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Why visit Bhutan


Bhutan is the last Himalayan Buddhist nation still special to the world, thanks to its rich ancient culture, vibrant environment, and a way of life that is largely unspoiled by the vagaries of modernisation and consumerism. Because she is never been colonised, Bhutan has been able to live in her on terms, preserving a unique set of values that the world is finding increasingly wanting.
Unlike in most countries, settlements in Bhutan are in the narrow, but fertile, valleys and on the verdant hills and mountainsides. The landscape is dotted with colourful monasteries and white stupas. As one moves away from the towns, one is most likely to run into a forest of prayer flags that quietly flutter in the soft mountain breeze sending out to sentient beings, as Buddhists believe, prayers for peace and well-being. The majority of the Bhutanese are practising Buddhists followed by a sizable number of Hindus.
At the end of 2012, 70.5 percent of Bhutan’s total area is under forest cover, out of which 51.25 percent falls under protected area. This makes Bhutan one of the ecological hotspots of the world. The high forest cover and resulting ecological diversity is the outcome of conscious national policy enshrined in the constitution of the country and the development philosophy of Gross National Happiness (GNH). The constitution of Bhutan states that a minimum of 60 percent of the land shall be maintained under forest cover for all time. And one of the main determinants of GNH is the environment. The strong conservation policies are complemented by the people’s age-old beliefs that promote the respect for nature.
Because Bhutan started modern development only in the early 1960s, she has been able to avoid some of the pitfalls of modernisation – particularly the loss of cultural values, both tangible and intangible. One can see rich display of ancient culture as the people go about their daily business. This colourful, tangible display of culture is matched by cultural values that are part of the Bhutanese way of life. However, it would be wrong to picture Bhutan as a mediaeval kingdom frozen in time. Today, it’s common to see the monks reading scriptures even as his meal is cooked on electric appliances. Bhutan’s GNH philosophy propounds the middle path, which seeks to balance traditions with modernity.
Which brings us to the subject of GNH. First pronounced in 1979 by the fourth King of Bhutan, His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchcuk, as the kingdom’s development goal, GNH propounds that the ultimate goal of development should be people’s happiness and that happiness is not achieved through material riches alone. Any development, GNH says, should create conditions for happiness or GNH. And this is what Bhutan has been trying to do. Bhutan does not claim to have achieved GNH, but it is an idea that’s increasingly capturing the imagination of the world. The birthplace of GNH can be fascinating for anyone interested in exploring.
Because Bhutan is mountainous, the country is known for some of the toughest trekking routes in the world. Along the trekking routes, one can see some of the highest unclimbed mountains in the world (mountaineering is banned in Bhutan for spiritual and environmental reasons) as well as a large number of animals and birds, some of them rare and endangered. If you love nature and trekking, and you are in Bhutan, you have found the right place.
But this is not to imply that Bhutan is not a place for cultural, spiritual, and physical rejuvenation. Hundreds of temples and monasteries scattered across the country and an equal number of religious festivals happening in these ‘abodes of gods’ not only present the Bhutanese culture in all its colour and splendour, but also provides an opportunity for anyone to pause and think about life and living.
For people living and working in metropolitans and industrialised countries, Bhutan can be a breath of fresh air. It’s small, but beautiful; poor, but rich.