Wellness Tourism in Bhutan
For discerning travellers with the pursuit of maintaining or enhancing one’s personal wellbeing and holistic health, undoubtedly Bhutan can be considered as one of the most favourite destination. Most appropriately, tourism industry in Bhutan is founded on the principle of sustainability, meaning that tourism must be environmentally and ecologically friendly, socially and culturally acceptable and economically viable and country strongly adheres to its far sighted and judicious policy of 'High Value, Low Impact' tourism which serves the purpose of creating an image of exclusivity and high- yield.
Bhutan offers many activities and experiences for travellers proactively seeking wellbeing and holistic health, stress reduction, rest and recuperation. These unique and authentic experiences can be built upon indigenous healing practices, ancient/spiritual traditions, native plants and forests, minerals and waters, vernacular architecture, street vibes, local ingredients and culinary traditions, history and culture etc. Whether it’s a session of peaceful, contemplative meditation, a relaxing soak in a mineral hot spring bath or the all-natural remedies of traditional medicine, Bhutan has just what you need to revive and rejuvenate your body and spirit.
Some of the unique & exclusive characteristics that positions Bhutan far ahead of other wellness destinations are:
• Bhutan is famously the only country in world to prioritized Gross National Happiness (GNH) over GDP. GNH as a development philosophy in Bhutan dates back as far as 1970s, when the fourth King, His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck, announced that Bhutan would pursue ‘happiness’ in its path towards development, rather than measuring progress merely through growth in Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Bhutan’s GHN approach and concrete actions in this direction have certainly raised its profile on the international stage and set a practically successful example for other countries, to follow.
• When the world is struggling to reduce carbon emissions, the Kingdom of Bhutan is already carbon negative and effectively, it means the greenhouse gas pollution the country produces is not only offset by its extensive forests but also in the negative due to generation and export of renewable energy. Bhutan is also an exclusive biodiversity hotspot in the world where forest coverage has increased to 72% of the country’s total area. Thus, the entire country in fact appears like a sanctuary with a wealth of rich natural resources.
• As one of the last strongholds of Vajrayana Buddhism, meditation and mediation retreats are a common practice amongst monks and Buddhist practitioners in Bhutan. Small retreat centres and hermitages are located all over the country, usually next to temples, monasteries and monastic schools. These retreats and meditation centres provide places of respite from the cares and stress of everyday life. Devout Buddhists often venture into the mountains for months at a time to meditate. The retreats provide practitioners with the opportunity to draw upon their inner self and meditate upon the purpose of life.
• Bhutan is inching towards becoming the world’s first 100% organic nation. Since the first announcement of 100% organic goal in 2008, the consumption of synthetic fertilizers & agro chemicals, pesticides have been gradually phased out. Most of the accommodation establishments in the country source and serve locally organically grown fruits, vegetable and food products thus propagating healthy eating and lifestyle.
• One of distinctive experiences in Bhutan is the traditional hot stone bath (Dotsho or Menchu). Practised since ages by locals, it is not only used as comforting soak but to treat various ailments like all kind of aches and pains. The river stone (pebbles) are collected and heated up in fire for several house until it becomes red hot. Then heated stones are placed in a section of bathtub which is filled with water and Artemsia leaves. The stones heat the water, and it is believed that their precious, key minerals are released to heal various kind of ailments. This ritual has been used by native Bhutanese for years to cure themselves of disease and unique experience for travellers as well.
• Bhutan is one of the few countries where up keeping the environment and eco-responsibility is studied and accorded even more importance than growing the economy. Tourists are attracted to country’s natural & cultural resources through snow-capped mountains, lush paddy fields, natural waterfalls, walking or biking trails, picturesque villages, strategically located temples and monasteries and all sites are immaculately maintained. Locals of all age group display high level of sensitivity and awareness to protect, preserve and conserve its national heritage and participate time to time in various cleaning campaigns thus ensuring highest standard of upkeep & maintenance. Travellers are pleasantly surprised here and appreciate cleanliness standard of tourism sites or country as a whole.
• In comparison to crime rate noticed in different parts of the world or to its neighbouring countries, Bhutan has extremely low crime rates and can be rated as one of the safest destinations to travel. This attribute adds value to it being a preferred wellness destination
• In Bhutan, hot springs, known as Tshachus/menchus, are found in many parts of the country. The medicinal properties of these hot springs have been used by the Bhutanese people for centuries to cure various ailments ranging from arthritis to body aches and even sinuses and is a popular tradition among Bhutanese to visit hot springs during the winter months. Travellers can visit these Tshachus/menchus and experience their threptic properties.
• Bhutan is well known as ‘Land of Medicinal Plants’. The traditional medicine of Bhutan is known as Sowa Rigpa and dates back to the 17th century when it first spilt from its Tibetan origins. Bhutan’s natural environment, with its exceptionally rich flora has enabled the development of an unparalleled pharmacopoeia. Indigenous medicine units have been established in all 20 Dzongkhags (districts) and can provide tourists with traditional remedies for various ailments they may have.
• A wide range of accommodation options available in Bhutan ranging from luxurious 5-star hotels to cosy little hotels, lodges, guesthouses, farm houses, home stays and majority of these establishments are attached with unique wellness features in terms of activities and experiences. Situated conveniently in the heart of the city or around spectacular landscape, all such accommodation units are built in classical Bhutanese architecture and maintain unique character and charm. The luxurious hotels provide world class spa and wellness facilities while the local accommodation units charm visitors with unique activities, experiences and traditional hospitality.
In last few decades, Bhutan has transformed itself from an isolated feudal state into a developing member of world community and the course of its development has been characteristics of its society, and people not given to instant panaceas and precipitous action , instead a thoughtful process of integrating the new with the old. Bhutan remains a profoundly traditional and religious society where the progress of the present is consciously counterpoised by the rich and valued heritage of the past and these virtues keep it separate from major touristic places and offer experiences to cherish for lifetime.
(images: Uma como, Gasa.gov.bt, TCB)