T5 Series I: Culture & Tradition – Knowing What To Preserve And What To Borrow – Yeshey Dorji

The Bhutan Tourism Monitor 2017 records that 89.8% of the tourists came to Bhutan on a cultural trip. This means that our culture and tradition find appeal among the tourists. This is perhaps why some Bhutanese are quick to claim that we are unique, although my own view is that we are as unique as everyone else. Whether fact or fiction, the numbers tell the story. Our culture and tradition are the undisputed crowd puller – at 89.8% of the total tourist arrivals. Thus, if we are to Take Tourism To The Top (T5), we must strive really hard to make our culture and tradition accommodative, appealing and welcoming to the visitors.

Unfortunately we are doing just the opposite. Instead of showcasing our culture and tradition in the most pleasing manner that will arouse curiosity, give the visitors a sense of fulfillment and satiate their hunger for wonderment, we are doing everything to make our most popular tourism product, restrictive and out of bounds for the visitors.

It is clearly evident, going by a number of rules that are in place, that we are in a state of utter confusion as to what constitutes culture and tradition. If we do not change the mindset of the culture vultures, nothing we do will Take Tourism To The Top.

For instance, what logic is there in banning river rafting along Pungthang Dechenphodrang Dzong, when thousands are permitted access inside the Dzong itself? How does this help preserve culture and tradition, if the ban was imposed for such a purpose? There are a dozen culture related restrictions that make no sense but nitpicking isn’t going to help. Instead, let us grab the bull by the horn.

To me it is clear that the champions of our culture and tradition are clueless as to what really is culture and tradition – they confuse between what needs “preservation” and what needs “borrowing”.

A brilliant mind – I do not know who – had said that “culture and traditions are NOT something that are inherited from ones ancestors – it is something that are borrowed from ones children”.

There is so much wisdom and pragmatism in this concept. In very simple terms what it means is that a progressive culture/tradition is one that is dynamic and evolutionary. In other words, a society that hangs on to inherited culture/tradition runs the risk of turning into a decadent society.

We all agree that the world belongs to our children. Thus it is only correct that the most valid culture and tradition are those espoused by our children. Most often one hears children talk of being “old fashioned”, “out of touch with reality” “stuck in a time warp” – all these terms do not refer to clashes between multi-racial, multi-national conflicts in tradition and culture. It simply refers to the generational gap that exists – not because of differences in age, but because of differences in belief and thinking.

Not all inherited cultures and traditions are useful and valid – but not all borrowed ones are beneficial either. Thus, let us be smart in what we impose and what we adopt. But most important of all, let us accept that we operate in a different time warp – what worked a hundred years ago will not work in these modern times. Let us accept that and move forward. Let us not remain tethered to an era whose time has passed.

Let us innovate, adept and invent – let us shed the shackles that bind us to decadence and primitivism. Let our culture and tradition be the vehicle that will help catapult our tourism industry to the top.

The writer is an ardent blogger and the Charter Member of the Rotary Club of Thimphu.