We often relate happiness with smiles and laughter. It is definitely a factor, but not the only one. From what I’ve seen, eyes light up more than the teeth, when someone is happy. On my visit to Bhutan, only country that measures its economic development by Gross National Happiness, I imagined that people would be grinning from ear to ear with enough reasons to count. I couldn’t have been more wrong!
Most Bhutanese people keep a stoic exterior but once you start talking to them, they turn out to be some of the friendliest folks. The cab drivers stop when they see pedestrians waiting to cross the road. Almost everyone is ready to assist you with the directions. Though tourism is a major source of revenue for the country, tricking the travelers by asking ridiculous amount of money is still not the norm. They don’t push you to buy a souvenir, hire a taxi or rent a hotel room. Instead, they come for genuine help, when required. As I indulged in more conversations with different locals, I realized ‘contentment’ could be a better word than ‘happiness’, to describe their state.
The life, in general is relatively slow. People are relaxed, at-ease. They are absolutely busy, doing everyday chores, trying to earn enough money but they haven’t forgotten to live. Most of them walk miles or ride cycles in their everyday lives. They have learnt to use gadgets, but not abuse the advantage. Their lives are still not ruled by Facebook and Twitter. Their children still play out in the open, with other kids. No one really interferes in each others’ business. They enjoy their share of movies and music, but don’t let it become Noise.
For a nation that shuts down by 10 PM, at the latest (some towns even by 8 PM), it is anything but boring. In fact, they are quite liberal when it comes to clubbing and late-night parties. Of course the definition of ‘late’ may differ. It’s a relative term after all.
As a woman, I never felt uncomfortable, even while walking alone on the streets after dark. Not once did I sense those creepy set of eyes staring from one corner or the other. The local women roamed around freely in all areas, during any time of the day. They may have concerns, but safety on the road is clearly not one of them.
On our way from Bumthang to Punakha, an 8-hour drive, we shared the cab with a local automobile dealer, who often visits India for business purposes. While he looked impressed talking about the enormity of the country, he concluded the discussion by saying that, “India is great, but Bhutan has peace.” I couldn’t agree more. He proudly told us about the ongoing water projects in Bhutan, and that they are expecting currency appreciation once all prospective dams are built. Every country has its own problems, and I’m sure they must be dealing with theirs’ but they seem to keep their cool about it.
One of the big reasons behind all kindness and peace could be the small population, but for now, I am not in a mood to evaluate the reasons. I am sharing what I saw and observed over 11 days in Bhutan. A country where all my random smiles were returned by complete strangers, where I felt safe on lonely roads, where humanity still exists in abundance.
© 2016, Swati. All rights reserved.