Bhutan: The Happiest Country in the World

bhutan monastery

SHARE THIS STORY

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on pinterest
Share on email
bhutan monastery

Bhutan: The Happiest Country in the World

SHARE THIS

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on pinterest
Share on email

Sandwiched between mighty neighbours China and India lies the fairytale land of Bhutan, whose name in the local language means ‘The Land of the Thunder Dragon.’ It is the world’s only Buddhist kingdom, one of the only countries in the world never to have been invaded or colonised. Because of this, Bhutan is unspoiled, steeped in old ways, in ancient traditions and myths and has been aptly described as the last Shangri-La.

bhutan
Gangkhar Puensam. At 7,570 metres it is the world’s highest unclimbed mountain

By law, at least 60 per cent of the country must be covered by forest. At present, the figure is about 75%, one reason why Bhutan absorbs about four times more carbon dioxide than it emits. Bhutan boasts an astonishing variety of animal and birdlife, from the beautiful and reclusive snow leopard in the high Himalayas to the magnificent Bengal tiger in the southern forests. Hunting is illegal. So is fishing except for the ‘catch-and-release’ variety. There are no six-lane highways, no skyscrapers, not even a single traffic light.

The principal religion is Buddhism and everywhere in Bhutan Buddhist temples abound. They are the site of innumerable festivals, where dancers perform sacred dances while dressed in traditional costumes and painted masks, or disguise themselves as Gods, demons, heroes or animals while gongs and drums are beaten, horns sound and religious chants fill the air.

Bhutan road
Bhutan’s roads less travelled

There are also many monasteries, mainly devoted to the state religion of Vajrayan Buddhism, though other religions, mainly Hinduism are officially allowed to flourish. One of the most famous is the Tiger’s Nest monastery, built in 1692. Legend has it that the Guru Rinpoche arrived here in the 8th century on the back of a tiger.

Bhutan
A tributary of the Wang Chuu River flows peacefully through farmland in the Paro valley

 Bhutan’s infrastructure is basic, to say the least. There is one international airport, two main roads, one running east to west and one south to north-west but they are frequently hit by landslides and dust storms. There is no railway. A rail link to India has been in discussion since 2005 but so far nothing has been decided. Things move slowly in Bhutan.

bhutan rush hour
  During the Tsechu or festival, the whole valley – walls, temples, bridges, even the mountainsides are bedecked with flags. Each one carries a different Buddhist prayer

Bhutan has little industry: one of its main products is hand-made woven textiles. Almost every house has its own loom. The main sport is archery. Some use the new, carbon-fibre bows and arrows but in general, they prefer the old bamboo bows and wooden, feathered shafts.

Bhutan temple
Temples are everywhere in Bhutan

Yet what makes Bhutan unique is the state philosophy. They do not account the wealth of the country by GDP – Gross Domestic Product, but by GNH – standing for Gross National Happiness. Yes: happiness is enshrined in the laws of Bhutan and is built on the themes of harmony with nature and traditional values.

Bhutan
In the 14th century, a man named Drupthob Thangtong Gyalpo built 108 iron chain bridges spanning Bhutan’s rivers and valleys. This the Tachogang Lhakhang Bridge, one of only two which remain

The four pillars of Gross National Happiness in Bhutan:

– Sustainable and equitable socio-economic development

– Environmental conservation

– Preservation and promotion of culture

– Good governance.

And in the promotion of these, they emphasise psychological well-being, health; education; cultural diversity; community vitality; ecological diversity and conservation and living standards.

How refreshing – how astonishing in this day and age to have a country whose values are based on happiness and well-being, rather than on wealth and power. One would imagine that Bhutan would be a magnet for travellers, for backpackers, for hordes of tourists but it is not. Tourism is restricted to groups only, or to single travellers but all must go through a government tourist organisation and numbers are severely restricted.

Travellers must pay a daily rate, upfront, the rate varying according to the kind of tour and the length of stay. The average cost is some $200-$250 US per day but this includes everything: travel, accommodation, food and the services of a licensed guide.

The trekking in the Himalayas is said to be far better than the crowded, commercialised trails of Nepal.

Five-star hotels have now opened as the Taj Group, Amanresorts and Le Meridien have built luxury hotels around the country. If you’re after a vibrant night-life, fast-food chains, and WIFI hotspots, then Bhutan may not be for you. But if a peaceful stay in the happiest land on earth appeals then maybe you could find your own happiness during a few tranquil days in the Land of the Thunder Dragon.

All photographs supplied by Tessa Hughes

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on pinterest
Share on email

3 thoughts on “Bhutan: The Happiest Country in the World”

  1. I’ve been to Bhutan twice — a culture tour in 2014 & trekking in 2015. It’s a beautiful country with lots of nice & happy faces. My 3 ‘firsts’:
    • trekking
    • sleeping in a tent
    • altitude sickness
    I recovered quickly after a long sleep holding the hot water bottle the whole night😃😃

  2. What a beautiful report which just makes one “want to go”.
    This place just did get it right on sustainability and what really important for humanity!
    Thank you Trevor

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

related articles

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on pinterest
Share on email

3 thoughts on “Bhutan: The Happiest Country in the World”

  1. I’ve been to Bhutan twice — a culture tour in 2014 & trekking in 2015. It’s a beautiful country with lots of nice & happy faces. My 3 ‘firsts’:
    • trekking
    • sleeping in a tent
    • altitude sickness
    I recovered quickly after a long sleep holding the hot water bottle the whole night😃😃

  2. What a beautiful report which just makes one “want to go”.
    This place just did get it right on sustainability and what really important for humanity!
    Thank you Trevor

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

more stories

Join our mailing list

Never miss our seriously happy global news!
Subscribe to our weekly newsletter: