Tucked away in the heights of the eastern Himalayas, there is a small Buddhist country. As far as one can see – there are lush valleys with magnificent rivers, pure air with the scent of pines, thriving biodiversity (a global hotspot, one of the few remaining today), and a landscape made of 72% of forests (far exceeding the country’s constitutional requirement of minimum 60% land under forest cover), this country is the first-ever carbon negative country in the world, meaning, it absorbs more carbon than it produces.
It’s not surprising then, that it’s also the only country in the world, with no traffic lights! Most villagers there don’t need to pay almost anything to get electricity which is generated by the power of the sun, and the country also manages to export most of its hydroelectricity generated by its flowing rivers, without any large dams.
This country, of course, is Bhutan. Some years back the world suddenly started to know this tiny, remote nation, overshadowed on the map by its giant neighbors India and China. Why? Well, this place turned out to be both the greenest and happiest in the world.
If you are fortunate enough to get entry to Bhutan as a tourist, tough enough to breathe at the high altitudes of the Himalayas, and determined enough to trek for long rugged miles, you will come in front of the pristine vistas like no other in the world. and in the tranquil silence of hills, hear the envigorating music created by the crisp mountain wind, as it flows uninterrupted, flapping through the prayer flags over the monasteries.
One look at it and one falls in love with the allure of its pure soul. Its color is one-of-a-kind and vibrant. Its charm is wild, and yet its elegance is unmatched. Its life is mysterious as it thrives at the arduous heights of mountains, it exists like a hermit, is hard to reach, and rare to find. Tenacious, it faces months of constant colds and winds of snowy peaks, and yet, is nothing but absolutely gentle to look at.
I was describing the beguiling country of Bhutan, but didn’t I end up describing a Himalayan Blue Poppy in wild too – Bhutan’s national flower?
Found in extreme conditions and freezing temperatures at 3,000-4,500 meters elevation, the Himalayan Blue Poppy (Meconopsis) is an elusive alpine flower with dainty petals in a spectacular shade of cool blue.
This national flower encapsulates the characteristics of its nation like few others would. Not long ago when after extensive botanical research at the National Biodiversity Centre and Blue Poppy Society in Japan, it was found that Bhutan’s national flower is a brand-new species of Blue Poppies, it was given a new scientific name – Maconopsis Gakyidiana. Gakyid means Happiness in Dzongkha, the language of Bhutan. And this Gakyid, is paramount in Bhutan. So much so, that this country measures its progress and national development in terms of GNH (Gross National Happiness) and not GDP (Gross Domestic Product.)
Happiness can be a subjective term and every individual may define it differently. I decided to ask for its definition from a well-known, contemporary dictionary. In response, what I got on the screen was quite beautiful:
a: a state of well-being and contentment: JOY
b: a pleasurable or satisfying experience
obsolete: good fortune: PROSPERITY
Happiness doesn’t mean prosperity. That notion is obsolete.
Of course, happiness is a state of well-being and contentment – The very foundation of Bhutan’s unique, first-of-its-kind idea of Gross National Happiness. firmly integrated into every single policy passed by the government, this concept prevails as a part of the country’s constitution, for decades now, and as a core way of life adopted by Buddhist monks of the land, for thousands of years.
For the people in this Buddhist nation, compassion, contentment, peace, and reverence for nature are the core values of life – be it a school kid who is taught to recycle waste and is encouraged to understand basics of agriculture, or a delinquent who is sent to a monastery instead of a prison for a chance to reform himself.
Preservation of nature is Bhutan’s most important objective in its vision of the GNH. This small country can teach the world how the nation can both preserve and use its natural resources to generate income, in the best manner. Be it Bhutan’s long collaboration with WWF to protect its biodiversity, the biological corridors connecting the entire country, renewable energy plants, a restrictive tourism policy to protect its landscapes and environment, or keeping the pledge to remain a carbon-neutral country, Bhutan has been an incredible example of how commitment to nature will yield the results for a nation’s true happiness.
In “Walden“, Henry David Thoreau (July 12, 1817–May 6, 1862) remarked:
A man is rich in proportion to the number of things which he can afford to let alone.
Bhutan may be one of the poorer countries in the world, but I think the people of Bhutan are rich.
Watch this famous speech by the former prime minister of Bhutan explaining the vision of GNH and Bhutan’s holistic approach to national progress for sustainable development.
Unfortunately today, despite presenting an ideal model for environmental conservation to the world, Bhutan too, is facing the calamitous effects of neglecting nature – without actually doing so. As the planet is warming faster than ever, inevitable consequences of reckless acts towards nature in the rest of the world are now reaching to Bhutan, causing disruptions in its fragile ecosystem.
Thanks to climate change, every summer, the Himalayan glaciers—the world’s “Third Pole”—are melting swiftly, pouring water into Bhutan’s rivers. Changing weather also means that in monsoon, instead of bringing steady rainfall for a predictable period of time in a year, water gets dumped in erratic, intense bursts. As a result, rushing, unstoppable waters of rivers cause dangerous floods, pausing a threat to the future of Bhutan’s hydropower stations, something the country’s economy and its people depend heavily on.
And yes, like its home, Bhutan’s happy blue poppies are bearing the brunt of rising temperatures too. Due to habitat loss caused by climate changes, this stunning flower is in danger of potential extinction in wild in the next 50 years.
When such an environmentally abundant and highly conservation-aware country is not safe from the devastating effects of global warming, what will happen to the rest of us? Isn’t it time to wake up and think differently about our ideas of progress, and more importantly, our happiness?
Article ©2022 Gyaneshwari Dave