This year, Bhutan TOPPED the illustrious travel bible Lonely Planet’s “Best In Travel 2020” list.
Like so many places yet untrammeled by tourism, this itty bitty Himalayan kingdom has a time warping kind of beauty. Weaving between the tall mountaintops and thick forests are communities of people who have held onto a strong connection to nature, to each other, and to their many traditions no matter how much the world around them changed.
And it’s not out of a fear of the world beyond that this seems to be the case. Take it from the few and proud who traveled there before Lonely Planet said it was cool: the hospitality shown by the people of Bhutan is on another level.
On a recent 7-day trip to Bhutan, Intrepid Travel’s Karen Zhao and her group spent the night with a local family. She recalls, “We went to a local farmhouse just outside of Paro. After we all sat down, we were offered butter tea with puffed rice, which is a traditional drink to have before dinner. Then each of us were served a shot of Ara, which is a local spirit made from different type of grains; the taste is very strong, similar to Japanese sake. After we finished the first shot, Pema, our leader, told us that it’s tradition to drink three shots of Ara if you’ve already had one as a guest in someone’s house. So, not wanting to be rude, we did! After dinner, Pema and our driver showed us some traditional dancing. The little girl in the family was quite shy, and was peeking around the doorway to find out what all the noise was. It was a fun night and great to see how the locals actually live,” says Karen.
Bhutan is also a Buddhist kingdom, which means their way of life is of the utmost importance. Their philosophy of choice? Happiness. It’s such a priority that it’s actually an official government policy. It’s the only country in the world that not only calculates Gross National Happiness (GNH), but even ranks it above the Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
The measurement is based on the nine domains of happiness (psychological wellbeing, health, time use, education, cultural diversity and resilience, good governance, community vitality, ecological diversity and resilience, and living standards), and four pillars of GNH (sustainable and equitable socio-economic development, environmental conservation, preservation and promotion of culture, and good governance). In their three rounds of analysis, the rate has gotten a bit higher each time.
But Bhutan gets even better than its glorious generosity and landscapes. It’s also the first carbon-negative country in the world. That means, unlike most places, that it’s actually reducing carbon in the atmosphere thanks to the natural habitat that it’s preserving each year. Since Bhutan doesn’t see as many tourists as neighboring India, China, and Nepal, it’s made an impressive goal for 2020: to make all of its domestic agricultural products fully organic.
So we should probably all visit – and maybe even take a page out of their book!