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Source: METADOR Network:


Glen Thomson

Jul 25, 2018

EVEN IF YOU DON’T RECOGNIZE the Kingdom of Bhutan by name, you’ve definitely seen pictures of it. The landlocked South Asian country between China, Tibet, and India straddles some epic Himalayan mountains, and the scenery is some of the most photographed in the world. While the landscape is truly spectacular, most people would struggle to list a single other feature of the country; its culture, politics, and people are almost always overlooked in favor of lush green hills, snow-capped peaks, and dazzling temples. On my recent journey to Bhutan, I tried to correct this through meeting and getting to know local Bhutanese people; it was only then that I felt I began to understand this place. Here are just some of the people I met during my travels — people who showed me that Bhutan is about so much more than its mountains.

This grandpa was on babysitting duty the day we walked through this small village near Punakha. He was pleased to see us, it seemed, and cracked a large smile, which is why I noticed many teeth missing. He gestured to his betel nut, which when chewed gives off a tiny buzz and thus is a bit addictive, or at least a not-so-great habit. But despite its negative effects on the teeth, it’s very common to see people nibbling on the little nut throughout Bhutan.

At Bhutanese schools, kids learn English from the get-go and have a very diverse curriculum that I naively didn’t expect from a rural nation. This girl was about 12 years old and her workbook title was "How we know for sure the Earth is tilted on its axis."

Speaking of children, these kids were - as children everywhere are - ridiculously cute. My wife connected with this little guy and played a game spinning him around by his hands. When she returned him to earth, dizzy as anything, the expression on his face - “What's happening to me!” - had his family in stitches. As we sat with them I got the sense that family was a shared experience here - not behind your fence or inside your home but with your community and the people around you.

Bhutan, thanks to its very popular fourth king, measures the country's success in a profoundly different way than most. Rather than Gross National Product (GNP), the classic economic indicator, Bhutan measures Gross National Happiness (GNH) to determine its progress as a nation. I don't know the rankings by heart, but from personal experience, I can imagine Bhutan is doing very, very well. In this case, my friend accidentally farted - loudly - as he walked up to me, which cracked these folks up.

The country’s high happiness factor is not to say that life isn’t challenging here. The mountain conditions in Bhutan can be unforgiving, especially in winter. This old farmer moved slowly, selling his vegetables at the busy Sunday market near Wangdiphodrang. Despite his shy manner, he was beloved by all the other market sellers, and there was constant conversation and laughter as fruits, vegetables, seeds, nuts, and chilies were bought and sold.