Bhutan: Ex­plor­ing the hap­pi­est place on Earth

Bhutan Times - - Editorial - An­thony Den­nis

The Bhutanese are not happy. After hav­ing been in the so- called land of “gross na­tional hap­pi­ness” for a lit­tle less than 24 hours, this is a sur­pris­ing dis­cov­ery. But, as I lunch in a restau­rant in Thim­phu, where the bumper- to­bumper traf­fic out­side is be­gin­ning to chal­lenge the city’s sta­tus as the only world cap­i­tal with­out a set of traf­fic lights, it’s all there in black and white in a lo­cal news­pa­per.

Bhutan is be­set with a ma­jor chilli short­age. This may not im­me­di­ately strike the priv­i­leged vis­i­tor to this quasi- her­mit king­dom as the stuff of na­tional cri­sis, but the Bhutanese de­vour chill­ies with an en­thu­si­asm sim­i­lar to Amer­i­cans and french fries – they can con­sume whole bowls of the fiery fruit at a sin­gle sit­ting.

But when they have to buy chill­ies at ex­or­bi­tantly in­flated prices from mar­kets due to the gov­ern­ment’s re­jec­tion of a con­sign­ment of them from In­dia ( in Bhutan they must, by gov­ern­ment de­cree, be or­ganic), they be­come, well, let’s say, grossly un­happy.

Chilli, after all, forms the ba­sis of the na­tional dish, ema dat­shi, a con­coc­tion made from chilli and cheese with the lat­ter usu­ally de­rived from the milk, or dri or nak, of the fe­male yak. In its purest form, ema dat­shi can have more fire­power than the oc­ca­sion­ally suc­cess­ful Kim Jongun bal­lis­tic mis­sile test launch.

But I have not come all this way for a culi­nary ad­ven­ture ( prob­a­bly just as well). I’m more in­ter­ested in the con­cept of gross na­tional hap­pi­ness, coined by the fourth king of Bhutan, Jigme Singye Wangchuck, in the early 1970s when the coun­try re­ceived fewer than 300 for­eign tourists com­pared with to­day’s am­bi­tious tar­get of 100,000 by 2020.

Gross na­tional hap­pi­ness was con­ceived as a Bud­dhism- based so­cioe­co­nomic doc­trine that meta­mor­phosed into an even more en­dur­ing de facto tourism slo­gan than New Zealand’s “100 per cent pure” equiv­a­lent. Nowa­days it’s been re­fined as “hap­pi­ness is a place”. In its en­try on Bhutan, the United States Cen­tral In­tel­li­gence Agency’s sober though in­for­ma­tive Fact­book guide to the na­tions of the world, makes no ref­er­ence to gross na­tional hap­pi­ness in its Bhutan en­try, while on the in­dex of the world› s hap­pi­est coun­tries the « land of the thun­der dragon » lan­guishes at a rather sullen rank­ing of 97. This ide­al­is­tic moun­tain­ous king­dom may strug­gle for al­ti­tude on the more sci­en­tific world hap­pi­ness in­dices but, as a des­ti­na­tion it still man­ages a lofty rat­ing in terms of trav­eller brag­ging rights. In terms of my own gross per­sonal hap­pi­ness in­dex, I couldn’t be more de­lighted – elated even – to be here, in what has be­come some­thing of a tro­phy des­ti­na­tion, al­beit one that may have shed a de­gree of its orig­i­nal al­lure in re­cent years

And on this, my first visit to Bhutan, it’s from Paro, site of the sole en­try point by air for in­ter­na­tional visi­tors that I em­bark on my jour­ney around the king­dom.

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