Bhutan: What I Really Know About the Country, and Why I’d Like To Visit

October 10, 2010 § Leave a comment

Photo by Marina & Enrique

“The Bhutanese do not reject their cultural and spiritual heritage in favor of modern imported values. Never having been colonized, always fiercely independent and proud of their traditions, they see no need to adopt ideas simply because they come from more developed and powerful countries. Using common sense, they accept only those concepts that help them improve their way of life and develop their country within the framework of their own traditions without destroying either the spirit or the environment.”

-Francoise Pommaret, Bhutan

Dreams of world travel, reading up stories of adventure, an inner desire to seek unfamiliar lands and people have prompted me to, more than once, sit down at a table with a blank piece of paper with the intention of drafting a list of countries I’d like to visit. They say exclusivity makes the forbidden fruit even sweeter. It then made sense why Bhutan might be on the top of my want-to-visit country list.

At the expense of making myself sound like a mumbling fool, the  frog-in-the-well, I’ll rattle off what I know about the country, at the top of my head. Without consulting either Google, the Internets, or any physical text that would have been handy.

-Buddhism plays a major part of the everyday life of every Bhutanese citizen, be it domestic, administrative, or political affairs. This is in contrast to my often-visited Vietnam, whose population’s alignment to the varying religions of Buddhism, Catholicism, and the eccentric Cao Daism stops short when it comes to political and administrative matters. i.e when it comes to that, bureaucrats are atheist in method.

-Bhutan uses GNH: Gross National Happiness as a measure of socio-economic progress, as opposed to the commonly used GDP (Gross Domestic Product) or GNP (Gross National Product)

-Immigration and tourism is heavily regulated in Bhutan, as part of its beliefs and policies of preserving its cultural and ideological heritage. This minimizes the downside that foreign influences bring.

-Bhutan is transitioning into a constitutional monarchy, even though its populace is reluctantly agreeing to this change proposed by the King himself. A testament to the respect and trust they have for their monarchs over the generations

-The country often appears on the “world’s poorest” or “Poverty-stricken” country lists, but don’t be fooled- Bhutan’s people, while having to work to the sweat of their brows, are some of the world’s happiest people. Thus the paradox that they simultaneously appear on “World’s Happiest / Contented” lists.

-Archery competitions amongst villages are a longstanding tradition in Bhutan. Rudimentary bows are used to shoot arrows over incredible distances, at targets equally incredible. These targets are smaller than your city’s STOP signs, with concentric circles painted on them. A celebratory dance by the scoring team is expected should an arrow land on the target. Women from the opposing village are allowed to jeer and use vocal taunts to distract archers as he lines up his shot. Sort of like the opposing team waving banners and whatnots during a basketball free-throw, but much more in-your-face.

-It costs a minimum of US$200 a day to visit Bhutan as a tourist: this covers food, lodging and other travel expenses. This amount fluctuates slightly during peak and off peak tourist seasons.

-The only other way of entering the country is by invitation. My question: Invitation? Do invites come from the country’s civil servants and other VIP? Or are ordinary Bhutanese folk entitled to hand out invitations to their homes as well?

Anyone has a Bhutanese friend to introduce?


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