Having had the merit to travel to some of the developed nations on earth, I can proudly claim that there are lots of beautiful things about our country, the DRUK YUL. However mounting pressure of trash is sadly not among those things. Great beings of the past referred to Bhutan as the Lho Jong Meen Jong, The land of medicinal herbs. Besides the innumerable values of our rich natural environment, our natural heritage was the setting for the discovery of many spiritual treasures by the realized masters. Alas! our natural settings and “pristine” are gradually turning out to be beautiful stories as Bhutan is beginning to develop at breakneck speed with majority of Bhutanese not having slightest hint on the escalating problems of trash the country is exposed to. Phew!!!
Bhutan is a Vajrayana Buddhist nation with majority of the kingdom considered to be a sacred and blessed landscape by various great saints. However, Bhutanese at large are not sparing even those sacred landscapes from littering. It isn’t a distant future before we realize how we collectively messed out the sacred sites, which were carefully crafted and handed over to us by our forefathers. I’ve always heard many people and our own leaders saying that being a straggler on the development bandwagon, Bhutan has the luxury to learn from the mistakes of others. Where is our wisdom when it comes to waste management?
As the nation celebrated 27th birth anniversary of Her Majesty the Queen of Bhutan today, a team from the Ugyen Wangchuck Institute for Conservation and Environmental Research based in Bumthang, Bhutan marched on a mission to clean one of the sacred sites in Bumthang – Tharpaling. Tharpaling is about tough three hours hike from the institute as the elevation increases from 2800 to 3900 meters above mean sea level. There weren’t much trash along the trail leading to Tharpaling, however Tharpaling top had a different view, with trash can overflown with trash. Least did we know, it was a teaser! No sooner did we change our radar we came across a dejected site; with many water bottles; plastic wrappers and even wine and beer bottles thrown haphazardly. This made me to wonder, why on earth those litter bugs would not care to take it back and dispose properly. They should have at-least spared such sacred sites if they visited to get blessings or if they visited for pilgrimage.
As we were picking trash at Tharpaling today, we came across a “new” offering being practiced. We saw many pamphlet sizes different colored papers spread, probably thrown from top of a rock in the direction of wind. On a closer look, we were surprised as it was a Lungta – type of a prayer flags. It looks like people are now starting to print Lungta on different colored papers for the “devotees” to throw it out in the direction of wind from a prominent point. I’m wondering who on earth came up with such trashy idea. We thought it was ethically in-correct to throw religious texts on ground and what if every next person visiting the site throws the same? Thus, we picked all paper prayer flags from ground and burnt it on the pretext of making it as our own version of smoke offerings.
Bhutan is never shot of rules and regulations; legislations concerning waste are aplenty, yet the problem of waste continues to mount. I believe that it is not the waste in itself that is the problem; failure to implement the rules and failure to educate our people is. And if so it goes along, Bhutan’s target of achieving Zero Waste could remain a distant wonderful dream let alone achieving by 2030. I think we are getting more wrongs and few rights when dealing with trash? May be before we jump to the “quick” solutions such as conducting more cleaning campaigns, placing more dustbins and building more landfills, it merits us to invest in making our people aware on importance of waste management and enforcing the waste rules and regulations. We might want to dump Bhutanese version of compassion if we want to handover clean environment to our future generations. I believe that the promotion of scientific and techno-managerial approaches to waste management is not clicking with our cultural and symbolic aspects of waste, leading to a difficulty in engaging the populace in modern waste management practices. We might want to shift our focus on waste awareness towards religious sentiments using deities; sacred grooves etc.
The time to act is now because tomorrow, if we continue with our present practice, we will end up bequeathing a legacy of litter, dustbins, dumpsites, and landfills. We should strive to have our forests and cities, for now and in perpetuity, as a trove of treasure and not as a trash filled environments.