The legendary land of Bhutan was first settled in the 9th century by wandering migrants from the Tibet region of China
Called Druk Yul (Land of the Thunder Dragon) by its people, the strikingly beautiful Kingdom of Bhutan lies in the eastern Himalayas, sandwiched between China
In Bhutan's early years there wasn't a functional government, rather small monarchies ruled by a deb (king) were scattered across the region. Tibetan-Mongol military forces overran the modest kingdoms by the 11th century, transforming the landscape into a single kingdom influenced by religion.
Premodern Bhutan emerged in the 17th century with a theocratic government, founded by an expatriate Drupka Monk named Ngawang Namgyal, who sought liberation from the oppressive Gelugpa subsect led by the Dalai Lama in Lhasa.
Under the guidance of Namgyal, Bhutan strengthened as a country, and successfully prevented invasions against Tibetan military forces throughout the 1600's.
Although invaders were kept at bay, civil unrest grew following the death of Namgyal - whose passing was kept a closely guarded secret for 54 years.
Bhutanese forces successfully invaded and occupied the kingdom of Cooch Behar in the 18th century, but were quickly ousted by the British
East India Company in 1722. In addition to claiming the Cooch Behar territory, the British
East India Company also invaded Bhutan in 1744.
Despite an attempt at a peace treaty between the two forces, small battles ultimately flared into the Duar War in 1864. Unfortunately, Bhutan lost against the British
, and the Bengal Duars were ceded to the United Kingdom
Internal struggles persisted through the late 1800's, leading to the rise of Tongsa governor, Ugyen Wangchuck, who conquered his political enemies and united Bhutan.
In 1907, Wangchuck was elected hereditary king of the country by an assembly of leading Buddhist monks, government officials, and heads of important families. Two years later, Bhutan signed the Treaty of Punakha granting Britain
control of the country's foreign affairs, and subsequently became an Indian princely state.
Long influenced by the cultures of the British
government and India
, Bhutan was granted independence from India
in 1949. King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck instituted the new legislature, advocating a more democratic society, and in 1971 Bhutan joined the United Nations.
Today Bhutan's major trading partner is India
, however much of its people still live in poverty, with wide-spread illiteracy a major social problem.
Despite these shortcomings, based on a global survey in 2006, Bhutan was rated the happiest country in Asia
, and the 8th happiest in the world.
The small, landlocked country is completely bordered by mountains, making it difficult to navigate as there are few roads and no domestic (in-country) airlines or trains. Bhutan welcomes international travelers via (very pricey) Druk-Air, and the only ground entries into the country are through the towns of Phuntsholing and Samdrup Johghar.
The capital city of Thimphu sits at an altitude of 7,000 feet, on the banks of the Wong Chu river, and remains the site of royal government offices, and serves as a powerful magnet for adventure travelers from around the world.