GREAT FIGURES OF THE MISSIONARY WORK – Bengal and the Kingdom of the Dragon (38)

– Joaquim Magalhães de Castro

Dating back to 1953, the Dechencholing Palace, the official residence of the Bhutanese royal family, stands in a place full of history. There was there before a small fortress monastery that in 1641 Shabdrung reconsecrated with the name Tashicho-dzong, reestablishing in it the summer residence of his monastic body. To the west of it, in the small tower of Ney Khang Lhakhang, a venerated statue of Buddha Shakyamuni and others of various protective deities are well preserved.

Despite the political and economic centralism of the country, Thimphu transpires rurality, with many wheat fields nearby.

After centuries of isolation and natural fears and indecisions about the unavoidable socio-cultural impact of an openness to the world, Bhutan eventually granted entry visas to a few foreigners. It was in 1974, the zero year of tourism. Since then, the number of visitors has been increasing significantly and the activity is strictly regulated by a government determined to bet “on a qualitative tourism that does not interfere with the culture and traditions of the kingdom.” The scenario of neighboring Nepal, where even on the rails of access to the snowy peaks there is congestion of human beings in those periods more suitable for mountaineering, must be avoided at all costs. I note, however, that such protectionism is to some extent a fallacy, since restrictive measures (quite frustrating, since there it’s impossible to remain a reasonable period of time without spending a fortune) does not apply to Indian tourists. And India means several million potential visitors.

This voluntary isolation coupled with a low population density and sui generis orographic [i.e., mountains, especially with regard to their position and form] features have allowed Bhutan to maintain its ecosystem almost intact, being the only country in the world that absorbs more carbon dioxide than it emits. It is imposed by constitutional decree that the forest permanently covers at least sixty percent of the territory, the plastic bags have been banished (meanwhile, they have already returned) and – a single fact on a planetary scale – the sale of tobacco is prohibited.

Smoker or not, as visitor options, tourists can roam around the market, attend to the delicate process of manufacturing traditional paper, marvel at the amount of herbs and herbs exhibited at the Institute of Traditional Medicine, learn a little more about the history of the country in some of the city’s various museums, stroll through a park blessed by an enormous Buddha and where the famous masked dances occur on specific dates, or simply enjoy, on their conditional freedom, the unique Takin, a national animal of Bhutan. The takin is a type of goat-antelope crossing, which in its natural habitat in the eastern Himalayas lives in groups of two dozen individuals and feeds on bamboo. There are, in the diverse natural parks of the kingdom, strict measures of protection of animal life. For example, if someone kills a black-necked crane, a bird considered sacred and at risk of extinction, he is applying for a life sentence.

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