Still happy in Bhutan!
This country is something really special. I have not met a person yet that isn't nice, smiling, seemingly content. When I asked my guide about GNH, she said she thinks it really is working, and her best guess is that 70% of the citizens are really happy. I believe that, when in town or driving around the country it seems like there is a true like of life, and contentment.
The country is the least developed of all that we have visited. Infrastructure is poor, roads torn up, conditions of the hotels, pay is low, etc... Yet, that doesn't seem to matter, the citizens have family, friends, and homes, that is enough. It gives you a reality check that emphasizes you don't need a lot of stuff to be happy. I am not going to run home and put the Harley up for sale, but I will think about the next time I want to make a unnecessary purchase. Friends , family, and homes, a good recipe for happiness, it works here.
I went to a farmhouse and had a hot stone bath in a falling apart shed behind the house. It was awesome, they take cold water from the river and fill up a wooden box/tub with the water and then start taking big rocks out of the fire and placing in the end of the tubs. It heats up the tubs pretty quickly and then you hop in. If you want it hotter they bring in more rocks. It was a really cool experience, very third world, dirty, possibly amoeba infested, but well worth it. After the soak, I had a home cooked meal at the farmhouse with my guides, a couple from Singapore and the host family. We learned a lot of traditions that are worth sharing.
You sit on the floor in a circle, use your hands to eat, no utensils, and talk and tell jokes. It is a family affair, and parents, kids, grandkids, etc are all expected to make each meal.
First we had "yak butter", a salty warm tea like drink made from yaks milk ...... Enough said about that one.
Then we had Ara, the alcoholic drink common here, a rice wine with butter and fried egg. It was powerful and could be a game changer if you drank more than 2 glasses.
On to the food, first you take 2 drops of yak butter and rub on your hands, then you take some rice and roll it around your hands to pick up the dirt. Because of the bath my rice stayed white, but some of the other peoples rice turned dark brown. An effective way to clean your hands before a meal.
The mother then gives the guests a plateful of rice and starts passing around the dishes. We had asparagus and ferns, really good, beef with carrots, vegetables, and potatoes and cheese. Food has been excellent here. The traditional food is super crazy spicey, life changing spicy. I tried the spicy dishes at a couple of meals, bad choice on my part. They are aware of the western palate and de-spice everything but one dish at each meal. Holy crazy spice they eat here. The chili sauce they put on everything is ridiculous, just a heads up in case you ever visit.
After dinner everyone say goodbye and safe travel wishes, etc. It felt really good to be included in something like this, it affirms why we are doing this trip, to learn about other cultures, customs and people.
After we ate my driver and I went out for a night on the town. A night in Paro, a mountain town of about 20k people is interesting. Mine started out at a local bar where we played snooker and had a beer, we then went to one of the most interesting things I have seen on the trip, a Bhutanese gentleman's club. Its about as polar opposite something could be from an American version. There is a stage and bench seats facing the stage. Women, they are paid a monthly salary, no tips, dance to traditional songs. The unique part is that they are wearing full traditional clothing, long flor length dress, long heavy jackets, and sashes around the waist. There is No skin showing but the hands and face, and the traditional dances are not meant to seduce, but rather remind people of there local dances, men and women will get up and perform the dances on stage, everyone has a great time and it is good wholesome fun. Wow, what a refreshing version of entertainment. After 10 or so songs we went to the "disco party"' thats what they call dance clubs. It was a room about 25 x 25' a few lazer lights, probably not approved or good for the eyes, and a DJ. It was really fun and I even got a few dance moves going. I was the only non Bhutanese there, I actually think I was the only non Bhutanese there ever. Not a lot of foriegners like to see the real Bhutan apparently, my guide said I am one of the few that has liked to see things besides just the temples and monasteries, I like knowing that! After a few songs the power went out! I mean out in the whole city, not a single light as far as you could see, except people's cell phones to try to find the way out. No one complained or yellEd for their money back, just simply went about leaving and existing. It was an awesome way to end a terrific visit to a country that showed me you can be happy and exist in a place without unnecessary things or even electricity.
There is not a single fast food restaurant, no McDonalds, KFC, or pizza hut, not even a Starbucks??? There is no business from the outside that I saw, no chains or boring concept restaurants. The democracy was started in 2009 by the current king ( the 5th king) and is still learning to change from a monarchy, they are in a process of changing, TV's were introduced in 2004, and the Internet was allowed in 2008. I just hope it retain its beautiful culture, identity, and way of life.
For some reason the people that travel to Bhutan are older and family travelers to the country are rare, my guide told me, foreign kids are very rarely visiting, that is a shame. If you ever get an opportunity to visit Bhutan, you need to do it! This is a country that I fear will succumb to western influences and change drastically over the next 10 years, and that makes me very sad. I would love to share this with family and friends and see how they felt while here, if their experience is as fulfilling as mine has been. This is my happy place!
I bought a bumper Sticker that says "I love Bhutan", it will be the only one I put on my car, and it will make me feel Gross National Happiness each time I see it!