Location: Located in the Eastern Himalayas, Bhutan is bordered by China in the north and the Indian states of Arunachal Pradesh, Sikkim, Assam and West Bengal in the east, west and south.
Area: 38,394 square kilometer
Altitude: Varying from 180 m – 7,550 m above sea level
Population: 695,822 (projected for 2010)
Local time: Six hours ahead of GMT and half and hour ahead of IST
Religion: Mahayana,Buddhism and Hinduism-70% Buddhist, 25% Hindu, 5% others
Capital City: Thimpu (Population: 90,000)
Language: Dzongkha, English, Sharchop, Nepali etc
Government: Democratic Constitutional Monarchy
King :His Majesty the fifth King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck
Prime Minister: Tshering Tobgay
The National Flag is rectangular and divided diagonally into two parts with a white dragon in the middle. The upper yellow half signifies the country’s secular authority of the King in fruitful action in the affairs of religion and state. The lower saffron orange half signifies the religious practice and spiritual power of Buddhism manifested in the Drukpa Kagyu and Nyingmapa traditions. The Dragon symbolizes the name of the country, locally known as Druk Yul meaning the land of Thunder Dragon and its white colour signifies purity and loyalty of the Bhutanese people. The national flag was created in 1947 by Mayum Choying Wangmo Dorji and modified in 1956 to take its final shape.
The National Emblem, contained in a circle is composed of double diamond thunderbolt placed above a lotus surmounted by a jewel and framed by two dragons. The double diamond thunderbolt represents the harmony between secular and religious power. The lotus symbolizes purity, the jewel – sovereign power and the two dragons – a male and a female stand for the name of the country – the Land of Thunder Dragon (Druk Yul)
National Day is celebrated on 17 December and commemorates the ascension to the throne of Ugyen Wangchuck, the first king of Bhutan , at Punakha Dzong on 17 December 1907.
The national flower is the blue poppy (Meconopsis grandis), which grows at high altitudes.
The national tree is the cypress (Cupressus torolusa), which is often associated with religious places. The Bhutanese identify with it because it is straight and strong and can grow in inhospitable soil.
The national bird is the raven (Corvus corax) because it adorns the royal hat. It represents the deity Gonpo Jarodonchen (Mahakala with a raven’s head), one of the most important guardian deities of Bhutan.
The national animal is the takin (Burdorcas taxicolor), an extremely rare bovid mammal of the ovine-caprine family It lives in flocks in places 4,000 metres (over 13,125 feet) high, and eats bamboo. It can weigh as much as 250 kilogrammes (550 pounds). National Animal of Bhutan:
In 15th century, Saint Drukpa Kuenley, popularly known as “the Divine Madman”, went to attend a large congregation of devotees gathered from around the country to receive a blessing from another Saint. A group of people mockingly demanded to see his magical power. The saint, in his usual unorthodox and outrageous way, demanded that he first be served a whole cow and a goat for lunch. He devoured these with relish and left only the bones. He then took the goat’s head and stuck it onto the bones of the cow. And then with a snap of his fingers he commanded the strange beast to rise up and graze on the mountainside. To the astonishment of the people, the animal arose and ran up to the meadows to graze. This animal came to be known as the Dyiong-gyem tsi (takin) and was later selected as the national animal based on both its uniqueness and its strong association religious history and myth.
The takin continues to befuddle taxonomists, who cannot quite relate it to any other animal. Some call as ‘beestung moose’, referring to its humped nose and similarity in size to the North American moose. Taxonomists have now put it into a class by itself, Bu-dorcas taxicolor.
In summer, takins graze in sub alpine forests and meadows above 3700m. By migrating they escape the leeches, mosquitoes, horseflies, and other parasites of the monsoon swept lower valleys.
They mate in the summer and the gestation period is between seven – eight months. The young born, usually a single calf are born between December and February. They are black in contrast to the golden yellow and brownish coat of the adults.
Around autumn the make descent to the lower valleys. They do this in stages, grazing as they descend. They arrive at the winter grazing grounds in temperate broadleaf forests between 2000m and 3000m by late October.
Hunting is banned by law, and poaching is limited since there is no high economic value placed on the body parts of the takin. In traditional medicine, however, the horn of the takin, consumed in minute amounts, is supposed to help women during a difficult childbirth.
The major threats that the takin faces are competition with domestic yaks for food in the alpine regions and loss of habitat in the temperate regions.
The national sport of Bhutan is archery. Other traditional sports include “digor” kind of shot put, darts and wrestling. The international sport such as soccer, basketball, volleyball, lawn tennis and table tennis are also popular.
Since time immemorial Bhutanese have been passionate about their national sport of Dha (archery). Nearly all villages in the kingdom boast an archery range and each dzong has a space set aside nearby for a bha cho (field of target). Competitions are a riot of colour and excitement, with two teams in tra¬ditional dress shooting at small wooden targets placed 140m apart (Olympic standard is 50m).
The distance is so great that team members gather dangerously close to the target to yell back how good the archer’s aim was. This is often accompanied by howls, chanting, encouragement and jokes. Members of the opposing team may shout back how terrible the archer’s aim is and make ribald remarks. When an arrow hits the tar¬get, team-mates perform a celebratory slow-motion dance and sing the praises of the shooter, who tucks a coloured scarf into his belt. For major tournaments each team brings its own cheerleading section of girls decked out in their finest clothes. They perform dances in between play, and dur¬ing the shooting they do brief routines and shout lewd and disparaging comments about the opposing archer’s parentage or sexual prowess.
Tradition has it that women are not allowed to touch an archer’s bow, and it is believed to decrease performance if an archer sleeps with a woman the night before a contest. The traditional Bhutanese archery equipment is a long bamboo bow. Most archers nowadays use a state-of-the-art carbonite Hoyt brand bow with a complicated-looking pulley system that releases the arrows with tremendous speed. The use of imported equipment hasn’t diluted the rich traditions of the game, although Bhutanese archers are now encouraged to train for the Olympics. International coaches who have trained Bhutan’s Olympic archers have been impressed with the natural talent and think that, with expert coaching, Bhutan could possibly win an Olympic medal one day.
ARTS & CRAFTS
Bhutan is known for handicraft items in bronze, silver and other metals. Sculpting of religious figures is widely practiced and every temple house large brightly painted and gilded statues of Buddha and other saints
Bhutanese men wear “gho”, which are longish robes tied around the waist by a cloth belt known as “kera”. The women’s ankle-length dress is known as “kira” which is made of bright colored fine woven fabric with traditional patterns.
Bhutanese are friendly and hospitable people. Large majority of Bhutanese are a homogenous group divided linguistically into three board sub-groups. There are “Sharchop” – eastern Bhutan, “Ngalong” – western Bhutan and “Lhosthampa” – southern Bhutan. Besides there are a number of smaller groups, many with their own language which form about one percent of the population. Some of these groups are: “Bumthap” in Bumthang, “Tsangho” in the east, “Layapa” in the north-west, “Brokpa” in the north-east and “Doya” in the south-west Bhutan.
Bhutan’s national currency is called Ngultrum (1 Ngultrum = 100 Chertrums) and was introduced in 1974. The Ngultrum is pegged with the Indian Rupee. One United States Dollar is roughly equivalent to Ngultrum 45.
Bhutan time is 6 hours ahead of GMT and there is only one time zone throughout the country.
The national language is Dzongkha. English is widely spoken in major towns and is a medium of instruction in schools. Other widely spoken languages are: Nepali, Bumthap, Sharchop and Hindi. There are a host of local dialects spoken in small villages within the country.
The unit of currency is called Ngultrum (Nu), which is equivalent, to one Indian Rupee. The Indian rupee is also legal tender. Major convertible currencies and travelers’ checks can be exchanged at banks in all major towns. Certain credit cards (MasterCard, Visa, & American Express) are accepted at a few larger hotels and some shops.
It is safer to drink bottled, boiled and filtered water. A reasonable variety of both hard and soft drinks are available in hotels, restaurants and shops in most towns. Many Bhutanese enjoy drinking traditional homemade alcoholic brews made from wheat, millet or rice.
All towns in western Bhutan have a reliable power supply. Elsewhere, access is less consistent, and electricity is not available in many outlying areas of the country. The voltage supply is 220/240, the same as India. If you do bring electrical appliances, take along an international converter kit complete with a set of adapter plugs. The sockets are round.
The main health risks are similar to other South Asian countries, namely diarrhea, respiratory infection or more unusual tropical infection. It is wise to have health insurance and although vaccinations are not mandatory, they are recommended. When trekking, there are also risks associated with altitude sickness and accident. In an event of health problems, there are basic hospital facilities in each district headquarters.
The current crime rate is extremely low, making Bhutan one of the safest places in the world. It is rare to feel insecure within the country.
All major towns have basic communication facilities, including post, telephone, fax and telegraph. Television and internet were introduced in 1999, and can be accessed from most towns and cities. Cell phones network are widely available in all major cities.
The most popular tourist purchases are traditional Bhutanese arts and handicrafts. Produced by skilled artisans, these are generally of a high quality and include: Buddhist paintings, statues, textiles, jewelry, wooden bowls and carvings. Bhutan is not a consumer society and the variety of everyday goods available is not particularly large. Bhutan is also popular for its exquisite postage stamps.
The central valleys of Punakha, Wangdiphodrang, Mongar, Trashigang and Lhunsthi enjoy a semi tropical climate with very cool winters, while Thimphu, Paro, Tongsa and Bumthang have pleasant summer, cold winters with monsoon rains, mainly from June-August. At the end of September, after the last big rainfall, autumn suddenly arrives and it is a magnificent season for trekking until November. Winter in Bhutan starts towards the end of November through February. At this time of the year, the climate is dry with daytime temperatures sometimes falling below zero Celsius. The southern part of Bhutan is tropical and in general the east of Bhutan is warmer than the west of the country.
Staple diet is red rice, buck wheat, wheat, maize, pork, beef, chicken, yak meat, cheese and chilies which are taken as a vegetable and not a spice.
The name ‘Bhutan’ appears to derive from the Sanskrit ‘Bhotant’ meaning ‘the end of Tibet’ or from ‘Bhu-uttan’ meaning ‘high land’. Though known as Bhutan to the outside world, the Bhutanese themselves refer to their country as Druk Yul or the Land of the Thunder Dragon. ‘Druk’ meaning ‘Dragon’ and extending from the predominant Drukpa school of Tibetan Buddhism.
Archaeological evidence suggests Bhutan was inhabited possibly as early as 2000 BC. Buddhism was probably introduced in the 2nd century although traditionally its introduction is credited to the first visit of Guru Rinpoche in the 8th century. Guru Rinpoche is one of the most important figures in Bhutan’s history, regarded as the second Buddha.
Before the 16th century, numerous clans and noble families ruled in different valleys throughout Bhutan, quarrelling among them and with Tibet. This changed in 1616 with the arrival of Ngawang Namgyal, a monk of the Drukpa Kagyu school of Buddhism from Tibet. He taught throughout the region and soon established himself as the religious ruler of Bhutan with the title Shabdrung Rinpoche. He repelled attacks from rival lamas and Tibetan forces and transformed the southern valleys into a unified country called Druk Yul (Land of the Thunder Dragon). While the political system he established lasted until the beginning of the 20th century, the announcement of the Shabdrung’s death in 1705 was followed by 200 years of internal conflict and political infighting.
Instability lasted until 1907 when Ugyen Wangchuck was elected, by a unanimous vote of Bhutan’s chiefs and principal lamas, as hereditary ruler of Bhutan. Thus the first king was crowned and the Wangchuck dynasty began. Over the following four decades, he and his heir, King Jigme Wangchuck, brought the entire country under the monarchy’s direct control. Upon independence in 1947, India recognized Bhutan as a sovereign country.
The fourth King, Jigme Singye Wangchuck, had espoused and implemented the policy of controlled development with particular focus on the preservation of the environment and Bhutan’s unique culture. Among his ideals is economic self-reliance and what has now become widely known as ‘Gross National Happiness’. His coronation on 2 June 1974 was the first time the international media were allowed to enter the Kingdom, and marked Bhutan’s debut appearance on the world stage. The first group of paying tourists arrived later that year. In major political reform in June 1998, the king dissolved the Council of Ministers and announced that ministers formerly appointed by him would need to stand for open election. In 1999 television and Internet were first introduced to Bhutan.
Nowhere in the Himalayas is the natural environment more rich and diverse than it is Bhutan. One of Bhutan’s ancient names by the Tibetan neighbors was Menjong Yul, meaning ‘the land of Medicinal Herbs’ and so rightfully. Even today, natural environment is mostly in undisturbed and pristine form. The ecosystem in Bhutan is diverse, because of its location, great geographical and climatic variations. Bhutan’s high, rugged mountains and deep valleys are rich with spectacular biodiversity, making one of the world’s ten most important biodiversity ‘hotspots’. For centuries, Bhutanese have treasured the natural environment and have looked upon it as the source of all life. This traditional reverence for nature has delivered Bhutan into the 21st century with an environment still richly intact. The country wishes to continue living in harmony with nature and to pass on this rich heritage to its future generations.
Knowing the importance of the natural environment, Royal Government of Bhutan takes its conservations at the heart of its development strategy. Royal Government of Bhutan has also committed in maintaining 60 percent forest cover for all time to come. Currently the total land under forest cover is 65 percent and more than 26 percent of the land is under the protected areas, comprising of four national parks and about 9 percent of the land fall under biological corridors so that the wild life sanctuaries and nature reserves connect protected areas.
Fortunately for Bhutan, maintaining a balanced natural ecosystem remains the central theme of its development process. The country’s development policies disregard sacrificing its natural resource base for short term economic gains and are consistent with the central tenets of sustainable development, environmental conservation and cultural values.
In 1998, Bhutan was identified by Norman Myers as one of the ten bio-diversity hot spots in the world. It has been identified as the centre of 221 global endemic bird areas. The country signed the Convention on Biological Diversity and United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. These conventions were ratified in 1995 at the 73rd session of the National Assembly. The Royal Government of Bhutan has also made a national commitment to uphold its obligation to future generations by charting a path of development called the “Middle Path” – this is the development which upholds both environmental and cultural preservation as an integral part of the development process.
Flora and Fauna
Bhutan has a rich and varied biological diversity and declared as one of the tenth bio-diversity hot spots in the world. Very few countries in the world match Bhutan’s biological diversity and fewer still have taken such strong steps to conserve their biodiversity. Bhutan, for example, has its own Biodiversity Action Plan. The country ranks amongst the top ten percent of highest species density (species richness per unit area) in the world, and it has the largest proportion of land under protected areas.
Some 26.23% of the country’s area is protected through National Parks. In addition, a further 9% has been declared as Biological Corridors, connecting protected areas, and there are a series of Conservation Areas intended to protect important conservation sites outside the formal Protected Areas system. As a result, more than 35% of the country’s area is under the protection of some form of conservation management. This system serves as a globally unique system for in situ conservation of biodiversity.
Regarding diversity at the species level, inventories have indicated that over 5500 species, including 300 species of medicinal plants and over 50 species of rhododendrons. Of the more than 600 species of orchid, most are commonly found up to 2100m, although some hardy species thrive even above 3,700m.
Tropical evergreen forests growing below 800m are repositories of unique bio-diversity. The next vegetation zone is the subtropical grasslands and forests found between 900m and 1800m. The tree rhododendron is found in this zone, along with forest of oak, walnut and sal, and numerous variety of orchid. Temperate zone is a region of great diversity, largely influenced by the elevation. The tropical vegetation of the lower zones gives way to dark forests of oak, birch, maple, magnolia and laurel. Above 2400 altitude is the home of spruce, yew, and weeping cypress, and higher still, growing up to the tree line, is the east Himalayan fir. Between the tree line and the snow line at about 5,500m are low shrubs, rhododendrons, Himalayan grasses and flowering herbs.
Bhutan’s national flower, Blue Poppy grows above the tree line 3,500 – 4,500m elevation and can be found atop some high passes from the far eastern parts of the country all the way across to the west.
Because of its unique setting and relatively un-exploited environment, Bhutan probably possesses the greatest biological diversity of any country of its size in Asia. It certainly contains some of the best remaining representatives of habitat types found in the Himalayas.
Along its southern border, the narrow tropical and subtropical belt supports the Asiatic elephant, greater one-horned rhinoceros, gaur, wild water buffalo, hog deer, tiger, clouded leopard, hornbill, trogon and other mammals and birds characteristic of indomalayan species. Only 150 kilometers to the north, high Himalayan fauna include the blue sheep, takin, musk deer, snow leopard, wolf and other species characteristic of the Palearctic realm.
So far 770 species of birds have been recorded in Bhutan which reflects the Kingdom’s wide range of agro-ecological environments, from subtropical to alpine and its location at the northern edge of the Zoogeographical oriental region and the permeable and fluid border with China. Also country is famous for wintering populations (about 350 birds) of the vulnerable black-necked crane in the valleys of Phobjikha, Bomdeling and Gyetsa.
National Parks & Protected Areas
Bhutan’s history of isolation and policy of sustainable development provides decision makers with a unique opportunity to conserve the country’s natural and cultural heritage. As a first step in conserving its natural heritage, Bhutan has established a system of nine protected areas. The system sets aside approximately 26% of country’s total land area in national parks, nature reserves, wildlife sanctuaries and conservation areas.
Kingdom established its national park system to protect important ecosystems, and they have not been developed as tourist attraction. In many case people even won’t be aware that they are entering or leaving a national park or wild life sanctuary.
Jigme Dorji National Park
It is the largest protected area in the country, encompassing an area of 4,349 sq. km, covering the western parts of Paro, Thimphu and Punakha and almost entire area of Gasa district. The park is habitat of several endangered species including takin, blue sheep, snow leopard, musk deer, Himalayan black bear and red panda. The trek from Paro to Choolhari, Lingshi, Laya and Gasa goes through this park.
Royal Manas National Park
This 1,023 sq km park in south central Bhutan adjoins the Black Mountain National Park to the north and India’s Manas National Park and Manas Tiger reserve to the south. It was initially established as a reserve game park. It is home of rhinoceros, buffalo, tiger, leopard, gaur, bear, elephant, wild dog, pygmy hog, hispid hare and several species of deer. Plans for opening Manas National park for tourists in underway.
Black Mountain National Park
Black mountain Park is renamed as Jigme Singye Wangchuk National Park. This area of 1,723 sq km protect the range of mountains that separate eastern and western Bhutan. Its plant life includes wide range of broadleaf species, conifers and alpine pastures. Animal life includes tiger, Himalayan black bear, leopard, red panda, goral, serow, sambar, wild pig and golden langur. The Phobjikha valley (Gangtey), which is the wintering ground for black necked crane falls within this protected park.
Thrumshing la National Park
The 768 sq km Thrumshing la National Park lies between Bumthang and Mongar and protects temperate forests of fir and chir pine. It is known for its scenic views, dense forests and alpine meadows. Presence of threatened species viz. rufous necked hornbill, Satyra tragopan, Ward’s trogon, chestnut breasted partridge is a noteworthy feature of this reserve. A small area (22hectres)near the Thrumsingla pass (highest motor able pass in Bhutan), has a natural garden established to showcase Bhutan’s rhododendron diversity in their natural habitat. Out of 46 known species of rhododendrons in Bhutan four—R. kesangiae, R. pogonophyllum, R. bhutanense and R. flinckii—are endemic to the kingdom.
Kulong Chhu Wildlife Sanctuary
This reserve with an area of 1, 300 sq km is a large area of alpine tundra. The sanctuary protects the sambar and adjoins the Bomdeling conservation area, which is an important roosting place of black-necked cranes.
Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary
This is in the easternmost part of the country protecting 650 sq km temperate forests of eastern blue pine and rhododendron. This sanctury is rumored for sighting yeti, yes the legendary abominable snowman.
Khaling Wildlife Sanctuary
Situated in far south-eastern Bhutan with an area of 273 sq km this sanctuary protects wild elephant, gaur, pygmy hog, hispid hare and other tropical wildlife.
Toorsa Nature Reserve
Located in western part of the Ha district where Toorsa river enters from Tibet. This 644 sq km reserve was established to protect the temperate forests of far west Bhutan.
Phipsoo Wildlife Sanctuary
The smallest, with 278 sq km area in southern border with India, around 50km east of Phuentsholing, protects sal forests of the country. Several protected species thrive in the sanctuary including axis deer, chital, elephant, gaur, tiger, golden langur and hornbill.
Black Necked Crane:
Black-necked Crane or Thrung Trung Karmo as this bird is passionately known in Bhutan is subject of many Bhutanese songs and folklore. They are seen among the painting on the walls of temples and Thankga. These endangered species of cranes migrate from Tibet in late autumn and typically stay till the mid march. Black-necked Crane, is a large bird and medium-sized crane, up to 139 cm (55 in) long, 235 cm (7.8 ft) wingspan and 5.5 kg (12 lbs). It is whitish-gray crane with a black head, red crown patch, black upper neck and legs, and white patch to the rear of the eye. It has black primaries and secondaries. Both sexes are similar. The Black-necked Crane is distributed in Pakistan (Kashmir region), China, India, Bhutan and Vietnam. It breeds on the Tibetan Plateau, with a small population in adjacent Ladakh, India-occupied Kashmir and Pakistan-administered Kashmir (PAK). It has six wintering areas, mostly at lower altitudes in China, notably at Caohai Lake, but it also winters in Bhutan. In India, the crane breeds near the high altitude lakes of Ladakh such as Tso Kar Lake. The Black-necked Crane is one of the spiritual creatures for the people of the area and is pictured alongside many of their deities in the monasteries of the region.The estimated population of the species is between 5,600 and 6,000 individuals. The major threat to its survival are the cultivation of its breeding grounds. It is legally protected in China, India and Bhutan.The Black-necked Crane is evaluated as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. It is listed on Appendix I and II of CITES. Conservation and protected area of Black Necked Cranes in Bhutan are in Phobjikha Valley and in Bomdila.
Agriculture and the livestock rising is the mainstay of the economy in Bhutan. They contribute about 45 percent to GNP. About 79% of the population’s main source of livelihood is agriculture. The major crops grown by the farmers are rice, maize, wheat and apples, oranges, potatoes and cardamom are some of the cash crops grown by the farmers in Bhutan.
Over the decades, planned socio -economic development has brought about significant changes to the economy of Bhutan. The major exports are hydroelectric power, wood based products, minerals, horticulture products, calcium carbides and cement. We import the consumer goods and essentials like rice, salt, oil, petrol and kerosene. Hydroelectric power is the Bhutan’s largest resource and is sustainable, renewable and environmentally friendly. We have so much of potential and by tapping all this potential will raise the national revenue considerably.
Tourism is the highest source of hard currency. However, the tourism industry in Bhutan runs on the principle of sustainability, eco
Economical viable and environmentally friendly, in keeping with Royal Government of Bhutan’s cautious and balance development & modernization. There is no restriction on the number of tourist visiting Bhutan; however the policy of ‘high value and low volume’ ensures the preservation of Bhutan’s culture and traditions.
Our major trading partner is India. The two countries have free trade relationship agreement. We export about 90 percent to India and source for 70 percent imports. Bhutan also has preferential trade agreement with Bangladesh.
GROSS NATIONAL HAPPINESS
Economists measure consumer confidence on the assumption that the resulting figure says something about progress and public welfare. The gross domestic product, or G.D.P., is routinely used as shorthand for the well-being of a nation.
But the small Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan has been trying out a different idea. In 1972, concerned about the problems afflicting other developing countries that focused only on economic growth, Bhutan’s newly crowned leader, King Jigme Singye Wangchuck, decided to make his nation’s priority not it’s G.D.P. but its G.N.H., or gross national happiness. The king said, needed to ensure that prosperity was shared across society and that it was balanced against preserving cultural traditions, protecting the environment and maintaining a responsive government. The king has been instituting policies aimed at accomplishing these goals.
Although the concept of GNH was first pronounced by His Majesty the King in his speeches soon after acceding to the throne in 1972, it was, however, only in the last two decades that the concept was formally incorporated as a guiding principle in development policies and plans.
While conventional development models stress economic growth as the ultimate objective, the concept of GNH is based on the premise that true development of human society takes place when material and spiritual development occur side by side to complement and reinforce each other. “The four pillars of GNH are the promotion of equitable and sustainable socio-economic development, preservation and promotion of cultural values, conservation of the natural environment, and establishment of good governance.”
The concept of GNH was first metioned to the international community in the autumn of 1998 at the Asia-Pacific Millennium Summit in Seoul. This was followed by a bilateral seminar “GNH – as challenged by the concept of decent society” held in January 2001 in Zeist, the Netherlands, co-hosted by the CBS. More recently, the SAARC economic and planning ministers adopted the concept of GNH and its four pillars among the principles and strategies for the eradication of poverty in South Asia.
His Majesty the 4th Druk Gyalpo gave a wonderful gift to the Bhutanese people; the vision of Gross National Happiness with well being of his people as the ultimate goal. During the recent ‘3rd international conference on GNH’ organised by the Centre for Bhutan Studies and hosted by the Thai Government, it was mentioned more than once that Bhutan actually gave a gift to the world by adopting the concept of GNH. The eyes of the world are now on Bhutan and the expectations are extremely high. There is something at stake, for Bhutan and for the planet as a whole.
Leaders all over the world are searching for alternative approaches to development in light of the recognition that economic development and GDP in and of themselves do not necessarily make people happy. For quite some time there has been talk of ‘a paradigm shift’, an ‘alternative worldview’ – something more holistic and human, capable of transforming the world. The concept of GNH is a possible answer to this transformation.
Bhutan seeks to develop a society in which every Bhutanese citizen is fairly happy; in which development will be balanced between rural and urban areas; where the environment is not being destroyed at the cost of economic growth; where government provides services to the satisfaction of the people; where cultural identity and tradition are meaningfully integrated in change; where a culture of care is nurtured, whether it be family, the office or the environment. Bhutan holds the promise to show to the world a happy society practicing a democratic model in the spirit of the four pillars of GNH.
In his wisdom His Majesty choose democracy as the best possible system for achieving GNH. It is another gift: democracy as a means towards the ultimate goal of happiness. Such a democracy aims at sustainable development based on the four pillars of GNH and encompasses cultural, environmental and spiritual dimensions balanced with socio-economic growth. We haven’t seen such examples of democracies elsewhere. Though there is something to learn from other experiences, Bhutan will shape its unique form of democracy. How do the three sectors – the public sector, the private sector, and civil society – look in such a unique form of democracy?
So far there has been a strong focus on the political aspect of the democratization process, in particular the elections. Establishing an infrastructure for elections is in itself an enormous undertaking. And separating that which until recently was one; the legislative, executive and judicial power another one. Identifying what is political and what is a-political is part of this process and is an issue that both aspiring political leaders, civil servants and others are currently grappling with. All very complex issues and yet at the same time simple if we take the nation’s vision as the guideline.
The responsibility of translating the vision and values of the nation into action will rest mainly in the hands of the executives in the bureaucracy and the upcoming political leaders. They will have the honor and privilege of steering everyone beyond short term gains and quick wins towards longer term and broader goals of sustainable development. What matters is that they ‘walk the talk’ of putting the GNH concept into action by truly translating the vision of happiness into a day-to-day reality of all Bhutanese people.
Civil service reforms are taking place to strengthen the bureaucracy towards facilitating the establishment of a strong and successful parliamentary democracy. Improving the quality of the services to the people will contribute to their satisfaction and well being.
Streamlining and simplification of procedures and acknowledging that mindsets and attitudes of service providers need to change. They must become more client oriented and commence to see the world through the eyes of their customers and to act according to the convenience and interests of the same. Leaders and managers will help their staff to see and live up to their newly-identified responsibilities.
How will the private sector develop? Many democracies in the west are being shaped by the private sector with economic growth as the main indicator for development. However, this model is increasingly being questioned and we see examples of businesses becoming more aware of social responsibility (in addition to profit) abound. As much as good governance issues affect the government, there will also be an equal number of governance issues affecting the private sector. Corporate governance is making headway; companies can profile themselves through allocating a percentage of their profit to social or wellfare issues.
The vision of GNH and the values of transparency and accountability demand a business sector that addresses sustainability in addition to fast-paced economic development. Not an easy mandate, particularly in a sector where profits and ‘quick win’ agendas dominate. The government will have to develop policy guidelines and frameworks that encourage businesses to go beyond mere profit. The recent establishment of DHI is a promising example of private sector development in which the interest of the public in general is being safeguarded. What about tax exemptions for producers of environmentally friendly or organic products; subsidies for starting small scale businesses or annual awards for a safe and healthy work environment and proper waste management, just to name a few? And what about making a decent living as a professional plumber or electrician? A start has been made to changing the perception of blue collar jobs but there is more to be done.
Civil society, the third sector, is considered critical to an effectively functioning democracy. Initially, it will be the government’s responsibility to establish a civil society capable of operating in a sustainable manner. And again, the nation’s vision of happiness and the buddhist principles and values that underscore it should be used as the building blocks.
With the CSO’s Act coming into being, the sector will undoubtedly grow and discussions are already ongoing regarding the preferred model of civil society in Bhutan. A framework for civil society organisations is yet to be developed. How can Bhutan develop its own model of civil society whilst learning from experiences elsewhere? No need of becoming gap fillers as we see in other countries; CSOs must play a complementarity role in close collaboration with the government and in doing so they should be asked to spell out their specific contributions to GNH in their vision and values. CS development should be with the people rather than for the people and hence safeguarding the traditional self-organising capacity of Bhutanese communities and groups.
The government in Bhutan has been very careful in choosing its international partners; the choice for collaboration is based on shared vision and values. A similar approach of ‘selection at the entry’ could be applied for choosing international NGO’s to work with.
In particular on this issue other countries often have gone wrong.
GNH starts at home
In looking for a role model of inspiring and visionary leadership, there is little need to look outside the country! HM the 4th King is a shining example. Selflessness, humbleness, and modesty, leadership qualities that make world leaders, are to be found right here at home. Strong leadership looks beyond quick wins and is able to see the long term future beyond the existing reality. Nowadays we get used to the idea of thinking and acting ‘out of the box’; visionary leadership is about shaping a new box.
During the 3rd international conference on GNH Bhutan was depicted as an ideal place and for some of the participants from South East Asia, it reminded them of their country 30 to 40 years ago. They raised the question whether it will be only a matter of time for Bhutan to become like their countries or whether Bhutan will be able to make a difference and establish an alternative model of democracy?
Bhutan has the right ingredients to establish its unique model of democracy. With world-class exemplary, committed and visionary leadership at home, the ultimate answer lies in the hearts and the hands of each and every individual citizen of Bhutan, who now holds the responsibility to take the democratisation process forward whole-heartedly as envisioned by His Majesty the 4th Druk Gyalpo. Accepting this gift in making a conscious effort to know and understand what the changes are about and the relevance of elections in the democratisation process. To actively seek information on the new system, parties and candidates and engage in discussions with colleagues, family and community members to share and exchange knowledge and information. And above all exercising the right to vote as it is well informed and responsible voters who will elect leaders who are capable of leading Bhutan into an alternative model of democracy that is worthy of being shared with the world.
The establishment of monarchy in 1907 was the watershed event in the history of modern Bhutan. The country enjoyed peace and progress under successive reformist monarchs. The third king, His Majesty Jigme Dorji Wangchuck reformed the old pseudo-feudal systems by abolishing serfdom, redistributing land, and reforming taxation. He also introduced many executive, legislative, and judiciary reforms. The fourth king, His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck, took decentralization to the people, and devolved all executive powers to a council of ministers elected by the people in 1998, besides introducing a system of voting no confidence in the king, which empowered the parliament to remove the monarch. The national Constitution Committee started drafting the Constitution of the Kingdom of Bhutan in 2001. The Draft Constitution was distributed to the people in 2005, which was followed by public consultation initiated by the 4th and 5th Kings. Its implementation will establish parliamentary democracy in the country.
The people in different villages of the gewog in turn elect the chimis (people’s repressentatives). The king is now the head of the state. The government is elected by the parliament for a five-year term, with the head of the government or post of prime minister rotating amongst the ministers. At the district level, Dzongda functions as the chief executive officer and the gup (gewog head man) elected by the people is the chief executive officer at gewog level. Under the policy of greater decentralization and empowerment of the people, the Dzongkhag Yargay Tshogdu and the Geog Yargye Tshogchung have been given full administrative, policy making and financial powers in their respective Dzongkhags. Therefore, the success of development programmes will now be determined by the decisions taken by the people and the quality of their participation in implementing them.