Correspondents Notebook - Bhutan

I have just returned from an assignment in Bhutan. Bhutan I hear you say, now I’ve heard of the place but I’m not sure exactly where it is nor do I know much about it.

Well let me take you there briefly to give you some sense of this land locked Buddhist kingdom high up in the eastern Himalayas. Bhutan is a small country and has a population of around 600,000.
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Close your eyes for a minute…you’re in Bhutan’s capital, Thimphu…..at around two and half thousand metres above sea level….it’s not big, it’s home to about 60,000 people but growing steadily as the country continues its path to development…..

you’re surrounded by snow-capped mountains…..it’s the end of winter and there’s a hint of spring in the air….there’s a river running through Thimphu, the Wan Chu it’s crystal clear …..at one end of town there’s a Dzong….there are many Dzongs throughout Bhutan.....these fortress like structures serve as both religious and administrative centres….prayer flags flutter everywhere.

There’s no obvious sense of the ‘west’ in Thimphu….it’s not that modernity has not reached here…..but there’s no MacDonalds or Coca Cola…no neon lights…..there’s no high rise…..five stories is about the limit here….and traffic’s not really a problem….there are no traffic lights in Thimphu.

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There are many aspects of life in Bhutan that are different….but what’s really different is their development philosophy. Ever heard of Gross National Happiness? Gross National Happiness or GNH is meant to be a more accurate measure of social well being than Gross National Product or GNP….GNP is the main indicator of social well being in the west. The basic concept behind Gross National Happiness is a more holistic approach to development…..it’s not just economic development at all costs…..it might otherwise be described as a balance between the spiritual and the material.
There are lessons for other countries here too, both developing and developed….as many thinkers have been attempting to find a ‘third way’ between free market capitalism and the now defunct Communism.
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Bhutan is famous for it’s bio-diversity….and has managed to maintain over 70% of its forests…One of the few places I visited outside Thimphu was Punakha, about 60 kilometres from the capital. It has an impressive Dzong situated at the confluence of two rivers and is the winter home of the largest group of monks in the country and the spiritual leader of the Monk body….

the drive to Punakha was breathtaking…..through what’s known as the Docula Pass, high up in the Himalayas…..the wild daphne was still in flower but there were early hints of rhododendron which must look spectacular when they’re in full bloom. One negative for me was the amount of litter on the roadside and in the capital as well…..plastic bottles, empty cartons and wrappers of all kinds. This is indeed a problem in Bhutan and one the authorities are trying to address.
But with environmental protection as one of the pillars of Gross National Happiness, the Land of the Thunder Dragon as Bhutan is sometimes known, will undoubtedly overcome.

Barry Clarke.March 2004.Radio Australia
Barry Clarke was in Bhutan from 19th Feb. to 2nd March.


He is at present compiling the program on Bhutan. It will be one of 13 programs
in an education series and Barry is currently co-producing with a colleague at Radio Australia. The series is called, 'SMART SOCIETIES' and will be broadcast on RA
from July this year.
'Correspondent's Notebook' has gone to air already is a short piece called
The piece was done for radio of course and includes some Bhutanese music.

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