You will not understand a country unless you see it for yourself
I love travelling and despite my rants about the nonsense that goes on in the world, I love all the different places that exist on our planet.
Like many other countries in the world, I fell in love with Bhutan before setting foot in the country. I first heard of this mysterious kingdom whilst flipping through an atlas in Year 4. I was fascinated by geography and particularly enjoyed looking at Asia. During high school, whilst researching on architecture, I stumbled across the Tiger’s Nest Monastery. Anything with deep history, culture + fantastic architectural design gets my vote. It wasn’t until 2009, when I first caught the travel bug, that I started to write down and conduct research on all the countries that I wish to visit. Bhutan along with many unorthodox and war-torn countries became a part of the list.
So why Bhutan? If I told people the real reason then that would be a mouthful and many wouldn’t have the patience to listen to my rambles. So I simply tell them- well, I need to get off the anti-depressants, the anxiety and sleeping pills and look for some happiness. Self-depreciating humour does not translate well so yeah- to make it short: I’m looking for happiness (even though happiness is an individual’s subjective perception, interpretation and projection. It has nothing to do with a country although being surrounded by pristine nature and friendly people does help). Happiness and love are important because human beings are fundamentally lonely creatures. The thought of happiness vanishing one day frightens me and being pathetic, I wish people happiness because seeing them happy makes me happy.
But what is the real reason? I want to experience Bhutan through my own senses and take the time to observe the country. I want to get as close as possible to the locals and the society. I want to study and learn from Bhutan’s policies, achievement and short-comings and line it up against all the other countries that I’ve been to. This is the same reason for all my other travels. I want nothing more than to enrich my own knowledge of the world, improve my understanding of the geopolitical situation and be a much more interesting conversationalist. Sandwiched between two Asian giants, Bhutan’s status and non-diplomatic relationship with my old country + geopolitical and social standings makes, no doubt, a fascinating course.
After my trip, I realised that I’m one step closer to understanding a unique part of the world around me. Often, a ‘small’ country can be the best catalyst for showing what an alternative or change is since given the landmass and population, it is so much easier to implement a policy and keep an eye on it. It was great to see you Bhutan, lovely to know that you exist and thank you Victoria for being by my side- yep, it was a super duper honeymoon (:P haha)
Random Observations and Facts
- Sometimes dubbed as “Little Dragon”. I think the word “little” is inappropriate and disrespectful. I prefer to call it “Thunder Dragon.”
- Population around 730,000 where 79% live in rural areas. Urbanisation is on the rise and many are going to Thimphu (the New York City and Capital of Bhutan).
- The national language is Dzongkha and many can speak perfect English. There are some 19 languages in the country.
- Some of the locals, just like Bo and Victoria are ridiculously good-looking!
- The currency is the Ngultrum and is 1:1 with the Indian Rupee. You can use rupees in Bhutan and I was told that a rupee shortage has happened in the country before.
- If you don’t have Indian Rupees, then use USD. You get higher rates if you exchange 100 USD. It was 1 USD= 67 NU around December 2015.
- The Post Office in Thimphu is the only place where you can personalise your stamps and use them to send letters/postcards (30NU) back home. It makes a great souvenir!
- Archery is the national sport. Darts is another Bhutanese sport.
- There are more than 10,000 stupas and 2000 monasteries.
- The country does not allow any slaughtering of animals (it’s a Buddhist country) so meat is imported from India.
Many food and drinks are imported from India too.
- Bhutan and India are close in diplomatic relationship. India offers fund for certain projects such as hydroelectricity plants. To date, the Bhutanese electric energy supply has been virtually entirely hydroelectric.
- Inheritance is passed onto the eldest daughter rather than the eldest son.
- Polygamy is legal and practised more in the South of the country.
- People don’t have a surname.
- The Bhutanese are very tech savvy (no strangers to online media), wear trendy modern clothes and hangs out at night-clubs. Like their nation, it is culture + tradition against the current of globalization.
- Bhutan discourages the sale and consumption of tobacco through education and fines. Smoking is illegal in public places.
- In 2011, the Bhutanese government passed the Alcohol Control Regulation. This means heavy taxes on alcohol.
- Universal health care was established in Bhutan since the 1970s.
- Bhutan has no natural petroleum or natural gas reserves and imports oil for automobiles.
- The country was in complete isolation before it began to open up in the 1960’s.
- Bhutan is the only country in the world to measure national happiness by the Gross National Happiness Index. While everyone talks about GDP and freaks out when it drops, Bhutan highlights the important of well-being and happiness.
- Internet and TV came to the country in 1999.
- Bhutan was recognized as a country by the UN in 1971.
- Foreign tourists were allowed into the country for the first time in 1974.
- Founded in 1981, Druk Air (On the wings of the dragon) was the only airline flying into Bhutan until Bhutan Airlines (Fly with us to the land of happiness…) started operation as well.
- Divorce rates are high ( for a hopeless romantic who believe that humans should be better than mandarin ducks (only mate with one for a lifetime), it was surprising to hear this. I still believe in one lifetime=one partner + no divorce…hopefully
- The people love and respect the royal family. When the King announced that the country will transform from a Monarchy to a Democracy, the people were shocked. Any jobs that provided services to the Royal Family is regarded as a very prestigious job.
- There are no traffic lights in the capital- Thimphu. No honking, no aggressive rude drivers and of course it’s great to see the traffic police at work. Traffic jams do occur especially as more people own vehicles and gravitate towards the city. Smaller cars are imported from India and bigger ones are European models.
- Although Bhutan banned plastic bags in April 1999, some places still use it. An alternative could be the cool string bags found in Bangladesh.
- Bhutan banned timber exports in 1990’s and I suspect that in rural areas, many people still use firewoods as a source of energy.
- Blue poppy is the national flower, takin is the national animal, the raven is the national bird and cypress is the national tree.
- The white bellied heron is one of the country’s rarest birds.
- Around 72% of the country is covered by nature. The environment is great, everything is pristine, the water is clear and tastes good (just like the water from New Zealand) and I thank the air for cleaning my lungs. Environmentally, I give Bhutan the thumbs up and the rest of the world has much to learn from her.
- Due to her rich culture, great environment and sacred heritage, Bhutan has adopted a cautious approach to tourism. Tourism is highly regulated under the “High Value, Low Impact” policy. Only a limited number of tourists can enter into the country. Except for the citizens of Bangladesh, India, and Maldives, all other foreigners must obtain a visa for their Bhutan visit.