In Spring 2016, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are set to make an official visit to Bhutan, a small country situated below China and above India. Bhutan is a country which has been regarded in the past as one of the happiest countries in the world. According to a recent survey by GNH (Gross National Happiness Survey) 91% of Bhutanese people are narrowly, extensively, or deeply happy. This survey was created to monitor the Bhutanese as the world continues to change following globalisation. Bhutan is a country which may have much to offer such as the opportunity to visit a country which may have maintained its cultural identity as time has past.
Bhutan has several unique policies in place, which aim to preserve cultural values and the environment. For example, the Tourism Council of Bhutan has implemented a policy of “High Value, Small Impact Tourism” which includes a sustainable tourism royalty which goes towards free education, healthcare, poverty alleviation along with the building of infrastructure. According to the official tourism board of Bhutan, the local government recognises the importance of tourism in achieving socioeconomic development however emphasises the importance of preserving culture. This includes preserving ancient religious practices, Bhutanese dress and festivals from modernisation. Therefore, visitor numbers are closely monitored and need to be guests of the government or travellers on an approved travel program.
Visitors to Bhutan may experience various activities to keep them busy, from visiting monasteries to trekking Bhutan’s mountainous region, there may be something for all to enjoy. Outdoor activities in the Himalayan region include fishing, rock climbing, kayaking and rafting as well as mountain biking. There are also several national parks open to the public, including the Jigme Dorji National Park, Royal Manas National Park and Trumshingla National Park. Each is home to many species of rare plants, endangered animals and birds. Tourists have the opportunity to visit animal sanctuaries such as the Khaling Wildlife Sanctuary, which is home to rare and exotic animals.
There are several popular festivals which take place in Bhutan and are often related to religious traditions. For example, the festival ‘Tshechu’ is a religious event celebrating the birthday of Guru Rimpoche and involves communities coming together to take part in mask dances, receive blessings and socialise with one another. The festival varies in different communities of Bhutan, and each has their own traditional dress for the event. Other festivities include the Jambay Lhakhang festival, which takes place at the Jambay Lhakhang Temple, one of the oldest temples in Bhutan. This festival commemorates the first king of Bhutan and often involves fire rituals and ancient traditional dancing. The official tourist board details the large number of events which take place each year, which suggests there may be opportunity to experience one of these unique events when visiting Bhutan at any time or season.
Beyond the colourful festivals and natural landscape of Bhutan, tourists visiting may opt to have a more spiritual experience. In Bhutan there are many meditation and mediation retreats that offer the space to relax, meditate and revive in a peaceful environment. This includes the use of hot springs, attending yoga sessions or meditating alongside Buddhist monks in temples or monasteries. As a country with deep spiritual connections, Bhutan may be an awakening experience for those wishing to stay at a retreat. Although the government closely monitors tourism in Bhutan, this may help in promoting the country as a sustainable tourist destination with relatively un-touched scenery and a carefully preserved society.
How might Bhutan’s ‘high value, small impact tourism’ policy protect the country’s culture and values?