Bhutan – “Land of the Thunder Dragon” and Pristine Beauty
Bhutan is not what you expect, the country is rich with tradition, culture, mythology, natural resources and a monarch the public adores alongside this is monks with iPads, state-of-the-art hydropower plants, environmental engineers and the latest technology you can find anywhere else in the world. Bhutan depends considerable amount on India for goods and in return India gets hydropower. The second largest trading partner would be Nepal. The trade with China is non-existent except in the black-markets.
Bhutan was not always a monarch, in 1907 the Bhutanese elected a leader and asked him to be the King. Currently the power is split 50-50 between the 5th King and the elected Parliament. The 4th King brought modernization and development to Bhutan in the 1970’s. The Bhutanese are grateful to him for opening trade with other countries, setting up a free education system through university and having advanced medical facilities. The current government’s motto is economic development but not at the cost of environmental destruction. Environmental protection is Bhutan’s number one priority. Currently the country is 70% of forest land, the constitution requires 60% at all times.
The question that was raised over and over by my friends was the ‘Gross National Happiness’. It’s more a Buddhist concept than one the Bhutanese government invented. Since Bhutan is primarily a Buddhist country, the core concept of the religion is moderation and contentment. As I’ve seen with other Buddhist countries over the last 3 months, Buddhism is a religion that is interwoven with daily life. If you ask the average Bhutanese citizen if they are always happy, the answer is always no. If you ask if they are content with life, the answer will be yes most of the time.
It's not the people of Bhutan don’t have problems or their lives are perfect. I heard stories of divorce & adultery, family struggles, alcohol & drug abuse, unemployment, dating difficulties, unruly kids, etc. Similar personal and social issues we’d find in the U.S. I don’t have actual data but I believe divorce and drug abuse rates are significantly lower in Bhutan than the west because of the strong family and community support system.
I found most Bhutanese speak Dzongkha, English, Nepali and Hindi. The people I met in villages, cities, monasteries were aware of current events in the world, technological advancements and pop culture – they do not live in an isolated bubble. My tour guide is the biggest fan of Nikki Minaj!
As foreign tourists, the current rate to travel in Bhutan is $250USD per day, plus visa, flights and permits. Only Indian Nationals are allowed to freely travel throughout Bhutan with no tour guide/driver and Indians don’t pay the daily $250USD. The daily price includes 4-5 star hotels, all meals, a knowledgeable tour guide and all transportation. After much research I settled on a company called Bhutan Journey’s (www.bhutanjourneys.com), the owner Sonam was very accommodating since I changed dates and plans several times before I arrived. My guide Tashi was phenomenal, he had a great sense of humor, was very flexible with daily plans and had a wealth of knowledge. He put a lot of thought into the details of the daily planning, thanks to him I even saw the King! It’s pretty much an all-inclusive package with the option to be flexible as needed. My guide did a great job of modifying where we went based on my requests. I was able to spend an afternoon at a nunnery outside of Thimphu hanging out with nuns and playing badminton with them. Tashi was also accommodating in my requests for local cuisine instead of always going to tourist standard restaurants.
Bhutanese mythology is worth investigating further, the stories are mesmerizing, enchanting and entertaining. I highly recommend reading the biography of the Divine Madman.
Overall Bhutan was a magical, mystical, fairytale experience. It’s hard to describe so check out the pictures at wwww.presentlynavigatinglife.com/Bhutan.