Reader's Digest World Presents The Living Edens Bhutan: The Last Shangri-La
Teaching Bhutan

Bhutan, the Last Shangri-La:
An Environmental Plan

Lesson Objectives
Relevant National Standards
Materials Needed
Estimated Time
Teaching Strategy
Assessment Recommendations


Lesson Objectives

Students will:

  • Examine a topographical map of Bhutan and a political map of South Asia and brainstorm the types of environmental pressures a country such as Bhutan might face, considering its size, topography, resources, and proximity to larger countries.
  • Discuss how Bhutan’s Buddhist heritage has contributed to its attitudes toward environmental preservation.
  • After viewing a video clip, explain how Bhutan is an "oasis."
  • Devise a long-range environmental plan for Bhutan based on their consideration of several environmental and development-related issues.

Relevant National Standards

National Geography Standards

  • Standard 1: How to use maps and other geographic representations, tools, and technologies to acquire, process, and report information from a spatial perspective.
  • Standard 3: How to analyze the spatial organization of people, places, and environments on Earth's surface.
  • Standard 7: The physical processes that shape the patterns of Earth's surface.
  • Standard 14: How human actions modify the physical environment.
  • Standard 16: The changes that occur in the meaning, use, distribution, and importance of resources.

Curriculum Standards for Social Studies (National Council for the Social Studies)

I. Culture: Social studies programs should include experiences that provide for the study of culture and cultural diversity.

III. People, Places, and Environments: Social studies programs should include experiences that provide for the study of people, places, and environments.

VI. Power, Authority, and Governance: Social studies programs should include experiences that provide for the study of how people create and change structures of power, authority, and governance.

IX. Global Connections: Social studies programs should include experiences that provide for the study of global connections and interdependence.

Materials Needed

VCR and TV.

Computer with Internet connection.

Student Handout

Estimated Time

4-7 hours, depending on how long you allocate for the environmental plan.

Teaching Strategy

Background (Overview)

The video portrays Bhutan as an oasis from environmental problems that plague other Himalayan and South Asian nations. It specifically states that Bhutan has the lowest deforestation rate in the world. Why has Bhutan succeeded in maintaining its environmental integrity? Could deforestation or other environmental problems become issues for Bhutan? Students will consider these questions and devise an environmental plan for Bhutan based on careful examination of a variety of environmental and development issues. What can the Bhutanese do to make sure that Bhutan remains a Living Eden?


  1. Divide the class into pairs or small groups of no more than four students. Ask students to look at a topographical map of Bhutan and to examine the landscape features that they see: mountains, valleys, rivers, etc. Ask them to list these landscape features on paper. They should list several items, as Bhutan has a very diverse topography.
  2. Now have students look at a political map of the South Asian region in which Bhutan is located.
  1. Once they’ve had a chance to examine both maps, ask students to brainstorm the types of environmental problems that they think such a small and topographically diverse country could potentially encounter. They should list all the potential problems they can think of and explain why they feel these are potential problems. If they need guidance in this activity, ask them to think about the answers to these questions:
    • What could be some results of trees being chopped down in the mountains?
    • What would happen if other countries near Bhutan, such as India, didn’t have the same environmental standards or practices as Bhutan? Would those practices affect Bhutan’s environment?
    • What would happen if Bhutan started to admit many thousands of tourists each year?
  1. Now that students have made lists of the environmental problems that Bhutan could potentially face, ask them why they think Bhutan is still regarded as an Eden rather than as a center of environmental problems. Ask them to remember the things they learned about Buddhist traditions from the video and from Lesson 2. Discuss these issues as a class.
  2. To further illustrate that Bhutan is trying carefully to protect its environment, show the class the video clip beginning at about 45:40, which discusses the special significance that forests have to Buddhists and stresses that Bhutan is a unique "oasis" in the otherwise rapidly-deforested Himalayas. Ask students to write down what the video says about how Buddhists in Bhutan regard the forest. After showing the video clip, ask students to explain what the narrator means when he says that Bhutan is an "oasis."
  3. Now tell students that they’re going to stay in the same groups and devise environmental plans for the Kingdom of Bhutan. Give them the handout with instructions as stated below, and tell them that they’ll be using information they gather from the Internet and the video to create their plans.
  4. Have students write up their plans as formal documents to be handed in to you. Also have them share their plans with the class. They can do this either in the traditional method of class presentations, or they can swap plans with another group and have that other group analyze their plan for soundness and clarity.

Assessment Recommendations

  • All students should participate in classroom discussions and presentations.
  • The brainstorming activity related to the two maps should be assessed by considering how seriously the groups take the task and how carefully they study the maps. Since there are no obvious right or wrong answers, groups should be assessed on whether they have credible and logical explanations for the problems they’ve listed and whether they can cite specific observations they’ve made from looking at the maps.
  • The environmental plans should be assessed with the following points in mind:
    • Groups should address all five of the issues presented on the handout.
    • Groups should keep their plans consistent with what they’ve learned to be the general Buddhist attitudes in Bhutan. In other words, a group should not prepare an environmental plan that calls for major industrial development, as this would not be in line with what the Bhutanese want.
    • Groups should write their plans in a logical and neat manner, according to the outline provided above or to another format that you devise.
    • Groups should carefully plan how they will present their environmental plans to the class, including determining who says what and, if appropriate, using visual aids such as illustrations or charts.


  • Less advanced students should devise plans based on a more general consideration of the issues than this lesson suggests. Instead of having your elementary-level students go through each of the five points, have them explain what they think the Bhutanese would like to see happen in their country to continue to preserve their environment. Ask them to think about whether Bhutanese people would want to allow their forests to be cut down or their rivers to be polluted. Then have them write a shorter version of the environmental plan, using the more general points they have considered.
  • Have more advanced students research some of the other countries in the region, particularly Nepal, to find out what environmental problems those nations face and to compare and contrast the situations in those countries with Bhutan’s environmental situation. Why are other countries experiencing more serious environmental pressures than Bhutan?


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