Cloistered in splendid isolation high atop the majestic eastern Himalayas, the Kingdom of Bhutan is considered by some to be the world's last Shangri-la. For the rare traveler who's lucky enough to be granted a visa to visit, it must surely seem the case.
Just a couple of happy kids in Thimpu, Bhutan. The terrific photo was taken by Steve Evans and is published here on starfish and waffles under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License.
A land of pristine forests, sparkling lakes, and spectacular alpine geography, Bhutan is an eco-tourist's dream. Citizens are required by law to wear traditional Buddhist costume. TV and internet service has been available only since 1999. There are exactly zero traffic lights operating in the entire country.
Bhutanese society is nothing short of an anomaly in today's modern world. But make no mistake – Bhutan's measured approach to development has been by design.
After the Dragon King, Jigme Singye Wangchuck, ascended to the throne in 1972, he made the maximization of "Gross National Happiness" (GNH) the country's priority, instead of focusing only on economic growth. At the center of all Bhutanese policymaking, the concept of GNH is essentially based on four pillars: balanced equitable development; environmental conservation; preservation and promotion of cultural heritage; and good governance.
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Felix, in his more ethical moments, writes for the Ethical Traveler news team. Ethical Traveler is a project of the California-based Earth Island Institute.