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Himalaya

Day 104: Gantey

Michael Palin - HimalayaHis policies are all geared to the preservation of Bhutan's cultural identity, and this has led to allegations that outsiders, particularly Nepalese immigrants in the south of the country, are not allowed the same rights as the Bhutanese. Benji sees this as justifiable.

'Small countries like Bhutan, surrounded by larger countries with fast-growing populations looking for land...have to be on the lookout. We don't want the Sikkim syndrome, where Sikkim was just overpopulated by Nepalese. The original people of Sikkim became a minority in their country...they got voted out of power, and then they all voted to become a state of India.'

Bhutan's survival after the war was a triumph of diplomacy and timing. Independence from India was agreed in 1950, just before the Chinese invasion of Tibet. If it had been after the invasion, Benji thinks India might well have wanted to keep control of Bhutan. As it is, the two countries have maintained good relations. Bhutan's biggest export is hydroelectric power, all of which goes to India, and recently the Bhutanese army flushed out insurgents who were using the country as a base for operations into north India.

Benji positively glows with pride.

'Led by our King...we took these terrorists on and in one swift fall knocked them all out in two days. It's amazing how we did it.'

The question is how much longer Bhutan will be able to walk this tightrope between the feudal system (officially abolished in 1953) and a forward-looking future. The King knows what he wants. In May 2004, he announced 'Bhutan and its people are ready to have a democratic political system.'
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Himalaya
  • Chapter: Day 104: Gantey
  • Country/sea: Bhutan
  • Place: Gantey
  • Book page no: 244

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