The world’s happiest country. Bhutan. A hilly mass of land locked between India and China controlled Tibet is the last standing Buddhist kingdom in the world. Mostly known as the last Shangrila, the country this year pledged at the recently concluded Paris Global Climate Change summit, that the country would strive to keep its land under 70% forestry perpetually. A gigantic record for a country that’s perhaps accessible only by 2 airplanes.
Bhutan’s claim as the ‘happiest country in the world’ is highly regarded as true and I was about to discover how! The country’s claim of GNH or Gross National Happiness is no mere statistic.
The people seemed genuinely happy. The weather seemed extremely welcoming (though the temperatures did drop to minuses and I could play with the frozen dew drops).
Here are some surprising observations (from my conversations with the locals I met) about the land of thunder dragon, you might have never heard of:
The Bhutan and India romance:
If there is a moment, when you set out to explore others and end up rediscovering yourself, then this was it. Bhutan offered me innumerable occasions, where I found myself as the proud Indian. One of the guys I met on this trip, offered me some peak into the Indian-Bhutanese diplomatic relations. He mentioned that out of the total Bhutan hydro electric power that is generated, 70% is imported to India. In exchange, the Indian government has always offered its friendship and nurtured the relationship. Apparently, the government helps the Bhutanese with a lot of construction works that take place financially. While I am not sure of the numbers, it is pretty evident that the Bhutanese love and respect Indians. Honestly, I think Bhutanese do treat every nationality with equal hospitality. But, I am sure India has a special place in their hearts. After all Indians don’t really have any travel restrictions. We don’t have to pay $200 every day for our travel and visa, unlike other nationalities. And we can get Visa at the port of arrival. Howzzz that? 😉
A melting pot of traditional norms and modern practices:
I gawked at Ditchu, our tour guide as she proclaimed, “Men and Women in Bhutan can have multiple spouses. All you need to do is keep all of them happy.” Yes! Having remained so closed to the outside world, till about late 1970s, the country still is quite progressive in its thoughts, with Polygamy and Polyandry being acceptable. Though, it is unclear if there is any civil or customary law for it, the practice of multiple spouses seems largely acceptable. Besides that, women seem to enjoy all the respect and love that they yearn for. Bhutan is also a matrilineal society, with numerous freedoms bestowed on their ladies. Besides this, they also have a paternity leave policy, which allows men to equally participate in raising their kids! Meanwhile, Bhutan also boasts of a temple dedicated to the Phallus (the penis). How about some sexual liberation now?
The environmental friendly country:
It didn’t really come as a surprise to me as I have been following Barack Obama’s push for climate protection policies. I was also following the day to day nitty grities of the Paris Climate Deal and knew what Bhutan was upto. But the pride and the happiness that reflected on the locals face when talking about it, makes the whole listening experience even happier. Bhutan is perhaps one of the most responsible countries when it comes to protecting the environment. The government, backed by the royal monarchy has promised to keep 70% of its forest cover, in a bid to tackle the global warming. And I could witness that, on every nook and corner of the road.
Long live the King!
The Bhutanese love and swear by their king and queen. Bhutan is a constitutional monarchy, with a prime minster and his executives acting as the harbingers of democracy. The king apparently has a veto power and can dissolve the Parliament, if the citizens are not happy with the current party governing the country. During my conversations with several Bhutanese locals, I realized the reason of why the people love their royals so much. It seems that with the backing of the king and a rock solid government, the Bhutanese people are given lifetime free access to healthcare and housing facilities. One of cute little monks, I interacted boasted quite proudly that no people in the country live on the streets. Because the day the king finds such a person, he will build him/her a house! WOW- so much love between a ruler and its subjects. Looks right out of fantasy… or it doesn’t? 🙂
When I met one of “Only 7 foreigners in Bhutan”:
Now this is something I am not totally sure of, but then who knows. On a cold winter night, I stepped out of my hotel to feel the bite of the freezing air. As I stepped out of the to the open ground right in front of the hotel, I met a Swiss guy. His name, I don’t remember quite vividly now. But I guess it was Sam! Sam caught my attention as he stood right in front of me, teasing for my bravery of wearing furry jackets and still wanting to breathe in the cold air. As he and I started making small talk, he professed a secret. He’s a Swiss guy, living in Bhutan for the last 25 years. He has been doing a lot of educational work supporting local schools in Paro, and therefore he was granted a citizenship by the King! And then he showed me his identity proof with a Bhutanese seal on it! I was amazed to know, there are only 7 foreigners bestowed Bhutanese citizenship and I had just met one of them 😀
So what do you think? Does Bhutan mystify you as it did to me? When are you traveling to Bhutan? 🙂