Bhutan|Gross National Happiness #BlogchatterA2Z
Kuzu zangpo la or Hello from Bhutan|Gross National Happiness #BlogchatterA2Z, certainly, is the country that believes in Gross National Happiness rather than GDP. Breathe the fresh air, Bhutan has Carbon sinks, 70% forest cover, powered totally by mountain streams. Bhutan is a perfect example of green living. Definitely, it is the only country in the world that is carbon negative, it actually produces more oxygen than it consumes.
I was a very reluctant visitor to this happiest country. I am a rookie traveller and I wanted to explore the more exotic names in the brochure list but I am not ashamed to admit that it would have been a titanic blunder not visiting Bhutan with my girl gang. We were a group of 19 adventurous ladies who set out to conquer the mystery of Bhutan and it was an enlightening trip for sure.
Shangri La| Bhutan|Gross National Happiness #BlogchatterA2Z
Inaccessible Bhutan allowed the world to take a peek inside only in 1974. The tiny Himalayan kingdom is home to a trove of archaeological treasures, monasteries and elaborate fortresses. Probably, remoteness has preserved the customs, traditions and Buddhist-influenced ethnicity of probably the last existing Shangri-La or place of Bliss.
All tourists have to travel on a planned and guided package tour and cannot travel independently in the kingdom. The arrangements must be made through an officially approved tour operator, directly or through an agent. Our travels were handled by Neptune Holidays. Supposedly, limiting tourists is in order to conserve its delicate environment and culture. But in reality, because of this, no one is denied a visa if you have a valid passport.
Thimphu, Bhutan|Gross National Happiness #BlogchatterA2Z
This country of towering peaks and serene monasteries have an inimitable charm. The snowy peaks in the distance, the dense foliage and colourful blossoms, the simple people, the pure air, the awesome architecture, the peaceful religion exciting and the art superb. Like retro images from the past, the tourist gets to see the splendour of this ancient land through its numerous forts known as Dzongs, monasteries, stupas, the ubiquitous prayer flags in myriad colours which flutter in the wind and the miniature stupas on the hillsides placed in the memory of the dead. The gushing rivers that flow all along the countryside are as clear and warm as the rosy-red cheeks of the friendly Bhutanese people.
Until now, I was so ignorant about the trip that I didn’t even know we would be flying via Kathmandu airport to Paro Airport, the only international airport in Bhutan. I love flying as it is and always take the window seat and sit with my nose glued to the glass even if it is only fluffy clouds that are visible but I had to have a window seat on this flight as we were going to fly alongside the Himalayas. For me, it was a flight of fantasy that had come true and when the Pilot pointed out the peaks of Mt.Everest and Kanchenjunga,
I had a lump in my throat when I first laid my eyes on these majestic peaks and my hands trembled while I was capturing the view. It was a full paisa-vasool moment for me and I could visualize the peaks long after we had lost sight of them.
I should thank the pilot and the hostesses of Bhutan Airlines for making us feel so welcome on the flight. The hostesses were endearing and replied to all the silly queries we had about their small and secluded country. I had read how difficult it was to land at Paro airport and when our Pilots took us down rather smoothly and safely, a cheer in unison rose amongst all the passengers. We landed- Bhutan; Country of Gross National Happiness- Thimphu we love you.
The charm of almost virgin territory with its rich flora and fauna is drawing tourists from around the world and the Buddhism and serene monks in their vibrant flowing robes add to the allure of this magical country.
Zero Point, Thimphu
Once we alighted from the aircraft of Bhutan Airlines our lungs were happy as we inhaled the clean clear mountain air and as we walked on the tarmac we met our first group of monks who agreed to pose with us for pictures. Right after immigration, we were welcomed by our tour guide Lachu man and once our baggage was loaded in the bus we drove to Thimphu our first stop. Lachu man was dressed in a traditional Gho, a smart, gregarious, articulate young man who endeared himself to the group with his smiling demeanour and patient replies to our unending queries. Consequently, at Zero point traffic circle, the entrance to the city of Thimphu there is a huge statue of an elephant which tells the story of “Four Friends,” the elephant, monkey, rabbit, and bird who realise that living in harmony is more beneficial than in-fighting.
Ramada Valley Resort
The Ramada Valley Resort was where we were put up. It faced the flowing stream and hills and the view from my room was a total delight. It took us nearly 2 hours to drive down from Paro to Thimphu. We had lunch at a restaurant and checked out the marketplace where there were all kinds of handicrafts and textiles available. Firstly, we checked in to our rooms, relaxed a bit then got together in the conference hall for some masti, had a sumptuous dinner and crashed with dreams of exploring Thimphu the next day.
Kuensel Phodrang |
Bhutan|Gross National Happiness #BlogchatterA2Z
For a group of 19 ladies, we have to pat ourselves on the back for starting out at the given time every day. We set out after breakfast at 9.30 am to Kuensel Phodrang or the Buddha statue. A massive golden Shakyamuni Buddha all of 60 mts sitting on a lotus, atop a hill and can be viewed from a far-off distance is made of bronze and gilded with gold. Sponsored by a Chinese firm it has taken years to build this monument. The statue is placed on a lotus and below it is a meditation hall with 100,000 eight inches and 25,000 12 inch statues of Buddha. (Photography is not allowed inside any monastery) In other words, unbeknownst to you, you are viewing not one but 125,001 Buddha’s at a time.
125,000 Buddha Statues
There are empty crevices for more Buddha’s that can be sponsored by anyone. The number of statues outnumbers the population of this small mountain city which is 100,000. It was inaugurated in 2015 to honour the 60th birthday of Jigme Singye Wangchuck, the fourth king of Bhutan. The statue was built to ‘bestow blessings, peace and happiness to the whole world”, a noble thought in these trying times. Moreover, another reason for installing this statue is that Guru Padmasambhava widely referred to as the “second Buddha,” in the eighth century has said to have mentioned such a statue. We paid obeisance and meditated for a few minutes in the room and stepped out to view the countryside and the open courtyard with the gilded apsaras flanking the pillars.
King’s Memorial Chorten
The King’s Memorial Chorten is bang in the centre of the city and can be circumambulated by vehicles from outside and people inside chanting and counting their prayer beads. Completed in 1974, it serves as a monument to peace and a memorial to Bhutan’s third king, His Majesty Jigme Dorji Wangchuk after his death. The Memorial is a white structure with a gold spire and is a revered Buddhist shrine.
Takin Reserve, Bhutan
Next on the itinerary was the Takin reserve. Takin is the national animal of Bhutan and is native to China, India and Bhutan. The raven is the national bird, our young guide kept feeding us the entire minute details. The climb up to the reserve is steep and we took a breather midway sitting on the log stools and clicked some pictures. They are docile creatures and we had the good fortune of watching the volunteers’ bottle feeding the young Takin. I wished my grandson was with me to witness this rare animal as he loves animals.
Tashi Chho Dzong
Next, we saw the Tashi Chho Dzong or ‘fortress of the glorious religion. This is the centre of the government and religion; it is the site of the king’s throne room and the seat of the Chief Abbot. It houses monks and government machinery. The huge courtyard is the place where the chief festivals are celebrated. It was reconstructed in the 1960s in a traditional Bhutanese manner, without nails or architectural plans. The Royal Palace is small in comparison and the King lives in a humble dwelling. The area around the Dzong is known as a green belt and no construction can take place there.
The Changankha Monastery
The Changankha monastery is an old one and perched on the edge of a cliff. Although, I could see that we had another steep climb ahead but egged myself on to make it to the top. Established in the 12th century on a site chosen by Lama Phajo Drukgom Shigpo, who came from Ralung in Tibet, it is mainly a temple for baptizing babies. We actually saw new parents trudging up to get auspicious names for their newborns. Children are blessed with a phurba or ritual dagger and given a sacred thread. Most of us turned the black-and-gold prayer wheels that are inscribed with mantras. There is a shrine dedicated to the Tshomen or mermaid in the central courtyard. Stop awhile and take in the breathtaking view of the valley spread below.
Folk Heritage Museum
The Folk Heritage Museum established in 2001 provides tourists with interesting glimpses into the Bhutanese culture and way of life. Photography was not permitted inside the museum. It was set inside an old three-storied traditional house. On display are an impressive collection of typical household objects, tools and equipment. Raw rice was being roasted and I picked up some within the museum premises. Additionally. the museum also organizes a buffet lunch and dinner offering visitors a taste of traditional cuisine. First, half of us had it inside the restaurant while the rest had it out in the verandah. It was a simple lunch; with Butter Tea served first and roasted rice and corn as snacks followed by rice, chicken, potato cheese, sautéed spinach, bitter gourd and a chilli pickle.
Zorig Chusum Bhutan
Bang opposite the museum is the National Institute of Arts, Zorig Chusum Bhutan which helps in preserving its old traditional arts. Students were taught 13 different types of arts; wood carving, mask making, weaving, embroidering, clay modelling and sculpture. We didn’t have time to go in but we had the good fortune to see young students sculpting and giving fine touches to their models outside.
At present, the evening was still young and the girls scanned the market at Clock Tower square, Norzin Lam, for gifts and souvenirs before retiring exhausted at the hotel. Bhutanese hand-woven textiles, yak wool scarves and woollens, brass and wood carvings, thangka paintings and traditional Kira and Gho were available in the market. I picked up these cute miniature Kira and Gho bottle covers. All Indian currency was accepted as long as it is cash. The posters of the king and queen look down from many billboards benignly on the people. The people of Bhutan love and respect their king as he lives a simple life and rules by this principle; “Throughout my reign, I will never rule you like a King. I will protect you as a parent, care for you as a brother and serve you as a son”.
In view of it being a unique country no doubt, Thimphu, the capital is also distinctive with its colourful buildings blending the modern with the traditional and it must be the only capital city without any traffic lights. The sound of the Wang Chhu river was like a lullaby and I slipped into La-la land dreaming of unfolding Punakha and its treasures the next day. Bhutan; Country of Gross National Happiness- Thimphu, the saga continues.