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Young monks erect a marquee in preparation for the visit of Britain's Prince William and his wife Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge, to Changangkha Lhakhang temple in Thimphu, Bhutan, April 13, 2016. REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton

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By Douglas Busvine

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - That Britain's Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are visiting the tiny Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan is in large part thanks to a retired Oxford schoolteacher.

Honorary Consul Michael Rutland calls himself a mere facilitator, but a British diplomat said he had played a crucial role in arranging the royal visit to the country sandwiched between the world's two most populous nations: China and India.

Bhutan has never had diplomatic relations with the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, including China and Britain. That made the assignment a delicate one for the 78-year-old Rutland.

"How can a retired physics teacher be a threat to anyone?" he asked Reuters in a telephone interview from the capital Thimphu, before Prince William and wife Kate start their two-day trip on Thursday.

The British royals, who have been touring India, will for the first time meet the fifth king and the queen of Bhutan. They will also trek to the Tiger's Nest, an ancient Buddhist monastery perched 3,000 metres (10,000 feet) up a mountain.

William's father, Prince Charles, failed to complete the steep ascent to the Tiger's Nest during a visit in 1998, opting instead to paint a watercolour of the scene.

It's a crowning moment for Rutland, who was once asked at a dinner party in Oxford whether he wanted to teach in Bhutan. After initial hesitation - he didn't know where the country was - he accepted the job in 1971, only to discover he had been appointed tutor to the crown prince of Bhutan.

The prince became the fourth king, going on to end his own absolute rule before abdicating. The current king, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, ascended to the throne in 2008.

"It was a new constitutional democracy, a new monarchy and a new face," recalls Rutland, who now lives full time in Bhutan, has adopted a son there and has five grandchildren.

(Reporting by Douglas Busvine; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

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