There is much to learn from Bhutan
When our Bhutan trip was being planned, I didn’t know much about the country. I felt ashamed of the fact that I didn’t know much about a country which was a next-door neighbour of mine. I asked around and learned that it’s a country of law-abiding people, with deep respect for their king.
Respect for their king? That was quite hard to believe. It was quite interesting to know that there’s still a population on earth that loves their monarchs. It was only recently that they were introduced to prime ministers through elections.
I was also a bit scared of landing in Paro airport -- from what I’d heard, it’s very risky for the aircrafts to land through the mountains. However, when our plane was cruising between the hills, it was altogether a different experience and I wasn’t afraid any more, and really enjoyed the flight.
I started learning more about them as we began communicating with the local people. The Bhutanese, I found, are the most gentle and courteous lot on the face of the earth. They are honest, with a tremendous helping attitude, and they are clearly not a lot who would exploit foreigners.
We learned that you cannot smoke in public, and tobacco production and sale were banned in the entire country. Local people do smoke, but they do that very covertly, so that no one is disturbed by their habit. The local cigarette sellers don’t sell to the foreigners, and the foreigners have to pay a heavy duty for bringing in tobacco into Bhutan.
Well, that’s a fascinating aspect of life in Bhutan. Now, for making this happen, somebody must have thought about it to make it happen. There must have been a thinking mind who dreamed it first to implement this.
I haven’t heard a single incident of honking during my five-day stay in two Bhutanese cities -- Thimphu and Paro. Either they were crazy, or I wasn’t properly listening to the sounds around me. But it’s as true as the sun rising from the east that no one honked. It was indeed eerily uncomfortable for me, as I came from a country where honking is a national pastime.
Now, who is this person who has been shaping the people’s minds and telling them that civilized humans don’t honk? Someone must have thought about it, and told and convinced the people not to honk.
All the vehicle drivers can recognize the vehicles carrying tourists, and they were letting the tourist vehicles pass by first. I have seen this attitude in some countries that have a thriving tourism sector. Now, who taught them to give importance to making the stay easier for tourists?
When a pedestrian steps on the zebra crossing, all the vehicles slow down to a standstill. When the last walker crosses the road, the vehicles start to move again. They don’t seem to be in a hurry, and they don’t keep honking to push the pedestrians to pass by quickly.
Almost everyone in the country wears their national outfit. Gho for men and kira for the ladies. Our Bhutanese chauffeur, speaking in perfect English, knew many things -- the history, the politics, and the laws of the land. He told me that the attire were introduced about three centuries ago in order to unify Bhutan as a nation for displaying its unique identity.
The present-day Bhutanese, he said, wear the outfit for preserving their heritage. The state also inspires them to wear the national dress.
Just outside the Druk Hotel, I saw some school children rehearsing for an event. They were all wearing their national dress. I asked one of the teachers whether the children also wear the attire while attending classes. He said yes, everyone wears the national outfit for school.
Our chauffeur also told us that they grow everything organically. There’s hardly any use of chemicals in the food they consume. Most of Bhutan does not kill any animals, and allow them to roam around anywhere and everywhere. I have seen thousands of dogs roaming around in the streets, and all looked tame and quite nourished.
The most striking feature about Bhutan is that the country chose to be happy. They preferred Gross National Happiness over Gross National Product. This was envisioned by their fourth king, His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck.
Bhutan wasn’t taken seriously when they began their pursuit for happiness. But working relentlessly for years and going beyond seeking satisfaction in material goods and services, towards finding happiness and well-being in their inner world, many countries are now mulling how to replicate the Bhutanese way of holistic life. In the process of becoming a happy nation, Bhutan has become a carbon-negative country. There’s hardly any other country in the world that can claim to be a carbon-negative country.
Someone in that country must have envisoned turning Bhutan into what it is today. Then that person convinced the entire nation to lead an environmentally-friendly holistic lifestyle.
I wish the 200 odd counties of the world tried to emulate at least one aspect of the Bhutanese people. The world would be a much better place.
Ekram Kabir is a story-teller and a columnist. He can be reached at [email protected]