First of all, it is important to know what sets Bhutan apart as a tourist destination. Many people, including those working in the tourism industry think that it is the untouched natural scenery and our culture that sets Bhutan apart from other tourist destinations. They are only partially right. There are many places on earth which surpass Bhutan by far in terms of natural beauty. And culture, every country and region has one. What really sets Bhutan apart from other countries is the atmosphere of peace and tranquility heightened by the Bhutanese people’s warmth and their general sense of being at ease with themselves.
Sogyal Rinpoche described that when he was in Bhutan he felt like he used to feel when he was in the presence of his Masters like Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche. Although it may be hard to describe it exactly, many visitors express such a feeling. A Lonely Planet travel forum poster wrote, “I recently returned from an absolutely incredible and life changing trip to Bhutan (I don’t use those words lightly)…..Nepal was quite high on my list of destinations, but after Bhutan I am cautious. … I’m a bit afraid that the cultural, spiritual and environmental purity of the people and country combined with my lack of seeing other visitors set the bar a bit too high. Don’t get me wrong, Bhutan is not perfect – but the Shangrila effect was much greater than I anticipated being even possible.” In addition, a Japanese friend who visited Bhutan in 2009 told me one of the things he found different in Bhutan was that no souvenir vendors chased him shouting “ten dollars, ten dollars” in Bhutan.
If we lose this atmosphere peace, tranquility and warmth, Bhutan will lose the competitive edge it enjoys as a high-end tourist destination.
Below are some basic facts about Bhutan for the discerning visitor
The Raven (Corvus Corax Tibetanus) represents one of the most powerful deities of the country, Jarog Dongchen, hence the local name Jarog. Jarog Dongchen, along with Yeshey Gonpo (Mahakala) and Palden Lhamo (Mahakali) form the Divine Trinity and protects the King and the people of Bhutan from harm and safeguards their well-being. Therefore, the Raven holds a significant and permanent place on the Royal Crown, also interpreting reverence for the bird and faith in the protective deity.
The Cypress (Cupressus Torulosa) is known as Tsenden shing to the Bhutanese. An evergreen tree revered as sacred, its branches and needle-shaped leaves are used as incense. Apart from the natural forests, cypress is also found planted outside Dzongs, monasteries and religious surroundings. The wood, being hard, durable and resistant to termites and insects, holds a humble place in Bhutanese sentiment.
Takin (Burdocas Taxicolor) is locally known as the Drong Gyem tse. The Takin was selected as the national animal for its uniqueness and association to the religious myth that surrounds its origin. It is believed that Lam Drukpa Kuenley created it by sticking a goat’s head on to the body of a cow. Takins live in herds at a high altitude of 4,000 meters.
The national flag of Bhutan is divided diagonally with a white Dragon in the center. The upper diagonal section is colored yellow representing temporal power and the secular authority of the Monarchy. The lower section is orange and represents the spiritual power of Drukpa Kagyupa religion. The white color of the Dragon stands for peace. Its snarling mouth symbolizes the protection of the country and the people from worldly evils. The Dragon, clutching the Bhutanese symbol of jewels in its claws, represents the country’s wealth and prosperity.
Blue poppy (Meconopsis Grandis) grows on the rocky terrain above the tree line, which ranges from 3,500 to 4,000 meters. It is locally known as Eugelma Metog Hoem. In times past people considered the Blue poppy to be part of a myth as its existence was not confirmed. It was first discovered in Bhutan by a British botanist, George Sheriff, in 1933 in the remote mountain region in Sakteng.
Archery (or Dha) is a well-loved sport throughout Bhutan. Traditionally, bows and arrows were made of bamboos. The players are always men, and women participate in traditional dancing and singing to encourage (or put off) the archers. The two competing teams, wearing traditional dresses, pursue highest number of hits at the wooden targets that are placed 140 meters apart. If the player makes a hit his team mates rejoice by dancing and singing. The opponents are often critiqued and made fun of. The number of hits is depicted by the number of colored scarves around the players’ waists.