Travel story contributor: Elita
I was speaking to a friend who was planning a trip to Bhutan when I was suddenly confronted by this dilemma of his: “Don’t get me wrong, but I just wanted to know whether people in Bhutan are friendly!” I’ll admit, I had to stop from rolling my eyes out when I heard that.
Bhutan has been my first and yes, only country overseas so far. Though it was not as much ‘over sea’ as it was a literal walk across the border. Legally, of course. Because what Jaigaon is to India, Phuentsholing is to Bhutan – which for the uninitiated, is the border the two countries share!
Indians, like Bangladeshi nationals and people from the Maldives, do not require to obtain a visa though entry into the neighboring kingdom is not without some paperwork.
Soon after formalities were completed I was struck by something rather interesting. The walk into this foreign country had immediately set off alarm bells in my head. That stark is the distinctiveness between the two countries!
While India is as we know it to be i.e. teeming with people and vehicular traffic even in faraway Jaigaon, Phuentsholing is everything but that. It’s barely populated therefore quieter and by default, more orderly. This visual was somewhat jarring on my senses for when I’d pivot 180 degrees I’d have India looking right at (and may be even through) me whereas I’d turn around to gently take Bhutan in.
So no, I was not going to be made to wait another 6 – 8 hours until I got to Paro or Thimphu to experience the real Bhutan. Because the Bhutan I would see over the next 5 days was no different than the first impression I’d been left with at the border.
Almost always dressed in their traditional attire (Gho for men and Kira for women), the Bhutanese greet everyone with a kind, forward bow. This very act speaks to the humility they exude be it the monk in the monastery high up in the hills or the vendor giving back your change.
This humility clubbed with a very even-paced way of life that seems somewhat slow (read: annoying) to us ‘foreigners’ drives home the point of what it means to live in a country that places a premium on Gross National Happiness! And GNH is not baloney either. Coined by the fourth king of Bhutan in the 1970s, it refers to how ‘sustainable development should take a holistic approach towards notions of progress and give equal importance to non-economic aspects of well-being’. This probably explains Bhutan’s strict policy of “High Value, Low Impact Tourism”. While the Tourism Council of Bhutan explicitly states that there is no limit on the number of tourists, it is alleged that the cap is in the range of 140,000 tourists per year.
What they believe as a principle is realized through action perhaps!
So it is against this background that I’d like to share an anecdote to answer the question on what Bhutanese people are like!
It was the day before our return to Phuentsholing. The rain gods were being a little considerate after they had foiled our Taktsang Monastery trek. We were around the capital city of Thimphu walking down the streets or eating at cafes when we were not purchasing keepsakes we wanted to bring back home. I’d just stepped out of a café when I saw a duo charging back straight into it. They’d left the same café about an hour ago and had only just realised that they had probably left their digital camera behind at their table!
The odds of finding it at the café, let alone at the same table was an unlikely occurrence. Or at least that’s what they thought! But right there at that very table sat unmoved, their digital camera!
Who knows, may be it’s their even-paced existence that stokes their honesty!
Back at our hotel in Shabo, our cook delighted herself – but not as much as us – by singing Bollywood numbers by never missing a single beat. Even though we almost missed being served dinner that night!
If you want to travel to Bhutan, don’t forget to check out a few packages on this link.