Bhutan – Kingdom of Happiness

07. 02. 2020

Land of the Thunder Dragon, Fortress of the Gods, Place of Good Fortune – Bhutan has many names and faces. Yet, the last kingdom of the Himalayas is still quite unique. Nestled between Tibet and India, it seems to have been laying in slumber for centuries, blanketed safely from the outside world and the influences of outside cultures. Indeed, a lot has changed since its cautious awakening in the 1970s, but many of its values, traditions and, most importantly, its way of life have remained true to this day.

Land of the Thunder Dragon, Fortress of the Gods, Place of Good Fortune – Bhutan has many names and faces. Yet, the last kingdom of the Himalayas is still quite unique. Nestled between Tibet and India, it seems to have been laying in slumber for centuries, blanketed safely from the outside world and the influences of outside cultures. Indeed, a lot has changed since its cautious awakening in the 1970s, but many of its values, traditions and, most importantly, its way of life have remained true to this day.

“Druk Yul” in Bhutanese is the balancing act between traditions and modern times, this is almost certainly down to the profound connection between the people of Bhutan and their royal family. The Wangchuck Dynasty has ruled the country since 1907, and it was them who, when the fifth Dragon King was enthroned in 2008, introduced democracy and enshrined the concept of Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness (GNH) in the constitution.

Covering an area of 38,394 square kilometres, Bhutan is slightly smaller than Switzerland and has a population of roughly 750,000 people. The national language is Dzongkha and the state religion is Buddhism. In 1994, in respect to the Himalayan mountains as the „Home of the Gods“, mountaineering was forbidden above 6,000 metres.

Keeping the Balance

In Buddhism, all forms of life are protected, even nature itself. It comes as no surprise that about seventy-two percent of Bhutan’s total area is forested, which makes it the only country in the world that is carbon-negative: the kingdom absorbs more CO2 than it emits. Trees are only logged in very careful and sustainable ways, and in order to prevent a black market from forming, officials often have „Forest Check Points“ set up along roads. Aside from forests, rice, vegetable and chilli pepper fields dominate the landscape around the pristine nature reserves.

Kira & Gho

What „Dirndls“ and „Lederhosen“ are to Bavarians is what the „Kira“ and „Gho“ are to the women and men of Bhutan. The traditional outfit consists of long, often colourful woven fabrics wrapped artfully around the body. Bhutanese people are required to wear them when visiting temples or attending schools and official ceremonies. You even see the Kira and Gho combined in the most unusual ways with t-shirts, fleece jackets and baseball caps.

Chilli

The Bhutanese like it hot! Next to rice and vegetables there is always a small serving of „Ema Datshi“ on the table. Chilli peppers in general play an important role in Bhutanese cooking.  The national dish is a sauce made of chilli peppers and cheese – an infernal combination for the average European palate.

A Cultural Sanctuary

Prayer flags flutter in the wind on nearly every mountain pass, in the forests, and on the streets and bridges of Bhutan. It is a way of pleasing the gods and sending the printed wishes of people out into the world. Spirituality and symbols play a major role in the Land of the Thunder Dragon. House walls are painted with penises to keep away evil spirits and malicious gossip. Images of the four venerated animals, tigers, dragons, Garudas and snow lions all help to provide people with strength, wisdom and good fortune. Tsa-Tsas are small clay sacrificial figures to improve your karma and you’ll often hear people uttering mantras like „Om mani padme hum”.

Gross National Happiness

In many parts of the world, Gross National Product is a measurement of a countries well-being, which is not the case in Bhutan. In the 1970s, Jigme Singye Wangchuk, the fourth king of Bhutan, declared „Gross National Happiness“ as a higher goal and even enshrined the concept in the countries constitution in 2008. The idea of Gross National Happiness (GNH) stipulates that all political and economic decisions take into consideration the individual happiness of the people. This specifically means that all far-reaching actions undergo an advanced review of their compatibility with the four pillars of GNH.

–      Sustainable socio-economic development
–      Environmental protection
–      Preservation and support of traditional cultural values
–      Promotion of good government and business leadership

Regular surveys are used to check on the happiness levels of the Bhutanese people. There is even a national body charged with upholding the over all success of the concept: the Gross National Happiness Commission.

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