There’s a place on earth, perhaps one of the last, where nature and humans exist as one; the government prioritizes happiness, and conservation of the land and wildlife is so important, laws are in place to protect it. Welcome to Bhutan, the last great “Shangri-La,” the last great oasis. Entering into the grounds of Bhutan is like traversing into a dream. Time seems to slow. The wind breathes through the Himalayas, through the torn prayer-flags lining the high passes, and out through the breaths of chanting monks. Tigers creep through the backcountry, black-necked cranes glide above; the slow crawl of traffic weaves through one designated lane. Everything lives in one harmonious existence. This is a nation with people who welcome you like family. And for those fortunate enough to visit, it will feel like coming home.
ON THE KINGDOM OF BHUTAN
Landlocked by China, Tibet, and India, the Buddhist Kingdom of Bhutan finds its home nestled on the eastern edge of the Himalayas. The country is known for its dramatic and varying landscapes — vast forests, sweeping valleys, and snowy mountains — which span an area of almost 40,000 square kilometers. Ancient dzongs (fortresses) and ornamental monasteries, including that of the cliff-hanging Tiger’s Nest, are also stunning and well-known fixtures of the country. Culture, sustainability, and deeply-rooted consciousness are prominent values that cling to every aspect of the country and day-to-day life here.
ON THE COUNTRY'S ENVIRONMENTAL CONSCIOUSNESS
Bhutan's devotion to the environment lies at the root of everything. In 2008, the country created a constitution establishing that a minimum of sixty percent of the country’s land must always be covered by forests. Currently, more than seventy percent of the area is forested. Protection efforts extend to the land’s inhabitants as well; laws are in place making it illegal to hunt or trap wildlife. Thanks to these protections, red pandas, tigers, and almost 800 species of birds can thrive in Bhutan's rich biodiversity. As a result of these conservation endeavors, Bhutan is the only carbon-negative country in the world, meaning that it absorbs more carbon than it produces — four times more, in fact.
ON BEING THE HAPPIEST COUNTRY IN THE WORLD
Bhutan is considered the “happiest country” in the world, based off an economic principle known as “Gross National Happiness” (GNH). The term was first coined in 1972 by the fourth king of Bhutan who wanted to ensure that the Bhutanese quality of life was given the same importance as the country's increasing development and growing economy. So how do you measure happiness? The government surveys nine domains — categories that encompass wellbeing, culture, environment, education, and good governance — every few years and a single number, derived from further sub-indexes and indicators, is calculated based on the results. One incredible outcome of GNH is it shows that true, sustaining happiness is created by a sense of purpose. And while this index may only seem like data, it represents a set of values that guide citizens in their daily lives and the government in its policies. Other governing entities, like the U.N., have even begun to look to Bhutan to adapt some of its practices.
ON SUSTAINABLE TRAVEL (TO AND WITHIN THE COUNTRY)
Visitors are required to apply for a visa and book their travel through a tourism agency sponsored by the government. There is a $200 minimum visa fee per day which covers all costs including meals, accommodations, transport within the country, and a licensed Bhutanese tour guide.While some travelers may not be fond of being with a guide at all times, many find they prefer it. These highly equipped guides can set up excursions based on specific interests — hiking, food, culture, conservation, art — allowing visitors to craft more meaningful itineraries and create friendships and cultural exchanges with locals that may not have occurred otherwise. Think of these guides as guardian angels of the country and its guests.