It is official: Bhutan is the first carbon negative country on earth. But what does this mean for travellers to the Himalayan Kingdom? Adventure travel and trekking holiday organiser World Expeditions takes a closer look at the benefits of visiting a country that places the natural environment at the very top of its priority list.

 

In this age of growing environmental concerns, did you ever think it would be possible in your lifetime to travel to a carbon neutral country? Bhutan is the first and so far the only carbon negative country in the world. The official explanation behind this accolade is a technical one, but this comes down to the fact that Bhutan’s total carbon emission is lower than its carbon absorption. On a daily basis we all produce carbon dioxide, of which known examples are the carbon emission of airplanes, cars and other vehicles, and fumes of factories. But there are other less known and indirect examples of carbon dioxide emissions, such as via the food that we eat, the clothes that we wear and through our waste. Fortunately, there are also ways to absorb carbon dioxide: this is done mainly through nature, for example via trees and the ocean, although nowadays it can also be done artificially.

The government of Bhutan basesits political decisions on a GNH (Gross National Happiness) index,advocating for reasonable social development, cultural preservation, conservation of the environment, and promotion of good governance.

 

The Forests of Bhutan

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Bhutan receives more rainfall than any other Himalayan region, with up to two metres of precipitation falling annually in the foothills and mountains. These conditions ensure a lush and diverse flora, ranging from small orchids to enormous conifers and rhododendrons, covering about 70% of the country’s surface. In 2009, the government of Bhutan introduced several policies to make sure the kingdom would stay carbon neutral and that forested areas would remain above 60%. In addition, trees are being planted throughout the country on a regular base.

The religious beliefs of the people (most are practising Buddhists), together with the protective government, have enabled the extensive preservation of this wilderness and today we can find hundreds of unique species of plants and animals here – all of which can be explored on a leisurely pace on foot on a trekking holiday.Visiting at different times of the year allows for an appreciation of the various types of plants in these forests. Spring is often praised as the most colourful and fragrant season to come to Bhutan. The forest around Dochu La pass (3000m) is covered with rhododendrons, Magnolia and Daphne flowers. This is also the time of year when the iconic Rhododendron Festival takes place during three days at the nearby Royal Botanical Park at Lamperi. Traditionally the rhododendron forests bloom between March and June and a trip to Bhutan at this time is not complete without seeing one of these forests. Eye-catching and elegant, at lower elevations the flowers are a vibrant red, but as altitude increases the colour begins shifting to pink, gradually becoming pure white. For those with limited time to spend in Bhutan, the picturesque Paro Valley is a fantastic place to walk in the stunning forests with huge rhododendron trees; alternatively, on a 5-day trek from Ta Dzong to Thimphu, one can see dwarf rhododendron trees.

There is more than rhododendrons to explore though. Take, for example, the Gangtey Nature Trail walk, the shortest and considered by many as the most beautiful of the existing nature trails around Gangtey monastery, which ends over the meandering ChhuNap (Black River) near Khewang village. There is also the Haa Valley Walk, which takes trekkers via Saga La and through meadows, coniferous forest and rhododendrons to Dongney Thso (3200m); if you are feeling adventurous, on this walk it is possible to eventually camp in an open meadow surrounded with tall firs.On treks in Bhutan, one can also find alpine valleys where yaks may be grazing and which are interchanged with trails through thick forests of rhododendron, spruce, cypress, maple and birch. These lush forests offer cool and pleasant walking conditions. Trekking in Bhutan also takes us through trails in bamboo thickets and one can experience soft underfoot of mosses and mud reflecting, sometimes, damp conditions.