Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN

Glade Sun

March 12, 2014

Lions journey to The Cloud Kingdom April 7

CROSSVILLE — The Fairfield Glade Lions final season Travelogue will come to a close on April 7 at the Palace Theatre. The adventure will start at 7 p.m. for a trip to Bhutan, a tiny Buddhist kingdom located on the eastern shoulders of the Himalayas. The area of Bhutan is equal to that of Vermont and New Hampshire combined or one-third that of Florida. Tickets available at the door for $7 each.

Bhutan is a landlocked nation with India on three sides and China’s Tibet to the north. The country broke away from Tibet in the 8th century and disappeared into the mists of her mountains. For 11 centuries it was closed to outsiders and nearly forgotten by the rest of the world. Her only visitors were occasional monks escaping the societal pressures of more “civilized” countries.

Today, Bhutan is the last independent Himalayan Buddhist Kingdom. Neighboring Sikkim was absorbed by India and Mustang became part of Nepal. Noting the crushing takeover in 1959 of Tibet by China, the present king’s grandfather decided to end his country’s policy of isolationism. They allied more closely with English-speaking India. Bhutan still has no diplomatic ties with China.

In 1960, Bhutan embarked on a course of economic and social development. Its first road began in 1961 and now often disappears in the clouds at 14,000 feet or more. Tourists began trickling into the country in 1974 and now total over 12,000 visitors a year. Today, over 72 percent of Bhutan is still forested while wildlife sanctuaries and national parks fully protect 25 percent. These natural heavens are home to some of the world’s most spectacular creatures such as black neck cranes, golden langurs, tigers, takins, blue sheep and gorals.

Only 16 percent of Bhutan’s land is arable. Rice paddies cover the valley floors and some of the mountain slopes. Subsistence farming sustains 80 percent of the population of 600,000. The literacy rate has increased from 28 percent in 1984 to 60 percent today and growing rapidly. All schools teach both English and the native language — Dzongkha, a Tibetan dialect.

Bhutan is referred to as The Land of the Peaceful Thunder Dragon and occasionally as the last Shangri-La. The air is free of pollution, crime is nearly nonexistent and smiles greet you everywhere. Electric lights (1994), television (1999), and cell phones (2003) will certainly end the isolated innocence that so many Bhutanese and harried visitors cherish. Hopefully Bhutan’s remoteness and enlightened government will keep that change to a minimum.

The current king has a steadfast mantra. Rather than worry about the Gross National Product, he encourages his people to follow what he calls, “The Gross National Happiness.”

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