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Travel Guide > Asia > Bhutan

Bhutan Travel Guide

  
 
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Bhutan is a small country in the Himalayas between the Tibet Autonomous Region of China and India. Besides the stunning natural scenery, the enduring image of the country for most visitors is the strong sense of culture and tradition that binds the kingdom and clearly distinguishes it from its larger neighbors. Bhutan is the only Vajrayana Buddhist nation in the world, and the profound teachings of this tradition remain well preserved and exert a strong influence in all aspects of life. Due to its pristine environment and harmonious society, the tiny Kingdom of Bhutan has been called "The Last Shangrila."

In terms of average wage, Bhutan is a poor country, however the land is fertile and the population small, so the people are well fed, and beggars and homeless are nonexistent. In addition, the current generation receives free education, and all citizens have access to free medical care. If a patient's ailment cannot be treated in the country, then the government refers the patients to reputable hospitals abroad.The sale of tobacco products is banned (foreign tourists and NGOs are exempt, though it is illegal for them to sell tobacco to locals), and smoking in public areas is a fineable offense.

A unique aspect of Bhutan is that progress is not purely defined by economic achievements as in most countries, but also based on the level of cultural and environmental preservation and development. This ideology was the brain child of King Jigme Singye Wangchuck who, having gained a modern education in India and the UK, realized that mere economic success did not necessarily translate into a content and happy society. Consequently, soon after his coronation in 1974, the young king began to float the idea of developing a new set of guidelines by which to govern the country. Slowly these ideas took shape, and in 1998 the GNH indicator was established. GNH stands for "Gross National Happiness" and is defined by the following four objectives: to increase economic growth and development, preserve and promote the cultural heritage, encourage sustainable use of the environment, and establish good governance.

urrently, work is in progress on converting the GNH from being a mere guiding principle for the country's development into a workable set of standard indicators. As a result of this more humane style of governance, Bhutan has developed high environmental protection standards (the use of plastic bags, for example, is completely banned) and a peaceful and harmonious society that actively protects its rich culture and profound Buddhist traditions. Major sources of income for the kingdom are agriculture, tourism and hydroelectric power.

Still, while Bhutan is often painted as a modern-day Shangri-La in the Western press, the country remains poor, with average life expectancy around 66 and a 7.2 per mil infant mortality rate. The kingdom became a parliamentary democracy in March 2008 upon the command of the Fourth King.

Culturally, Bhutan is predominantly Buddhist with a national language (although there are regional variations - such as Sharchopkha, the predominant language in Eastern Bhutan), and a common dress code and architectural style. Bhutanese people primarily consist of the Ngalops and Sharchops, called the Western Bhutanese and Eastern Bhutanese respectively. The Ngalops primarily consist of Bhutanese living in the western part of the country. Their culture is closely related to that of their neighbor to the north, Tibet.

The official name for the country is Druk Yul - Land of the Thunder Dragon - but due to the harmonious nature of the society, it has acquired the additional nickname of Deki Druk (Yul) - (Land of) the Peaceful Thunder Dragon.






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