The Royal Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan

Flying into and out of Bhutan is much like the journey within the country itself. Upon descent into the city of Paro (nearby to the capital, Thimpu) the airplane must twist and turn to make its way through the Himalayan mountain range that pokes through the clouds. The planes wings almost brush the ground and cut through the clouds at the same time. It is a remarkable and magical experience.

Upon touch down into Paro, I noticed that almost every building has similar architecture. I’ve never been to such a beautifully ornate airport. The carvings at the entrance immediately showed me that this is a different type of place….

Bhutan preserves it’s culture in a very unique way. The country had its doors closed to the world until the mid 1970s so buildings and little temples from the 1400s are still in tact. New homes and buildings are still built in the same style as they were in olden times and iconic paintings mark the outer walls of the homes and buildings. Each symbol has a meaning that strengthens and protects the home.
Traveling to this majestic place was the second part of the GNH (Gross National Happiness)/Global Wellbeing LAB hosted by the Presencing Institute, GIZ and the GNH Applied Centre. I arrived early on Monday morning to the cool valley mist and was escorted (by the awesome tour guide and new friend, Kinley)
_MG_0980 to Naksel. When traveling to Bhutan from most countries in the world, one not only needs a visa but also to hire a tour company to plan the itinerary for the trip. Rather than applying a direct tariff on tourism, the country decided to approach the problem of tourism in a more holistic manner, by making the tourist pay up front, including a tourism fee which goes into the education and preservation of the country. That is one example of how GNH has been applied “in real life.”
While we expected to go in to Bhutan and learn about GNH principles and how to transport the measurement tool to other countries, not one of the people we spoke with wanted to tell us directly about the pillars of GNH, the levels of application in the country (or any other direct knowledge about the economic measurement principle). Instead, they wanted us to experience it for ourselves.

Day 1 we rested at the glorious Nak-Sel resort (quite the place to deepen our GNH experience)

and planted trees as a symbolic representation of Earth day! (and a symbol of wanting to reduce our carbon footprint).

My little Local Cypress Tree!

My little Local Cypress Tree!

Post tree planting we paired up and talked about our experiences since the Brazil Learning Journey and our intentions for the Bhutan journey and then shared in the large group. It was amazing that as a collective, we were immediately diving deeper than we had in Brazil. Somehow, we picked up on a deeper level than we were in when we left (I guess we had bonded over the stomach issues we all experienced when we left Brazil). ..Or perhaps it was due to our having been set in the mountains of this magnificent country.


LAB Participants: Lew Daly, Sasha Zweibel, Tandin Wangmo, Karma Yonten and ME!

The next morning (after much needed rest and yummy food!!) we had our opening ceremony!  The princess – Her Royal Highness (HRH) joined us for the morning and that necessitated a WHOLE BUNCH of rituals and that we dress up in our fancy clothes. We got to greet the princess at the entrance and she spoke to us about GNH. She was pretty amazing… and exactly what you would expect a princess to be. She spoke beautifully and from the heart about GNH. She welcomed us with grace, humility and generosity and she seemed genuinely eager to learn from and with us.

We had high tea after hearing some distinguished speakers (more on those in later posts) and got to see some traditional dancing. Dance is a major part of the way that Bhutan celebrates Bhutanese cultural heritage. There is a Royal Performing Arts centre in which people can come and learn the art of dance. From what I came to understand, monks have also used dance as part of rituals and as a form of meditation.

The Presencing Institute and GNH centre helped to guide our entire experience in the country. They asked questions to deepen our experience as individuals and within the group. We had world cafe style dialogue, dialogue walks in pairs and then large group discussions to open and strengthen our collective experience. _MG_1039

One of the days we traveled to Thimpu (the capital city) and we got to see the ONE flyover bridge (which went over the 2 lane ‘highway’) and the buildings that were starting to replace some of the farmlands. One of the things that impressed me was the way that the farmlands have terraces and multi-crops. Each family grows their own crops and keeps their own animals in the valleys and sides of the mountains. The roads were winding and the views of the countryside were beautiful (although some people got slightly car sick).

We visited the biodiversity center – Bhutan is one of the top ten biodiversity hot spots in the globe!! We learned (presentation style) about the way the country works with the farmers to preserve the different variations of crops, types of animals and deals with invasive species. We visited the different areas of the center where they save crop seeds, animal sperm and different forms of plant life. We also had milk tea and momos (yum)!

After lunch at the Royal Heritage Museum in Thimpu, we headed back to Paro (about 1 or 1.5 hrs away… depending on how fast you boomerang through the mountain roads). A small group of us visited the town of Paro because we had a bit of free time. The city is very small but has a few shops.

We returned to Naksel and prepared for Tiger’s Nest – a most beautiful journey that deserves it’s own post!

The biggest learning that I experienced on my Bhutan journey is that… GNH is not necessarily something that can be transposed on other countries our cultures. I do believe that our current global economic system is flawed – that it does not account for ‘happiness’ – in other words, fulfillment, satisfaction or prosperity and it does not account for global wellbeing. However, I think it’s true that if we can change the way that we measure the economic system, we might start to cooperate with each other in a different way – working towards the prosperity of humanity as a collective rather than focusing on competing as individuals. I also don’t think that it’s fair to force people into a life that they may not want to live (by means of leadership or by means of social pressure). If anything, as I’ve traveled (over the years and on this journey) I’ve learned the depth of human contradiction and the power of true freedom.

One thought on “The Royal Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan

  1. I am in a rush this morning, but will anxiously return home to read of your travels. i HAVE been waiting. I will go to Buthan vicariously with you.

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