Money Does not Buy Happiness and the people of this nation know it very well!
Bhutan measures the country’s growth in terms of Gross National Happiness as opposed to the Gross Domestic Product as followed by the rest of the world. I don’t know how they measure the intangibles – sustainable development, environmental protection, cultural preservation and good governance but these four pillars form the basis of GNH measurements. As part of this they have taken several noteworthy measures like it is mandatory to maintain at least 60% Forest cover!
While Bhutan is definitely one of the smallest countries in the world, yet the cultural diversity and its richness are profound. As such strong emphasis is laid on the promotion and preservation of its rich cultural diversity. It is believed that ensuring protection and preservation of their unique culture would assist in protecting the sovereignty of the nation.
I travelled to Thimpu and Paro, Bhutan for work so I had little time to explore the Gross Happy Nation as much as I would have loved to but Yeshey Rinchen, my chauffeur, a friendly talker left me with so many stories. Yeshey lives in Western part of Bhutan and narrated so proudly that while he earns his livelihood by driving taxi, his wife is studying hotel management in Darjeeling in India. I was impressed to see the pride he took in his culture. He told me that arranged marriages were popular just a few decades back. Normally, people married among the relatives. Cross-cousin marriage is a popular tradition amongst the people of eastern Bhutan. This is now becoming unpopular among the literate mass and most of the marriages take place on their accord depending on their choice.
In the western part of Bhutan, the husband goes out to the wife’s house after marriage while the practice in eastern Bhutan is that the wife usually accompanies the husband. Yeshey lives in his wife’s house as per the tradition.
Yeshey has just become father of a girl child. Unlike many Asian Countries, The birth of a new born baby Girl is always welcomed heartily. Bhutanese value children as predecessor of future and therefore do not discriminate between a girl child and a boy child. Mothers are always looked after carefully
A distinctive feature of the Bhutanese is their dress that has evolved over the years. The Gho or the dress worn by the Bhutanese men reaches just till their knees while Kira, the dress worn by women reaches till their ankles. The Gho is folded and tied at the waist by a traditional belt known as Kera and the pouch that is formed is used for carrying small articles such as wallet, mobiles and Doma, the beetle nut.
Welcome rituals by men and women wearing traditional dresses of Bhutan
In keeping with the tradition, it is mandatory for all Bhutanese to wear scarves while visiting Dzongs and other administrative centers. The scarf worn by men is known as Kabney while that of women is known as Rachu. The scarves worn are different in color and signify their status or rank. While the general Bhutanese men wear scarf that is white in color, the King and the Je Khenpo or the Head Abbot wear yellow scarves. The ministers wear orange scarves while the Judges wear green and the district administrators wear red scarves with a small white strip that runs through. The Rachu is hung over their shoulder and unlike scarves worn by men does not have any color attached to it. They are usually woven out of raw silk with rich patterns.
To deal with the cultural disruption and environmental degradation that unchecked tourism can bring in, they work with a concept of “high value, low impact” tourism where visitors are charged $250 per day as visa fees (Except India, Maldives and Bangladesh Citizens). But this includes accommodation, transport, guide charges. Locals are given a yearlong training in Bhutanese culture, history and hospitality before they can officially guide tourists.
Monks praying at the Monastery
Now hold your breath, I did when I was landing as it is scary how close the plane gets to the mountains, there is no room for error, only 8 pilots can land on this narrow strip between mountains as high as 18000ft that surround the city of Paro. When was the last time you saw a landing strip with so many obstructions in every direction? The pilots are required to navigate the valley through a series of sharp turns before landing or taking off. The airport is surrounded by mountains on all direction except for the narrow valley to the right, the plane will take several sharp turns during take off and landing.
Thimphu is one of the only two capital cities in the world to not have a single traffic light. They had one installed at one intersection but had it removed and got back the traffic police upon popular demand! The residents felt traffic light was too impersonal. Now that’s a thought. If the country’s busiest city doesn’t have a traffic light, I think it is safe to extrapolate the whole country.
Other than these amazing facts about this small nation there are many hidden stories to explore in search of happiness which left me longing to go back.