Since ever I can remember I have been told that Scotland is too small to run its own affairs. Perhaps as a result of this I have always been interested in small countries that do manage to make their own way in the world. Add to that that I’m a great fan of railways.... (I love travelling by train...I’m not a train spotter!!!), and you'll see why I couldn’t resist this story which I found in The Times.
Bhutan is to have its first railway after the King agreed a plan with India to build an 11-mile link between the two countries. It will mark the country’s boldest step yet into the modern world. The Buddhist kingdom had no roads or telephones until 1960 and no television until 1999. The new track will offer one of the most breathtaking rail journeys in the world across the foot of the Himalayas.
An agreement was signed last weekend when Bhutan’s 29-year-old monarch Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuk, visited India on his first official trip abroad since he formally assumed the crown last year.
King Jigme, who was educated at Eton and Oxford, is keen to expand trade links with India, which accounts for 98% of Bhutan’s imports and about 90% of its exports — mostly hydropower.
Bhutan held its first parliamentary election last year, transforming itself from an absolute monarchy into the world’s youngest democracy. The new Government is under pressure to develop the fledgling economy. India, on the other hand, is trying to stop China challenging its status as the dominant economic and military power in the region. Bhutan has close cultural ties to Tibet, but its relations with India are underpinned by a 60-year-old friendship treaty that grants Delhi a say in Bhutanese foreign and defence policy in exchange for financial aid.
The new railway will use the same broad gauge as most others on the Indian sub-continent, as opposed to the narrower standard gauge used in China. India also offered to build new railway links to Nepal this year after China was reported to have proposed extending its new trans-Tibet railway to the Nepalese border and building an entire domestic rail network for its impoverished neighbour.
Bhutan has a population of 635,000, 60 per cent of whom survive on subsistence farming; 15,000 to 20,000 of them are monks. Archery is the national sport. Smoking is illegal, as is felling a tree or killing a fish. Bhutan caps its number of tourists at 10,000 a year — fewer than Antarctica. Every house is built in traditional style and most people wear national costume: for men, a wraparound robe worn with knee-length socks; for women, an ankle-length dress with jacket.
Despite, or maybe because of its isolated situation in the world, it is the eighth-happiest country in the world, according to a 2006 survey conducted by the University of Leicester.
There may be a lesson for Scotland there......