Four months after I have returned, this deep craving to go back forever to this beautiful Shangri-La, Bhutan is getting regulated, but I do not think it ever fades in any way. The feeling is still there, deep within, which rises up like a volcano, every time I see a photo, or I whiff a particular cuisine, or when a memory creeps in. It is not the scenery, it is not the food, it is not culture, it is something more poignant and deeper than that.
I have seen beautiful places, tasted exquisite cuisines, been part of amazing cultures and traditions. Bhutan however is something very different and exotic, which defies words and expressions of any tangible form. The place evokes a deep condition in the heart, which stays for a long long time – at times dormant, at times active, and at times uncontrollably achy. But that is Bhutan – for the nature lover who also connects with people, who has a love for the world. Bhutan is a place for those with a need to explore places where no man has gone before, like they say in Star Trek.
People of Bhutan
Perhaps the role of the people of Bhutan is an important factor in creating this nostalgic love. I have rarely seen people who are so subtle and gentle, yet proud of the love and joy they emanate, in making this a country of happy people.
There is Godliness in the hearts of the people, there is simplicity, purity, and love, perhaps it is their faith, their lifestyle, or just being who they are. The ambiance and atmosphere of the place does so much to foster this quality too.
When I landed at the airport, I felt like I was transported to a contemporary museum’s backyard. Just look at the pictures below, of the airport.
The outside of the airport, where the aircraft is boarded looks like a picturesque plateau on-looking the most beautiful peaks.
It took me a while to understand that this was the runway. I was almost waiting to see someone offer me a cup of green tea saying, “Welcome to the resort”, but well of course that did not happen, because it was the airport.
When I went inside the airport, to the customs area, I was in for more surprises. I could not stop staring at the ceiling. I could not stop staring at the walls and the beautifully engraved pillars. No, I was not inside a museum; I was just inside the airport.
My senses were bombed with a lot of things, and there my husband was hurrying me to get our passports out, to hold the backpack, to be careful of taking care of our son, and all the 101 things we do in an International airport. None of it mattered. All that mattered to me, was to drink in this beautiful sight, a visual attack, if I may. I had stepped down from a time-machine, or perhaps I ought to call it a culture-machine. I was transported into a world, quite different from the world I live in. The air I breathed was so pristine, my lungs ached so much with joy, to breathe more deeply, more purely, and with gratitude.
God created this air of Bhutan – not the one we breathe back in our plains, filled with Carbon monoxide, or sulphur compounds or other pollutants. That polluted air in the plains, was created by us, not God, and it is quite insufferable.
First impressions are the best, they say. But this first impression of the airport was the best of the best, compared to all the bests I have ever known in my life.
Smiles of Bhutan
After what seemed like a blip in time where I did not realize that we existed – because I was quite lost in all the breathtaking feelings this place evoked in me – I came back to the voices I heard.
“Thank you, madam, we wish you a pleasant stay in Bhutan,” said the customs officer, and brought me back to the present of “Here and Now”. I looked at her intently. She looked like a damsel from the heavens, in her vibrant, yet subtle attire “Kira”, which is the National dress for women. She had high cheek bones, a pleasant smile, a smile not at all plastic like the ones you see generally, and which vanishes once you move on. She retained her smile, like what seemed an eternity, and not consciously too. It seemed etched on her lips.
“I am sure, it is already nice in these few minutes,” I said and was about to move on.
“Oh, you have not even experienced anything yet, surely you would feel our country is beautiful once you see it,” she continued with a smile more enigmatic than before.
Yes, I have not seen anything at all, I thought. I was just inside the airport. I was just collecting my passport back. I was just opening my backpack. I was just looking for my son and husband. But they were lost too, in their own individual worlds. My son was keenly observing something on the pillar, and my husband on the ceiling.
Well, what can I say, I knew the next fortnight would be packed with an assault on my heart; a very beautiful assault, which would change my life forever. This beautiful country, with all its charm has made me a poet today, and forever.
I left my heart back there when I came back here to India. I long to go back someday, and I know I will.
I had a few experiences in this country, and it had nothing to do with sight-seeing or the amazing rafting we did, or the adventurous treks we took, or the mouth-watering cuisine we tasted. It had to do with people. And because it had to do with people, it left us “happy”.
I meet the King of Bhutan
The “King”, the person who is the head of the country, who forcefully introduced democracy in the country, even though the people wanted to stick to monarchy. the King, whom the people revere as God, not because he is like God, but because they think he is greater than God. All the reforms and good he has done for the nation, gives him that status with the people. For instance I never noticed a single beggar in the whole of the country. I never saw a single person who could be called poor. I did visit a lot of places which can be called economically challenged, but in no way they consider themselves poor. They always claim they have adequate. That is because the country has such solid background in its economic reforms which is based on GNH (Gross National Happiness).
On the day of the Buddha Purnima, we visited “Tashichho Dzong” which is the venue of Bhutan’s civil government, and the kingship combined. It also combines as a Buddhist monastery and fortress, a place for religious congregation on important and auspicious days like that of Buddha Purnima. We waited in a very disciplined queue to enter the sanctum of Lord Buddha.
Tangka, the Artistic Tapestry
The artistic tapestries depicting the life of Buddha and advent of Buddhism in the region were drawn out.
They are called “Tangka”and they are drawn out only on important days like these, perhaps just a couple of times a year. On other days, they are unframed and rolled up.
And everyone commented how lucky we were, being tourists, to visit the country on this very special and auspicious day! Yes, lucky us, we got to see the Tangka.
Oh I would say, I planned to come here on my birthday, Buddha Purnima, or rather Buddha planned for me to be here with him, when we were sharing birthdays to party together.
Long story short, when our guide was rattling all about the place; its beauty, its construction, the King’s involvement, the greatness of the king, our destiny to visit the place on this day and see the Tangka, to be enthralled with the display of all the offerings to God, and just about everything else in the Bhutanese world, there was suddenly a very loud hush amidst the gathering. I say loud, because the silence was louder than the actual words which I was hearing a few seconds ago. It was bigger than anything else I have ever felt. There was something palpable in the atmosphere and I did not understand what it was. There were some important looking people walking towards us, and I kept gazing at them. Some of them seemed to be wearing a uniform, and there were both men and women among them. There were two important looking people walking in the front; one was a handsome looking guy with good features; like someone you would develop an instant respect to, not the movie-star-type of person, but someone you would really like, because of what he exuded. There was another person walking along with him, slightly older, but equally charismatic. They were both engrossed in a conversation, and the people behind them seemed to be silently following them.
I turned and asked our guide, “Who is he? Looks very important, and why did you stop explaining about the Tangka?”
“Madam, please do not take pictures, and please keep your mobile phone inside the bag.”
“I knew you were a very lucky person, the first day I saw you, but I now know you are very lucky. No traveler to Bhutan, gets this greatest blessing to see the King in person, walking towards her.”
I winked at my husband. “See, the guy says I am lucky. You must be lucky to be my husband, huh?” I said in our mother tongue so that he doesn’t understand.
And the King smiled. He was closer now. He smiled at everyone. It was the same smile, or perhaps more serene and beautiful than the smile by the airport customs officer. It was not artificial, it was not paste; It was genuine.
The soul smiles, for certain people, not just the lips. It is just not a curve on the face or a twinkle in the eyes. Some smiles carry a feeling or a channeling of love from the soul, and such a smile, the people of Bhutan have!
These people knew how to smile. These people knew how to win hearts.
These people did not just win hearts, they knew how to enter the hearts, lock the heart from inside, and then lose the key forever, entrapping us within their hearts for eternity.
There were few citizens who tried to clear the way for him, of people, of commoners, of the regular citizens. And he gently admonished them, and told them to continue doing what they were doing, and not make a big deal because he was passing by. He insisted that no path needed to be cleared for him. He kept smiling, and kept walking, and kept nodding to his father, and kept responding to his father. At times it looked like his body language was one of reverence and respect towards his father. At times his body language was one of love for the people, when a child reached out to wave to him. As he neared closer to us, I knew why the people of Bhutan loved their King; I just knew. There does not have to be a reason to love. Love for the King is because the King just does not treat the subjects as one of his own, but they love him because he is part of his subjects. He is not just their King, but he belongs to them. His heart and soul belongs to the people of Bhutan.
He just passed on, through the path, where I was standing. I was shocked, surprised, rooted to my spot, and kept gazing. The parliamentarians in their uniform kept following him. And when they reached the door of the courtyard, they all bowed and allowed him to drive on in his car.
To write about all the reforms which the King has made for the country – well that is for another day, and another article.
“Please move on, Madam, the queue ahead of you has moved on a few feet,” said the guide from behind me, and roused me from my thoughts.
“Ah, yes”, and I walked those few feet, ahead.
I could think of nothing else that day. The King of Bhutan had just passed by, and smiled at everyone. I was at arms length, but did not extend it for a handshake. I was just one with the atmosphere, one with the air and breath of Bhutan, and quite anonymous, just like the rest of the people of Bhutan. At the same time, this anonymity on the part of the subjects, and the King too (in a different way) was perhaps the greatest pride and honor the Universe bestows, when a soul evolves.
Nobody did anything overt to attract his attention towards them, nobody tried to shake his hand, and nobody did anything at all. What strength of character this nation of people have? What confidence in themselves, what security in what the King does for them, and gives them. They do not need external reassurances of emotions like a wave or hand-shake, external display of respect or reverence, external display of observation or acknowledgement.
What strength of character does the King have to not expect any of this too?
I do not think that enough words could explain the heart and soul of the people of Bhutan (king included). This is just a great display of the courage the soul exudes.
This behavior from both of them left me surprised, and content at the same time.
I meet the Prime Minister of Bhutan
There was another beautiful incident which happened during our stay in Bhutan. At the airport on the day we were leaving, we were checking in and everything seemed normal. We did all the routine things anyone would do at an International airport, in this heartful airport, where everyone’s love just grazed your heart. When our boarding was announced, we casually walked towards the gate and eventually towards the aircraft. We boarded the plane, and settle in our seats. We had yet again, the same argument the three of us have every time we sit together on a plane; which bags go up into the hand-luggage cabin, and which just stays below my legs. If left to me, I would like all my bags around me, and if left to my husband he would put everything up there. The flight officer comes around every time and tells me, “madam, may I help you with your luggage, and I give up to my husband’s wishes of stowing everything up.” This time was no different, but I managed to smuggle out my moisturizer, some books for my son and I, some snacks, and a bagful of assorted things which I am sure I would need for the shortest duration of 20 minutes from Paro to Bagdogra (India). My husband sighed and gave up, because at least the empty bags were going up.
We settled in and started toying with belts and buckles, generally trying to have a meaningful conversation without breaking into an argument about baggage and belt fastening and the drinks being offered.
Another amazing thing happened; this was different in its own way. It was not a silence which was deafening. It was not the chatter of the beautiful women flight officers. Yet the atmosphere crackled with something palpable.
I could not resist my curiosity. I unbuckled, got up and walked towards a flight officer and asked her, “Whats up? Why do I feel something is happening now?”
“Our Prime Minister, Mr. Tshering Tobgay is arriving.”
“Cool!” I was in a country where surprises happened at the drop of a hat, such cool surprises, which made you think that the world was a true Shangri-La, a palace of that pristine glory, with people of hearts of gold. So, the Prime Minister was travelling in the same plane as I was, that is so cool and not at all surprising, was it? The King, His Majesty, smiled in this country at the people, like they were all buddies! So why not the Prime Minister?
He accompanied the Thai Princess, who boarded along with him.
I was fascinated with the Prime Minister, and rightly so. The airplane started on time, not even a few seconds late. Just because a VIP came, they do not delay airplanes in this country! Just because a VIP came they do not give us any less privilege. In fact they made our experience more pleasant and meaningful.
As the flight was in the air, we were in for a surprise yet again. The prime Minister walked, said hello, and generally asked how the experience was. He asked everyone! He gave equal important attention! Look at these pictures below.
Some were Bhutanese, some were from India and Bangladesh, and some were from Thailand.
There was a group pf students from South Korea, and they were so smitten with him, that they took a group picture with him.
And he kept walking down, saying hello to every single passenger sitting on the aisle, window and middle seat, on both the left side and right side, and having meaningful conversations, either about their experience as a tourist, or about internal affairs of the country (with Bhutanese) as the case may apply.
Yes, I was stumped!
You know, the dean of my college sometimes used to do that, and we thought he was best in the whole world. I have never met anyone in this capacity, in this position, who would make eye contact with everyone, say hello to commoners, to flight officers, apologizing for being in the way, asking what was in the food-cart, picking up a pen which a passenger dropped, saying thank you and please and sorry, the things you would teach a toddler!
So what is happiness? I am left with this question, as I land back in India!
Happiness is purity. Happiness is that joy in the heart which manifests when someone touches your heart in a never-before-touched manner.
Happiness is pure simplicity – which is so akin to God, like Daaji (Global Guide of Heartfulness Institute) says.
Happiness is so many things. Happiness is Godliness, Happiness is more than just being one with that state of God-like. It surely has to be more.
Happiness is not measured in money, or the number of houses or cars you own. Of course psychologists say that money helps you be happy. But when your heart radiates pure love and joy, I think money comes naturally – enough and adequate – because with such purity, simplicity, and strength of character which the heart radiates, only good things are brought by the Universe, to your doorstep, to your feet!
And why is Bhutan such a happy nation?
Ah well, yes! They are a happy bunch of happy people! Why? I have so many answers which pop up in my heart because of this travel.
But the best answer is – they have their priorities straight. The priorities of humanity, of any human being, is so startlingly clear in their heart. They know the Goal of the Human Existence – to love.
When I see how this tiny land-locked country is doing so much for themselves and for the whole world (including climate regulation), in so many ways – tangible and intangible, intelligible and unintelligible, I understand that there is so much hope for humanity, there is hope for this everlasting Shangri-La, which the whole world is going to turn into.
It has been a great honor for me, a great blessing to have the experience of these few days in Bhutan. Happiest have been the days of my life, during my stay there. My soul was touched in so many astonishing and joyful ways!
What has given you the greatest of joys in a most unexpected and most in-explainable manner?
Photo Credit: The Author
This is part of the series of Featured Articles, written by #WorldMom Purnima of India during her travels to Bhutan. This article first came up on WorldMomsNetwork.com