Bhutan: A tourist’s paradise
Known for its scenic beauty, cultural diversity and tradition, the tiny mountain kingdom of Bhutan is a tourist destination par excellence. Above all, it offers a template for sustainable living Bhutan, also known as Druk-Yul (meaning the land of the thunder dragon), the closest neighbour and a timetested friend of India, was in news a few months ago due to the Doklam standoff between India and China. However, the Indian people's interests in this beautiful country lies is much more than this stand-off as the country witnesses a large bunch of tourists who flock Bhutan in record numbers every year. In return, they enrich its economy as tourism is the second largest source of revenue after export of hydroelectricity.
Bhutan was the first country in the world to coin the word ‘Gross Domestic Happiness' to signify its development index. It attained international acclaim for this unique venture. It is also officially the only carbon negative country in the world and it emerged as a world leader in evolving revolutionary climate change policies.
This writer has always been fascinated with the people of Bhutan. After two successful visits, he latched on an opportunity to visit the beautiful country again during the month of October to enjoy its pristine beauty and culture once again. The purpose of this article is to discuss what makes Bhutan a unique nation in the world where the people love their King much more than anything else in their life and the King considers himself as a true servant of the people.
The writer observed several facets of Bhutanese life closely and would like to put forth certain things that the Indian Government as well as the citizens can emulate from this tiny little nation of eight lakh people living in 38,000 sq mt area.
The name Bhutan is derived from the ancient Indian term ‘Bhotania' which means the end of the land of the Bhots (Bhots meaning Tibet). Bhutan is located on the southern slopes of the eastern Himalayas, landlocked between the Tibet Autonomous Region to the north and the Indian States of Sikkim, West Bengal, Assam, and Arunachal Pradesh to the west and south. Bhutanese people primarily consist of the Ngalops and Sharchops, called the western Bhutanese and eastern Bhutanese, respectively.
Bhutan has a wide diversity of ethnic groups, starting with a number of small tribal groups (related to similar tribes in India and Sikkim), whose ancestry dates back to almost three thousand years. People also migrated from Tibet, Nepal and Mongolia. Bhutanese are followers of the Mahayana branch of Buddhism with huge influence of Tibetan and ancient Indian traditions.
Dzongkha, meaning the language of the fort, is the national language of Bhutan. The country was inhabited 4,000 years ago, there are archeological evidence indicating settlements in Bhutan dating back to 2000-1500 BC. Bonism (involving worship of nature spirits and practice of sacrifice), a pre-Buddhist religion of Tibet, was the main religion in Bhutan before the arrival of Buddhism.
Seventy-two per cent of its area is under forest cover. It has a rich variety of plants and animals with a very rare Takin, a species of goat-antelope, the national animal of Bhutan, surviving with less than 20 specimen, mostly in the national park at Thimpu. Paro is the sole airport situated in a picturesque valley and serviced by the Druck Airways, a national carrier and Bhutan Airlines with flights to Delhi, Kolkata and Bangkok. The capital city of Thimpu is a picture perfect hill station at an altitude of 2,334 meters.
The country is a Constitutional Monarchy with a Parliament. Over the years, the previous Monarch, who abdicated at quite a young age to hand over the reign to his son the present King Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, had promoted democracy in the country so much so that that the present King empowered the Parliament to impeach the King! This is a marvelous commitment from an all-powerful Monarch for the people's wishes and a reflection of ushering the nation to true democratic life.
This should serve as a lesson to all powerful leaders of the world, including India. This has come from the King not as a largesse but due to the fact that the Bhutanese people have deep respect for their culture, values and traditions which evolve themselves into a proud vivacious nation. It
gives more importance to human values than simply defining the economic growth as an indicator of development.
The Bhutanese Parliament never wastes time in unruly scenes but devotes itself in fruitful discussions. This is in sharp contrast to what is witnessed in India. And because of this, they measure development on the basis of Gross National Happiness rather than on Gross National Products and this is why they have become world famous in coining this term.
Precisely, this is also the reason why Bhutan is not unnecessarily promoting industrial growth and is emphasising more on social and environmental development. Despite scarcity of resources, all citizens are entitled for free education and healthcare. The needy and the poor are provided necessary assistance for livelihoods. Still, a least developed country is fast marching ahead and leads South Asia in ease of doing business, peace and rated as least corrupt nation.
The commercial capital is Phuentsholing, which is located in south near the Indian border. The economy is based on agriculture, animal husbandry and forestry, and is a source of livelihood for 90 per cent of the population. The economy of Bhutan is aligned with that of India through strong trade and monetary links. Major industries include electricity, cement, calcium carbide, wood products, processed fruits, alcoholic beverages, among others. The main source of income is hydroelectric power and tourism industry.
From the point of view of tourism, Thimpu, Punakha and Paro are very important places. Punakha, nestled between the male and female rivers, was the capital of Bhutan till 1958 when it was shifted to Thimpu. The Punakha fort architecture is inspired by lord Viswakarma as the fort has an abode for the mechanical engineer God.
One of the most beautiful site is the 160 feet Buddha statue in Thimpu which gives an impression as if Buddha is descending from the sky and resting on the verdant forest. It can be rated as one of the most beautiful sites on Earth. Then there are the Bhutanese forts in Thimpu, Punakha and Paro, which throw light as to how religion and governance developed in Bhutan.
Paro has the most admired Tiger nest monastery which also tests the human endurance when one has to climb more than 800 steps after tracking through six kilometers uphill. On reaching the top, it gives a breathtaking view of the Bhutanese landscape.
Another important event for the tourists is the ‘Hot stone Bath' where stones are heated red and then water is poured on them and channeled to the Bath tub which gives a refreshing bath. Bhutan is a neat and clean country and developing fast as this writer found expansion of construction activities all over in Thimpu, compared to 2011.
However, the Government in Bhutan should be cautious about expansion of its building construction activities as more and more high rise concrete buildings are coming up and changing the culture and landscape. Second, the Government must have a regulatory law to control use and diversion of forestland for developmental purpose as the scenic beauty of Bhutan is due to pristine forests and cannot be ignored. The area near the Buddha statue in Thimpu needs to be further consolidated and stabilised with vegetation. In a nutshell, Bhutan is a tourist paradise and should remain so.