When will Bhutan destroy China?

Hiking in Bhutan: Flown in by tiger

Main picture700 meters in altitude have to be mastered to the Tiger's Nest monastery.(c) REUTERS (Adrees Latif)

Wonderland on the Himalayas, nature and trekking paradise, controlled democracy of bliss. A well-meaning king wants to preserve the traditions and culture of the tourist boom country. A Buddhist form of government and life with a future?

The disappointment first: Bhutan is not emphasized on the first syllable, but rather like the liquid gas butane, although this has nothing to do with the mountainous country the size of half of Austria. For the relaxed sandwich kingdom (730,000 inhabitants) between the world powers India and China, someone would have to invent Buddhism if it didn't already exist. He was brought by a man named Padmasambhava or Guru Rinpoche, flying in from Tibet on the back of a tiger in 747. The wildcat is said to have been his student and tantric companion, ex-Empress Yeshe Tsogyal, logically also a Buddhist master, as the male / female division implies.

The content of his teaching was quite baroque and, as Mahayana Buddhism, not unlike Catholicism in this respect, relies on a high degree of belief in miracles. The guru meditated in a rock cave at 3120 meters. Nine hundred years later monks built the Taktshang monastery there, the "Tiger's Nest", which can only be reached on foot or on the back of a sad hired mule and is Bhutan's main attraction today. The normal hiking time for Europeans is more than two hours. Indians and Chinese usually need twice the hiking time, because it is a steep climb from 2400 meters in the valley to 3120 meters on a stepped path. Then finally up! Inside the monastery walls there is a ban on photos, tragic for the tourists, but ultimately pleasant, as everyone relaxes from the snapshot and understands that golden Buddha and wild demon figures look them in the eyes with unfathomable eyes.

Kingdom of happiness. Bhutan's reputation as the land of Gross National Happiness extends far beyond its borders. "But of course not everyone is always happy with us, we also have problems," explains Sangay Phurba, General Secretary of the second largest party Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT), "but we want social balance, sustainable environmental policy and the preservation of our ways of life. We could, of course, ours Cut down forests and sell them to India, but that would not be a good idea! "

Fantastic biodiversity extends in Druk Yul, the "land of the thunder dragon", from 250 meters above sea level in the lowlands of Assam to the highest point, Gangkhar Puensum (7570 meters), the world's highest unclimbed mountain. The climate ranges from subtropical to temperate to alpine, we encounter rare species such as red pandas, blood pheasants and nepal hornbills. 72 percent of Bhutan's area is forest-covered, with 5500 species there is an extremely high density of plants, in addition to pines for house and cypresses for temple construction, there are, for example, 46 rhododendron species.

"Every citizen must have accommodation and enough food," explains Sangay Phurba. "I was in college when the king started the democratization process. The majority wanted monarchy to continue. But the king was tough. What if one day a bad king came along, he argued?" Old King Jigme Singye Wangchuck (born 1955) did educational work and enthroned his son (born 1980) twelve years ago. He himself, who ruled from the age of 17 to 49, now wants to bring back his childhood, go for a walk, ride a bike, and shoot with the bow. Since then, the young Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck has been leading the country with a firm hand, without significantly restricting royal power. "Our party is the only opposition!" Laughs Sangay Phurba out loud.

How is it steered? The lady at the post office looks up in surprise: "Where's your guide?" Tourists and their tour guides dressed in traditional ghos (knee-length coats, for women: Kiras) are a sight with no alternatives in the autumn season. The exclusivity of a Bhutan trip is secured by the mandatory 250 dollars that everyone has to pay daily for the mandatory accompaniment.

The travelers give Bhutan a lot and get more in return. They visit the magnificent, golden-yellow fortresses with their prayer wheels and wall paintings, the Dzong of Trongsa (1534), once a border fortress between western and eastern empire, the "white bird fortress" of Jakar (1549) or the Punakha Dzong (1637 38), six-storey coronation palace between two river arms, destroyed by flash floods and rebuilt three times. where rice and buckwheat noodles are always accompanied by a bowl of Ema Datshi, the national dish made from orange-red to green chili peppers, onions, garlic and tomatoes with yak cheese.

In addition to chilli, rice schnapps and betel nut, which causes tooth decay, are the local drugs. But Bhutan is almost tobacco-free. Smokers buy their nicotine across the border, pay 100 percent import tax and receive a "permit certificate". But where do you smoke? Not in public, and neither in private homes because of altars. The addicts hide inconspicuously in corners or take refuge in the forest. Alcohol, on the other hand, is tolerated, with the exception of Tuesdays, "Dry Tuesday", where the cafes serve the Druk brand beer "inconspicuously" in teapots.

Steering is always a question of style. Traditional garb was mandatory until recently. After the townspeople interpreted their fashion in a more modern way, the king granted freedom of clothing, except for work, in offices at temples. On the sidewalks in the lively capital of Thimphu (120,000 inhabitants), a three-year-old with a raised hand to the "high five" met, and the primary school children throw after the smiling generation of Swiss crackers. Thimphu is suffering from or is enjoying a building boom, traffic is increasing, but there are no traffic lights. After a failed test run by the population, the only traffic light found illogical there is a policeman with white gloves watching over the traffic.

There is some respect for street dogs here. Parents make sure that their offspring come home at dusk. In the darkness the dogs band together, bark and howl. "Fall asleep", they say to the anxiously listening children, "they fight against the demons".
The Chimi Lhakhang temple worships the eccentric among the Buddhist saints, Drugpa Künleg (1455 1529), alcoholic, joker and seducer of women. He was allowed to do all of this because he killed demons with the strength of his penis, among other things. In the Punakha Valley, there is truly no shortage of phallic paintings on house facades. Often they depict the moment when the ejaculate leaves the male sexual organ. For the Bhutans this is not a moral problem. But woe, your gaze falls on the graffito with the letters "F-U-C-K". "Not a nice label," a local shakes his head. Today couples who want to have children make a pilgrimage through the yellow-green rice fields to the temple. Drugpa not only solves your fertility problem, you can even choose the gender of the offspring. The names of the resulting children are ritually fixed, Chimi Dorji and Chimi Pema (male / female) living advertising signs for the custom work of the saint.

Pastures at more than 4000 meters. The wide glacier valley Phobjikha, the largest wetland in the country, hugs the Black Mountains like a cow's tongue. Ruminants graze on endless pastures. Yaks and cattle sometimes get along too well, their crossbreed is called Dzo. In the monsoon months, the snake river, meandering in the middle of the valley, overflows its banks and creates fertile, swampy meadows. In summer nomads bring the yaks to over 4000 meters above sea level. Their annual yarn not only provides wool. Yak butter is also cooked, and "chugo", yak cheese, is made into small, hard chewing gum blocks that condense in the mouth into a goat-goat sour taste. Bhutan has no slaughter, at least officially. Therefore meat has to be imported from India, just as the pristine, fish-rich rivers have to be fished across the border. Only two thirds of Bhutanese are vegetarians. Local Buddhism only allows meat to be consumed if the animal dies naturally or in an accident. Those who push yaks, dzos or cattle over cliffs incur bad karma, which can stand in the way of rebirth.

The potato pass. Phobjikha's farmers harvest potatoes, collect them in a cooperative and send them to India via the Lawala Pass, popularly known as "Potato Pass". After processing, they come back into the country as potato chips. In autumn hundreds of black-headed cranes with a wingspan of two meters fly down from Tibet into the valley, circle the dzong three times and settle down, longed for by the farmers, as they peck the worms that threaten the harvest from the fields. Profit-oriented governments have long since milled an airport in this valley to boost tourism, but Phobjikha keeps the balance. The potato farmers, however, want to share in the prosperity. They want good cars. And cars need roads.


The 16-day trip "Bhutan Land of Happiness in the Himalayas" offers "Worldwide hiking", eight of which are hiking days. Flight from Vienna, Frankfurt or Munich (others on request).


Do you know why the water buffalo always tilt their head, occasionally pause and look up at an angle? Yak and water buffalo were once best friends. Until one day the yak whined about the cold. The friendly water buffalo gave him all of his hair. With it the yak disappeared over the mountains. Now when water buffalo lift their heads, they ask themselves, "Where are they? When are the yaks coming back?"

("Die Presse-Schaufenster", November 15, 2019)