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The Bhutanese name for Bhutan, Druk Yul, means 'Land of the Thunder Dragon'. Existing archives trace Bhutanese history back to AD450, although many of the intervening events remain a mystery. Guru Rinpoche is believed to have brought Mahayana Buddhism to Bhutan from Tibet in the eighth century. Bhutan, the world's last Buddhist kingdom, first became a coherent political entity around the 17th century and has never been conquered or ruled by another foreign power.

Trade agreements with India have been essential to the Bhutanese economy since the 1940s. Yet despite its close relations with Delhi, Bhutan has occasionally switched its support to its other great neighbor, China. Over the years, relations with China have been dominated by the issue of Tibet; thousands of refugees entered Bhutan after the Chinese occupation of Tibet in 1959 and the country has become a center for Tibetan exile politics. The refugee issue also dominates relations with Bhutan's other neighbor, Nepal. Tens of thousands of Bhutanese refugees are housed in camps in the east of the country. Most are ethnic Nepalis whose citizenship is in dispute. (The Bhutanese population is divided between two main ethnic groups ? the Nepalis and the Drupka.) The Nepali government wants them to return to Bhutan; the Bhutanese refuse to take them.

The Kingdom of Bhutan has adopted a very cautious approach to tourism in an effort to avoid the negative impact of tourism on the country's culture and environment. All tourists must travel on a pre-planned, pre-paid, guided package tour through a registered tour operator in Bhutan or their counterparts abroad. The rate is fixed and controlled by the government. There are still plenty of takers wanting to explore the breathtaking terrain of this astonishing country. The tourism industry in Bhutan is founded on the principle of sustainability, meaning that tourism must be environmentally and ecologically friendly, socially and culturally acceptable and economically viable. The number of tourists visiting Bhutan is also regulated to a manageable level because of the lack of infrastructure.


Geography

Bhutan is located in the eastern Himalayas, bordered to the north by China and to the south, east and west by India. The altitude varies from 300m (1,000ft) in the narrow lowland region to 7,000m (22,000ft) in the Himalayan plateau in the north, and there are three distinct climatic regions. The foothills are tropical and home to deer, lion, leopards and the rare golden monkey as well as much tropical vegetation, including many species of wild orchids. The Inner Himalaya region is temperate; wildlife includes bear, boar and sambar, and the area is rich in deciduous forests. The High Himalaya region is very thinly populated, but the steep mountain slopes are the home of many species of animals, including snow leopards and musk deer.



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