Do You Know What Makes Bhutan Unique?
Unsurprisingly, most people know very few facts about Bhutan. In fact, lots of experienced travelers aren’t even sure where Bhutan is located! Well, I’ll tell you. Surrounded by the Himalayas, Bhutan is a small country sandwiched between India and Tibet, just east of Nepal and north of Bangladesh.
Buy hey, no need to feel embarrassed. There is a reason for this well-spread ignorance.
For years, Bhutan has deliberately remained closed off to protect old traditions. Even television and internet access were banned until 1999! Nowadays only selective tourism is encouraged. And that, is a blessing in disguise and a source of many surprising and interesting facts about Bhutan.
Here are 13 Bhutan facts that you probably never heard of before. Read on!
#1. Dogs and hot springs?
Located in the remote north-west of Bhutan, The Gasa Hotsprings are the only ones in the world that have a separate pool for animals. They too love to enjoy a long soak in one of the four pools which are said to be good for sinusitis, rheumatism, arthritis, ulcers and skin conditions.
#2. Did anyone say needles? Ouch!
In Bhutan, needles are regarded as symbols of life. I am still trying to find out why.
#3. Butt naked? Really?
To ward off evil spirits, in the freezing winter midnight, Bhutanese monks perform a naked dance covering only their faces with masks.
#4. Hot tea anyone?
The Bhutanese make two sorts of tea: ngadja, which is sweetened and boiled with milk and sudja, Tibetan buttered, salted tea.
#5. No family name? Com’on! Tell me the truth!
I noticed Wangchuk — the last name of my guide and of the royal family (spelled Wangchuck) in Bhutan — seemed to be the surname of many people.
It’s not that everyone is related, but that babies are named by the head Buddhist priest of the local temple and after the deity from whom the mother and baby receive blessings from (although sometimes children are also named after the day they were born).
This means you have quite a number of people with the same or similar names in Bhutan.
#6. The rice is red.
According to Fooducate, “From a nutrition perspective, red rice has 3 grams of fiber per serving (brown rice has 2 grams).
But it has 10 times the antioxidants of brown rice!
#7. The pigs get high.
Marijuana grows plentiful in Bhutan, and while it’s illegal for the locals to smoke it, that doesn’t stop farmers from feeding it to their pigs.
After they chow down on some Mary Jane they become high and happy — and hungry, making it easy to fatten them up.
#8. No traffic lights
Instead, you’ll find one or two men wearing navy outfits and white gloves directing traffic by hand.
I’m told Thimphu once attempted to install a traffic light; however, public outcry led to its quick demise.
#9. What’s your birthday? I don’t know.
The locals do know their birth years, due to each having a designated animal, but they have no idea the day they were born in.
#10. People prefer happiness over wealth. What? Are you for real?
You may have heard of Gross National Happiness as a measure of progress replacing the capitalistic Gross Domestic Product. Bhutan’s former King invented the notion that his country’s wealth should be measured by the happiness of his people in 1974 in order to replace western consumption driven values by the spirituality of a Buddhist society.
#11. The only country in the world that is carbon-negative
One of the most enviable facts about Bhutan is that it is the only country in the world that is carbon-negative, that is, it produces less carbon Dioxide than it absorbs. This is partially thanks to the fact that factories are practically inexistent but also because Bhutan has it written in the Constitution that at least two thirds of the country must be covered in forests and that figure stands at 72% today.
#12. Bhutan is not a big monastery populated with happy monks.
The monks might be happy, but you cannot see them everywhere. In fact, as opposed to other Buddhist countries across Asia, Bhutan’s monks are hiding up in the hills where the monasteries are located, away from any distractions and civilisation in meditation.
#13. Fungus is worth more than gold.
Ophiocordyceps sinensis is a rare fungus prized in Traditional Chinese Medicine for its supposed aphrodisiac properties.
The fungus grows parasitically in ghost moth caterpillars, killing them and sprouting from its host’s head.
#14. Love tree planting?
Come to Bhutan! Tree planting is popular in the country, where they are a symbol of long life, beauty and compassion: in 2015, Bhutan set a Guinness World Record by planting almost 50,000 trees in just one hour.