Paro (Bhutan): Colourful wooden windows, intricate work on roof railings and
paintings of tigers, snakes and dragons adorn the walls of most
homes. Pointing to a new concrete house architecturally similar to
the old ones made of mud, Bhutanese tourism official Namgay Tenzin
says, "We are modernising, not Westernising."
"We Bhutanese believe in preserving
our culture and heritage. So we are changing, but at the same time
we know where to draw the line. Our outlook is modern and we are
trying to incorporate changes in our lives without compromising on
our beliefs," he tells this visiting IANS correspondent.
This is the changing face of Bhutan, popularly known as "The Land of
the Thunder Dragon", a country of 700,000 people that is now
actively promoting itself as a tourist destination to spur economic
Life glides at a luxuriously slow pace. Roads are not wide, but no
one is complaining as no one is in a tearing hurry to overtake.
There is no honking or traffic lights - one has all the time in the
world to appreciate the picturesque Himalayan mountains and
It was only in the 1970s that Bhutan opened up to outsiders as it
had always been anxious to protect its indigenous Buddhist culture,
landlocked as it is between China and India.
If one is seeking solace and looking out for some peace of mind,
Bhutan is the place to be, with its philosophy of "Gross National
Happiness" (GNH) - an attempt to measure the quality of life of a
country, and not just its Gross Domestic Product.
In fact, the moment one lands at the airport in Paro, the
pollution-free, fresh air makes one realise how small things can
contribute to the overall happiness of mind, body and soul. Paro is
65 km from Bhutan's capital Thimphu.
Bhutanese life is firmly intertwined with tradition. Hence, 95
percent of the population wears 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 proudly carry their outfits and climb hilly terrain, play
football and do household chores with ease.
"We will never give up on it. We have been wearing it since we
started going to school; so being uncomfortable in it is out of
question. Do you feel uncomfortable in a sari?" Pem Tshoki, a woman
who lives in Paro, asks me.
This traditional outfit is worn in schools, colleges, government
offices and other work places. Over the years, the outfit has been
influenced by fashion trends, especially Kira. The blouse has been
tweaked a bit and pepped up with a more contemporary style.
For those who have visited Ladakh and Sikkim, Bhutan has stark
resemblances to these Indian areas as far as arid mountains,
monasteries and the roads are concerned.
The houses too have preserved their traditional architecture.
"Now we are making houses of stones and concrete, but the
architecture remains the same. This is mandatory because this will
help us in preserving our culture," says Jurmi Chhowing, a design
student in Thimphu.
But more than the roads, houses and landscape, it's the pace of life
in Bhutan which is its most enchanting facet. There are no malls or
multiplexes and people prefer to wile away time playing carrom in
the afternoon or practising archery - their national sport.
The country teaches that there is more to life than just chasing
superficial happiness at the cost of human emotions. One gets a
taste of a radically different lifestyle and witnesses how people
are opening up to the world without compromising with their
The solace one finds in this peaceful environment is priceless.
A good way to head for a holiday in the beautiful region is to book
your tickets with MakeMyTrip's new chartered flights inclusive of
holiday packages for Bhutan. The exclusive package will be available
during April-July. The package starts at Rs.33,000 per person for
Bhutan is an all-weather destination. Spring and summer are good to
get a closer look at the flora and fauna of the country, while
autumn is considered good for trekking.
Places to visit in Thimphu - Buddha Dordenma, a 169-ft tall Buddha
statue; Takin Sanctuary; and Changangkha Lhakhang, one of the oldest
temples in Bhutan.
In Paro, tourists should make it a point to see Taktsang Monastery,
a popular trekking destination that is also known as Tiger's Nest;
and Chela Le pass.
How to reach from India: Besides MakeMyTrip's chartered flights from
next month, Druk Air operates from Delhi, Kolkata and Guwahati. Or
by road from Assam or West Bengal.
(Shilpa Raina can
be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)