Bhutan, a country that not everyone may have heard of, is a small Buddhist nation nestled between China and India in the Himalayas. It's a slice of peaceful serenity between the two most heavily populated countries on earth where the King has famously placed greater importance on its "Gross National Happiness" than its "Gross National Product." We spent about a week there and in that time were treated to its spectacular monasteries, mountain scenery, buffet meals, friendly locals and deluxe accommodation. It seems to be a place without many natural resources but has a wise, forward-thinking government that appears to do the best with what it has, ensuring the people have a great quality of life. Nobody there is wealthy by western standards, but nobody goes without either, and their society just appears to work well.
Bhutan's people and their traditions have many interesting quirks including, but absolutely not limited to, the following:
- The majority of people chew bitter nut which turns their lips and mouth red and stains their teeth permanently. Having tried it, it must be like cigarettes in the way that it seems unpleasant at first but must be addictive - it tastes awful, numbs the mouth and renders one unable to talk while chewing for about 5 minutes.
- All residential buildings are built in the same way with some decorative features like window frames actually dictated by the law. Building a new home is a community event where people are rewarded for their efforts with a party and meat - the more you help, the more meat you receive at the end.
- The traditional outfit is required for entering important buildings such as monasteries, government buildings and schools. Typically people will own about 10 to 15 of these and they range in price from 80USD for a simple cotton outfit to 2,500 USD for a double silk outfit for festivals.
- Polygamy is common, the king has 5 wives two whom he has 10 children while nomadic tribesmen will often share wives with their brothers.
- Up until the 1960s they were completely isolated from the rest of the world with no phones, TVs or tourism. They became a democracy in 2007 and voted to bring in the internet and television in 1999.
We can't possibly sum up how incredible the country is in one short blog post. The government has kept tourism at bay by enforcing a minimum tariff of 200 USD per day not including the surcharge for small groups, flights or the entry visa itself but including all tour guides, food and accommodation. While this is a lot of money it is absolutely worth it because the country is completely unspoiled. The streets are clean, traditional and quiet, western style billboards are illegal and they don't have a single traffic light in the whole country. The tariff also brings in the second highest income for the country so you know your money is going to help them out if that helps ease the pain of the splurge.