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Close ties between Bhutan and Switzerland

September 2004

Dr. Franz Hubert Rhomberg with Bhutan's foreign minister Lyonpo Khandu Wangchuk

"When I first visited Thimphu there were no hotels, restaurants or shops. There was one street and about 10 motor vehicles. The rest was rice fields and forest." Dr. Franz Hubert Rhomberg from Switzerland still remembers the first English movie that was screened at Thimphu's lone movie hall. It was Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. The year was 1969.

Invitation of the Late King His Majesty Jigme Dorji Wangchuck

Dr. Rhomberg had come to Bhutan on the invitation of the Late King His Majesty Jigme Dorji Wangchuck. He had met the King in Zurich, Switzerland, who had come there for medical treatment. The acquaintance grew and Dr. Rhomberg soon became the Late King's personal doctor. "Over the years we became very close friends," said Dr. Rhomberg, now 77 years old, and who is presently on a 10-day visit to the country. "I was the Late King's doctor and a son as well as his friend until his demise in 1972. I still remain a good friend of the Royal family."

One of the most significant developments that the Late King initiated was Bhutan's accession to the United Nations, said Dr. Rhomberg. While in Bhutan Dr. Rhomberg started a medical service programme in Bumthang and doctors from the University of Zurich visited it. He said that one of his colleagues got caught up in the programme so much that he did not go back to Switzerland for 15 years. After about a decade the Helvetas took over the programme because it was becoming very expensive to finance it privately, Dr. Rhomberg said.

Gogona Swiss Farm

Three Swiss farmers also came to Bhutan and started the Gogona Swiss farm to help the Bhutanese farmers. Visiting the country for the fifth time, Dr. Rhomberg said in a interview with Bhutan's national newspaper "Kuensel" that changes in Bhutan were phenomenal. "The political developments are very right and with culture and tradition still intact, it's great," said Dr. Rhomberg.

Bhutan has parallels with Switzerland

Founder and member of the board of trustees of the Jacobs Foundation, a private international philanthropic organisation in Zurich, Mr. Klaus J. Jacobs, who is accompanying Dr. Rhomberg on the visit, said that he saw Bhutan having many parallels with Switzerland. "Switzerland was a very poor country hundred years ago. We lived in the mountains. But we invested in education. And since then the excellent education that we provide has been the wealth of Switzerland. Bhutan should invest as much as possible in educating its people. Education is very important in the move forward, to reap the many opportunities of the future." The seven member private delegation also met with members of the council of ministers.

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