I have started making reason-lists because they compel me to summarize what I love the most about each experience. If you want to see my other reason-lists, do visit: 5 reasons to visit Kochi-Muziris biennale and 6 experiences at Kala Ghoda festival
Reason to visit #1: An incredible idea called ‘Kingdom of happiness’!
Imagine someone who declares themselves the happiest person on earth. Wouldn’t you consider it fanciful? How on earth was an entire nation doing it? A positioning statement that said ‘Happiest place on earth!’ I wanted to jump on the bandwagon right away.
The phrase ‘Gross National Happiness’ or GNH was first coined by the 4th King of Bhutan, King Jigme Singye Wangchuck, in 1972 when he declared, “Gross National Happiness” is more important than the conventional measure for development as “Gross Domestic Product.” or GDP
Reason to visit #2: Dzongs and their spectacular Architecture
Dzongs are magnificent fortress-like structures that can be regarded as the visual metaphor for Bhutan. It’s incredible to know that Dzongs were constructed without the use of architectural plans! The construction proceeded under the direction of a higher lama who established each dimension through spiritual inspiration.
Dzongs are a perfect representation of how integrated heritage, Buddhist faith and the government are in Bhutan’s day to day life
Reason to visit #3: Explore the Traditional Art and Design
There are thirteen traditional arts that are part of Bhutan’s heritage called Zorig Chusum.
But the one that captivated me the most was Shing-zo meaning carpentry and woodwork. It’s the identity or I would say the signature art form of the country. You can find it all around you- Shing-zo plays a major part in the construction of Bhutan’s dzongs, temples, houses, palaces and bridges that are mostly made from timber.
In ‘Shing-zo’ meaning carpentry and woodwork you can see supreme devotion.
Design elements like attention to detail, rich ornamentation and a bold and wide colour palette are harnessed to reflect balance and divinity.
Reason to visit #4: Bhutan’s Culture – A lesson in civility
Everybody is polite. There is a gentleness and easiness in their manner. The first person we met was our local guide Chimi who greeted us in a soft-spoken manner that we soon realized is a standard behaviour in Bhutan. . While we were processing our permits/visas, the government officers were extremely helpful and polite. Shopkeepers barely hard-pressed you to buy or chased you.
The most astonishing observation of this behavior can be seen on the roads – nobody tried to overtake us or drove rashly. People dutifully waited for pedestrians to cross. I did not see a single traffic signal. Not even in Thimphu which is the capital. A country without traffic lights? how do they operate? There are fines to be paid if you broke the rules & regulations but its amazing to see how well this is followed on the ground. For a few moments, I hallucinated about Mumbai without traffic lights.
People in Bhutan are at ease with formal procedures and understand the importance of following them. There is faith in the government and I noticed a deep-seated reverence for the monarchy.
Reason to visit #5: Discover how Balance is not just a concept, it’s a lifestyle
In Bhutan, the Buddhist way of life is slowly assimilating new influences but the pride and faith they have in their culture and heritage shines through.
As a designer, the element that fascinated me most in Bhutan was their traditional dress. Men wear the Gho, a knee-length robe somewhat resembling a kimono that is tied at the waist by a traditional belt known as Kera. The pouch it forms in the front was used to carry mobile phones or wallets. Women wear a long, ankle-length dress; Kira accompanied by a gorgeous outer jacket known as a Tego made with beautiful textiles, mostly silk with brocade.
They effortlessly blended modern accessories like watches, stylish shoes, sunglasses and the hottest hairstyles with their traditional wear. I must say, its very swanky. I bought myself a Kira and Tego and hope to wear it with the same élan!
There is a visual uniformity and harmony that I felt around me and it took me a while to realize why. The urban design is governed by norms that have resulted into a consistent architectural style. The design is inspired by Dzong architecture but uses modern techniques for construction.
I do understand why Bhutan has nicknames like ‘The Forbidden Kingdom’ or ‘the last Shangrila’. As the country cautiously assimilates modernity into their way of life, they yet possess that elusive, secret recipe for happiness.
“Om Mani Padme Hum”
(Buddhist mantra on the prayer wheels and flags:
Through the practice of a path that is a union of love and compassion with wisdom, you can transform your impure body, speech and mind into the pure exalted body, speech and mind of a Buddha)
In my next article, I will write about our trek to Paro’s Taktsang Lhakhang or the Tigers Nest, Bhutan’s most iconic landmark.