Bhutan is a land of respite in a world driven by material pursuit and economic gains. The tiny Himalayan nation wedged between China and India can be described as the ultimate travel destination where nature has remained intact and where money is secondary to happiness.
Bhutan is often considered as one of the youngest democratic country when it peacefully transited to a constitutional monarchy through a Royal Command in 2008. The country was ruled by the Wangchuck dynasty since 1907.
Perched in the Himalayas, Bhutan has one of the highest unclimbed mountain peaks in the world. The mountains that feed the rivers has been tapped to generate electricity that earn the major portion of the government’s revenue.
But the main thrust of governance has been in providing happiness to the people rather than economic growth. Gross National Happiness, propounded by the fourth king Jigme Singye Wangchuck remains central to any government policies, plans and programs.
As the mighty Himalayan range descends towards the central and the southern region of the country, one can behold picturesque river valleys, lush green hills and meadows and clean fresh rivers and streams.
72 percent of Bhutan’s land area is covered by natural forest. Bhutan’s lush green forest has thousands of species of birds, animals, plants and flowers. A major treat for travellers to Bhutan has been the experience of breathing unpolluted and clean fresh air.
CULTURE IN BHUTAN
while being deeply entwined with religion, manifests itself in a vast interweave of traditional arts, architecture, festivals and religious ceremonies.
Bhutan’s culture remains vibrant amidst modernization attracting tourists from all over the world. The Thimphu tshechu (festival of mask dances) alone has been attracting thousands of visitors.
Tshechus are the most important festival where both culture and religion come alive. It is observed in all the districts and villages across Bhutan. Festivals and religious ceremonies can be an important place to understand Bhutan’s culture as it sees people from all walks of life dressed in traditional attire.
During tshechus, monks and laymen perform mask dances and women sing wearing traditional hand woven brocades.
Bhutanese arts, paintings and architecture take inspiration from nature and the Himalayan landscape. Mountains and valleys are witnessed in almost all forms of Bhutanese paintings. Traditional songs trace the meandering rivers and the ups and lows of mountains and valleys.
Traditional culture and etiquette remain important in the Bhutanese lifestyle. Every office goer wears the traditional dress, while Driglam Namzha, the code for good discipline and etiquette guides every individual.
The traditional dress for Bhutanese men is the gho, which is a wraparound skirt tied at the waist with a belt while women wear kira which are ankle length skirts.
Culture in Bhutan can also be witnessed in the several dzongs or fortresses, monasteries and stupas that dot the country. Bhutanese hoist prayer flags on hilltops and bridges. It is believed the wind will carry the mantras imprinted on the prayer flags across the universe and benefit all sentient beings.
Culture is also central to the government’s policy and many efforts are made to preserve and promote Bhutan’s unique culture. It constitutes an important pillar of Gross National Happiness, Bhutan’s most important development philosophy.
GROSS NATIONAL HAPPINESS
Happiness is integral to Bhutanese. Recognizing the importance of happiness over material wealth, the fourth king of Bhutan, Jigme Singye Wangchuck officially declared, happiness as an ultimate measure of a nation, rather than economic gains in the 1970s.
Bhutan’s policies, plans and major government programs are all screened and happiness-tested before being implemented. The philosophical concept of GNH (Gross National Happiness) has since then taken a primary position in any government policy. The concept eventually evolved into a development model.
The Gross National Happiness Commission, Bhutan’s planning commission ensured government plans included the element of happiness.
The basic idea of GNH was in creating an environment where every individual is given an opportunity to be happy. Such a society could be achieved by preserving the culture, protecting the environment, and through good governance and balanced economic development: the four main pillars of GNH.
Bhutan’s concept of GNH as a development philosophy can also be seen in economic concepts such as Development Economics, which rejects gross domestic product and emphasizes the importance of poverty, inequality and unemployment.
Major government targets continue to be reducing the inequality gap, providing jobs and alleviating poverty.
The pursuit of economic wealth in the west had proven to be troubled with economic pains, financial crises and continued degradation of the environment. Because of this, the concept has attracted a lot of interest from international economists, politicians and thinkers.
After the country’s peaceful transition to democracy in 2008, happiness became the spirit of the constitution. It mandated a 60 percent coverage of the country’s forest for all the times to come.
The United Nation has embraced the concept of GNH and declared 20th March as the International Happiness Day. In Bhutan, November 11th, the birth anniversary of the fourth king is celebrated on a grand scale across the country among people from all walks of life.
Located in the Himalayas, Bhutan, often described, as the land of the thunder dragon is a natural paradise with lush green forest, emerald rivers, beautiful valleys and picturesque hills and mountains.
History comes alive wherever you travel in the kingdom in the form of ancient fortresses, temples and monasteries.
Road travel in Bhutan can be tiring with several turns and bends across hills, mountains and cliffs, but it would offer one a comprehensive experience of Bhutan as one passes through different districts.
Thimphu, Punakha and Paro districts are attractive tourists destinations located in western Bhutan. Thimphu with around 100,000 people is the capital city. While entering the city, tourists are greeted with the one of the biggest statue of lord Buddha situated in a hill overlooking the Thimphu valley.
Considered one of the most beautiful fortress in the country, the Punakha dzong, whose design, according to legend, was replicated from the palace of Guru Rinpoche in heaven.
The Taktshang monastery built on a spine-chilling edge of a vertical cliff in Paro continues to amaze tourists with its unique location and architectural design.
In central Bhutan, the Trongsa dzong, one of the biggest dzong in the country was the political seat of Bhutan in the early 20th century. Trongsa is also a land of ancient battlefields.
Lhuentshe in the east abounds in many ancient folklore and tales of kings. In ancient Lhuentshe, a prosperous king who ruled the region was attacked by Tibetan troops who were looking to loot his immense wealth.
To avoid being detected by the Tibetan troops, the king is said to have built a nine-storied underground fortress. The fortress can still be seen in Lhuentshe today.
Bomdelling in Trashi Yangtse in eastern Bhutan is a place of beautiful meadows and green pastures. The rare black necked cranes can be spotted in Bomdelling during winter.