A search for happiness above the clouds... (part 2)

So, what is happiness?

What definitely is not happiness is material richness and anyone who thought that Bhutanese are happy because they are rich is terribly, terribly wrong!

Happiness is playing DARTS in the middle of the rice, mustard, chilies and asparagus terraces at 3,000 meters when it is raining cats and dogs and you just fell on cow excrements which cover your pants, as hitting the target and disconcerting your fellow players is the only thing that matters in the universe at this moment! And any way, if you ask Bhutanese, it never rains too much in Bhutan even when it is raining cats and dogs!


Happiness is tasting the best savory baked yak cheese, delicious buckwheat pancakes, noodles and momos (dumplings), sweet red rice and crunchy pop rice and creamy potatoes cheese ever. If you have ever thought that Indian cuisine was spicy, just wait to try the Bhutanese one! The chili there is not a spice but a main ingredient - one of the most famous dishes is the chili cheese (ema datshi). However, in order to allow visitors to taste it, Bhutanese are kind enough to prepare their delicious FOOD without chili. 


Bhutan being a mountain country, you will eat in a single meal rice, potatoes, bread and pasta - just the perfect combination for a diet - without forgetting the creamy baked cheese and the greasy pork!


Happiness is drinking ara (local rice/wheat WINE) and butter TEA (a special sort of tea with some butter inside which tastes a little bit like a salty soup) in the houses of the villagers and just smile and laugh with them even though we do not understand everything each of us is saying. Bhutanese eat with their hands cross-legged on the wooden floors - your muscles have to be fit! But it becomes very easy when your heart melts down by their hospitability, you are ready to sit there for ages! You get welcomed with milk tea in the west and with ara in the east.


Happiness is staying overnight in a farm in the middle of the rice fields and the clouds and watching Druk Super Star, the national song contest which is for sure much more authentic than its western equivalent The Voice, as well as a documentary movie on Bhutanese nature at prime time. It feels like watching National Geographic instead of CSI or Breaking Bad which seems to be the norm in any other country in the world. The Bhutanese TELEVISION is also instructive - it shows for example how to make homemade momos. And it uses funny expressions like ‘a desperate cause of nature’ to describe in a subtle way the need to go to the washroom. To make a long story short, watching TV in Bhutan is instructive and incredibly funny!


Happiness is running, bouncing and swinging on SUSPENSION BRIDGES covered with hundreds of rainbow-colours prayer flags high above a huge river and looking at the children below having fun swimming against the currents. Some of the bridges are really huge - the one in Punakha is about 200 meters long!


Happiness is GREETING people everywhere with kuzuzangpola (hello), kardinche (thank you) or tashi delek (good bye) and seeing the smiles lighten their beautiful faces.


Happiness is expecting the UNEXPECTED - spotting a wild bear, a wild boar and some wild monkeys on the road; enjoying one of the most beautiful sakura of the jacaranda trees along the Punakha dzhong while red-robed monks are wandering on the carpet of purple petals; having lunch in a temple with a member of parliament and the famous author of a book relating to the history of Bhutan; coming across the royal family (the only celebrities Bhutanese care about – even if Madonna shows up tomorrow, nobody will really care about it in Bhutan!) en route to the building site of a stupa they are financing; meeting on the road a butterfly research group comprising the guy who discovered the swallowtail (the national very rare butterfly) and listening, when visiting the Guru Rinpochi statue (Guru Rinpochi is an 8th-century Indian Buddhist venerated by the Bhutanese as a ‘second Buddha’), to the enchanting voice of one of the greatest rinpochi (a reincarnated great master like the Dalai-lama), Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche, who wrote the book ‘What makes you NOT a Buddhist?’ which tells you so much about Buddhism in a simple and revealing way.


Happiness is looking at the portraits of the beautiful KING AND QUEEN who look like Hollywood actors and of their newly born son hanging on the wall of even the most remote cafés, restaurants and houses of Bhutan. The previous king married four sisters, which is allowed even though not common in Bhutan (and there is equality as a woman can marry more than one man too!), but when his son met his future wife who was 15 years old, he swore to wait for her to grow up and to never marry another woman than her.

Happiness is admiring the stunning NATURE and the respect Bhutanese have for it. The constitution of Bhutan states that a minimum of 60% of the land shall be covered under forest for all times to come. Tree logging is extremely regulated and wood mostly used for basic needs such as building houses and heating. Bhutan has also recently broke the Guinness World Records title for most trees planted in one hour. The conservation of the natural environment also constitutes one of the four pillars of the GNH - an example of its application is the biological corridors built between the protected areas which allow all the wild animals to migrate from place to place and contributed to the increasing number of tigers in Bhutan.

Nature in Bhutan is full of diversity - from the snow-capped Himalayan peaks with mountain flowers and glacier lakes to the tropical valleys with banana, orange, mango and guava trees, cactuses, magnolias, angels’ trumpets and Christmas flowers, one gets enchanted by its pristine beauty.


Happiness is riding a BICYCLE up and down the mountains when you can bump into the previous king who has been a cyclist and after his abdication in favour of his son cycles a lot more. There is a true story that one day the king was cycling up a hill and after having spotted another cyclist in front of him tried to overtake him. Faster the king was cycling, even faster the other man was pushing. Finally they both reached the top of the hill, the king behind the other cyclist who then saw that it was the king trying to catch him up and was extremely embarrassed and scared. The king just smiled, congratulated him warmly for being such a good cyclist and offered him a bicycle!


Happiness is being surrounded by bright COLOURS and spiritual SOUNDS everywhere - the ornaments of the temples where you can just sit immersed in the deepness of the monks’ mantras (prayers) watching them count their rosaries and beat the drums in rhythm; the prayer and wind horse flags moved by the wind each of which is in one of the five colours symbolizing the elements of the universe (yellow for earth, red for fire or sun, blue for water, green for vegetation and white for space - each person has his or her colour, a little bit like our zodiac); the bright colours of the national costumes (goh for the men and kira for the women); the prayer wheels gently turning around moved by the holy water or by the hand of a stooping devotee, and the colourful master pieces of the wheat and butter cakes and rice mandalas prepared by the monks in the temples.


The wear of the national costumes is mandatory only in official places like temples and monasteries but it is more likely to see Bhutanese dressed this way than in jeans and switchers which is much less common! The male national costume, the goh, is a heavy knee-length robe tied with a belt, folded in such a way to form a pocket in front of the stomach. This pocket is supposed to contain a dagger and a small cup used to pour the rice wine whenever men visit their friends, and also gave them the nickname of ‘kangaroos of Asia’.


Happiness is cheering up with the participants of an ARCHERY. Using bamboo bows, teams of archers shoot at targets from a distance of 140 meters. With every hit on the target, players from the opposite team dance celebrating the other team’s victory - they celebrate the skill even in their ‘enemies of game’.

Archery is the national sport of Bhutan and playing in teams is one aspect of the Gross National Happiness. So how is it that they have never won the Olympic Games in this sport? Their explanation - they are used to shoot at long distances and the target at the Olympic Games is just too close for them!!! Bhutanese have a great sense of humour but this one is not a joke, they are very serious when it comes to archery and sport in general!


Happiness is also...

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