Maybe you’ve heard stories of the last Shangri-La on earth, a hidden gem in the wild Himalaya—Bhutan. This tiny Kingdom of less than one million people has been isolated from outside influences for thousands of years; its seclusion in part due to its geographic location, but also because of strict regulations on the development of tourism. Lately, it’s become slightly easier to visit and more people have been traveling to Bhutan to experience its spectacular mountain scenery, unique culture and peaceful, happy people. Thinking about going? Here are five things you probably didn’t know about this sacred country.
1. Bhutan is home to the highest unclimbed mountain in the world. But don’t get too excited if you’re a climber. Gangkar Puensum has an elevation of 24,836 feet, and is off limits to mountaineering. In 1994, the Bhutanese government prohibited climbing mountains above 18,000 feet due to the belief that these areas are sacred.
2. You can make your own stamps. Bhutan has some of the most intricately designed stamps in the world. In various colors and shapes (even 3D), new stamps are often released to celebrate festivals, anniversaries, even the royal family wedding. And you can join in on the cultural tradition by making your own stamp at the National Post Office in the country’s capital, Thimphu. It’s the icing on the cake for a postcard home to friends.
3. “Gross National Happiness is more important than Gross National Product.” His Majesty Jingme Singye Wangchuck, former King of Bhutan, is the creator of Gross National Happiness. Rather than base the economic success of Bhutan on how much money the country earned, he believed it should be measured by factors that contribute to the quality of life for the Bhutanese people.
4. Bhutan is the only country in the world that doesn’t have a single traffic light in its capital city. Instead, policemen in Thimphu stand at major intersections and direct traffic. Supposedly a set was installed, and then quickly removed, because the Bhutanese preferred the policemen. (There may also be no traffic light in Melekeok, Palau. Next time you’re there, let me know.)
5. Seventy-two percent of land in Bhutan is covered by forest. And it’s going to stay that way. By constitutional law at least 60 percent of the country should be covered by trees. This commitment to maintaining ample forested area has allowed rich biodiversity to flourish. Over 5,500 plant varieties (300 known to be medicinal) and 165 species of mammals (including the snow leopard and the red panda) can be found in the country.*