Bhutan is magical and a true “terma linca” – a treasure trove. The ancient culture that host modernity can only be magical. A “terma” is an ancient Bhutanese term for mystical treasures and it is apt way to describe the pristine nature in Bhutan, resources and its friendly people.
The magic is not only in the thriving ancient culture that is easily seen in architecture, the fortresses, centuries old temples, or landscapes dotted with celebrations of faith and history but also in deep seated beliefs and values that inspire the daily lives of the people.
Every carving, every motif in Bhutanese architecture has symbolism and influences luck and fortune. You will not have experienced true Bhutan, if you don’t get ‘dzong-ed’ out in Bhutan – the fortresses (called ‘dzongs’ which can be pronounced ‘zonk’) that commands every valley that afforded protection in the past and now becoming core of every communities and their activities.
There are temples that are 7th century old and still being worshipped in, alongside similar ‘lhakhangs‘ that are newly built and equally used, which are not only seen as place of worship, but also as pinnacle of artisans’ skills and generosity of their patrons. These temples adorn the mountainous but lush landscape alongside prayer flags that reinforces the good intentions and the beliefs.
These beliefs translate not only in the friendliness of the people towards you, but also in general sense of well being you sense being among the Bhutanese. These beliefs have evolved to be part of the people’s daily lives.
These beliefs have incubated the new paradigm in development philosophy of the ‘Gross National Happiness’ that Bhutan has adopted as national policy and goal – different from any existing system in the world. Gross National Happiness, put forward by the visionary the Great Fourth King of Bhutan, is a holistic approach to development where it is recognized that human beings (individuals or communities or society) have needs beyond physical. Physical needs are easily addressed by economic measures but what about mental, spiritual or emotional needs? Such questions led the kings and the leaders to respond beyond economic stimulus and ensure that Bhutanese did not confuse between ends and means. After all, pursuit of material gain is a tool for higher purposes that human lives have.
With this all encompassing philosophy, the Kings have ensured that the country modernizes – having better lives for the people but yet retain the age old values, culture and all that are dear to the Bhutanese hearts. It is in this country, you will meet people that proudly wear their traditional attire as business suits to go work in 17th century buildings that are connected with latest high speed internet. Or meet some teenagers that may be in too big a pants and Starter hats but the respect for their elders is also seen as essential attire! You may hear 400 year-old prayers chanted as easily as an Eminem number being sung by the same youngster.
Similar balance is also seen in other spheres like natural environment. While there are economic activities and developments abound and so the rise of concrete jungles, equally there is also forest coverage being maintained – in fact 72% of the country is under forest cover. About little more than 50% of the land is designated as protected area (includes biological corridors and 38% strictly protected areas). There are still virgin forests in the country. Bhutan is considered only carbon negative country in the world – absorbing more carbon than it produces.
This magical blend is also seen in harmony of how dominant Buddhism coexist with other faiths – all thriving as same as you will find 26 different ethnicities complementing each other in the country, despite each having thier own dialects and individual practices.
Such coexistence is also found in the country’s relations with its neighbors – the two of biggest populated countries in the world – China to north and India to the South. The near million Bhutanese living alongside nations that not only have million times more people but also 100 times larger expanse to the south or 200 times to the north, without ever being colonized or ruled by any other than by our own, is a miracle.
Being here, is to experience miracle.