Finding Happiness In Bhutan

Paro

The one thing that most people will tell you they know about Bhutan is that it is the country of Gross National Happiness.

In 1972, Bhutan’s Fourth King, Jigme Singye Wangchuck, declared that the country would no longer measure its success by the standard Gross National Product but by a measure of Gross National Happiness. There are four pillars to the GNH –  Good Governance, Sustainable Socio-economic Development, Preservation and Promotion of Culture, and Environmental Conservation.

For more information and the latest report on the GNH Index, visit The Centre for Bhutan Studies & GNH Research website here.

Good Governance

Bhutan has two kings. In 2006, the Fourth King decided his son was old enough to become king so he abdicated the throne and Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck became the Fifth King of Bhutan. (I can think of another royal family that could take a lesson from that.) The Fourth King still retains some power (I guess the Fifth King became a King-in-Training) and is still greatly loved as evidenced by the year-long celebrations of his 60th birthday in 2015. The Fifth King appears equally revered so I guess he isn’t looking over his shoulder either.

Poverty is still evident but for that part of the world, there is very little of it in Bhutan.

Bhutan is tiny. Approximately 755,000 people live in a country 38,394 km² in area. The capital, Thimphu, has a population of 50,000. I live in what is classed a “regional city” in my country and even we have five times that number of people.

Bhutan Map

Thimphu, Capital of Bhutan

Thimphu, Capital of Bhutan

Being able to cross the road easily makes me happy.

Sustainable socio-economic development

Bhutan has a thriving handicrafts industry which is actively supported and protected from cheap imports by the government. Textiles, pottery and handmade paper are popular choices.

Home-based workers (predominantly women) are encouraged to start businesses promoting traditional handicrafts. One craft market in Thimphu will have you wondering just how much room and weight you have available in your suitcase. (Can I possibly get that magnificent teapot home?)

Handicrafts Market, Thimphu

Handicrafts Market, Thimphu

Buying beautiful handmade souvenirs makes me happy.

Preservation and Promotion of Culture

The first step Bhutan takes to preserve its culture is to make it difficult to visit. With the exception of Indian nationals, foreigners are not permitted to wander about the country willy-nilly. To be granted a visa for Bhutan, you must book through an approved travel company and your trip must meet a minimum daily cost. (A portion of this is allocated to health and education programs.) Therefore all accommodation and meals are pre-booked and your itinerary will be included in your visa as an approved route.

Bhutan Visa

In case you thought I was joking

You will also be allocated a guide and a driver who will accompany you for the entire stay. (Although, once I did manage to escape them in Paro to have a coffee in solitary peace.)

My driver Aita and guide Chab Tshering

Once you experience some of the roads, you’ll be glad of the driver. Trust me.

IMAG0620

One of the better sections

The advantage of this approach is that Bhutan is not a very busy place to visit. You can also sit back and relax because everything is taken care of for you.

Lunch in Thimphu

The disadvantage is that there is no flexibility to stop longer somewhere or change your route. It can also be difficult for those of us of a shy, introverted nature to be in the constant company of a guide (even while trying to shop).

You also have a tendency to bump into the same people at various points as most visitors are taken to similar places. This can be either an advantage or disadvantage depending on the people you keep bumping into.

But it works. From the moment you land in Bhutan, there is no question as to the nature of its culture. Almost everyone wears national dress (it is expected for work and school) and the buildings have a distinctive style.

Experiencing an untainted Bhutanese culture makes me happy.

Environmental Conservation

Bhutan got on board the environment movement before there was one. Clean water and energy were seen as important parts of promoting happiness but it was also recognised that a beautiful landscape could in itself provide well-being. The country is more than 70% covered in trees and there are reminders everywhere to care for the environment.

Spending time in a stunning natural environment makes me happy.

Should I visit Bhutan?

Are you kidding? Sorry, yes, yes, go to Bhutan. You won’t regret it. And although it may seem an expensive place to put on the itinerary, the flight into Paro will more than justify the expense before you even get there.

MOSY travelled to Bhutan with World Expeditions (Essence of Bhutan trip) courtesy of her own bank account. She has no reason to lie.

 

 

 

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59 thoughts on “Finding Happiness In Bhutan

  1. I’m ready to go, and I don’t care if a guide has to hold my hand at all times. OK, if they hold my hand during “calls of nature”, that will be getting strange, but, it looks gorgeous! Great photos!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Wow! A whole lot of things made you happy there! That’s good! I don’t think I would be happy there at all…it sounds very repressed and xenophobic, albeit the terrain is quite beautiful according to your spectacular photos.

    Liked by 2 people

    • It’s interesting that you see it that way, Cynthia. It didn’t feel like that. I found the people very warm, friendly and eager to please. It felt more like pride in their culture and wanting to preserve and promote it rather than banning anything different. But I see where you’re coming from. 🙂

      Liked by 3 people

      • I notice you make no mention of Bhutan Penis Worship, except for that one handicraft booth. I wonder if they keep tourists away from the ubiquitous phallic sights because tourism is so important to them, and even as they want to preserve their culture, they don’t want to offend or “scandalize” westerners….

        Liked by 3 people

  3. Looks like a fantastic trip – I love the details on the buildings and I bet the camera doesn’t really do it justice! And the Tiger’s Nest Monastery!! All of it, really…just gorgeous and happy-making. Bhutan sounds remarkably sane in an insane world. I would love to visit someday. I don’t suppose there’s a budget version?

    Liked by 3 people

    • The Tiger’s Nest Monastery was amazing. My guide was very solicitous during the walk there, checking if I wanted to rest. I had to keep reminding him I’d just been working and trekking in Nepal! I even climbed out to the (mythical) tiger’s nest on the rock face below the monastery which involved climbing down into a cave first and then through a narrow passage out onto the equally very narrow ledge. No photographic evidence unfortunately because you are not permitted to take a camera into the monastery. (darn)

      It’s cheaper if you go in January, February, June, July, August or December and take at least two friends with you. 🙂

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  4. What an interesting post and stunning photos. I remember reading some years ago that the young king of Bhutan had said that tree preservation is very important for a number of reasons but specifically that it prevents flooding and landslides (I think China had just had some terrible flooding). Wise people in touch with the universe. And who wouldn’t be happy immersed in craft all day?!

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Mmm… love the photos and hearing about Bhutan, but it doesn’t appeal to me I’m afraid. I like to do my own thing so being forced to stick to an itinerary AND be accompanied ALL the time would seriously make me NOT happy. Seems a little too claustrophobic for me. But that’s just as well otherwise Bhutan would be full of foreigners 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

    • Yes, it took some getting used to but since it was only a week and it came at the end of a very busy three weeks in Nepal, it was easier to let someone organise everything for once. 🙂 I did manage to convince them to drop me in the main street of Paro and let me walk back to the hotel (about 5km) but when it was starting to get dark and I hadn’t arrived back, they did come looking for me. 🙂 (I only had about another 500m to walk to reach the hotel.)

      I think you would find it easier if you booked a trekking trip rather than a touring one. You expect to have a guide with you for trekking.

      Liked by 2 people

    • I bought some of the paper. (I was a little worried Customs wouldn’t let me bring it in because it has bits of flowers or threads, etc through some of the sheets but they didn’t blink.) Also a wall hanging of one of the decorations they use in the temples. The beautiful embroidery pieces were outside my budget unfortunately.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Extremely interesting, MoSY. The national pride, which appears merited, and tremendous love of and respect for nature, come across very well in your post. I would despise the constant companion, unless s/he stayed sometimes silent and at a distance, but not mind the itinerary, I think.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Actually, I found my guide didn’t talk enough. He was very knowledgeable and shared lots of information at the sights we visited but was not the chatty sort. As someone not the chatty sort myself it sometimes became a strain to make conversation. So we often didn’t. I got lots of time in my own head in the car particularly (some of those road trips took hours).

      Liked by 1 person

  7. LOVE this post! We have been talking about Bhutan for years. So wonderful to see your photos and hear your glowing remarks. The final photo of you is fantastic. You look so happy in the magnificent setting.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Sue. 🙂 I probably look happy because I had the hiking boots and trekking pole back in use. My only regret for that trip was that I didn’t do a trekking trip rather than just sightseeing but I didn’t have the time and it was the wrong time of year (too late). I loved being able to visit and see the bits of the country I did but the view of the mountains did make me yearn to be up in them. 🙂 One day….. 😉

      Liked by 2 people

  8. The country of Bhutan is gorgeous! I would love to live in Thimpu and wake up every morning to the sight of the mountains.

    You had the best adventure, H, outside of the long silences with your guides. I don’t believe there are too many people who can say they have visited this country, so I believe that puts you in an exclusive club. And I bet the adventure makes you want to do it all over again.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Oh, so would I!

      Funnily enough, we were at a dinner with my in-laws not long after I booked this trip only to find out that my husband’s niece was going to be there just before me. But at least, unlike when we went to New York, I didn’t have every second person I spoke to tell me they were either going or had just been!

      I would love to go again but do a trekking trip. I’d love to get closer to those wonderful mountains.

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  9. Simply gorgeous photos and the scenery is stunning.
    In spite of the relatively serious tone of this post, I laughed out loud at the last paragraph – “courtesy of her own bank account. She has no reason to lie” 🙂
    Have you been taking travel blog lessons from Sue? hahahahahaha!!

    Liked by 2 people

  10. There is a lot to like about Bhutan! The King sounds visionary and dedicated to thinking ‘long term benefit’ not ‘short term gain!’ How refreshing! A bit like Nepal in the old days with some forward environmental thinking and the dedicated hands on guide thing. I like that they are preserving the old traditions and customs and protecting their culture because in a big, increasingly generic world, these unique features are what they can offer the world, (as well as many lessons to other nations). I have added it to my bucket list.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. FASCINATING blog post. I love the photos and your commentary. I have learned so much about Bhutan (considering I knew nothing, but still.. this will stay in my head for quite some time). Gross National Happiness – how smart is that?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Here’s what I’ve been able to find out: Refugees from Bhutan arriving in resettlement countries are from camps in Nepal where they fled in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Bhutan enacted a law that made citizenship based on length of residence in Bhutan and thus many ethnic Nepalis living in Bhutan were effectively made illegal immigrants. It is these ethnic Nepalis who then fled to Nepal. Having lived in the camps for 20 years, many are now opting to be resettled while others hold fast to the hope that they will be permitted to return to Bhutan with full citizenship rights. I haven’t been able to find out where that issue currently stands. One can only hope that justice will be done.

      This is indeed a dark side to “preserving culture” and I thank you for highlighting it.

      I’m sure people would write glowingly of “The Lucky Country” where I live but I can tell you that we have our fair share of human rights abuses enacted by our government. I suspect there would be few countries that did not have some shameful side to them.

      Liked by 1 person

      • That is so true – there is no Paradise on earth; each place has its challenges and problems. I just started getting involved with a refuge agency and Nepalese and Bhutanese top the list, at least in that city in Virginia. Thank you for going through the effort to write this.

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  12. What a strange old world, H! It did make me happy, and yes, I would love to visit, but there is just a hint of ‘you WILL be happy!’, isn’t there? I suppose if every country adopted this attitude we jolly well would all be happy! Excepting for those who had become refugees 😦 The architecture and scenery is sublime. Thank you for the map. I would have struggled to place it. I guess when it’s cold, it’s very, very cold 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, it does feel a little forced. And it’s interesting to read the GNH Index report to see just how happy they really are. But it’s certainly a very picturesque place to visit. There was a group on my flight on a two week photography trip. (The man next to me was unhappy because he’d asked for a window seat and didn’t get one. I, on the other hand, didn’t ask for one but got one on the best side for the view. A smile will get you a long way. 🙂 )

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  13. You are so lucky and fortunate to have visited Bhutan!

    That country is on my travel bucket list! I would love to visit the Tiger Nest Monastery.

    Even though I am annoyed that it is mad expensive to visit there I can’t disagree with their reasoning to keep their culture intact. So I think they are smart for doing that.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I feel very lucky indeed to have been able to experience it. And I agree with your comment. While it’s frustrating that it’s so expensive, it’s kind of hard to argue against their reasons for imposing such costs. I hope you do get the chance to visit Bhutan one day.

      Liked by 1 person

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