Tucked away in the depths of the Eastern Himalayas, the 47,000 sq km small kingdom of Bhutan, or Druk Yul, is little known and lesser visited. A forbidden land for centuries, this country was touted last year by National Geographic Adventure magazine along with Irian Jaya as one of the world's top 25 adventure destinations.
Still, the kingdom maintains a policy of "low volume - high quality tourism" and retains its exclusiveness in the world of travel. From high mountain peaks to deep lush valleys, from modern apartments in Thimphu to farmland barns, from meditative monks deep in prayer to fluttering prayers and vibrant, colorful festivals, Bhutan is incomparably unique.
Over the last few centuries, difficult natural terrain and a self-imposed policy of isolation saw to it that life here stayed virtually unchanged. It was only in the early 1960s that Bhutan opened up its doors to the world beyond and plunged into a new age of socio-economic development.
This development has, nonetheless, been slow and guarded because the government, a constitutional monarchy, has always held caution to be more valuable than reckless abandon. Wedged between China and India, the two most populous countries in the world, and being disadvantaged with little military or economic strength, Bhutan has been compelled to stay different in order to safeguard its sovereignty. The most practical way to achieve this has been to preserve and promote its unique culture.
Religion is the other value system that holds the Bhutanese people together. Tantric Mahayana Buddhism of the Drukpa Kagyu sect has survived unblemished here for centuries and continues to be the officially adopted religion of the state. But it is a religion that is more about tolerance than fanaticism - the people are allowed to practise any faith of their choice.
A multitude of factors have influenced the social fabric of Bhutan. Among them, religion and culture form the common thread that runs through the government, art, architecture, literature, music, indeed through the entire social fabric of the country.
Caught between the old world and the new, Bhutan is also a land of contrasts. Television and the internet were introduced here no longer than two years ago but we are already the third Asian country after Singapore and Hong Kong to have an entirely digital telecommunications network.