Bhutan curiosities and traditions
The Gross National Happiness
The Kingdom of Bhutan is as big as Switzerland, between the Himalayas, China and India. Traveling in the small country was extremely difficult until the beginning of the 70s, when it became part of the United Nations. It is a peaceful country that marches at its pace. Gross National Happiness (GNH) is the way in which Bhutan measures its prosperity. While it is common in most of the world to measure the progress of a country in terms of Gross Domestic Product, or material assets and development, Bhutan wanted to build an economy that strives to follow Buddhist values, placing a priority on the quality of life and on the happiness of his people. To this end, a dedicated GNH committee ensures that all assigned policies and resources respect fundamental principles such as sustainable development, spiritual and cultural conservation, environmental conservation and good governance.
Since 2010 the country has administered its first "happiness index", through some questions asked to citizens as "How much do you trust your neighbors?" and "lying is justifiable?", etc. . In the 2015 index, "happiness topographers" interviewed 7,135 Bhutan citizens on 33 different topics including health, economic prosperity, emotional balance, sleep quality and community vitality. If the set of positive answers exceeds the 66% threshold in a certain area, this is considered "extensively happy"; over 77% make them "deeply happy". In 2015, 43.4% of citizens returned to one of these two categories, an improvement compared to 40.9% five years earlier. Bhutan's gross national happiness is flourishing, so a question we could ask the Bhtanesi could be: money can not buy happiness, but happiness can make money ?
Spirituality and Wellness
Bhutan is known all over the world for its lifestyle that is particularly attentive to the health and psychological and physical well-being of its inhabitants. This nation is the only one to have introduced in a legislative way the GNH (acronym which translates into gross national happiness) as reported in the previous paragraph. Gross national happiness recognizes that material wealth is important, but also enhances the importance of community welfare, including culture, governance, knowledge, wisdom, health, spirituality, psychological well-being, balanced use of time and harmony with the environment. The concept is further strengthened when one thinks that there is a school subject dedicated to "happiness", a subject that is taught since elementary school.
As one of the last strongholds of Vajrayana Buddhism, one of the fundamental aspects of achieving happiness is to know oneself deeply and to achieve this, the suggested path and that of starting with meditation. Meditation and mediation retreats are a common practice among Buddhist monks and practitioners in Bhutan. Small retreat centers and hermitages are found throughout the country, usually near temples, monasteries and monastic schools.
These retreats and meditation centers provide places of respite from the worries and stress of everyday life. Devout Buddhists often venture into the mountains for months to meditate. Retreats offer practitioners the opportunity to tap into their inner self and meditate on the purpose of life. The practice is also aimed at tourists, there are several itineraries that are organized which include serious meditation programs that last for days while others offer solitary retreats for a few hours in the high hills and temples where the serenity and beauty of nature can be appreciated in the undisturbed silence.
Flora end fauna
Nestled deep in the Himalayas, Bhutan is rich in biological diversity with an unparalleled wealth of flora and fauna due to the different altitudinal and climatic conditions present in the country. This fragile ecosystem has remained intact thanks to the conservation efforts of the people and the Bhutanese government. Today 60% of the total area of the kingdom has been designated as a protected nature reserve. Bhutan is the perfect destination for enthusiastic horticulturists as it contains over 60% of the common plant species found in the eastern Himalayas. It also boasts about 46 species of rhododendrons and over 300 types of medicinal plants. Junipers, magnolias, orchids, blue poppies (the national flower), edelweiss, gentian, various medicinal herbs, Daphne, Giant Rhubarb, Pine and Oak are among the commonly found plants.
The kingdom of Bhutan also hosts a wide variety of animals. At higher altitudes you can meet snow leopards, blue sheep, red pandas, takin (a variety of chamois), marmots, musky deer, goral (a species of Himalayan antelope), gray langur (a species of monkey from the light mantle), black Himalayan bears, red pandas, sambar (a relative of the deer) and wild boar. The tropical forests of the south are a paradise for nebulous leopards, elephants, rhinoceros with horns, water buffaloes, golden langurs (a long-haired monkey with a golden color on the chest), gaure (a wild bovine), marsh deer. and many other species. Bhutan is home to tigers that live at the highest altitudes of any other country in the world.
Bhutan cuisine is unique and different from Indian or Chinese food. Almost all dishes that are consumed contain chilli, fresh, dried, whole or flaked. Given the high consumption of chili, all families are concerned with making a good stock throughout the year trying to dry it. This operation requires large surfaces on which to spread the chili in the sun and for this purpose, the roofs of houses that are normally made of sheet metal are used which, by absorbing the heat of the sun's rays, increases the surface temperature thus speeding up the drying process. In some periods of the year there are many "chili red" roofs. Among the many foods we mention the Ema Datshi, a very popular dish basically consisting of chili with cheese. In this case a variety of fresh green chilli is used and is cooked in water with some cheese.
An important component of Bhtanese nutrition is cheese, produced mainly at home. Cow and yak cheese is very popular and in the month in which it prepares yak cheese, the small forms are tied with threads and hung on the veranda so that it dries and hardens, this then allows it to be consumed for the rest of the year. Similarly, it is easy to find in the homes or shops of butchery products, long strips of beef or pork that are hung on special ceiling bars for the drying process, meat that will then be consumed in the harsh winter seasons. Other curiosities are fern (fiddlehead) seeds widely used by Bhutanese because they are considered a delicacy, seeds that are also sold in fruit and vegetable markets.
Considering the spirit that moves and hovers in this people of Bhutan, it is no wonder that the attention we Westerners give to certain things is of relative importance to them, one of them being the Technology.
Bhutan had its first TV in 1999 and still has only one national channel today while private TV is absent. Internet access has only been introduced since 2010, internet is not the center of their lives, but it came and is still seen only as a tool to be used intentionally to obtain information or connect people. Just pay attention while moving in the various cities and you will notice that it is really rare to see someone standing still (or even walking) checking their smartphone. Given the purely mountain environment, cellular coverage leaves much to be desired but there are no incentives to push it to expand or modify it. WiFi connections are only available in some hotels and made available to tourists, even in this case, the connection speed is quite low and coverage very often does not reach the rooms.
There are no traffic lights throughout the state, a traffic light has been installed for a short time at the busiest intersection of the capital Thimphu, it was then uninstalled after complaints about the impersonal nature of the structure and replaced by a traffic officer !!
Nature as true wealth
Bhutan is the only "carbon-negative" country in the world. Its constitutional laws have stated that, at all times, its woodlands must have a coverage of more than 60% of the total area of the nation. At the moment, the green area is 72 percent.
When Bhutan prince Jigme Namgyel Wangchuck was born in 2016, the country has given 108,000 saplings to the prince. In Buddhism, trees feed all forms of life. Planting a tree is the most wonderful gesture for someone we love. A tree symbolizes longevity, health, beauty and even compassion.
Plastic bags have been banned since 1999. Even from the chemical point of view there are strict rules that do not allow the use of pesticides or insecticides.
Bhutan black gold is electricity, it is produced in a much greater quantity than domestic demand, the surplus is typically sold to India. The proceeds of this sale are then used by the government for social policies to support families, homes, schools, etc.
Even in the construction of hydroelectric plants there is a lot of attention to the environment, taking advantage of the almost continuous supply of water from the Himalayas, no large reservoirs are built, the power stations are located at the bottom of the steep valleys and in positions not visible reducing so also the aesthetic impact.
Similarly, large bridges are not built, often the narrow and winding roads cross valleys and it would be convenient if there were bridges that allow you to go from one side to the other but these works would be to disfigure the beauty and the surrounding nature so you do not they realize, as a consequence, the roads often cross the sides of the valleys as long as they do not reach a very narrow point where a crossing bridge is usually built no longer than 50-80 meters long. So you pass on the opposite side and then retraces the valley "back".
In 1729 Bhutan was the first country in the world to restrict tobacco and in 2005 the sale of tobacco products was strictly forbidden and anyone wishing to savor a cigarette must acquire a license so that they can smoke in designated areas. Discretion is recommended. Ironically, the climate of the country is perfect for marijuana, cannabis grows legally throughout the kingdom but smoking it, of course, is banned, instead it is used as food for pigs.