Explore Bhutan - The Happiest Country

While all other countries choose GDP (Gross Domestic Products) to measure the well-being of society, Bhutan use GNH (Gross National Happiness) instead. It is hard to imagine a small country on the Himalaya range is the “Happiest Country” in the world, or as people often name it “The last Shangri-la”.

The last standing Buddhist Kingdom has one of the fastest growing GDPs in the world. Nine domains that they use to measure GNH are psychological wellbeing, health, time use, education, cultural diversity and resilience, good governance, community vitality, ecological diversity and resilience, and living standards.

Located in South Asia and landlocked between India, Tibet, China, and Nepal, Bhutan is a unique Himalayan Kingdom whose borders have never been invaded and who only opened to the world around 40 years ago. With its mist-shrouded mountains, ubiquitous monks and universal acceptance of reincarnation, the country itself is a real fairy-tale. In this ‘happiness’ place, the people are satisfied with their life and visitors would love to go back.

What makes Bhutan different/ The Happiest Country

Bhutanese manage spiritual and material happiness equally. Other measure happiness and wealth by owning luxury items. In Bhutan, that is not seen as a very good way to think, as it might cause stress and unhappiness when we are unable to afford those items. Bhutanese are different, they only let globalization begin to affect them about 20 years ago, but they have done so in a manner that allows their citizens to balance their material possessions and their spirituality. It doesn’t matter if they don’t have the fancy car, or the latest fashion. They are just happy to be alive.

As the edict of the King of Bhutan, you have to plant 3 trees for every single one you cut down. Because of that, the country is covered by over 60% of forest, and 50% of the country is protected as a national park. The forest, animals, and environment are strictly protected and the country announced that 60% of their country would be safe from deforestation permanently. No surprise that Bhutan is the only carbon-negative country in the world. Caring that much for the planet makes people feel happy.

No traffic lights, no problem at all! In Thimphu – the capital of Bhutan, where the traffic is heaviest in the kingdom, there’s a traffic policeman from the Royal Bhutan Police Force standing in a booth directing and controlling traffic. The only international airport in Bhutan is 6km away from Paro city, surrounded by lush, green mountains as high as 5,500m. It is considered one of the world’s most challenging airports in which to land and only a select number of pilots are certified to land at the airport. Flights to and from Paro are allowed under visual meteorological conditions only and are restricted to daylight hours from sunrise to sunset.

Bhutan architecture is so impressive. It is really unique and different from other countries. All the houses and buildings here, no matter old or new, all look unique. There are no sky scrapers, there is no western style concrete buildings. Bhutan government has strict rules for building construction as well as ordinary houses to ensure all the cities reflect its unique culture, religion, and identity.

Bhutan prohibits independent travellers. Tourists have to travel with a local authorized agent on an organized tour which includes sightseeing, transportation, meals and accommodation at a minimum of USD200/person/day on low season, or USD250/person/day on high season. The King set this policy because of his concern that a large number of visitors will disturb local people’s daily life and may cause the disappearance of its treasures. This strategy “low volume, high quality” to tourism is a sustainable way to help the country get further development.

Bhutan culture is not only identified by Bhutanese’s traditional clothing, but also remarked in their characteristic, candidness and kind manners. They believe in karma, that the people who live good lives are closer to enlightenment and are reincarnated as better creatures when they are reborn. This prompts them to live good lives, kind to one another, and be good people.

Bhutan is the only one country in the world that there is no crime, no theft, no killing, and no drugs.

Killing (animals, chickens, and fishes) is completely illegal, but they still eat meat here. The meat are all butchered and imported from India. 40% of population are vegetarian. The government used to mention about going totally vegetarian in the future.

Bhutan is home to a numerous of funny traffic signs. When visiting Bhutan, tourists will not see many advertising panel, but hilarious traffic signs along the highway that make you smile. Here are some: “If you are married, divorced speed”, “Driving risky after whiskey”, “Mountain are a pleasure only if you drive with leisure”, “Eager to last, then why fast”, “Be gentle on my curves” J

Polygamy marriage is legal in Bhutan. Today, this is not popular anymore, but Bhutanese can marry to more than one husband or wife. In fact, the 4th King of Bhutan has four wives.

 

People

Bhutan has a rich and diverse culture. Bhutanese are divided into three main ethnic groups: from the east - the Scharchops, the Ngalops – people from the west, and the Lhotshampas – people from the south.

Kira is the Bhutanese traditional dress for women. It’s an ankle-length dress consisting of rectangular piece of woven fabric. It is wrapped and folded around the body and is pinned at both shoulders, and bound at the waist with a long belt. Bhutanese women usually wear kira with wonju – a long sleeved blouse inside and a short jacket outside.

Gho is the traditional dress for men. It was introduced in the 17th century to give Ngalop people a distinctive identity. Gho is a knee-length robe tied at the waist by a cloth belt known as the kera. The government requires all men to wear gho if they work in a government office or school. Men are also required to wear the gho on formal occasions.

Religion

About three-quarters of the population follow the state religion - Vajrayana Buddhism. The other one-quarter to one-third are Hinduism followers. Other religions account for less than 1% of the population, including Bon and other indigenous faith, Christianity, Islam.

Bhutan is a Buddhist country by constitution and Buddhism play a fundamental role in the cultural, ethical and sociological development of the country and the people. Buddhism is the cultural heritage of Bhutan and its people identity as well. Freedom of religion is guaranteed by the King. The religious and personalities have duty to “promote the spiritual heritage of the country while also ensuring that religion remains separate from politics” and that religious and personalities remain “above politics”.

There are over ten thousand Buddhist monks and they involve vitally in both the religious and social lives of the Buddhist population. Because Buddhism plays a very important role in the life of Buddhist, the monks visit households and perform rites on such occasions as birth, marriage, sickness, and death.

The country holds a number of annual festivals highlight different events in the life of Buddha. Many of the festivals feature symbolic dances which are thought to bestow heavenly blessings on the participants. Most of the dances date back to before the Middle age. The most interesting dances are masked and sword dances.

Landscape

The national language is Bhutanese Dzongkha – a Sino-Tibetan language which was widely spoken in the western region and became the state language in 1971. Bhutan is a multilingual society with 19 different languages and dialects spoken throughout the country. There are other three dominant languages, named Tshanglakha, spoken in eastern Bhutan, Lhotshamkha also known as Nepali, spoken in the southern region and Bumthangkha, spoken in the central region. English is the medium instruction in schools. Hindi is also widely spoken and understood by most Bhutanese because of the Bollywood influence.

Climate

The climate in Bhutan varies with elevation, from subtropical in the south to temperate in the highlands and polar-type climate, with year-round snow in the north. Bhutan experiences five distinct seasons: summer, monsoon, autumn, winter and spring. Western Bhutan has the heavier monsoon rains; southern Bhutan has hot humid summers and cool winters; central and eastern Bhutan is temperate and drier than the west with warm summers and cool winters.

Bhutan's generally dry spring starts in early March and lasts until mid-April. Summer weather commences in mid-April with occasional showers and continues to late June. The heavier summer rains last from late June through late September which are more monsoonal along the southwest border.

Autumn, from late September or early October to late November, follows the rainy season. It is characterized by bright, sunny days and some early snowfalls at higher elevations.

From late November to early March, winter sets in, with frost throughout much of the country and snowfall common above elevations of 3,000 meters. The winter northeast monsoon brings gale-force winds at the highest altitudes through high mountain passes, giving Bhutan its name - Drukyul, which in the Dzongkha language mean Land of the Thunder Dragon.

History

The Bhutanese refer their country as The Land of the Thunder Dragon. The name Bhutan is derived from the Sanskrit “Bhotant” meaning “the end of Tibet”or from “Bhu-uttan” meaning “highland”.

There is evidence that Bhutan was inhabited as early as 2000 BC. By 1500 BC, people lived in Bhutan by herding animals. Buddhism was introduced into the country in the 7th century AD. Ever since, Buddhism has been an integral part of the culture of Bhutan. By the 10th century, Bhutan’s political development was heavily influenced by its religious history.

Until the early 17th century, the people of Bhutan were disunited. After that, the area was unified by Ngawang Namgyal - the Tibetan lama and military leader who had fled religious persecution in Tibet. To defend the country against Tibetan forays, Namgyal built several dzongs or fortresses. May such dzongs still exist and are active centers of religion and district administration. Namgyal also divided government of Bhutan into spiritual and secular. Meanwhile, in 1627, two Portuguese were the first recorded Europeans to visit Bhutan on their way to Tibet. In the 18th century, the country lapsed into internal conflict. At the same time, the British gained more power in India. Bhutan first made a treaty with the British in 1774. War finally broke out in 1864. After the war, British took over Duars, the lowest hills of Bhutan.

In 1907 Ugyen Wangchuk was elected king of Bhutan. Then in 1910, Bhutan and Britain signed a treaty. Britain agreed not to interfere in the internal affairs of Bhutan as long as the Bhutanese accepted British advice on its external relations. In 1947, India became independent. Two years later, India signed a treaty with Bhutan. India agreed not to interfere in Bhutanese affairs as long as Bhutan accepted Indian advice on its internal affairs.

In the 1960s Bhutan ended its isolation. Bhutan joined the Colombo Plan in 1962. Bhutan joined the Universal Postal Union in 1969 and joined the UN in 1971. Meanwhile, the king of Bhutan introduced a number of reforms although he was keen to preserve Bhutanese traditions. The king created the National Assembly and the Royal Bhutanese Army.

In 1999 satellite TV was allowed in Bhutan for the first time. Then in the early 21st Century Bhutan became a democratic country. In 2005 the king unveiled a new constitution. The first democratic elections for parliament were held in 2008.

 

Lifestyle

Eating

Together with its diversity of the people, there is a certain ethnic diversity in the food. Northern Indian cuisine is often mixed with Tibetan chilies in daily dishes. Apricots, asparagus, chilies and numerous spices are grown in abundance in nearly all the valleys. Spices, and vegetables are cooked with beef, chicken, pork, dried yak, and resemble Chinese cuisine. The typical meal features rice, dried beef, pork, and chilies cooked with white cheese.

Shopping

Bhutan government is conscious about its untouched region to preserve its uniques culture and tradition.  Thimphu, Paro, and Phuntsheoling are the major centers of shopping in Bhutan. Bhutan is not a cheap shoppers’ paradise, but it’s for who are interested in high quality and textiles and handicrafts.

Bhutan textiles are amazing, and they have spiritual story behind them which links with their cultural identity and in the suburban and villages areas. So when you pick up textiles from Bhutan, you pick up a piece of their story.

If you want to travel light, and must choose one small light item to carry back home, and if you are an art lover, then thangkas or local paintings is right for you. Thangka literally means “rolled up”. They are scroll paintings. Bhutan has a large collection of priceless and spiritually valuable thangkas which are present in many dzongs and monasteries. There are three main styles of thangka making: Chinese style, Kham regions style, and Tshang region style.

Shopping for crafts, mask, and decorative items is on high demand too. These beautiful handicraft masks are eye catchy and colorful that immediately catches the attention.

Jewelry in Bhutan is really fascinating as the quality of craftsmanship is good, and there are wonderful looking pieces available in the most curio shops. Jewelry is widely worn by Bhutanese women. Using precious stone, gold, silver, bronze, skillful craftsmen create intricate ornaments.

 

 

Shopping

Bhutan government is conscious about its untouched region to preserve its uniques culture and tradition.  Thimphu, Paro, and Phuntsheoling are the major centers of shopping in Bhutan. Bhutan is not a cheap shoppers’ paradise, but it’s for who are interested in high quality and textiles and handicrafts.

Bhutan textiles are amazing, and they have spiritual story behind them which links with their cultural identity and in the suburban and villages areas. So when you pick up textiles from Bhutan, you pick up a piece of their story.

If you want to travel light, and must choose one small light item to carry back home, and if you are an art lover, then thangkas or local paintings is right for you. Thangka literally means “rolled up”. They are scroll paintings. Bhutan has a large collection of priceless and spiritually valuable thangkas which are present in many dzongs and monasteries. There are three main styles of thangka making: Chinese style, Kham regions style, and Tshang region style.

Shopping for crafts, mask, and decorative items is on high demand too. These beautiful handicraft masks are eye catchy and colorful that immediately catches the attention.

Jewelry in Bhutan is really fascinating as the quality of craftsmanship is good, and there are wonderful looking pieces available in the most curio shops. Jewelry is widely worn by Bhutanese women. Using precious stone, gold, silver, bronze, skillful craftsmen create intricate ornaments.

Etiquette

Other notable symbols of Bhutanese culture and national identity are the distinctive Bhutanese dress, kira and gho.

On festive occasions, formal occasions, or when visiting a dzong, Bhutanese are required to wear kira and gho. Especially, Bhutanese men have to wear it with kabney – a silk scarf runs from the left shoulder to the right hip, and women have to wear a rachu over the traditional dress kira. 

The rank of the bearer determines the color of the scarf, such as the saffron is for the King, and the Chief Abbot, orange is for ministers and other members of the government, red is for male members of the royal family and higher officials, green is for judges, while white scarf for ordinary citizens.

Thus, tourist should dress modestly, especially when visiting temples. Miniskirts, and shorts are not well accepted norms.

Bhutanese are devoted to their royal family. It is unacceptable to make disparaging comments about the monarchy, chief abbot, and their religion.

Enter temples and monasteries only if you have permission, allow your guide to lead you.., and remove your shoes, hat, and sunglasses before entering the temple.

Many lakes and rivers in Bhutan are considered sacred, don’t wash, swim or throw any objects into them.

Use your palm to show rather than finger when pointing, use you right or both hands to give or receive.