Bhutan: An idyllic country where tradition and modernity co-exist
Posted on Jun 14 2014 | IANS
By Shilpa Raina, Thimphu, June 14 : There are no traffic signals in the Bhutanese capital, yet there is little chaos on the roads. With people not in any hurry to run you down, walking leisurely in this tiny Himalayan kingdom that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi visits Sunday, is a rare pleasure - miles away from the humdrum of concrete jungles we call our homes.
Such a description of any capital city in the world might raise eyebrows, but when one wonders why no cars are in a tearing hurry to overtake, or there is no mindless honking, or how the man on the driver's seat patiently waits for you to cross the road and not flash his headlights to remind you that pedestrians are lesser mortals - an immediate realisation seeps in that it is not your imagination but an acknowledgment of the fact that you are in the "Land of the Thunder Dragon".
As Modi makes his maiden visit to Bhutan - his first foreign visit after assuming the office of prime minister on May 26 - to boost ties with a "special neighbour", the tradition-bound country, home to 700,000 people and picturesque Himalayan mountains, will offer a serene environment for bilateral engagement to nurture.
This landlocked country - sandwiched between India and China-- offers a generous serving of beauty, nature and happiness and a window to its rich culture through architecture: colourful wooden windows, intricate work on roof railings and paintings of tigers, snakes and dragons on the walls of most homes and government buildings.
For a country that opened its gates to the outside world only in the 1970s, this architectural tapestry amidst scintillating natural beauty provides a variegated visual vocabulary to the visitors even as the locals take pride in their traditional roots.
It is also the only nation in the world that measures the quality of life of its people on the basis of Gross National Happiness (GNH) and not on the Gross Domestic Product(GDP) - a philosophy institutionalised by Bhutan's fourth Dragon King, Jigme Singye Wangchuck, who had opened Bhutan to the age of modernisation in 1972.
This visionary king had also chalked out the path of democracy for Bhutan that was ruled by the Wangchuk dynasty since Ugyen Wangchuk became its first king in 1907. It became a democratic nation in 2008. This is why the inhabitants have such respect for the royal family that they bow their heads in the presence of the reigning king and queen.
For the soft-spoken Bhutanese "inner peace" defines their every action as Tibetan King Songtsen Gampo had first introduced Buddhism to the country in the 7th century when it was ruled by Tibet. It was further strengthened by the arrival of Guru Rimpoche, a Buddhist master widely considered to be the second Buddha.
Life glides at a luxuriously slow pace in this country that bears a striking resemblance to the Ladakh region in Jammu and Kashmir and Sikkim in northeast India.
As the prayer flags flutter on the many hills around, a gigantic golden Buddha statue overlooks the entire Thimpu city - as if guarding it from evil eyes.
With 95 percent of the population favouring the traditional dress - the knee-length wraparound gho for men, who pair it with knee-length socks, and kira, the ankle-length dress for women, they imbibe Bhutan's traditional code of etiquette - "Driglam Namzha".
One apt example is exchanging pleasantries saying "Kuzuzangpo"(hello) and not "hello" "hi" or "what's up".
This is because Dzongkha, the national language, drives everyday conversations and all official documents are in this language. Even though English is the main medium of communication in schools, outside the educational gates they again wear the coat of tradition.
"Bhutan can survive without English. We have to preserve our national language and culture first," Dasho Sangay Wangchug, an expert on Buddhist philosophy, told a visiting IANS correspondent.
While Modi has the same pride in the Hindi language as the Bhutanese have in Dzongkha, the Indian prime minister might want to find ways to bring the policy of "tradition and culture preservation" back to India.
But before Modi makes his entry into this idyllic nation, he might want to first tightly fasten his seat belt as the tiny airport nestled among the steep mountains of the Himalayas in Paro, 65 km from Thimphu, is one of the world's most difficult for takeoffs and landings.
(Shilpa Raina can be contacted at [email protected])