Happiness is associated with Bhutan quite widely today, thanks to their king of past – Jigme Singye Wangchuck. He is credited with shaping up the concept of gross national happiness. Now, everyone going to Bhutan expects to find a nation full of happy faces, jolly people serving happiness to visitors & no struggles. But I found something else.
My Bhutan visit was 8 days short. I was moving around quite a bit & hence spent limited time interacting with the locals. But when I think back about the visit, a few things remain etched in memory.
It’s Clean. Throughout the small country, I experienced a high level of cleanliness maintained in all public places. No littering on roads. Though basic, public toilets are clean & usable. Restaurants seem hygienic. The difference is cleanliness between the Bhutanese & Indian side of the border is *sadly* very perceptible.
No Corruption. Many traveler accounts I read in preparation for my visit, warned that bribing officials should be avoided. I interacted with many government official during our travels – immigration office, road safety & transport authority, security check points, etc. No hint of corruption or lethargic processes & people.
Public Health Services Work. Unfortunately, we had to use the services of a government hospital to address illness of fellow traveler. The hospital was clean; processes were simple, quick & worked. Doctor consultation, necessary investigations & medication – all free. I saw people across the economic spectrum (choice of cars being the indicator) making use of this facility.
Safe Place. One of the first comments our taxi driver made on entering Bhutan, was that we don’t have to be on guard against petty theft. He confidently assured us that things just don’t get stolen in the country. During the course of our travel, our confidence in this reputation of theirs got a lift. Small villages or big towns, we saw women (closing up restaurants, shops, hotels,etc.) on roads very late into the night.
Proud Citizens. A majority of locals, across age groups, were seen wearing the traditional attire. Pride (almost excessive at times) in their nation’s culture, authority, religion, etc. was on display consistently across.
Disciplined On Roads. For a Bangalorean in me, this one is a happiness clincher. By default, people follow lane discipline, pedestrians are given the right of way, honking is NOT DONE, overtaking happens only from the right side, etc. On highways, slower moving traffic gives way to others so willingly. I even saw a board urging people to Practice Kindness, Give Way.
Makes me wonder: what makes for a happy country over the long run? Can any of the above be the actual sources of sustained happiness?
In their pursuit for happiness, Bhutan has chosen the following tenets:
- sustainable and equitable socio-economic development
- environmental conservation
- preservation and promotion of culture
- good governance
I did see grumpy faces, it wasn’t the visibly jolly place many were expecting & it was far from perfect. But, many of the above happiness tenets were visible through my travels. Happiness is NOT skin-deep.
Updated on 12th Jan with the Disciplined On Roads point.