Bhutan: The land of Buddha is a Tourist's Paradise

Dr. V. K. Bahuguna

(the writer is a former civil servant)

Bhutan also known as Druk-Yul (Druk-Yul means "Land of the Thunder Dragon), the closest neighbor and a time tested friend of India was in news a few months ago due to Doklam standoff between India and China. However, the Indian peoples interests in this beautiful country is much more than this standoff as they are the largest bunch of tourist flocking Bhutan every year and also in return enriching its economy as a second largest source of revenue after the export of Hydroelectricity. Bhutan is first in the world to coin the word "Gross Domestic Happiness" to signify its development index and had attained international acclaim for this unique venture. It is officially the only Carbon negative country in the world and had emerged as a world leader in evolving revolutionary Climate Change policies. This author has always been fascinated with the people of Bhutan during his previous two visits latched on an opportunity to visit it again during the month of October 2018 to enjoy its pristine beauty and culture once again. The purpose of this article is to discuss what makes this country a unique nation in the world where the people love their King much more than anything else in their life and the King consider himself a true servant of the people. The author has observed several facets of Bhutanese life closely and would like to put here certain things Indian government and people of India can emulate from this tiny little nation of 8 lakh people living in 38,000 Sq. Mt area.

The name Bhutan is derived from the ancient Indian term"Bhotania" which means end of the land of the Bhots and Bhots means 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 goes back almost three thousand years. People also migrated from Tibet, Nepal and Mongolia. Bhutanese are followers of 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. Bhutan was inhabited 4000 years ago, there were archeological evident 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. Bhutan has 72 % area under forest cover with a rich variety of plants and animals with a very rare Takin a goat antelope the national animal of Bhutan is surviving with less than 20 specimen mostly in the national park at Thimpu. Paro is sole Airport situated in a picturesque valley and serviced by 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 2334 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 had empowered the Parliament to impeach the King! This is a marvelous commitment from an all powerful Monarch for the peoples wishes and a reflection of ushering the nation to true democratic life. It is 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 Bhutanese people have deep respect for their culture, values and traditions which evolve themselves into a proud vivacious nation which gives more importance to its human values than simply defining the economic growth as indicator of development. 

Bhutanese Parliamentarian never waste time in creating unruly scenes and devote themselves in fruitful discussions in sharp contrast to what is witnessed by Indians from their law makers. And because of this they measure development on the basis of Gross National Happiness rather than on Gross National Products and have become world famous for coining this term. Because of this Bhutan is not unnecessarily promoting industrial growth and emphasizing more on social and environmental development. Despite scarcity of resources all citizens are entitled for free Education and Healthcare. The needy and 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 located in South near Indian border. The economy is based on agriculture, animal husbandry and forestry and provides the livelihoods for 90 percent 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. The main source of income is Hydro-electric power and tourism industry.

From the point of view 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 was inspired by the 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 and it gives an impression as if the Buddha is descending from sky and resting on the verdant forest. It can be rated as one of the most beautiful site on earth. Then there are Bhutanese forts in Thimpu, Punakha and Paro which throw light how the 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 6 kilometers uphill. On reaching the top it gives a breathtaking view of Bhutanese landscape. Another important event for the tourists is the "Hot stone Bath". In this the stones are heated red and then water is poured on them and channeled to the Bath tub which gives a refreshing bath. The Bhutan is a neat and clean country and developing fast as this writer found expansion of construction activities allover in Thimpu compared to 2011. 

However, Bhutan government 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. Secondly 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 need to be further consolidated and stabilized with vegetation. In nutshell, Bhutan is a tourists paradise and should remain so. (1200 words)

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