“HAPPINESS IS A PLACE”
This is the name that the people of the small kingdom in the Eastern Himalayas call their country, and they have many good reasons to do so. Drukyul is the local name for Bhutan which means the Land of the Thunder Dragon.
This is a unique paradise, a country that has been hidden for centuries protected by the towering Himalayas. The raw natural beauty changes dramatically from sub-tropical jungles which house exotic animals such as the Bengal Tiger, into a fertile temperate zone which rises up to the great northern glaciers. The pristine environment is home to exotic wild life and is the last refuge for endangered species such as the Black-Necked Crane, the Blue Sheep, the Golden Langur, the Takin (Bhutan’s national animal) and as I have mentioned before the Royal Bengal Tiger.
Narrow winding roads, no traffic lights to be seen, the kingdom is one of the last unknown destinations in the world. Prior to twenty years ago there was no TV and definitely no internet. The Bhutanese people pride themselves on keeping their country as unspoiled as possible “High value Low impact, when you come to visit us in Bhutan take nothing but memories, leave nothing but footprints.”
The Gross National Happiness index is the Bhutanese model, unlike the rest of the world where economic development is the goal. In Bhutan economic development is only a means to the real goal of happiness. Bhutan’s slogan “Happiness is a Place” simply assures that happiness can be found in simple things and these simple things can be found anywhere and in anything. During our travels we met many Bhutanese and found them to be happy and content, whether working in the rice fields, hotels, restaurants or following their vocation as monks. The Bhutanese declared to the world that they will never sacrifice their pristine environment for economic growth.
Unlike many neighbouring countries, it quickly becomes apparent that there are no homeless people living on the streets and no starving. This is due to the fact that the King provides any families without means a piece of land to cultivate and therefore make a living. Every visitor to Bhutan (excluding Indians, Bangladeshis and Maldivians) needs to pay a minimum daily fee of around $250. Part of this fee is used to help fund education and health.
Bhutan is the last bastion of Mahayana Buddhism, the sacred monasteries that sit precariously on sheer cliffs on a very high altitude, the fluttering prayer flags that line the high ridges, the red robed monks who chant through the day and night give this kingdom an aura that comes from another time. Bhutan is a real place that combines today’s life based on the past.
One of the most beautiful events in Bhutan are the local Festivals, very rich and happy expressions of its ancient Buddhist culture. We were lucky enough to visit several festivals, a magical display of colour, dance and song. Families dressed in their traditional costumes come together to celebrate the uniqueness of their wonderful culture. ,These festivals are held in all districts and most of them are in honor of Guru Rinpoche, the saint who introduced Buddhism to Bhutan in the 8th century. We felt incredibly privileged to be able to share in these very special occasions.
There are so many places to visit, and experience in this unique country. Our personal favourites were the spectacular scenery of the Paro valley, the central heartlands and forests filled with wildlife and alpine flowers, the ethereal beauty of the world famous “TAKT-SHANG” monastery, idling through the rice fields, sitting on the balcony in utter peace watching the sun set behind the majestic mountains, to the utterly exhilarating trek to the breathtaking Tiger’s Nest.
We had an amazing experience in Bhutan and we must thank our friends in BFH Bhutan Friendship Holidays (www.bfh4tours.com) who did everything to share their wonderful kingdom with us.