There's a palpable increase in activity here in Thimphu as we prepare to open the country to visitors, Friday, September 23rd. Newspapers report that 93 tourists are coming. The Dessup 60,000 plus army, the "Guardians of Peace," who were assembled and trained to help Bhutan manage the pandemic for over two years, are now beautifying things and improving infrastructure in the country. Everything is getting white-washed. Water schemes are happening in villages all over Bhutan. There is a lot of activity in the agricultural sector, and there are fairly radical changes going on in the civil service.
Welcoming committee at an ATM in Thimphu
Like the rest of the world our economy has taken a hit so the government is restricting imports of vehicles and probably other things in the near future to try to bolster hard currency reserves, which are fast depleting. Everyone in Asia is looking at the suffering of Sri Lanka and Pakistan and the crash and/or eventual crash of their economies. Bhutan is small and vulnerable, but it seems the government, specifically His Majesty the King, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck will not allow Bhutan to go down. We will only go up.
There seems to be a general reassessment of everything in Bhutan, from tourism to the civil service with an aim to keep what we have-- our small population, clean environment, and stability.
Bridge over the Thimphu Chu
His Majesty said, "In Bhutan we believe the pandemic has given us a new perspective and we want to ensure that the lessons learned are not wasted."
Revamping the tourism industry is just a small part of the picture. Here's a good article about tourism in Bhutan by Joe Bindloss.
We live in an apple orchard high above Thimphu. There's a camera trap about half a mile above us in the forest. The camera has recorded Bengal Tigers living there. Over many years tigers have migrated from the Indian Plains, where their habitats are dwindling, to Bhutan, where there is ample room to roam and feed and mate, and where they are protected. They've adapted to life at high altitude. So in Bhutan, humans live in roughly the same habitats as tigers. I've never met a tiger face to face, thank God. We have to be careful going out to the car at night. During much of the pandemic we were mostly safe from the virus thanks to the strong policies put in place by the government. But tigers were always a preoccupation for me. A danger, if not to me then to our dogs. But what I love and the feeling I have more than any other is a feeling of sanctuary. Bhutan is a sanctuary in the world, a place (so far) that's free and clean and relatively safe. I do feel something akin to the tigers. I feel that because of His Majesty and this benevolent government, we in Bhutan are protected. There are no guarantees. But it feels like things are moving in the right direction.
Phurba Namgay, "Tiger with Rocket," 2018, 16" x 22"