Friday, October 11, 2013

Back from Bhutan: Kingdom in the Clouds

"When the dawn breaks, the world smiles with happiness and joy."-Bhutanese Proverb from The Bhutanese Guide to Happiness 

Happy Friday, all. Any plans? We're looking forward to our first post-adventure weekend at home. So where did we go? There were some good guesses - Bali, India - but The Buzz Blog girls got it right:

We explored Bhutan, the Kingdom in the Clouds.

Bhutan is a small country in the Himalayas (about the size of Indiana) bordered by India and China. I think I mentioned that when I married Mr. H. I definitely married adventure - he's been wanting to go since he trekked in Nepal about 20 years ago. As long as I can count on a comfortable bed, I'm typically game... 

So off we went. And it was amazing. A fascinating place of red-robed monks, fortresses and temples dating back to medieval times, of twisting mountain passes and peaceful valleys. Bhutan first opened to tourists in 1974 and still limits the number of visitors it accepts each year. A guide is required for travelers to this country of just 700,000 people, where the first road was built in 1962 and there are still no traffic lights.

Bhutan is one of the world's newest democracies - in 2005 the King surprised his people by abdicating the throne to his son and declaring that the country's first national elections would be held in 2008.

Embracing modernity while preserving Bhutanese culture and traditions is challenging, and signs of rapid urbanization were everywhere, from the scads of apartment blocks being built near the capitol city of Thimphu, to the monk who had to hang up his mobile before blessing our journey, to Miley Cirus on our driver's M3P player, the world definitely has found its way to Bhutan.

The idea of Gross National Happiness, introduced by the 4th King in 1972, stems from the belief that economic development shouldn't be the only measure of progress. Happiness can be seen in cultural connectedness, a sense of community and national belonging, a feeling of being well-governed. The current Prime Minister has said his focus is reducing the obstacles to happiness. More here.

Bhutan has been called a "ray of hope" in South Asia, but happiness is a complex subject. It will be interesting to see what changes in next five years for this young democracy. I'd love to go back and see.

What do you think about the idea of measuring Gross National Happiness?

Hope you find some of your own happiness this weekend. XO 


  1. WOW Jeanne!! How amazing......and exotic. My parents have always wanted to go, I am going to show my mom your post. i think the idea of Gross national happiness is brilliant! Many of the happiest cultures in the world are by our standards poor (economically) but so rich in others. I think we could learn a lot from that. That the focus does not always have to be on money.
    How long were you there? It looks incredible..what a magical trip.

    1. Hi Tina, I hope your parents get the chance to go - it truly is an amazing place, but also seems to be changing fast, which was one of the reasons we decided to go this year. We were there for two weeks and didn't want to leave. If your parents ever have any questions about traveling there, please feel free to put them in touch with me! XO

  2. Hooray! Oh, you know how much I have been looking forward to this and you so didn't disappoint!! I actually was very, very moved by the outstanding beauty but also the simplicity inherent in your photos and words. Thank you, Jeanne.
    And yes, I am fascinated by the concept of GNH--and hoping you will tell us if you felt that it was working.
    Bon Weekend à vous deux et gros bisous,

    1. You know Heather, that's something I've been thinking a lot about, both when we were there and since we've been home. Happiness is such a complex subject, and to say that Bhutan is a Shangri La (as I've heard it referred to) is to unfairly simplify the country, the people and the challenges they face. I will say that from what we saw and the people we met, it does seem to be working. There is poverty, yes, but not the crushing poverty you see in other places. I'm sure the Buddhist mindset contributes to a peacefulness, and the people we interacted with were friendly and kind. Women seemed to have it comparatively better there - we learned that it is traditionally a matriarchal society and property is handed down from mother to daughter. Our guide had gone straight to work from secondary school so that he could pay to put his sisters through University. (At the same time, though, I just read an article that says there is a high rate of domestic abuse, which surprised me.) A New York Times article from last weekend (there's a link in the post) talked about the complexity of Bhutan's future and the mind set of the new Prime Minister - that article made it seem like he might have a different perspective about GNH than the former King. It's a complex and fascinating subject, just like Bhutan itself! XO

  3. Oh you lucky girl!! Such an amazing place, and most only dream of visiting here.
    Have a relaxing weekend.

  4. Jeanne - I'm soooooo jealous!!! Tom and I plan on visiting India, Nepal and Vietnam (where I was born and lived) in the near future. We want to take a month or two to really absorb it all. Bhutan is also high on our list, but we would have to skip parts of India. Such very special photos! I wish we could enjoy them bigger. Not able to enlarge your images??

    1. Loi, that sounds like a fantastic trip - and how smart of you to plan to take the time and do it right. My husband has spent time in Vietnam, trekked in Nepal, and been to weddings in India, and has great stories from each place. But I had never been to Asia at all, so I still have plenty to see on that continent. I have to say that Bhutan took my breath away, it was so special because so few people go there - it really felt like we were on the road less traveled.

      So, I sheepishly must admit that I can't enlarge my photos without cutting them off - I'm on a really old format of blogger and need to update, but I'm so bad at anything tech, I keep putting it off. The small photo size frustrates, though!

      Glad you enjoyed the photos - we took hundreds of them!

      Happy Weekend!!!

    2. Jeanne, I also heard that Bhutan is less touristy than....say Tibet. Hope you'll share more photos from your trip!

  5. Let's replace all the talk of debt ceilings and sequestration with measures of gross national happiness! We've had Bhutan on our bucket list forever and are dying to visit. Sounds like with all the economic progress going on, we need to go sooner than later. We will spread happiness on the riverfront this weekend cheering our boys on in yet another regatta!
    C + C

    1. I couldn't agree more - swapping debt ceilings and frustrating politics for GNH sounds better than anything I've heard on the news all day!

      Yes, I would totally recommend going sooner than later. Things are changing so fast. We felt incredibly fortunate to have been able to get there while we did!
      Good luck to your regatta boys! XO

  6. love the photo with the rainbow! i know zip about this part of the world but quite a bit about happiness. at least the psychology of it in the west. connectedness is so important yet complicated by modern life! what an incredible learning experience for you!


  7. Hi Jeanne, so excited to hear more about this amazing adventure. I do think about "happiness" a lot and what truly makes me/us happy. Traveling, and seeing different perspectives and cultures, certainly makes me happy. I do think the key to happiness is connection and relationships. Let's get together soon, in person, to connect and to talk more about your trip. xoxo.

  8. Jeanne,
    This is truly the trip of a lifetime!! I remember when Matt Lauer went there with The Today Show and talked about GNH! I love that concept and how amazing that the king abdicated the throne for democratic elections. I think he was truly a benevolent ruler! I'm curious what you GNH rating you would give this trip vs others?

    xoxo Elizabeth

  9. Hello Jeanne
    Your trip sounds fabulous and what glorious memories you have taken with you. GNH definitely should be on the top of each country's list. Like you said a complex subject. It must start with us.
    Like your readers I am anxiously awaiting more pics
    Thanks for sharing your trip and your reflections
    Helen xx



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