It has rightly been said that Travel makes one knowledgeable of the things that probably any college degree or any book cannot teach. Such was a trip to Bhutan, the Land of the Thunder Dragon, as famously addressed has a lot more to offer other than the bountiful amount of natural beauty it has been gifted in abundance with. Bhutan is so much more than the flowering cherry blossoms, or the willow and cypress trees, or its magnificent Buddhist architecture. There is an enigma about Bhutan, which is indescribable at times but something that is bound to catch hold of you as soon as you enter this magical kingdom. By now most of us know that Bhutan, is the only country in the world where every individual’s well being is considered as a measure of the nation’s development, and what an amazing concept it is! There’s a lot we can learn from this kingdom and take back, such is the benevolence of Bhutan, for all it asks you in return is to avoid littering around.
- The sense of ownership towards one’s culture and conserving it.
Bhutan is not only abundantly endowed in natural beauty but also in terms of mesmerising Buddhist architecture, ranging from towering Dzongs, monasteries, colleges for Buddhist studies, traditional wooden bridges, chortens or stupas etc. Not a single structure of cultural and historic significance is deliberately soiled by the people. Indians should therefore learn to stop writing absurd things like “I love you Pooja” on the walls of such important structures in our own country.
The people value their culture and are working their every bit to conserve it. Bhutan follows a dress code for the people, the women are supposed to wear the Kira and men wear the Gho while entering any official building such Dzongs or monasteries etc. The imposition of such a dress code may come across as a too strict move to many, but I sort of loved the idea. This indeed is also a way of conserving the rich culture people have inherited, plus it really looks pretty and colourful.
- Physical fitness
The Bhutanese Government has constructed open-air gyms with A-class exercise equipments for its masses at various locations. The purpose is to make physical fitness accessible to the people free of cost. Now imagine working out on a treadmill under the clear blue sky, with the fresh cold breeze flowing by, topped with chirping of birds and the view of the entire Thimphu city below. Am I in heaven or what?
I visited Bhutan during mid March and mind you it’s supremely cold during these months due the strong cold winds blowing relentlessly throughout the day and night. In such climate, I have seen kids as well as grownups cycling, practising for an upcoming marathon and playing football with such panache in the cold earliest hours of the day. Why do we lack such dedication towards our health and fitness?
- Waste Management
Well, we all know that proper waste management is the need of the hour, and how everyone should learn segregating the household waste into decomposable and non-decomposable. In reality how many of us actually practice this method? I am sure very few of us do, and most of the people are either too lazy to do it or are absolutely unaware of such a practice and its benefit towards the environment. In Bhutan, its different, the locals have strict guidelines on segregating the waste and religiously follow this practice and the result of course is visible everywhere. Bhutan is probably one of the cleanest and well maintained nations in the whole wide world. There are many streets in Bhutan which have been made with recycled plastic.
Whether it be people crossing the roads at Zebra crossings alone, or following the dress code while visiting the official and religious places, or children practicing sports in the early cold hours of the day, or following strict waste management guidelines everything about Bhutan depicts discipline in their day to day activities.
Bhutan is truly the land of compassion and the compassionate. From celebrating and worshiping the compassionate avatar of Lord Buddha or Avalokiteshwara, to inculcating compassion towards all in the young minds, Bhutan is where you could understand the hidden meaning of compassion and its dynamism. I had such an enlightened experience meeting a very learned Guru Rimpoche who explained compassion in very simple terms and why it is needed in our day to day world. How does compassion work, how do I practice compassion were few of the various questions in my mind while interacting with the Guru Rimpoche. To begin with, start being compassionate towards yourself, you do not deserve self pity or doubt; love yourself first to love others. Secondly, pray for the well being of all, with the deepest regard in your heart, you never know your one prayer may bring relief to thousands of suffering people across the world. For instance, a man may be suffering due to extreme thirst stranded in a desert; one compassionate prayer may help the suffering man to meet a benevolent traveler crossing the desert, who may in turn help ease his suffering. Thirdly, turn your thoughts into action, every little action counts. You don’t need to donate millions in the name of charity, simple acts such as feeding a hungry dog, saving a life of an animal waiting to be butchered or feeding the hungry, or stop backbiting or speaking evil of one another. All these simple things help one inculcate and practice compassion and bring peace within.
In Sanskrit there’s a saying, “Atithi Devo Bhawa” meaning A Guest is equivalent to God. The real essence of it was felt in Bhutan, I stayed at a friend’s place at Babesa in Thimphu, and the hospitality I received is beyond words. The hosts were very warm and affectionate apart from being very knowledgeable and important people in the city, but without any air about it. Their humility stole my heart and the love that was showered upon me never made me feel that I was away from my own home. Not to forget the delicious food that was served, which clearly showed the amount of love and care that was put in preparing it. The kitchen is an important center of the household in Bhutanese homes, and most of our conversations were centered in the kitchen itself. The Bhutanese people emphasize on the need of having at least one meal a day with the entire family seated together which indeed is a rewarding experience.
The other locals I came across were also very kind and friendly. Of course there are shops intending to make money with their rocketing prices for their merchandise, and if you do not negotiate well you may end up being looted but otherwise people aren’t evil beings trying to rip off every penny you own. People literally stop their cars on busy streets to allow anyone who is willing to cross the road. I was particularly touched by this gesture because in cities like Gurgaon or Delhi, try crossing the roads in the hope that people will let you do so, and you end up being run over.
- Biodiversity conservation
Bhutan is proactive in its conservation initiatives. Bhutan is one of the many biodiversity conservation hotspots in the world dedicatedly pursuing the commitment to the maintenance of its biodiversity. This is reflected in the decision to maintain at least sixty percent of the land area under forest cover, to designate more than 40% of its territory as national parks, reserves and other protected areas, and most recently to identify a further nine percent of land area as biodiversity corridors linking the protected areas. Environmental conservation has been placed as the focus of the nation's development strategy. The social media was recently flooded with how the King and the Queen celebrated the birth of their child by planting 108,000 saplings thus giving major ecological conservation goals to the rest of the world.
May be its the fresh air, the mountains or the delectable cuisine or the very upbringing or everything combined together that makes people in Bhutan very calm and patient. People don’t unnecessarily honk on the streets, you will hardly listen to people abusing in adverse situations (not that I saw any such situation), drivers let you cross the roads without any haste, and people everywhere greet you with a smile. If this is not patience then what is?
Spirituality is a hard attained goal for most of us living in this extremely fast paced world, but the tranquillity of Bhutan speaks of it otherwise. People are busy there as well; they are also chasing their life goals but at the same time are more connected to the spiritual world. As mentioned earlier, compassion is instilled in young minds and hearts from a very tender age, and it is not just any other value one must learn, but a way of life. Bhutan can be termed as the spiritual capital of the world, from the tranquil Buddhist monasteries, their reverberating chants that effuse serenity in the air, the ideal places that offer solitude and are ideal for contemplative meditation, or the hike to the top of the Takstang Monastery, everything exudes a serene air about it and in such an environment it is always easier to feel near and connected to the almighty.
With such exuding spirituality in the air, the mountains, the valleys, the people, in fact everything about Bhutan is peaceful. Spirituality and compassion makes it easier for oneself to attain and experience inner peace and when every individual in such a state of well being the nation marches ahead in unison.
Probably it’s these factors and many other initiatives taken by the Government as well that makes Bhutan the country it is. To be named as the world’s happiest country is in itself is a great achievement and its time other nations also focused on such holistic approach towards development. There is so much to learn from this little country, our very own friend of the Himalayas. If anything else may have struck you while travelling in this part of the world, please feel free to share it with me in the comments below.