6 Things to Enlighten You About Bhutan
Travelling to Bhutan, the land of the thunder dragon, is one of the most culturally fascinating things you will ever do in your life. This little country the size of Switzerland is home to a population of only 800,000 and welcomes a mere 14,000 visitors from beyond its borders each year. This deeply Buddhist country aims to move into the present age and the future with its centuries-long traditions intact…yet keeping in kind with the Buddhist regard for the sanctity for all living beings, and the interconnectedness of it all.
Bhutan is awash in shapes and colours: feast your eyes (and cameras) upon traditional dzong architecture of squat buildings and rising pagoda roofs to massive mountaintop Buddha statues, while strands of jewel-coloured prayer flags flutter in the wind. From the high peaks of the Himalayas to emerald green valleys traced with rice paddies and legions of monks and nuns dressed in maroon robes, you won’t soon forget the everlasting traditions of this remarkable country. Here are a few interesting facts about this little-known kingdom that may surprise you.
But first, allow me to state the obvious:
Bhutan is a Buddhist country.
First off, it’s essential for visitors to at least understand a few principles of Buddhism (in general), as this philosophy informs much of the Bhutanese way of life, the character of its people, and, of course, the laws and customs. (Here’s our quick primer on Bhutanese Buddhism). While freedom of religion is allowed here, most Bhutanese are Buddhists. (They are also the famed country who introduced the concept of ‘gross national happiness‘ to the world).
This tiny country, sandwiched between two of the largest, most populous countries in the world—India and China—finds itself at an interesting place in time, with the increasing (and some might say, inevitable) creep of globalization. It’s worth noting that Bhutan’s independence has remained intact since its founding; the territory has never been colonized in its history—remarkable, given the political heft of its closest neighbours. Set on the ancient Silk Road between Tibet, India and Southeast Asia, Bhutan, after a civil war in the 19thC, was able to establish diplomatic relations with the British Empire, and form a strategic relationship with India during the rise of Chinese communism.
Here’s where your Buddhism 101 will come in handy: the young monarch Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, has stated that “the problems facing the world today…challenge all of us equally. And the solutions to these challenges must come from a real sense of concern and care for others, for all sentient beings and, for future generations. We must care about what happens to this earth.” As Buddhists all practice compassion and kindness towards all living things, it goes without saying that preservation of the environment is a priority that supports this attitude.
Incredibly, Bhutan is the only country in the world that is carbon-negative. Not neutral—negative! It serves as a net carbon sink for its high-output neighbours; in addition, while the Himalayan region has suffered immensely from deforestation and other forms of environmental degradation over the last century, Bhutan is a rarity in that over 70% of its land remains forested and in a relatively pristine natural state. The country has also established first-of-its-kind biological ‘corridors’ so animals can travel relatively freely around the country, without running into loss of habitat or human development.
Other Interesting Tidbits
The Unconquered Mountain: Gangkhar Puensum
Move over, Everest: Bhutan’s Gangkhar Puensum is the highest mountain in the country, and the highest unclimbed mountain in the world. Rising high 7,570 metres (24,836 feet) high, its name means ‘White Peak of the Three Spiritual Brothers’. As a matter of fact, due to spiritual beliefs, climbing mountains in Bhutan higher than 6,000 metres is prohibited. Mountain peaks are considered the sacred homes of protective deities and spirits. (Not to mention the fact that there is a lack of high-altitude rescue operations in the country). Since 2003, no mountaineering of any kind has been allowed within Bhutan.
The post 6 Things to Enlighten You About Bhutan appeared first on The Slow Road Travel Blog.