Known as the “Kingdom of happiness” and the “last Shangri-la”, Bhutan has always had a special appeal for me. Now that it is part of my portfolio as Chinese ambassador to India, I am excited to have the opportunity to visit the Kingdom of Thunder Dragon and look for Bhutanese answers to happiness.
From Paro to Thimpu, everywhere I went, I feasted my eyes on the breathtaking landscape: towering mountains, clear rivers, ancient temples and colorful prayer flags. Even the modern buildings, with a touch of the unique architectural features, fit in well with the pristine environment. Yes, Shangri-la would be the right description, I thought to myself.
Bhutan is open as much as it is traditional. Like people elsewhere, the Bhutanese people watch TV, shop online, and use Twitter and WeChat, yet at the same time, they still keep to their tradition and live a simple life, wearing the national dress Gho and Kira, enjoying the local songs and dances, and playing the national sport archery. Despite the hustle and bustle of the outside world, Bhutan has found its own pace and composure, and manged to strike a balance between tradition and modernity, not indulging in greed or disturbed by material desires.
The successive kings are all visionary and loved by the people. His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo is no less than a legendary figure. It was him that introduced democracy to Bhutan and “invented” the world-renowned Gross National Happiness (GNH). Thanks to this people-oriented policy, Bhutanese people enjoy free health care from cradle to grave and free education from kindergarten to university. Basic necessities are guaranteed and not a single beggar or slum met our eyes.
My audience with His Majesty the Fifth King is a particularly unforgettable experience. Though only 35 years old, His Majesty has great wisdom, strategic far-sight and a sense of humor. He talked about his vision for Bhutan that calls for not only good governance, but also intelligent governance; a Bhutan with democracy, but not the kind of democracy blindly copied from other countries, and a Bhutan with development strategies that look beyond the short-term interests.
He also spoke of his admiration for China’s development and his commitment to advance China-Bhutan relations.
I was profoundly moved by his wise words and modesty.
In my extensive contacts with the Bhutanese people, what struck me most was the outpouring of friendship, not just towards us foreigners, but also among themselves. Whenever people meet, strangers and acquaintances alike, smile was always on the face. It seems that courtesy and politeness is in their DNA, and quarrel or fight is simply not in their dictionary.
For the Bhutanese people, religion is an important part of life. The mountains and valleys are dotted by temples. In Paro, I visited the famous Taktsang Monastery. Some 3120 meters above the sea level in a dramatic cliff setting, the Buddhist temple is majestic wonder.
As I watched countless believers making the long pilgrim in the rugged terrain up to the sacred temple, it dawned upon me that the further away you are from worldly desires, the closer you are to real happiness.
Indeed, the pursuit of happiness is a universal topic. Through the short visit to the Kingdom of Happiness, I’ve come to realize that happiness is neither unfathomable nor out of reach.
It is in the harmony of nature, the preservation of tradition, the kindness of people, the power of faith and peace of mind. Happiness is also a result of wise leadership and good governance, and a result of gratitude and contentment.
I wish the Bhutanese people greater happiness!
Contributed by Mr Le Yucheng
Ambassador of the People’s Republic of China to India