A Buddhist in Bhutan

by Alison Laycock

This is a post I have shared on my other blogs Travel Alphabet and Being the Best You Can Be. For some reason, it hasn’t yet been shared on here and I wonder what I’ve been waiting for. This trip to India and Bhutan was taken in October/ November 2017 and was a huge part of my 40 countries in my 40s challenge and still quite close to the start. Let’s get to the post.

Bhutan has long been shrouded in mystery for me and has remained on my “must visit list” along with the likes of Tibet, Nepal and Sri Lanka for many years now. Last October and November, with much anticipation and excitement, I was finally able to make my way there and discover its many offerings. I’ve purposely not used the words “tick it off my list” as even as I was boarding my flight back to Kolkata, India, the pull back to this beautiful country was already being felt and accepted. 

Before starting this account, it is important to acknowledge that as well as being a Buddhist’s account rather than a tourist view of Bhutan, it is also my personal view as another Buddhist may indeed notice different aspects. For those wanting the tourist facts, then I can certainly recommend the “Lonely planet guide to Bhutan”. 

It is rare as a Buddhist to see my faith in practice in everyday life in fact I am often the only Buddhist amongst friends, colleagues and even in the countries I live or visit. Therefore, to travel to a Buddhist country is essential but a rare treat for me to see my faith/ religion so visibly part of everyone’s way of life throughout their interactions and day to day tasks.  

As you enter Bhutan, you notice first the cleanliness, the orderliness and the calm and relative quiet as you walk the streets and engage with other people. This is especially a stark difference if you cross from Jaigon, the larger bazaar Indian border town travelling through the Bhutan gate to Phuentsholing as I did. After leaving here, the true Bhutan comes into focus and you will no doubt be impressed by its vastness and amazing scenery.  

The philosophy of Gross National Happiness is clear within Bhutan and is evident from the way people interact. There is a set place to cross the streets, people are wearing similar outfits if on official business ( the Gho for the men and the Kira for the women) and everyone appears mindful of themselves and others. On the roads, there were no incidences of road rage, drivers simply got out of their cars or buses when there was a traffic jam and discussed how best for all of them to be on their way. There was humour in their dealings with each other and a general respect for each other’s wellbeing. Along the roads, there were reminders of going slow and driving carefully so that you and your passengers would get home safely to the people who love you. 

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What I really enjoyed was the kindness and gentleness provided by the local people and our first interaction came from our driver and tour guide who remained with us throughout our trip around Bhutan. In them, you could see their pride in their country as they showed off their country and the work they did as nothing was too much trouble.  They seemed completely interested in you as an individual wanting to know about you and your life and listening intently to the answers which is a rare find these days. They are not named here as they represent so many others we met along the way who although weren’t our guides, were always ready and willing to interact and help if required.                                                                                 

 The monasteries and national buildings all have the same facade, the white and red colours which offer a uniform outlook, however within each one there is always something different to surprise and attract you. Within a monastery, this can be the monks themselves as well as the paintings and statues as in some they are chanting, walking around or simply meditating. All of this provides a sense of peacefulness and an opportunity for reflection ensured by the ruling that all photography is prohibited as you are encouraged to actually stop, look and take in all that is around you which will help you remember the atmosphere and all that you have seen.    

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The most well-known monastery in Bhutan is Taktsang monastery (the Tiger’s Nest Monastery) perched at 900m above the Paro valley on the side of a sheer cliff. The photo below shows my view from the cafe where I stopped my walk and decided to take my photos from helped by my zoom. I happily didn’t feel the need to continue on to go into this most popular monastery as the walk up chatting with other people and noticing the beautiful views felt more appropriate than simply reaching an end goal everyone else was rushing to. At the cafe, I got to meet and chat to people from different countries hearing their stories of how they made it to Bhutan, where they had been and where they were heading off to.  

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Life is after all about the journey, the people you meet along the way and the impact we all have on each other’s lives hopefully making it that bit better through kindness when we can.

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