Can money buy happiness? No! then why do we assess ourselves in terms of Gross Domestic Product aka GDP? Bhutan had the insight that money can never usher happiness and assessed themselves in terms of GNH or Gross National Happiness. The Bhutan Govt. introduced the GNH Survey and Index to clarify areas in which the conditions for happiness exist and those where public action is required to establish the conditions of happiness.
In 2011, The UN General Assembly passed a resolution “Happiness: towards a holistic approach to development” urging member nations to follow the example of Bhutan and measure happiness and well-being and calling happiness a ‘fundamental human goal’.
Throughout my Bhutan trip, I came across people who were happy in their life. They may not be financially rich, But were satisfied with what they had and hence happy. People were mild-mannered and soft-spoken. They led a relaxed life, were never in a hurry, never bad mouthed and never got irritated. Perhaps, Buddhist teachings percolated deep into their souls as well. Here is a photo journal of the smiles that I could capture.
1. Ever smiling hostess – The Village Headman’s wife who hosted me at Phobjikha. She was down to earth and had a sweet smile. It’s true that you don’t need language to communicate and I experienced it when, despite having no common language (she understood only Dzongkha, the local language) we communicated with our eyes and smiles.
2. Kangaroo mom – Ever since I came to Bhutan, I could see mothers carrying their kids in a blanket in their back. My curiosity made me ask her how the blanket was tied. She immediately took out her baby, untied the sling and demonstrated the whole process of sling making. She even permitted me to record her demo. Bhutanese do have a special way of stealing your heart.
3. Shy kid – At Phobjikha, one evening, I was going for an evening walk and I came across a pre-school. One of the kids was so shy that he hid behind the fence. Just as he surfaced, I took this photo. His shyness is all visible in the photo. Also in the background, the tiny girl wanted a hi-fi from me. In fact, every kid in the preschool, around 15-20, gave me hi-fi and made me feel like a kid myself.
4. Bhutanese mom – When I was going down after visiting the Changankha monastery in Thimbu, I met this old woman who was coming up. Climb was hard even for young people and she was struggling with each step. She started smiling at me and when I passed her, she suddenly caught my hand and started calling me ‘Bumo’. My driver translated to me that Bumo means daughter. She touched my cheeks and blessed me. I can never forget her smiling face and loving ways.
5. Girl with beautiful eyes – On the way to Phobjika from Wangdu, there is a local school. As the school hours were over by the time I reached, the kids were playing around. I was clicking photos at random and saw this girl. She immediately turned her head, probably coz of her eye issue. I waited for a few minutes and when she turned her face towards me, I took the photo without wasting time before she could turn it away from me again. Her friend, who tried to prompt her to pose, is also seen with her.
6. Eyes are the windows to the heart – At Paro, I was waiting for a cab driver to take me to Pheuntshling. I went around taking random pictures of the town and saw this old man resting by the side of the road. He was very happy when I asked for his permission to take a snap. Throughout my journey, I found that people in Bhutan were very accommodative and pleasant. Not once did I find an angry face or eyes in Bhutan.
7. Umbrella girls – The High-school girls were on their way home after school. In Bhutan, especially in rural areas, students have to walk for kilometers to reach school. These brave girls walked 5 kilometers through mountain paths to reach their school every day. It was drizzling as I passed them, and they looked lovely in their uniforms and colorful umbrellas.
8. Gooseberry lady – I found the women in Bhutan to be very resilient. Old age never dampened their working spirit. This old woman was selling a variety of Gooseberry near Punakha Suspension Bridge. As I didn’t want gooseberry, I offered her some money, but she declined to take money unless I took gooseberry from her. She was very happy when I tasted it and told her it was good.
9. Local school – I had the chance to visit a local school at Phobjikha. It was lovely to see the kids forming groups and sitting around tables. Each group had students of different capabilities. And the students helped each other grow. The principal later told me that they follow 21st-century Pedagogy principles. Kids were happy to receive the pens that I took from India.
10. A toddler whose eyes talked – At Phobjikha, I was exploring the countryside when this little head appeared on the verandah. She was not shy and her sweet smile and loose hair made her extra cute to look at. I was very attracted to her cute eyes and bold stance.
11. Smiling Budha – I went to visit my farm-stay hostess’s father in Phobjikha. His face radiated positive energy and he was always smiling.
12. Women ‘em – power’ ment – She was carrying nearly 20 bricks, each weighing around 2 kg. In Bhutan, it’s hard to find laborers as all are busy working on their own homes or farms.
13. Man with prayer wheel – At monasteries, it is a common sight to see old people holding prayer wheels and beads. It is the belief of Bhutanese people that spinning prayer wheel is a more effective way of prayer than chanting prayer.
14. Serenity personified – old woman was sitting near the giant prayer wheel at Chankhankha monastery and uttering her prayers with a smile. She looked very peaceful and serene.
15. Peace in human form – I visited the incense factory, the workers were all busy at work. They glanced at me, gave me a smile and continued their work. Suddenly this old man, who was also working in the factory came to me and took me around the place and explained to me in detail how the factory functions.
16. Smiling monks of Punakha – It is very difficult to find monks at monasteries as monks are always busy inside the monasteries with prayers and other religious matters. At Punakha Dzong, I was awed by the architecture all around me and was clicking pictures when these monks surfaced. We communicated through actions and they permitted me to take their photos.
17. Yoyo kids – At preschool, when the evening bell rang, kids started rushing out. Since I couldn’t communicate with them, I had to be content with this random click.
18. Happy dog – Even the animals in Bhutan were very friendly and happy. During my natural trail walk at Phobjikha, I was feeling tired and sat on a boulder in front of a house. Suddenly, this dog came barking from inside the house. As the gate was closed, I wasn’t worried much. After a few minutes, he was standing in front of me. He managed to find a hole in the fence through which he had jumped out. He sniffed my legs and took position next to my legs.
I found the tagline of Bhutan – Bhutan, Happiness is a place – so meaningful after the Bhutan trip. Because in Bhutan, you are surrounded by happy people, who infuse the spirit of happiness in you as well.