The country that measures its happiness as a figure of the Gross National Happiness had me intrigued for over a decade now. And when we decided to drive up from dreamy Shillong over several national highways and nearly 200 kilometres, my Gross Personal Happiness did certainly triple if only just a little!
After a drive through Meghalaya, Assam, crossing the one-kilometre long River of Sorrow-the mighty Brahmaputra, some wrong turns and finally right ones we made our way to the Bhutanese border town of Samdrup-Jhonkar.
Greeted by a fellow Grad Schooler we breezed through immigration making it in, just in the nick of time leaving 5 minutes before the office closed for the day. A hungry pile up of traditional Bhutanese food comprising of a spicy vegetable curry with bits of cheese and a mountain of rice later we then drove up the bumpy roads up to the biggest town of Eastern Bhutan – Tashigang. With pretty pictures of His Majesty the King of Bhutan and his Queen hand-in-hand under romantic cherry-blossoms dotting every little shop or government office, one is regularly reminded of being in a kingdom country. Our hotel too had glorified imagery to the young and dashing King with his beautiful Queen. Unlike Thimpu, Tashigang is quite and ubiquitously as Bhutanese as ever, with globalisation hardly catching up.
Walking up to a next door hospital, a nearby police-station, a post-office and then a few shops the similarity of the building facades struck a chord as did the similar signboards of Pali script supplemented by English text requesting that the people dress in the national dress. Everyone seemed to wear the national garb of theh Gho for men and the Kira for women with equal elan and immense pride, if not for the fear of being scolded by the police! Our merry and chatty taxi driver was more than happy to dole out information on the predicaments of flouting laws in the Himalayan Kingdom. The prisoners are expected to spend time in meditation and play volleyball as penance in jails are are hardly flogged as punishment! Hours in meditation are the only seeming form of punishment, making the jails seem more like retreat centres.
While the Government of India funds a majority of projects in Bhutan, from restoration of monasteries to the building of roads and hospitals, the Indian Army is deported to supplement forces for the people of Bhutan. The Dongkang Monastery that we visited was in the middle of a certain such project due completion in 2018. A young monk all of 10 years walked us through the monastery filling us in on information regarding his father, a farmer, his favourite subject in school, Social Studies, and a life as a monk, that comprised of reading prayers and meditation. Meditation it seems is a national past-time! The architecture of the monastery with Bhutanese elements emerging from a white plastered background, windows and doors, teak-wood staircases are charming, but when lodged amidst the rugged hills, equally humbling. A trip to the Buddhist Institute in Tashigang got us join a prayer session as the monks chanted in baritone Buddhist scriptures all with the ringing of bells and the sounding of drums. Highly refreshed we headed down for a modest lunch of daal-rice and some Bhutanese flavoured curry. Drinkable water from the taps and extremely clean environs play their part in making the happy country. As Kuensel, the national newspaper provides snippets of news across the country, it even chronicles a yoga pose for the day!
Breaking dawn in the foot-hills of the Himalayas as well as the gorgeous views of a lonely cloud over the air-strip of Tashigang, the dewy misty ride down-hill instil a sense of wonder in even the wariest of the traveler. With Maggi banned across Bhutan too, the roadside tea-houses are filled with other instant noodles that the keepers more than happily dole out with its share of vegetables and cheese! The pretty building facades, the national dress are all part of the national mandate as is the measure of happiness that the young Bhutanese King takes extremely seriously. With humbling mountaneous views, gorgeous architecture and happy people, happiness does rub off as does cheer and as we waited for the clearing of landslides on our way down it was just natural that I began to understand that happiness is not a pursuit or an achievement, its simply a way of being!
A haiku for the land of inner peace and radiant happiness!!
Rugged mountains, sliver of clouds
stealing visions that make off with the heart
leaving but only a happy heart!