At this time of year, in a year which saw so many different layers of conflict, confusion, distress, international discussion, I thought I would be only right to remind all of us of a place which is known for its beauty, calm, deep religiosity, and unique claim to fame as the “Happiest Place on Earth”. It is where Gross National Happiness is the measure of the country’s existence … BHUTAN.
I visited a few years ago spending our stay “doing the AmanKora” … a circle trip within Bhutan, staying only at Aman properties. We went from Paro, to Thimphu, to Punaka, up via Wangdi to the Gangtey valley and returned to Paro. Along the way we visited varied valleys connected by high winding roads between the mountain vistas. Each property had its own almost Zen-like atmosphere. Each was unique with a style understated and local, using local building and decorative materials, emphasizing the vistas and views in each place and especially honoring the foodstuffs and traditions of the people of Bhutan.
In this Himalayan nation nestled amongst some of the highest peaks of the world, “surrounded” by the two most populous nations of India and China, Bhutan maintains an amazing sense of calm and traditional life. For many years the former king of Bhutan insisted on keeping the number of outside visitors limited so that the essence of the local culture could maintain. Traditional dress is gladly worn by all the locals, and on the festive holidays, at the famed Tschechu religious festivities, all members of the family wear their beloved, colorful and traditional dress which is required.
Snippets of Bhutan: mountain passes decorated with prayer flags, deep agricultural valleys, fertile and productive, valleys set aside at certain times of year so the endangered black-necked swans can nest during breeding season. Wooden carved, decorated farmhouses; high imposing Tzongs with white walls, deep wooden balconies and highly decorated balustrades. In these monasteries the Buddhist monks practice their faith in peace and harmony. Life is not easy; farming is still a major mainstay. The annual cycle of life balances the urban Bhutanese doing business, the monks’ lives keeping centuries-old traditions, delighted visitors hiking to Tigers Nest, traversing the high passes on their way to absorb what life is like in very special Bhutan.
No one returns from Bhutan unchanged. The happiest place in the world.
Images and information provided by luxury travel advisor, Helen E. Land