No nature lover will regret visiting Bhutan; A Q&A with Mr. Ugyen Thinley. (Part I)

Mr. Ugyen Thinley is a retired forester and the author of the book “ Know the Plants of Bhutan” Vol. I & II. As a forester, he has traversed deep and far into the forests of the Kingdom and spent more than three decades working in the field of forestry.

To present the pristine environment of Bhutan to the nature lovers and travellers out there, we couldn’t think of a better person than the forester himself.

We thank you for sharing your experiences, wisdom and stories with us.

Lets begin by first telling us how you got into forestry and what made you decide to become a forester?

In 1968, I was one of the twenty students who appeared and passed the 1st Matriculation of Bhutan. In the same year, I became one of the founding teachers of the newly opened Kanglung Public School (present day Sherubtse College, the 1st University of Bhutan) with Father William Mackey, JS, a canadian national, as the principal. I started off as a teacher proudly earning a salary of Nu.140 per month.

However, one day in 1970, I was shown a copy of the wireless transmission message sent to Thimphu by our principal, which was a response to the message received from the Minister of Trade, Industry and Forest, seeking his assistance to find candidates from the batch of 1st Bhutan Matriculation of 1968, to be sent abroad for further studies in the field of forestry. The principal had gone ahead and already sent my name as a nominee before I even knew of the existence of a Forest Department in the country. Back in the days, we had no bhutanese text books and I had very limited knowledge of my own country.

That is how my journey as a forester began. A profession chosen for me by the late Father Mackey, that I grew to love and which I realised was the best for me, as it gave me the opportunity to join the Department of Forests; protecting and managing the biggest and the most important wealth of Bhutan.

How many years were you in service with the royal government of Bhutan and what did you enjoy the most about your job?

I had the opportunity to serve the Government for 37 years, from March 1968 to March 2005. During the early days of my career, I also served as a part time Branch Post Master, when a Branch Post Office was opened in Kanglung.

What I enjoyed the most about my job was being in the fields, working in the deep forests and camping in the remote places in the country.

For the nature lovers, environmentalists and travellers around the world who are new to Bhutan, could you kindly give a brief introduction on Bhutan and its pristine Environment?

Bhutan, a small country located in the heart of the Himalayas lies on the southern slope of the Tibetan Plateau. The country has an astounding bio-diversity and it falls within a bio-diversity “Hotspot” (Myers,1983), with rich floral & faunal species representative of tropical & subtropical as well as temperate & alpine regions. High variation in altitudinal gradient from less than 150 masl. to more than 7,500 masl. in a span of about 175 km, contributes to the biological diversity ranging from humid tropical in the south to the temperate forest and alpine meadows in the north. Bhutan has large areas of pristine forest, with an existing forest cover estimated at 72.5% of the total land area of 38,394 As per the constitution of the Kingdom, a minimum of 60% forest cover is required to be maintained for all times to come.

Bhutan is known for its commitment & success in conservation & sustainability of its environment. The well preserved nature becomes immediately apparent upon arrival in the Kingdom when one is greeted by the green mountains and fresh air. Could you shed some more light on protection of environment being a top priority and how Bhutan has succeeded in doing so?

Without any doubt, we can proudly say that Bhutan’s environmental protection is a success story and we are able to enjoy and live happily with the benefits of well protected environment. This is all thanks to the visionary leadership and the commitment of our Kings to protect the country’s natural environment for its people, going as far as making it a national priority by including it in the constitution of the Kingdom. We are blessed with selfless Monarchs who have always placed the interest and wellbeing of the country and the people before themselves.

With the farsightedness and wise leadership of our kings, effective conservation policies and guidelines are developed from time to time. We have many forest management units, protected areas, sanctuaries and parks, community forests and so on spread across the country. The National Environment Commission also assists the Department of Forest to foresee the very limited mining operations, stone quarries, sand collections etc, to make sure such operations do not damage the environment.

Due to our well preserved forest, Hydro Power Projects became the main source of revenue for Bhutan. The protection and management of the environment play an important role in implementing the Gross National Happiness policy in the country.

We, the people of Bhutan have always shared a special & peaceful relationship with nature. Our buddhist beliefs, superstitions or the wisdoms of our ancestors have always lead us to respect, cherish, and at times also fear the nature. Could you narrate an example of our reverence and peaceful coexistence with nature which ultimately protects our environment?

Before Buddhism arrived in Bhutan, many parts of the country had the influence of Bonism. At that time, people believed that a hill or a hillock or a rock, a tree or a chunk of forest, usually in and around water catchment area or along the banks of streams or rivers, are the homes of various kinds of spirits and destroying or disturbing it would bring harm or sickness upon oneself. It was believed that the community would prosper if those forest spirits are happy and hence, those areas or forests were protected by the people.

Even today, some hills or valleys, lakes and mountain peaks are considered the abodes of the enlightened deities. Such areas are regarded as very sacred and are revered by the people by protecting it from any kind of pollution or activities that would displease or disturb the guardian deities of our mother nature. This peaceful coexistence with nature has thereby helped the country to preserve more forests.

Read more @ Part II in the next post….

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