Bhutan, a tiny nation nestled in the eastern Himalayas between the giant nations of China and India, has long been sealed from the prying eyes of the world, fiercely guarding its precious natural and cultural resources.
With a population of less than 800,000 residents, Bhutan is an extraordinary country with an allure like no other. From precipitous snow-capped cliffs to ancient ruins and gushing rivers amidst the cool alpine air, this peaceful Buddhist kingdom has been hailed as one of the most breathtakingly beautiful places on earth, possessing a wealth of painstakingly preserved and protected culture and traditions.
Two of the Banbayu founders, Patrick and Roland, visited Bhutan earlier this year. “The untouched sceneries, the friendliness of every person we met on our journey and the peaceful atmosphere everywhere, were an amazing experience,” says Patrick. “Our guide Sonam and driver Robin, were with us throughout the 10 days and made this an exceptional experience. One day we were invited by a local family for dinner and experienced the vast variety of local food. Chilli and Cheese became the favourite dish for us.”
Bhutan also has the great honour of being regularly acknowledged as a model green nation, a country where respect and reverence for Mother Nature are reflected in everything they do, and evident in even the smallest of decisions. Keeping the goal of preserving heritage and independence close to their hearts, every Bhutanese holds the vision of protecting the strength of their kingdom for centuries to come.
One of the most widely publicised facts about Bhutan is the creation of the Gross National Happiness index in 1971, created by the country’s fourth king to replace the Gross Domestic Product. Based on 4 pillars of support, including sustainable development, environmental protection, cultural preservation and principled governance, the GNH chooses to measures the nation’s prosperity by gauging the level of happiness in its citizens, as opposed to economic growth. This unique barometer is an exercise in revealing how the Bhutanese people are determined to march to the beat of their own drum, finding ways to live the balanced life they prioritise.
In 1974, for the very first time, foreign travellers were allowed into the kingdom. Mindful that mass tourism had the ability to erode their environmental and cultural identity, a steep standard tourism fee of USD $250 per person per day was implemented as the minimum spending amount required for everyone, with the exception of citizens from India, Bangladesh and the Maldives. By exercising control over the size of the tourism industry, the government took strategic steps to ensure that the impact on local culture and environment was minimal. The plan was to aim to attract mindful and responsible travellers and to keep disruptions to a minimum. As a result of these strategic plans, the people of Bhutan have had the opportunity to develop strong cultural resilience and forge even greater identities.
As the country has developed, the local government has only enhanced this Bhutanese way of living in harmony with their natural environment.
Here are 5 reasons why Bhutan has continued their reign as the green nation of the east.
1. Technology, Tobacco and Plastics
Bhutan’s capital Thimpu is the only capital in the world to be void of any traffic lights. When traffic lights were first installed, locals vehemently objected and the city promptly reverted to the use of white-gloved traffic police at all the major intersections.
The Tobacco Control Act of Bhutan regulates tobacco and all tobacco-related products, banning the cultivation, harvesting, production, and sales for the reason that consumption and exposure to tobacco smoke has a negative impact on both spiritual and social health.
The use of plastic bags have been banned in Bhutan since 1999, and there are current plans to convert all plastic waste into materials for paving roads.
The people of Bhutan had no access to television or the internet until limited provisions were finally permitted in 1999. In fact, until the 1960s, the country did not have any paved roads, automobiles, telephone booths, postal system or electricity.
3. Carbon Footprint
Bhutan is the world’s only carbon sink, which means that it is not only carbon neutral, it could be classified as carbon negative. Bhutan absorbs more CO2 than it produces, and also sells hydro-electrical power, making it the only country whose largest export is renewable energy.
The deep reverence the Bhutanese have dedicated to nature has led the country to have a strong emphasis on protection of all flora and fauna. There is a law locked into the country’s constitution whereby the nation is officially decreed to dedicate a minimum of 60% of its land to forestry and a minimum of 25% to the protection of national parks. Currently, 72% of the country is forested. An example of this appreciation towards nature was certainly expressed in 2016, when within a month of announcing the imminent birth of King Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuck and Queen Jetsun Pema’s first son, local residents celebrated the occasion by planting 108,000 trees as gifts to the royal couple. Each sapling was blessed with a prayer and filled with wishes of good health, wisdom and empathy for the crown prince. You can read more about Bhutan’s commitment to conservation at the WorldWildLife organisation here.
The alpine habitats of the great Himalayan range are home to the rarest of wild animals, including the snow leopard, Bengal tiger, red panda and the nationally revered takin. Bhutanese take the protection of fauna extremely seriously and according to the law, anyone caught killing an endangered species could be sentenced to life in prison.
Are you keen to go to Bhutan yourself? Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we can help to introduce you to our local friend and guide, Sonam. He will organise you an unforgettable, tailor-made tour.