- the last Shangri-la in no hurry to change (Letter from Thimpu)
May 18 (IANS) It's for no reason that they call this landlocked
nation 'the last Shangri-la'. Despite its coming out party
in the form of momentous elections held in March, Bhutan still
zealously guards its traditional culture, identity and the
environment. Foreign influences and tourism are strictly regulated
and it is in no hurry to change or make that grand leap forward.
maximum of 20,000 foreign tourists are allowed to visit this
quaint Himalayan kingdom of a mere 650,000 people - also called
the Land of the Thunder Dragon - every year. Many plan their
visit months in advance. The exception is for Indians who
do not fall in this category. This is on account of the close
ties both countries share. As one Bhutanese puts it, not very
positively though, Bhutan has remained a 'protectorate' of
government still follows a 'high value, low volume' tourism
policy. Tourists have to travel with licensed Bhutanese tour
operators, have licensed guides, put up in licensed accommodation,
take defined routes, and pay a minimum daily rate to the exchequer.
foreigner is charged $220 a day, and none wince to pay that
sum to get a peek into the kingdom's steep and high mountains,
criss-crossed by a network of rivers from deep valleys before
draining into the Indian plains.
like having a Starbuck coffee, it does not pinch them at all,"
remarks Hedum Dorji, a guide to a visiting IANS correspondent
who accompanied Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh here
Any foreign company planning to set up business in Bhutan
must have a local partner. The application for setting up
an enterprise is carefully vetted by the authorities that
must perforce state how much local employment the venture
could easily be the best getaway for Indian Health Minister
Anbumani Ramadoss who would delight at the government's strict
no-tobacco policy. Those bringing in a fixed quota of cigarettes
for personal consumption are charged a whopping 200 percent
tax. Here even Indians are not spared. Sale of tobacco is
years back parliament passed a law to ban the sale of tobacco
and prohibit smoking in public places. The former king, Jigme
Singye Wangchuck, who has been the prime mover behind Bhutan's
democratic transition, was in a bind because, say locals,
he loved Cuban cigars!
despite the ban many still smoke in the privacy of their homes,
relying on cigarettes smuggled from Phuntsholing, 175 km from
the Bhutanese capital or from India. Wills Navy Cut is a hot
the authorities have clamped down on tobacco, drug addiction
is rising along with rural-urban migration. The newly elected
legislators are asking each of Bhutan's 20 districts to take
the holy month of Sagadana being observed in Bhutan, steeped
in its Buddhist heritage, people have stopped eating pork,
beef, yak meat and mutton till another week. Most are sticking
to fish, soups and the national dish, 'ema datshi' a spicy
preparation comprising mushrooms, chillies and cheese, served
with red rice.
when this religious observance gets over later this month,
many are looking forward to Indian idol Prashant Tamang's
musical concert. He was scheduled to perform at the Changjiji
grounds May 2 but the culture department cancelled it on the
ground that foreign artists were not allowed to perform.
there has been a subsequent rethink in government circles.
Now the country's youth - 50 percent of who are under 25 years
- can look forward to a pulsating show on May 24. And shortly
after Tamang, India's upcoming rock brand, 'Indian Ocean',
is all set to entertain Thimpu.
the winds of change blowing?