This week I read about Brazil wanting to amend its constitution to make happiness a right for its citizens. Having worked its way up to achieve a GDP of over $2 trillion, Brazil is now working towards having happiness on the nation’s to-do. However, it is currently struck with threatening issues such as health, education, poverty & an alarming crime rate. To ensure happiness of citizens means to work around these issues, deliver world class education & wipe out crime on their streets. In-house resources and independence in science & technology that is already existant, accompanied by a loyal travail from the government can pretty much add up to the happiness they seek.
Whenever a discussion around happiness comes up, Bhutan is what comes to my mind first. Ever since I’ve been there, I haven’t been able to neglect its focus on ‘Gross National Happiness‘ that they made part of the national propaganda in the ’70s. And the rest on GNH here is purely my opinion, based on what I heard & understood from locals. The government, backed by the monarchy, is extremely responsible when it comes to delivering quality education, health care services & dealing with crime. Almost everything they need is transported from India and we are in a way responsible for their defense. Despite of the transport costs involved in every commodity, the government subsidizes everything from fuel to cars. Perhaps, that’s the reason why everyone from commoners to monks have SUVs. Bhutan is extremely beautiful and rich in culture. Tourism is already a top 5 contributor to its $2 billion economy, but Continue reading The pursuit of happiness in developing nations→
As instructed by Kinley, we were ready to leave the hotel for Taktsang – The Tiger’s Nest – by 8am. Breakfast again was typical; only bread, butter, jam, omlette, porridge for Indians. From the point we began trekking, we could see the Tiger’s nest right in front. But to get up there, we had to take a long & winding road up the mountains. You can rent a horse for Rs.500 for a return trip, and also buy a stick for support. At some points the path really gets narrow and with the horse’s tendency to walk at the edges, you’d be convinced to not take a horse ride. We were instructed to move towards the inner-side as soon as we saw a horse.No one is allowed to a take a ride on the way down; the horses come down empty, charging like bulls – almost without any control.
At half-way, there is a government built cafeteria that offers a clean view of the monastery. You will be served tea/coffee with amazing cream-cracker-like biscuits, and on the way back can also choose to have lunch here (not recommended for Indians). The journey from this point gets a little difficult: first you have to walk up a steep path, then walk down 500 steps and finally climb another 200 to get to the temple. With some motivation from Chibu & Kinley, I agreed to go. Some of the photos taken on the way are perhaps the best ones from the trek. Most of the steps have no railings, so you really need to be careful. Before you descend the 500 steps, you are at a point that is right opposite the monastery; they could have a bridge. In fact, several people have suggested, volunteered and even contributed to building a rope-way to get up there. But the Bhutanese love Bollywood, and totally believe in ‘kuch pane ke liye kuch khona padta hai’. They believe that nothing comes easy, and that the pleasure of visiting such a holy & refreshing place and getting close to God, should only come after some effort. Continue reading Bhutan Diaries – Day 5: The Tiger’s Nest→
We started our day with a brief trek to the temple of the divine mad man. The one thing you will see everywhere close to the temple is phalluses drawn on walls. The ‘divine madman’ was believed to have a huge phallus and made love to the most beautiful girl in every village he went. He’s called mad because he had sex with his own mother, but only to purify her – and divine for his wisdom. He is known to scare-off daemonesses with his phallus. That is the reason we saw wooden phalluses at the handicrafts museum in Thimpu. Besides paintings, tiny wooden replicas are hand-crafted and worn in the necks of new-born children. Stories like these come from the near past in Bhutan – the 16th century – the same time Shivaji maharaj was building a navy to ward-off the English.
At the temple, Kinley picked a name for his new born daughter by pulling a string-tied page from a book of names; all names come either with Kinley (name of temple) or Chimi (meaning no-dog based on a mythical story). Ma prepared herself for tomorrow’s trek to the Tiger’s nest by grabbing a wooden stick from one of the trees. The struggle for chicken continued even at an Indian restaurant called Chula whose menu featured a dozen chicken preparations common to a Bombay restaurant. We had no option but to head to Hotel Pedling for our protein dose. In the mean while, Continue reading Bhutan Diaries – Day 4: Heading for Paro→
We had mentioned to our guide Kinley, that although we weren’t atheists, we were fonder of nature than monasteries. I’ve seen quite a few in the North East, and my parents even more in Sikkim & Northern Kashmir. With this in mind, he drove us out of Thimpu along a road following the river where at one point, me & Chibu even got into the river climbing over some huge stones. To my misfortune, I slipped over a wet stone and the next minute, I was drenched in water close to ice-point right up to my knees. I was lucky to not get hurt or carried away by the river.
We also learnt some Dzongkha on our way; e.g. Phab means pig, chhee means dogs, tta means horse, etc. Surprisingly, the Bhutanese script has no way of joining letters, which results in extremely verbose spellings (not sure if that makes sense). So tta (horse) is spelled as ra-ta-ta-ta: and Prasad as p:-a:-r:-a:-saad-a-saad. Here’s some audio. I wouldn’t be able to spell my own name till 5th standard. The education system of Bhutan is similar to India: after several levels of school, students head to junior college Continue reading Bhutan Diaries – Day 3: Punakha→
After breakfast, we checked out the Centenary Farmer’s market in Thimpu that sells cereals, vegetables, meat & fresh farm items on Sundays. BAFRA, or Bhutan Agriculture & Food Regulatory Authority ensures hygiene in the market; I remember seeing their agents vigilant at the airport for any unwanted living plant/animal brought into Bhutan. We also checked out the black-market on the other side of the river which sells antiques – few of them sealed which can be officially carried out of the country.
On our way to Thimpu-top, the 4th king’s modest motorcade passed by; our car waited for him to pass. Bhutan has had democratic monarchy backed by a constitution since 1907; the 1st king was the son of an eastern king who emerged strong & defeated the other two in the south & centre. The Royal family owns several businesses & the king is salaried; most luxury hotels, spas, trading businesses Continue reading Bhutan Diaries – Day 2: Around Thimpu→
Night stay at Kolkata was decent; we ordered chicken noodles in the middle of the night. The city is still as unclean as it was 10 years back, accompanied by very high entropy. The airport is medieval (note: aviation history starts much after Christ) & even Emirates does not get an aero-bridge. Took an early morning Druk Air flight to Paro; the airline operates a fleet of 2 A319s. I was sitting next to Pema Tshering, a unique scholar who teaches History to MA students & Geography to BA students. He was kind enough to offer me his window seat & introduce me to the Himalayas. The approach to Paro requires a 90 degree turn between the Paro valley to show way to a really small runway; surprisingly there are no taxiways either.
At the airport, everyone from ground-staff to policemen were wearing something very close to knee-length bathing robes; little later we realized this was Gho, the national dress. My parents were telling us the story of a man before them who was about to be sent back for some reason. I think, unless you’re travelling on business, you can’t enter Bhutan without a package tour. Out of immigration & customs, we were welcomed by our tour guide Kinley Tensin (right! Same as the mineral water brand Continue reading Bhutan Diaries – Day 1: Thimpu→
Just finished watching ‘Wake Up Sid’. Aru was right, maybe I should dedicate time for movies in order to better understand them and feel the kick. I’m in a window seat & I can see nothing but the bright fool moon & some dew on the wings. Some aunties (pun intended) served great food on the ‘new Air India’, however, a minified (got this word jQuery) version of the airline’s glorious past. There was no welcome drink, toffee or even cotton wool.
Take-off was delayed by almost an hour and half & we waited the first 45 minutes without any intimation; the next 45 minutes we were locked up in the aircraft. Unlike my horrible SpiceJet experience recently, the cabin was oxygenated. OR guys have a lot to do in aviation –at least operations in India are far from efficient.
Some excited 1st-timers bring to my notice that ambient outside is -49c; that was constantly being updated on the head-rest mounted LCDs of the A319. All that’s left for today is to get into a ambassador cab, drive to the hotel & hopefully pay by the meter. Kolkata here I come…