In an era where most countries are focusing to become the superpower of the world, Bhutan is focusing on its people and their health. Surprisingly, many people don’t know about the country and some don’t even know where it’s located on the world map. The country follows centuries old traditions, that protects its forests, wildlife and its people. Surrounded by the Himalayas and sandwiched between India and Tibet, the small country is open to tourists but comes with a high price. According to some reports, the cost of visiting the country can be at least $250 per day, perhaps to discourage influence from outside countries. Here, we have gathered some amazing facts about the country, where healthcare is free for all and homelessness is virtually non-existent.
1. Until 1999, Television and the internet was officially banned from Bhutan. In an effort to modernize, the King of Bhutan finally allowed television and internet access into the country.
In order to preserve its deep Buddhist traditions, the tiny Asian kingdom of Bhutan remained tucked away in total isolation. One of the steps taken to preserve their traditions and culture was to place a ban on television and the internet. In 1999, 20 years ago, Bhutan officially become one of the last countries in the world to introduce television to its people. The Dragon King had lifted the ban on TV and the internet as a plan to modernize his country.
2. Bhutan is the first country in the world with specific constitutional obligations on its people to protect the environment. One such requirement is that at least 60% of the nation must remain under forest cover at all times. It currently has around 75% forest cover.
Bhutan might be a small country but that does not stop it from protecting its pristine landscapes. For centuries, the country has been committed to conservation of the environment. According to Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness philosophy, conservation of the environment is one of the four pillars. The constitution mandates that not just the forests, but endangered animals such as royal Bengal tigers, elusive snow leopards, elegant black cranes and elephants should also be protected. Today, these elegant animals roam freely in the country’s 5 million acre network of protected areas. (source)
3. In 2016, when the new prince was born, Bhutan planted 108,000 trees as part of the celebration. It’s also the world’s only carbon-negative country.
In 2016, when the crown prince of the Himalayan kingdom was born, the country celebrated by planting 108,000 saplings all across the country. When King Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck and Queen Jetsun Pema announced the birth of the prince on Feb. 15, 2016 and the celebratory tree planting ceremony took place a month after the announcement. In Buddhism, trees are considered as provider of life and the number 108 is also considered to be sacred. In 2015, Bhutan also managed to set a Guinness World Record by planting almost 50,000 trees in just one hour. (source)
4. By 2010, Bhutan managed to reduce the percentage of poor to just 4%, while the whole of South Asia’s poverty level had fallen to 30%.
By focusing on people’s happiness and promoting employment in rural areas, the Bhutanese government managed to tackle homelessness and poverty to a great extent. In just over five years, from 2007-2012, the number of poor in Bhutan reduced by almost half. It is also the only country in the world to rank Gyalyong Gakid Palzom, or Gross National Happiness (GNH), above GDP. Things such as economic development, environmental and cultural conservation is decided according to the GNH. The country measures happiness by using a 30-page questionnaire that is filled out by the citizens.
The questionnaire includes details about a person’s happiness —psychological well-being, health, education, time use, cultural diversity and resilience, good governance, community vitality, ecological diversity, and living standard. According to the 2015 GNH, 91.2% of Bhutanese were narrowly, extensively, or deeply happy. There are also no homeless people. According to local sources, those who have no other means to live can go to the king, who will provide them with a piece of land to build a house and use it for farming. (source 1, 2)
5. Bhutanese people also receive free healthcare.
According to the Bhutanese government, Bhutan has the world’s best healthcare, providing both traditional and classical medicine, free of cost to all citizens. Traditional medicine was first introduced into Bhutan around the 17th century. Modern scientific methods and medicine wasn’t introduced into the country until 1988. Today, district hospitals and indigenous units provide free service to all citizens in 20 districts. (source)
6. Tobacco is banned in Bhutan and so is smoking in public places. Those caught sneaking cigarettes into the country above their allowed limit will face extensive tax or up to three years in prison.
On June 16, 2010, the parliament of Bhutan enacted the Tobacco Control Act, which bans the use or sale of the product. The law also regulates cultivation, harvest and production of tobacco products in Bhutan. While visitors can bring a maximum of 200 cigarettes, they can only use it in certain places. Also, bringing them from outside the country can be expensive since Bhutan places a 200% duty on them. Sneaking them into the country is a punishable offense and those caught could serve up to 3 years in prison. (source)
7. Although the king opened up his country for visitors to come and rejoice, it’s not easy to visit. Those who want to visit the country must get special permits as well as pay for everything in advance, which includes flight tickets, hotel, fees, tour operator and guide services, visa, and insurance.
For centuries, the country remained isolated from the rest of the world in an effort to preserve its culture. However, by the 1970’s, visitors were allowed into the country, but authorities started keeping a close eye on foreign influences. In 1999, after the TV and internet ban was lifted, the country started receiving more visitors. In 2018 alone, the country had more than 183,000 regional tourists. Visiting the country is not an easy task either. For a person to visit the country, a special permit is required as well as expenses for the entire trip must be paid in advance. According to the BBC, tourists must pay for everything in advance that includes flight tickets, hotel, fees, tour operator and guide services, visa, and insurance. (source)
8. In Bhutan, plastic bags are banned for ecological reasons.
For decades, plastic bags have been harming our planet. A small plastic bag can take thousands of years to decompose completely. In 1999, Bhutan understood the fact that plastic bags are harmful to our environment and decided to place a ban on them. The law was again reinstated in 2005 and once again in 2009. Most retailers and sellers use reusable bags or banana leaves to wrap foods. (source)
9. Bhutanese receive free education from the government.
In order to increase the literacy rate and after understanding that the isolated country needed to be able to communicate with the rest of the world, his Majesty Jigme Dorji Wangchuck began to build its education system in earnest. For nearly a century, the small country has provided free and universal primary education to every child. By 1998, the government had established 400 schools, of which 150 were primary community schools in remote areas, 188 regular primary schools, 44 junior high schools, and 18 high schools. Although everything about the world is taught at schools, the country places a heavy emphasis on Buddhist teachings. (source)
10. The Bhutanese Army consists of around 8,000 soldiers. The force is trained by the Indian Army and has a total annual budget of approximately $13.7 million.
In comparison, a single M1A2 tank used by the United States costs $8.5 million and in 2015 alone, the United States spent $598.5 billion. Another interesting fact is that Bhutanese are forbidden to marry foreigners. And unlike most Asian cultures, the inheritance is generally passed to the eldest daughter rather than the eldest son. After a wedding, a man often moves into the home of his new wife until he can “earn his keep”. (source)