Small kingdom in the eastern Himalayas, between China and India, Bhutan is starting to become the new must-see destination in South Asia, both for spiritual journeys or hiking adventures. So let’s learn about the extraordinary life philosophy that comes from Bhutan.
Until 1972, foreigners were not even allowed to enter the kingdom, but since then things have changed. However, Bhutan is far from being a holiday destination overrun by tourists. It is still a Buddhist country, with about 800 thousand inhabitants, and it welcomes travellers engaged in responsible tourism. It is very important for the population to protect its nature, as it is considered one of the four factors to happiness. But what is actually behind this concept of national happiness?
In the early 1970s, the fourth king of Bhutan made a statement where he said the accumulation of material wealth does not lead to happiness. Based on this, the concept of Gross National Happiness was created. Indeed, it is more important in Bhutan than the Gross Domestic Product, which is purely economical. Four factors are in fact supposedly responsible for a happy life. These “pillars of happiness” include sustainable and equitable socio-economic development, environmental conservation, preservation and promotion of culture, and good governance. The Gross National Happiness Centre also continuously researches how to increase the quality of life, and the GNH of its inhabitants. This is a philosophy which aims at modernising and moving the country forward. In fact, if Bhutan is one of the poorest countries in the world, its inhabitants are often described as the happiest in the world, so it is a great point.
In the kingdom’s constitution, the happiness of the population has even been declared a state goal since 2008, over the economy. Environmental protection also appears as a goal in the constitution, and it says there has to remain at least 70 percent of forests in Bhutan. At the moment, it is actually just under 80 percent, but the government is also committed to CO2 neutrality, which means that the country cannot produce more carbon than can be absorbed. In 2013, the balance between the two was pretty negative for Bhutan, so they decided to do something.
Besides, the country has an incredible animal and plant diversity, which needs to be protected from mass tourism. If you want to travel there, you must therefore book it through a licensed tour operator or one of their international partners. It is also necessary to apply for a visa to enter the country. It is estimated that one day would cost between US$200 and US$250 in Bhutan depending on the month of travel. It includes a minimum of 3-star accommodation hotel, meals, a guide and transport within the country. There is also a further fee of US$65 per day for Bhutan’s sustainable development, free education and health care, and poverty alleviation.
The Buddhist country is often said to be tough with tourists, but the government is simply trying to attract eco-responsible and environmentally friendly travellers, who respect the culture and values of the locals. It is such a big thing that its commitment to nature conservation actually earned the country the Sustainable Destinations’ Earth Award in 2018.