Bhutan, the Himalayan nation is always associated with happiness. Make a trip to this ‘happy’ country to get few tips on how to smile at life
Gross Domestic Product (GDP) speaks about the development of a nation in relation to monetary growth. But is this the best was to judge the progress of a nation? The answer to this question probably lies in the Eastern Himalayan country of Bhutan – the country which measures its success in terms of GDH, Gross Domestic Happiness, a phrase coined by its fourth King Jigme Singye Wangchuk, way back in 1972.
Even a short visit to Bhutan exposes one to its development concept. No less than a kingdom out of a fairy tale, it is a place that one feels more than experiences. The Buddhist influence on this country is great and it is evident in its architecture, lifestyle and most importantly mannerisms.
The people here are a happy and content lot and bear great faith and love for their monarch Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck. So much so wherever you go you come across pictures of King and the Queen. Though it is a constitutional monarchy it has a parliamentary form of government.
Since Bhutan and India enjoy good relationship, for an Indian the voter ID card is sufficient gain enter. A simple immigration process at the border town Phuentsholing gives you permit to visit its towns. The most famous tourist attractions are Thimphu, capital of Bhutan, Paro and Punakha. However, one has to apply for a separate permit to visit Punakha.
India and Bhutan are separated by a gate at the border town Jaigaon, in West Bengal. When you walk into Bhutan the difference is striking.
While Jaigaon is marred with traffic jams, pot holed roads, filth and dirt, on the other side of the gate Bhutan is refreshing with its clean roads, organised traffic and peaceful people, who actually look like they are meditating.
Thimphu is around 170 kms away from Phuntsholing it takes around five hours by car to get here. The journey is pleasant and full of visuals of green valleys, dotted all along with waterfalls, lush mountains and prayer flags.
Thimphu is not like any other capital town. It retains a cozy ambience in the midst of the unique architecture of Bhutan. On the must visit list are monasteries and stupas, with an under construction statue of Buddha on a hillock serving as the latest attraction. Called ‘Buddha Dordenma’ it is a gigantic Shakyamuni Buddha statue.
Another attraction of Bhutan is the Takin, the national animal of the country. A goat-antelope it is found in the eastern side of the Himalayas.
One should also visit the textile museum, which presents the history and culture of Bhutan through its textile heritage.
Paro is relatively smaller and is 50 kms from Thimphu and is more known for dzongs and monasteries, with the most famous being the Taksang Monastery that is situated on a cliff.
Paddy fields, green mountains and the Buddhist culture are the highlights of this place. The pace of life is little slower and relaxing. The roadside stupas, heritage wooden bridges decorated with prayer flags, all add to the beauty of the place.
Paro has much to offer in terms of natural and cultural beauty. The two places that one has to visit here are the Rinpung Dzong, Buddhist monastery and fortress of the Drukpa Lineage of the Kagyu School. The architecture of this place is unique. The scale of the wood carvings within the dzong will leave you spell bound. The dzong is a religious place and one has to maintain both dress code and the sanctity of the place.
There is also a museum on a hillock above this dzong which gives a complete idea about Bhutan.
The Taksang Monastery, also known as Tiger’s Nest, is a prominent Himalayan Buddhist sacred site and temple complex. It was first built in 1692. Legend has it that in the 8th Century Guru Padmasambhava (he introduced Buddhism to Bhutan) flew to this site on a tigress’ back to subdue a local demon. There is a small cave within the monastery where the tigress used to stay. It is believed that Padmanasambha meditated here for three years, three months, three weeks, three days and three hours in the 8th century.
To reach this monastery one has to trek through jungles for almost three hours. If you love the outdoors it is an enjoyable experience. The place is worth visiting for the Buddhist culture experience and spellbinding view of the valley
Some interesting facts
- Bhutanese architecture is typical of the place. All buildings have slanting roofs with decorated wooden windows. The style is mandatory.
- Taxi drivers have to wear the traditional dress, ‘gho.’ Women commonly wear their traditional dress, ‘Kira.’
- Bhutan is relatively a clean country with dustbins at almost every five steps, especially in Thimphu.
- 1 Bhutanese Ngultrum equal 1.00 Indian Rupee
HOW TO GET THERE
By air: You can get a direct flight from any metro in India to Paro
By road: You can take a train from Kolkata to New Jaipaiguri or Hashimara and then take a vehicle to the small town Jaigaon. It will lead you to the Indo-Bhutan border. From here you can take a taxi from Bhutan and complete your immigration formalities at the border village of Phuentsholing.
If you are Indian there is no need for passport or visa. The election voter ID is enough.
All Pics by Om Prabhugaonkar
Edited version of this article was first published on The Navhind Times Zest BUZZ Weekender on July 4, 2015.