Sustainable tourism in Bhutan
Recently I was presented with a book with the title Green Mandala which asks a rhetorical question – What makes Bhutan and environmental paradise. The tiny landlocked kingdom (38,390 sq kms) that lies on the borders of India, China (Tibet) and Nepal in the Eastern Himalayas could be perceived from an outside perspective to not have a lot to offer. I am reminded at this point of an old cliche’ saying that great things come in small packages and this is the Land of the Thunderdragon often referred to as the Land of Happiness. In fact there is a government department known as GNH – the official Gross National Happiness initiative. In 2016 the population was around 798,000 and with a GDP of $2.237 billion US I believe that they are managing to show the world that they are doing quite well.
For a country that only entered the world stage in 1974 one is quickly reminded of the importance that isolation played in preserving the many Dzongs and Temples across the vividly green landscape and high rolling hills of the small Himalayan nation. The Buddhist influenced culture is sometimes likened to Shangri La as noted in the Lost Horizon. However some have forgotten that the elusive mountain retreat was in Tibet. There are many wonderful similarities though that can be seen as you travel across the Dochula Pass – mostly when it is snow covered. I would like to quote from my treasured book something written by His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck the Fourth King of Bhutan. His opening remarks brilliantly describe the ethos of his people, ‘ Throughout the centuries, the Bhutanese people have treasured their natural environment and have looked upon it as the source of life. This traditional reverence for nature has delivered us into the twentieth century with our environment still richly in tact.We wish to continue to live in harmony with nature and to pass this rich heritage to our future generations’.
The constitution of the Kingdom states ‘ Every Bhutanese is a trustee of the Kingdom’s natural resources and environment for the benefit of the present and future generations and it is a fundamental duty of every citizen to contribute to the protection of the natural environment, conservation of the rich bio-diversity of Bhutan. To preserve the nation against all forms of ecological degradation including noise, visual and physical pollution through friendly practices is the responsibility of all.
So where does this wonderfully pragmatic belief come from. Being predominately Buddhist the people believe that all beings are part of their own life and that sustainability is essential to daily accomplishments. The philosophy that we cannot go on exploiting our planet to the detriment of future generations is very strong in Bhutan.
Today the Land of the Thunderdragon is the world’s only carbon ‘sink’. It absorbs more CO2 than it gives out. More than 75 percent of the country is covered in rich forests and with the cleanest air to be enjoyed it is no wonder that more and more tourists are now familiar with Bhutan and we here less and less the comment – where and what. Apart from the 900 species of butterfly 300 species of medicinal plants and 369 different orchids, there are over 5000 astonishing plants – all growing on the hillsides and the many valleys in harmony with the landscape.
But to me one of the most important facts and one to close on is the unprecedented sharing of habitat between tigers, leopard and snow leopards in an unbroken landscape of 20,000 sq km. Conservationist hope that one day Bhutan could become a ‘nursery’ for species that are facing extinction – something that the now King His Majesty Jigme Khesar Namgyel Fifth King of Bhutan will see to that the legacy continues.