The photo of Bhutan’s national airport, Paro, gives one an inkling of why it is rated by Airbus as one of the world’s most difficult civil airport. At about 2200m, it is not by any stretch the highest but the twists and turns that are required to navigate around the Himalayan peaks on the way into landing aren’t so good for the GNH quotient.
Gross National Happiness, Bhutan’s benchmark for economic, social and environmental progress, has given the nation a reputation which belies its size – it has a population of less than 700,000 people in a country roughly the area of Switzerland.
Cut off from the world until twenty years or so ago, it preserves many of its older traditions, and is a “high value, low impact” tourism destination. It is a logistic challenge to get in and out for business; this is part of the challenge of building businesses to employ the younger Bhutanese who now have full access to wireless internet, TV and mobile phones and hence very different aspirations from their parents. As it opens up, the high street is beginning to become clogged with Land Cruisers – maybe half of them funded by UN, World Bank, EU and other in the hands of the newly elected Ministers & Civil Servants and the affluent business people of Bhutan.
Certainly, there are many development challenges and questions in this beautiful, relatively unspoilt Himalayan nation.