Nestled between mighty neighbours China and India lies the fairytale Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan, whose name in the local language means ‘The Land of the Thunder Dragon.’ It is the world’s only Buddhist kingdom, and one of the only countries in the world never to have been invaded or colonised. Because of this, Bhutan is unspoiled, steeped in ancient traditions and myths and has been aptly described as the last Shangri-La.
By law, at least 60 percent of the country must be covered by forest. At present, the figure is about 75 percent, one reason why Bhutan absorbs about four times more carbon dioxide than it emits. Bhutan boasts an astonishing variety of animal and birdlife, from the beautiful and reclusive snow leopard in the high Himalayas to the magnificent Bengal tiger in the southern forests. Hunting is illegal. So is fishing except for the ‘catch-and-release’ variety. There are no major roads - and not even a single traffic light. There is no railway. Things move slowly in Bhutan.
Bhutan has little industry: one of its main products is hand-made woven textiles. Almost every house has its own loom. The main sport is archery. Most use old bamboo bows and wooden, feathered shafts.
Yet what makes Bhutan unique is the state philosophy. They do not account the wealth of the country by GDP – Gross Domestic Product, but by GNH – standing for Gross National Happiness. Yes: happiness is enshrined in the laws of Bhutan and is built on the themes of harmony with nature and traditional values.
The four pillars of Gross National Happiness in Bhutan are sustainable and equitable socio-economic development, environmental conservation, preservation and promotion of culture, and good governance.
And in the promotion of these, they emphasise psychological well-being, health; education; cultural diversity; community vitality; ecological diversity and conservation and living standards.
How refreshing! And how astonishing in this day and age to have a country whose values are based on happiness and well-being, rather than on wealth and power.