WHY WE LOVE BHUTAN (AND YOU SHOULD TOO)

By on April 22, 2016 in Adventure, Asia, Bhutan, Trekking with 0 Comments

Wacky and Wild

With its tiny population of 753,000 and Himalayan isolation, Bhutan has gained a reputation for being Shangri-La, the last of the Lost Horizon kingdoms.

We love its beauty, its eco-friendly dictates but also its quirky cultural differences. Bhutan is different from anywhere else we’ve been, and has a lot of stuff you can only see and experience there. This is a huge draw for us in a world that increasingly looks the same. The Bhutanese value fecundity, hence the phallic graphics on their homes, and they also like the service of old school white gloved traffic cops. Thimphu is the only world capital without a single stop light.

The country is still very much wild as the Bhutan constitution requires that 60 percent of the nation’s land remain forested; today it remains at 72 percent. Mountains are worshiped and the highest peaks remain unclimbed because the government has banned mountaineering on any peak over 19,685 feet. Bhutan tops out on Gangkhar Puensum at just less than 25,000 feet, but no climber has been there to bask in its sacred solitude. On Tusker’s 15 day Bhutan trek, the highest point reached is Bonte La Pass at 16,040 feet.

Tusker Trail Bhutan Trek

Gross National Happiness

Although somewhat draconian, Bhutan’s leaders are concerned less with Gross Domestic Product and more with the health of its environment and citizens. Sustainable development and environmental protection are taken very seriously. If an endangered species such as a black necked crane is killed, the killer goes to prison for life. The country banned the sale of tobacco in 2004 and jail terms of three years are given, but thousands flaunt the law, much like Americans and booze back in the Prohibition era. Whereas tobacco is banned, marijuana is not. Homosexuality is a no-no, but polygamy is acceptable. Bhutan marches to its own drumbeat.

Bhutan is the only country in the world that is a carbon sink – it absorbs more CO2 than it emits. The reason is that Bhutan is the world’s largest exporter of renewable energy, with hydroelectric power sold to neighboring India. In another eco-dictate, the government banned plastic bags in 1999. Although it remains a very poor country, Bhutan is clean by Asian standards.

Land of the Thunder Dragon

In the 1960s Bhutan truly was Shangri-La. There were no cars, roads, phones, postal service or even electricity. Tourism started in 1974 and by 1999, the country had limited access to TV and the Internet. Despite creeping modernity, we love Bhutan’s low tourist count. While Nepal has over 100,000 trekkers in the Himalaya, Bhutan has just 3,000.

Bhutan is known as the Land of the Thunder Dragon because of the powerful Himalayan storms that rumble through the countryside. Given all the storm clouds everywhere else in the world, we love the tranquility of hiking Bhutan’s trails and visiting its villages.

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