When I was posted in Hasimara, W Bengal in 1982-84, I used to visit Phuntsholing in Bhutan. This was approx 15-16 km from our base and was the nearest destination for outing where we could get reasonable restaurants, some foreign items.
As a helicopter pilot I have flown in most of the Bhutan. This was to help Bhutan Govt as well as the King. And of course for our own IMTRAT (Indian Military Training Team) in Bhutan.
Bhutan is a lovely country, people of which are one of the happiest lots (8th in the world) per a survey carried out by Business Week. It has a population of Approx 8 lakhs and it has land in south at sea level, while in North as high as 25,000 feet. Thimphu, its capital is semi plain and great scenic place. Plains are scarce but broad valley is plenty permitting broad roads and easy helicopter services.
Main religion is Buddhism and people are very tolerant to different views. In 2008 the King Wangchuck decided to convert absolute Monarchy into Democracy and a general election was carried out. King is constitutional head only now. This was one of the greatest moves by any king so far to curtail his own right and giving power to council of ministers to even impeach him. However, there have been reports of Human Violation reports against Nepalese minorities and some 1 lakh of them have been thrown out of Bhutan.
Defence. Practically it does not exist. However to maintain its law and order it has Royal Bhutan Army with approx 15 thousand men who take care of internal security. Bhutan has naturally no Navy and it does not have any Air Force. Practically its border with China or Bangla Desh is looked after by IMTRAT.
Bhutan Airlines. Bhutan has started its civil aviation called Druk Air Lines from its airport Paro with a small fleet of Dornier and Airbus. Druk Air operates from Bangkok, Kolkatta, Delhi and Kathmandu to Paro, its lone airport. Turn around is satisfactory. It has great potential for helicopter operations for tourism and other requirements.
Economy. Bhutan’s economy is generally agrarian. Further it is dependent on its Southern route that is Via India. Production of electricity has boosted its economy as it exports it to India. Tourism is other contributor in its economic growth. Food processing has developed relatively a lot. Its GDP in 2008 was approx 1300 million USD which is not poor seeing its geographical position and limited population.
Indo Bhutan Relation. It has been great since beginning. In 2007 India signed a treaty in which Bhutan got freedom to choose its own foreign policy superseding previous treaty of 1949. India agreeing to such a treaty speaks of the great relation between the two countries. Flushing out of Assamese militants by the Bhutan on India’s request speaks well of this relation. Bhutan so far does not have direct relation with China, its Northern neighbour. Bhutan did object Sikkim’s accession to India but that is history now.
Indians do not need Passport or Visa to visit Bhutan like Nepal.
Bhutan is a great nation. This Himalayan nation is progressing economically while well preserving its tradition and culture. That is the key in its success and happiness of its citizen. Wish we have such many neighbours, helping peace and prosperity.