Jigme Singye Wangchuk
(pronounced "JlG-mee SEEN-gay wang-CHOOK")
"We will slowly and gradually develop into a constitutional monarchy."
The Kingdom of Bhutan is a small landlocked nation encompassing 47,000 sq km (18,147 sq mi). The country is bordered to the east, south, and west by India and to the north and northwest by China. Located in the Himalaya Mountains, Bhutan is a rugged mountainous country with great extremes in climate. The southern slopes of the mountains receive heavy rainfall and are covered with thick forests. The low foothills in the south are extremely hot and the Himalaya Mountains in the north are extremely cold.
The population was estimated at 2.1 million in 2002 by the U.S. Department of State, with a note that other estimates of Bhutan's population range as low as 810,000. The population is estimated to be growing at an annual rate of about 2%. The two major cities—the capital, Thimphu, and Phuntsholing on the border with India—have estimated populations of 22,000 and 10,000 respectively. About 50% of the population is comprised of Bhote (native Bhutanese), who live in the eastern portion of the country. About 35% of the remainder are ethnic Nepalese, who live mainly in the south. About 75% of the population are Lamaistic Buddhists and about 25% are Hindus.
The Bhutanese unit of currency is the ngultrum, but the currency of India, the rupee, also circulates freely in Bhutan. The per capita gross domestic product (GDP) in Bhutan was estimated at US $1,200 in 2001. In 1999, the country introduced its first income tax for residents earning more than US $100 per month, with rates ranging from 5% to 30% and the first deadline for filing tax returns set at February 2000. The major Bhutanese exports are electricity (to neighboring India), cardamom, gypsum, timber, handicrafts, cement, oranges and other fruits, precious stones, and spices. On 2 June 1999, the twenty-fifth anniversary of King Jigme Singye Wangchuk's coronation, Bhutan's first television station began broadcasting.