendly population proud of their land – as well they should be.

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