The Bhutanese are a happy race. And it is the culture of Bhutan which promotes this general feeling of happiness which pervades throughout the country. And the culture of Bhutan is something the government and the Royal Family work very hard at maintaining and improving.
The Kingdom of Bhutan measures it success on Gross National Happiness rather than some dry, economist’s, money-centric view of success. It’s an alternative view and other countries are starting to take notice.
Regardless of indexes, it is clear when traveling around Bhutan, the people seem exceptionally happy. And why not? The Bhutanese people love their King, Bhutanese cuisine, festivals in Bhutan and care very much for their environment. Life in Bhutan is refreshing to see!
The Culture of Bhutan and Gross National Happiness
Gross National Happiness is not just some glib, political slogan in Bhutan, it is real and it is enshrined into its constitution.
To this end, the Bhutanese respect all life (human, fauna and flora). Development which might cause Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to rise, such as logging, but at the expense of the environment is frowned upon. The environment has such a big impact to the general happiness and health of the people that the Bhutanese consider it more important than mere, economic development as measured by GDP. Here are a couple of practical examples.
There are no chemicals used in agriculture, even though the use of the chemicals might increase yields in the short term. As well, there is a blanket ban on genetically modified food throughout Bhutan. There is a question on the Bhutanese Customs form confirming you are not bringing any GMO food into the country. Bhutanese cuisine is therefore organic, tasty and healthy.
There are several hydro-electric schemes under construction in Bhutan to generate enough electricity for the whole country and to export the surplus to India. There is no burning of fossil fuels here, even though in the shorter term this would add to GDP.
The UN now takes this so seriously that, in conjunction with the Kingdom of Bhutan, it has developed a World Happiness Index, although economic success is still a large part of the score attributed to each country.
You can read more about Bhutanese happiness here.
The King and the Government in the Kingdom of Bhutan
Respect is an important aspect of culture of Bhutan. And there is incredible respect and love for the Royal family and with good reason.
The monarchy has only been around in Bhutan since 1907. The previous King and father of the current King is Jigme Singye. He ruled between 1972 and 2006. Here is why he is so beloved.
He introduced democracy to the Kingdom of Bhutan by announcing elections would be held in 2007 for all people to vote in. This wasn’t the King reacting to pressure for “democratic change”, this was because the King no longer thought it appropriate the monarchy should have unrestrained power. He thought it more important the people have a voice.
Can you honestly imagine any politician or person in power elsewhere voluntarily cede power because it is the right thing to do? On hearing this the Bhutanese people were aghast. They were more than happy with the absolute monarchy system in place at the time.
The Royal Family (and especially the Queen Mother) have constructed many, magnificent temples for use by the Bhutanese people. The current King and his young family are also beloved in Bhutan. You see their calendar everywhere, including in all the temples and monasteries throughout Bhutan.
Not a lot is known about Bhutan, so here are a few facts about the country.
Is Bhutan a Country?
Is Bhutan a country? Yes, it is a Buddhist kingdom on the Himalayas’ eastern edge. Bhutan is landlocked and sits between India and China. The capital of Bhutan is Thimphu and it is the only large town in the country with a population of approximately 100,000. The capital of Bhutan is reputedly, also, the world’s only capital city without an airport, thanks to its spectacular setting in the Eastern Himalayas.
What is the population of Bhutan? It has about 700,000 inhabitants over an area half the size of the state of Indiana in the US.
The weather in Bhutan is something you should consider for any Bhutan visit. Here is a link to the average monthly temperatures for the capital of Bhutan. But really there is no bad time to visit. The weather in Bhutan is pretty good all year round.
Bhutan is known for its many religious buildings (monasteries), fortresses (dzongs) and dramatic landscapes ranging from subtropical plains to steep mountains and valleys. Most of the population resides in the mountain valleys where the land is fertile and subsistence farming is still quite common.
Agriculture is indeed the major industry in Bhutan, along with some industry. Tourism is slowly emerging and is heavily controlled, to ensure the protection of the culture of Bhutan. Potatoes are the main crop raised for export. And you see farmers working in their potato fields everywhere.
We love that about Bhutan. It means you see a country unspoiled by outside influences and businesses! Imagine being able to travel to a country with unique shops you won’t see anywhere else, no large chains!! And no advertising.
Life in Bhutan
The very first thing you notice when you travel in Bhutan is the absolute absence of any advertising anywhere. No billboards and not even a large sign on a building. And not a traffic light in the country. Talk about a mind-cleansing place to visit.
No traffic lights, no advertising? No wonder Bhutanese people are so happy.
Well, there is one “manual” traffic light, the only one in the country. Click on the play button to see it in action.
Did you know, Bhutan only introduced notes as currency in the 1970’s? Until then, bartering was very common and was part of the culture of Bhutan.Grains, including wheat and barley were the main form of exchange. Grains were traded for salt with Tibet. Large wealthy land owners grew grains. The more land you owned, the more grain you could grow and therefore the large your wealth. Peasants that worked on the land were often paid in grains or salt.
Land reforms introduced about the same time as currency, reduced the amount of land a person could own from unlimited to 25 acres per family. Thus many people became land owners for the first time.
No doubt there is still today a sense of helping your neighbor rather than expecting cash.
In later posts, we will be writing about the following topics to highlight life in Bhutan:
- common Bhutan games, specifically archery;
- festivals in Bhutan, a most amazing spectacle that you should try and incorporate in your Bhutan visit;
- Bhutanese food and why it is so good.
- Bhutan drinks anyone? Look out for the Dragon Warmer.
Bhutan Happiness in Shangri La
Bhutan happiness is everywhere and honestly with scenery like this and governed by people who care, why wouldn’t you be happy?
The fabled Shangri La was a term coined in the West referring to some mythical land in the Himalayas, the ultimate place for happiness. There are several places around or near the Himalayas purported to be Shangri La. One of them is the hidden Phobjikha Valley, right here in Bhutan. Keep in mind this photograph was taken in winter. In summer, it is a beautiful emerald green.
Travel in Bhutan
Shangri La is not some marketing ploy used by the Bhutanese government. If that was the case, they would use it and there would be masses of tourists in Bhutan.
Ever protective of the culture of Bhutan, that is the last thing the government wants. A Bhutan visit is not cheap and you cannot independently travel in Bhutan. You must travel with a guide and driver and part of the service is to educate you on all things Bhutan.
Anyone can see the magnificent scenery, dzongs, monasteries and temples. But with the guide, you are left with a full appreciation of, and are immersed in, the culture of Bhutan. And that makes your travel in Bhutan more rewarding.
This is the first of a series of articles about Bhutan. Use the form at the bottom of this post to subscribe.
We traveled as guests of Yangphel Adventure Travel. As always, all opinions are our own.