Bhutan is one of the world’s least accessible countries for travel. Yes you can go there but only by using a licensed Bhutanese tour operator while paying the daily tourism fee of $250 per day!!
It is one of the strict measures that the Himalayan Buddhist Kingdom applies to safeguard their native happy culture from too many foreign non-buddhist influences. It is after all the only country in the world to use ‘Gross National Happiness’ as its primary yardstick for progress.
This situation makes it a country with great mysterious appeal to travelers and – drawn by this allure – four adventurous athletes decide to take up the challenge of running across the entire kingdom!
Their goal: to make the the country’s first full-length crossing by foot while experiencing Bhutan’s rugged and stunning landscapes and its lush “gross national happiness” first hand.
The Journey across Bhutan
Due to its geographical isolation, Bhutan remained isolated from the world until 1999, when it became the last country in the world to legalize television and the internet. Crossing Bhutan provides a glimpse of a culture at a crossroads, as Western culture starts to shape a new generation of Bhutanese. And athletes Terri Schneider, David Kelly, Greg Thomas and Tony Lillios are the protagonists that dive into this adventure.
The four adventurers that start their journey in the far West of Bhutan slowly making their way East by foot and bike. The 485-mile journey’s goal is to traverse the entire country but certainly also to find out what the concept of ‘Gross National Happiness’ means for the normal people.
They get good company along the way and even the country’s Prime Minister, Tshering Tobgay, joins them for a cycling leg of their journey!
When the demands of the grueling 42-day journey push the team beyond their breaking point, they must confront the challenge inherent in walking what Buddhist’s call the Middle Path – embracing the benefits of our fast-paced modern life while still honoring the ancient traditions and values that makes Bhutan so unique.
The Documentary: Crossing Bhutan
The resulting visually stunning documentary – that was financed through a kickstarter campaign backed by 900 supporters – features narration and original music from Grammy award-winning musician Imogen Heap. A unique partnership with the government granted filmmaker Ben Henretig unique access, providing an immersive lens into Bhutan’s pristine wilderness and ancient culture. Bhutan’s policy of Gross National Happiness mandates – among many other things – that Bhutan maintains at least 70% forest cover, making Bhutan one of the only countries in the world that is actively carbon negative, actively sequestering carbon from the atmosphere.
Bhutan’s new Prime Minister, Tshering Tobgay, makes a cameo in the film to join the team for a biking leg of their journey, providing a unique lens into Bhutan’s budding biking culture and the role of Gross National Happiness in steering Bhutan’s unique approach to development
“If our people are not happier… more prosperous, more content, then the very purpose of development must be questioned. So Gross National Happiness is like a conscience – our collective conscious to development.”