Nepal and Bhutan are classic ‘buffer states’, extending along almost a thousand miles of the Himalayan border between China and India — this close proximity to the world’s two largest nations has profoundly influenced their history, and is likely to go on doing so. Nepal is changing rapidly, and can no longer be regarded as a romanticized ‘Shangri La’, or as a ‘small’ state, for that matter. Around 9 million in 1960, its population of almost 30 million people now easily exceeds the total of the three Scandinavian nations, or of Australia and New Zealand combined. As with other South Asian states, its high birth rate can largely be set down to a failure to educate girls, most of whom marry early, and begin to bear children almost at once. Bhutan, with 700,000 people, is much smaller, wealthier and better governed.
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