Bhutan, the last great kingdom of the Himalayas, is famed for postcard-perfect mountain panoramas, primeval forests, and mystical monasteries. But the tiny Himalayan country, despite being closed to tourists until 1974, is also famed for its legendary hospitality. While the numbers visiting Bhutan every year are very limited compared to other Asian countries, those who are lucky enough to visit describe a fabled Himalayan paradise.
Reporting on tourism in the country in 2011 for Conde Nast Traveler, the travel writer Adam Platt, wrote, “To us debt-ridden, information-addled Westerners, Bhutan can seem unreal—a Himalayan aerie that values happiness over GNP and is at once resolutely green, profoundly spiritual, and politically pragmatic.” Five years later, Platt’s words still ring true.
The Bhutanese definition of “happiness” is very different from the Westernized sense of the word. To Westerners living in a non-stop world of connectivity from email to social media, happiness can feel fleeting or simply impossible to obtain. Too often, happiness has been measured by the accumulation of objects: a larger home, a larger TV, a shiny new car. For the Bhutanese, happiness is closely aligned with the Buddhist concept of contentment and peace. And for the weary Westerners who make the long trek halfway around the world to Bhutan, entering this peaceful, remote country offers a much-needed respite from the chaos of the outside world.
The adventurous experience of Mark Wright, an EHL Executive MBA graduate, is a clear testimony to the harmoniously hypnotizing nature of Bhutan. His current position as the Resident Manager of the marvelous Gangtey Lodge has made him recognize that the Buddhist way of life, centered around Karma and good deeds onto others, empowers the whole community with a truly gentle nature that mesmerizes tourists.
“Our staff have a very intuitive sense of guests’ needs, which is part due to training, but also their natural caring instincts. When guests sit out on the balcony staff instantly prepare blankets, neck-warmers and hot water bottles, which makes them feel looked after and very special. Staff are also willing to personally show guests local life in the valley and their family homes and , which is highly appreciated.” explains Mark Wright.
In fact, submerging into Bhutan’s magic is inherently comparable to that of a luxury expedition. One of the hardest-to-get destinations, with exclusive entrance and supreme beauty proposes a unique experience for those who crave to be delighted. Fortunately, Bhutan is the proof that people looking for the highest quality do not have to compromise on ethics: Luxury and sustainability can go hand in hand.
For Bhutanese people, the priority is not to cash the richness of their cultural heritage, but rather to respect its authenticity. Aware that an unrestricted flow of tourists could impact their pristine atmosphere, the government adopted a policy of ‘high-value, low-volume’. While much has been said about the high daily tourist fee (currently set to $250, which includes 3* accommodation, all meals, your guide, car & driver and all taxes and royalty fees), it helps control the influx of visitors ensuring everyone receives an unforgettable hospitality experience.
Proving these efforts true, Mark Wright describes a very close relationship between customers, the staff and their Shedra (local monk college). “During construction of Gangtey Lodge, the monks helped a great deal through the artwork in the lodge, including the main mural in the entrance. In turn, funds for their new temple and dormitory are raised by guests and staff that participate in the Shedra’s daily activities. Customers can further involve themselves in aspects of the village life by inviting a monk to the lodge for tea, having dinner with them in a local farmhouse or joining junior monks at the monastery in their studies for half a day. This brings joy to the staff for being able to show off their valley and maintains a sustainable relationship with the families and businesses in Gangtey Valley.”
The Bhutanese covet their status as a less developed nation– one without super highways, high-rise buildings, and the accompanying pollution and noise. By law, 60 percent of the country must be covered by forest at all times, reports the World Wildlife Fund. If a tree is cut down, a new one must be planted to take its place. The country makes much of its national income by selling clean hydropower to India. This stubborn resistance to development and a continued focus on small, sustainable growth reflects the country’s Buddhist values. Rather than charting the country’s progress by using standard economic statistics like GDP or GNP, the country instead uses its famous “Gross National Happiness” index.
Indeed, keeping tourism growth aligned with traditional values contributes to an authentic experience– and the local population is never overwhelmed. The result: if you’re looking for peace, tranquility and an impeccable experience, you’ll find it in Bhutan