Bhutan: A tourist’s par­adise

Bhutan Times - - Editorial - VK Bahuguna

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.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Bhutan

© PressReader. All rights reserved.