One of the most amazing places is a remote, isolated puzzle piece between Tibet and India. Big sky, colorful festivals, chili laden cuisine and relaxed way of life. Not naive, not ignorant, just a different set of priorities. I visited during the first week of October … the start of the many festivals. There is such national pride in the culture and the tourists were equally matched in number by locals who had come with their families to soak it in and socialize.
Budhism is such an integral piece of life in Bhutan that the idea of secularism, separation of religion from government and not knowing the history would be impossible for the people. That doesn’t mean that the Land of Happiness does not have issues. A reminder of the challenges of infrastructure came to me every day as we weaved our way over mountain passes on road undergoing sketchy reconstruction. And families of road workers doing dangerous jobs including a mother with her baby on her back as she lowered rock over a cliff to be added to the retaining wall. This lead to an “interesting” discussion with my guide about what are basic needs if “Happiness” is the national focus. And the Nepalese refugee issue. Probably best to avoid that topic as well, if you don’t want to tarnish the image in your mind of a nation where everyone is happy.
One of the aspects of life in Bhutan that seemed so appealing only became abundantly clear as I transited back to China through Kathmandu. Only a few hundred kilometers away and a similar geographic region, but what a hairy place! So much commercialism, hustle and packed with tourists stocking up on Chinese knock-off trekking gear. Bhutan was peacefully quiet, even in the areas that attracted the tourists. The dogs lying all over the roads, intent on lazing away the day so they can bark all night, the conspicuous absence of Starbucks and McDonalds, the lack of a single traffic light in the entire country … amazingly peaceful.