Charles takes a step back in time

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The Independent Online
The Prince of Wales stepped back in time yesterday when he became the first British royal to visit Bhutan, the small Himalayan enclave where life has changed little over the centuries.

The Prince, on the final leg of a three-nation Asian tour, is one of relatively few people allowed to visit the kingdom, which borders China and India.

He is touring Buddhist monasteries, known as "Dzongs", and will spend time trekking in the hills.

Few signs of the 20th century were to be seen as the royal entourage was driven along a single-track road through the hills to the Kyichu Temple, built 1,300 years ago by a Buddhist Tibetan king. Here, the Prince stood before one of the holiest statues in Bhutan, depicting Buddha as a prince at the age of eight, and lit a candle.

King Wangchuck, 42, inherited the throne of Bhutan at 17. The King, Prince Charles's host on this trip, is not used to criticism, and a recent critical report by Amnesty International is unlikely to be raised during the Prince's four-day visit.

According to Amnesty, political dissenters in the kingdom are tortured. Men are allegedly held naked in freezing temperatures, publicly flogged and beaten with iron rods.

Life in Bhutan is strictly regulated with an eye to keeping out Western influences or modernisation. In the south of Bhutan a community of Nepali refugees, who settled there 100 years ago, are rebelling.

The United Front for Democracy in Bhutan has written to the Prince urging him to advise the King to institute democratic reforms.