Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell. Edward Abbey

07 June 2007

Beautiful, bountiful Bhutan under attack

I don't do long distance travel. Flying at bullet-like speeds freaks me out. I don't believe we were ever meant to physically travel at those speeds and at those heights. I feel like the cows and bulls must do when loaded into cattle trucks, ie squashed and claustraphobic, except my destination is not an abattoir!

So needless to say, I've never been to Bhutan.

But I have watched Michael Palin's epic series Himalaya. In the last episode he travels through beautiful, mountainous, environmentally-aware Bhutan. And I thought to myself, thank god there is one place on earth which is safe for now.

And yesterday my fantasy was shattered. Here's the reuters release that shook me:

Mines Destroy Bhutan's Mountains, Affect India
BHUTAN: June 6, 2007

GOMTU, Bhutan - As an explosion booms across the mountains, Yeshey Drukpa, 60, clenches his fist in anger standing in the foothills.

"The abode of the gods is being destroyed," he says, pointing towards billowing smoke above.

Mineral mining in Bhutan, a country that prides itself on its environmentally friendly policies, is not only angering some locals. It is also damaging agriculture and killing wildlife in neighbouring India, Indian officials said.

The Pugli hills around Gomtu, an industrial town in southwest Bhutan, are being blasted to extract dolomite, a mineral used both in steel manufacturing and in horticulture.

Just across the Indian border are the famed tea plantations of West Bengal state, the home of Darjeeling tea. Landslides and erosion caused by mining have left at least 14 estates prone to flooding, the Indian Tea Association says.

Read the full press release here ...

More about Bhutan

Former King Jigme Singye Wangchuck made protection of Bhutan's rich environment a cornerstone of the country's philosophy of Gross National Happiness. A quarter of Bhutan is set aside as national parks or wildlife sanctuaries. Nearly three-quarters is still forested.

In the final episode of Himalaya Palin demonstrates how Bhutan and Bangladesh are some 40 km apart, yet they could scarcely be more different. One is entirely composed of mountains, the other flat as a pancake. One is among the least crowded countries in the world, the other the most densely packed.

Bhutan's seclusion and stability is due largely to the physical inaccessibility of the Himalayan mountains.

I will spend a special moment today holding space for Bhutan before I do so for the elephants.

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