Bhutan and Happiness

I happened to be in Bhutan, Land of the Thunder Dragon, for an entire month during July, 2015. I refrained from writing a post straight away and thought that I would not do it since (textual) documentation is not something the Bhutanese have been fond of. But then, documenting and sharing has become a part of our DNA (and perhaps it has always been). It’s a curious phenomena and I am giving into it.

It’s amazing how this land has left no footprints over last hundreds of years. Even their houses used to be almost 100% biodegradable only about 50 years ago. Even archaeological investigations hadn’t started before the turn of the 21st century. Most of it’s history is captured in wonderful oral tradition. If you like stories, there is no land such as Bhutan. And these very things are beautiful about Bhutan. It’s almost invisible and doesn’t seem to have any interest in blowing its own trumpet.

As I understand it, Bhutan and other Buddhist kingdoms like Tibet, Spiti, Ladakh, etc. wished to remain independent and isolated but all of them, except Bhutan have been folded into India or China. Tibet has been occupied by China and the dispute has been on since the 1950’s. Bhutan, locked by China on the north and India on the south had a decision to make. They chose India since relations with China have always been tense. There is a much longer history but in the current context, Bhutan remains the last frontier of Buddhist Monarchy.

The essence of the land is in remaining isolated. Money in its current form came in Bhutan in 1960, television came in 2000, there is still no payment gateway for shopping online. But life has been running smoothly and with contentment over hundreds of years. It has been a self-sustaining world of its own. With the advent of ‘industrialization’ and ‘modernization’, the time for Bhutan has come to make a tough call. It has controlled tourism and has tried to preserve traditions by following the concept of ‘Gross National Happiness’ but is it possible to maintain a balance? Industrialize with the heart? It would be amazing if they can but the winds of change have swept Thimphu, the capital which is changing rapidly. The good part though, are things like these:

Image for post
Vision statement of a Dzongkhag in Bumthang. Dzong (fort) is an administrative + spiritual unit.

The king and the government are clear on what they want and there is a genuine reverence for the king. My assessment of the place is a beautiful land with wonderful people who have been peace-loving, faith-driven and very content. Internally, everyone is torn in various directions by all sorts of pulls but the collective conscious of Bhutan is beautiful. The influence of Indian television (the loudness, brashness, cut-throatness) and social media(fear of missing out, constant peeking into others lives) can change any place and Bhutan (mainly Thimphu) is no exception. Maybe that’s how the human race will evolve but there definitely a few things which other cultures and countries should adopt. Few simple things:

  1. Carpooling is not forced: You don’t really need an app for car pooling to work. Thimphu has a beautiful system with a central taxi station where drivers gather four people going in the same direction and then move. If you’re in a hurry, the driver moves and takes in more passengers on the way. A small population helps but it’s be nicer if we can all take things a little bit slower.The world is moving and the race will advance, there is no big rush.
  2. No class system: If you enter any shop or establishment, it is very hard to know who is the owner, who is sweeper. The dignity for labour is beautiful. The example I give is very literal, this dignity exists at many levels (perhaps except for the butchers, they have it hard in Bhutan).
  3. The easy attitude: This comes again and again. Perhaps it is a part of most non-city settings but Bhutan takes it a notch further up. The people here love to drink, and most of the bars are so simple, it makes drinking a very regular affair. You can easily find a person handing you a drink while she reads a lullaby to her baby. People here also love darts and archery. Weekends and some times weekdays too are filled with playing these games on open grounds and making merry.
Image for post
A bar in Bumthang, Bhutan

4. Attention to detail/aesthetics: There is beauty and care in everything. I can go on and on here but everything is made with such love and ‘nazakat’ that it warms your heart. Maybe this is the apt place for putting in a lot of pictures:

Image for post
Tashichho Dzong
Image for post
At the Changangkha Lakhang
Image for post
Taktsang Monastery
Image for post
The ornate traffic signal
Image for post
The Cantilever bridge leading to the football stadium
Image for post
Ad ofcourse, the nature around

Amidst all the beauty and happiness, Bhutan has its own problems like any one else: a) A growing population which is finding hard to get jobs. Previously, everyone was mostly into traditional farming or government jobs. Things have changed dramatically in the last decade. b) Traffic, like any other growing, sprawling city has come to the minds of town planners now. c) Maintaining the balance between traditions and external influences.

When it comes to the subject of ‘Gross National Happiness’, the locals have ambivalent reactions. It is a concept they really want to believe in but most have to come to terms with the fact that it is not too far away from a marketing gimmick. The connected world has brought in a lot of help but it brings in this dull, drab concept called standardization which is taking out the heart of many things.

It would be nice if this connected world doesn’t impose too much on each other and let everyone grow and evolve in their own form and direction.

Let this illusion be beautiful.

Leave a Reply