Bhutan is like a vision of an ancient past that has just stepped in to the modern world, right at the crown of the Himalayas. It is a country of surprising encounters between the ancient and the modern, where one can see traditionally dressed Bhutanese carry mobile phones in their 14th Century style clothes, and monks tap millenary Buddhists texts into a computer.
Bhutan is a land-locked nation of just 38,394 square kilometers with a population below 700,000. Located at the eastern end of the Himalayas, it is bordered to the South, East and West by India and in the North by the Tibet Autonomous Region of the People’s Republic of China.
It was in Bhutan where the concept that ‘Gross National Happiness is more important than Gross National Product’ was first introduced, by the 4th Dragon King Jigme Singye Wangchuk.
The Bhutanese Monarchy has only opened the country to the outside World in the 1960’s, retaining the custom of wearing its traditional 14th century dress and not allowing TV or the Internet until 1999. Visits today are still restricted to help protect Bhutan’s pristine environment and culture, and visitors have to adjust in order not to disturb the local’s beliefs and peaceful atmosphere. They are asked, for example, not to throw stones into the many lakes out of respect for the various deities and demons that are believed to reside in their watery depths.
Tigers Nest (Takshang), in the Paro valley, is currently considered Bhutan’s most sacred site. That is where Guru Rinpoche (2nd Buddha) has landed back in the 8th century CE to introduce Tantric Buddhism to Bhutan. It is said that he crossed from the East to the West on the back of a flying tigress to defeat the evil spirits that were trying to destroy Buddhism. These spirits later became the guardians of the Buddhist doctrine.
It is a Buddhist Himalayan Kingdom where all things seem to be precious and sacred. Bhutan has a rich and diverse eco-system which is well cared for by the locals. In fact, Bhutan has been identified as one of the top 10 bio-diversity hotspots in the world. Its isolation and decision to limit tourism have helped protect its culture and natural beauty. Its fauna consists of a varied number of animals that are not commonly spotted, some of which are the takins, snow leopards, golden langurs, blue sheeps, tigers, water buffalos and elephants. Its territory is also covered by beautiful flora, with over 50 species of the colourful Rhododendron, several medical plants and multiple kinds of orchids. The natural world is constantly acknowledged by the Bhutanese, who refer to their country as Druk Yul, or ‘Land of the Thunder Dragon’, due to the violent electrical storms that cross the Himalayas.
Bhutan offers a chance to step into an ancient world of fauna, flora and culture that reminds one of what is important in life.