Kuzu Sangpola from Bhutan,
When the king of Bhutan decreed in 1972 that the country would measure Gross National Happiness as well as Gross National Product, he gave his country a unique selling point. The very concept has interested others sufficiently to put Bhutan on their bucket list (people like us, of course). But, it’s not the only way Bhutan leads the world.
organic within three years
The government of Bhutan legislated a few years ago that the nation would become organic within three years. Over a staged transition, all chemical inputs to agriculture would be phased out completely, leaving the country with only organic produce. They are currently in the second year of the project.
When I first heard this, I wondered if Bhutan’s total agricultural output was all that great. In other words, was it going to represent a remarkable achievement? At close quarters, I can report that it is.
The king of Bhutan relinquished power to a parliament in 2008. This left the country as a democratic monarchy. The king’s powers were reduced to the granting of land to the landless and some ceremonial functions.
limit the growth of cities
The nascent democracy is finding full voice now after one term of the first government. There are now four political parties. Along with that, the first opposition became the government at the second general election in 2013. Today, the government promotes policies designed to limit the growth of the cities (Thimphu, the capital has about 100,000 inhabitants) and assist farm families to stay where they are. New roads are connecting farms to markets, sometimes for the first time. Electricity (abundant here and an export earner for the country) is being supplied to remote villages and hamlets. Schools are free and accessible to most, including remote villagers.
“fallen prey to their own popularity”
Rivers here run clean. Rules prohibit sewerage being poured into the waterways. 51% of the country is protected from development. As well, effective wildlife corridors between protected areas have been created and maintained. Moreover, government policy monitors tourism strictly so that unsavoury consequences aren’t forthcoming. Official tourism policy is enshrined in the slogan: “high value, low impact”. Government edicts state that “the country has managed to avoid the same fate of other once fabulous destinations that have fallen prey to their own popularity”.
At the birth of the new prince just before our visit, the king decreed that he wished that the state not spend lots of resources on grand celebrations. Rather, the state should commemorate the birth “with initiatives that will have long-term benefits for the country and people”. This is the same king, by the way, who is described by one sign as being of “unparalleled benevolence”. Along with all this, there are definite rules about our visit to the country on this occasion.
We visited the produce markets in Thimpu where unprocessed cereals, fruit, nuts, vegetables and herbs are on sale. The produce is all segregated into Indian imports downstairs and local produce upstairs. Our guide, a congenial chap by the name of Yang-ku, informed us that the local produce invariably sells out first. The buyers know that it is organic. The imported produce is obviously a necessary evil in a city.
The food here in Bhutan is exquisite, not merely because of the preparation methods. The cuisine is distinctive enough for us to half-seriously contemplate filling a gap in the Canberra restaurant market with a Bhutanese outlet. But it’s also safe to say that the quality of the food is excellent because it is natural. Gross National Happiness is not the only thing which puts Bhutan ahead of the world.
Tashi delek from Bhutan
Post Script: The possible exception to the superb cuisine – at least from a taste perspective – is the cheese made from yak’s milk. It is rock hard (no exaggeration), has to be broken on a rock, by another rock to get it down to bite-size pieces, whereupon you suck it for about an hour until it disappears. The morsel I tasted was completely tasteless.