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Why Bhutan is the Last Shangri-La on Earth!

Happiness is said to be a state of mind, a gratified, joyous and positive state of mind and a natural phenomenon. Time and again, folks from various parts of the world have tried to define happiness, label it to something, AND CONFINE it to materialism, addiction, power, luxury, fame and what not. In this callous world we live in today, if there is still a place that believes that happiness is not all of what is mentioned above, but, a way of living life, it is the Buddhist Kingdom on the Himalayas’ eastern edge, Bhutan. Renowned and perpetually recalled for its monasteries, Dzongs (Fortresses), and the dramatically pristine landscapes, Bhutan sets an example for the rest of the world, when it comes to leading a stress-free, gleeful, and ideal life.

The country’s distinctive identity, vibrant culture, and the preserved eco-system make it a peaceful oasis amidst the developmental chaos of this planet. It is the only country in the world to measure national happiness by way of an index known as Gross National Happiness.

The essence of existence in Bhutan, the passion of true beauty in its air, the sanctity emanated all around the mountains despite being called the Land of Thunder Dragon as well, and above all, the heart-warming smiles that embellish the place… makes Bhutan the last Shangri-La on Earth, a Himalayan Utopia worth visiting again and again for an enlightening journey of self-discovery.

Shangri-La is a fictional place defined in Lost Horizon, a 1933 novel written by British author, James Hilton. Shangri-La is a spiritual and harmonious valley, guided from a monastery, said to be an earthly paradise, remote from the world, just like Bhutan.

So much to explore, so much to relish, so much to remember and so much to learn… Bhutan is a place with variety, quality and experiences. There are almost 24 languages spoken in the country, Dzongkha being the most common one. The Bhutanese cuisine is filled with flavour and savouring spices, Ema Datshi is one of the most loved dishes, made from chili peppers and cheese. One of the most amazing facts about the country is that it is a no smoking zone, they banned tobacco and its usage in any form more than a decade ago. And, there is so much greenery to please human senses, about 72% of the country is forested. This country is an abode to various creatures like Bengal Tigers, Clouded Shepherds, Red Pandas, Black Bears and more.

Dochula Pass, consisting of 108 Chortens or Stupas, built as a remembrance to the Bhutanese soldiers, the 169 feet tall gold and bronze Buddha Dordenma statue located at the foot hills in Thimphu, the Chele La pass, the 16th century fort, Rinpung Dzong- known as the Fortress On A Heap Of Jewels, the Gangtey Valley and more are some of the most famous spots to visit and travel around.

So, why is Bhutan the Last Shangri-La on Earth? Because it will teach you that there is beauty that exists beyond worldly and materialistic pleasures. It will unfold the real life within you. It will show you paradise.

Paro Taktsang – Tiger’s Nest

Paro Taktsang Dzongkhag is a Himalayan Buddhist sacred site, the temple complex is situated in the upper Paro Valley in Bhutan, the land of thunder dragon. Also known as the Taktsang Palphug Monastery and the Tiger’s nest, this place is surrounded by pristine scenery and carries a lot of religious and historical significance. This is one of the most renowned spots of Bhutan and is massively loved by the tourists. Many visitors state that the Tiger’s Nest is a must visit destination not only in Bhutan, but in the whole world. The distinctive location of Paro Taktsang makes it difficult for people to reach there by driving up. The most recommended and possible way to go there is by hiking up, or you can reach most of its way by hiring a horse. In case of hiking, the distance is around 4 miles round trip, the elevation gain is around 1700 feet, around 10,000 feet above the sea level, and it takes 6 to 8 hours to complete the entire trip.

The monastery is encapsulated by magical impressions and its legacy is adorned by tantalising stories and tales from the past. Taktsang is spelled as Stag Tshang in the Tibetan language and means Tigress Lair in literal terms. Padmasambhava, famously recognised as Guru Rinpoche, flew to Paro Taktsang from Tibet on the back of a tigress called Yeshe Tsogyal from Khenpajong, whom he is thought to have converted into a flying tigress. The Tiger’s Nest is said to have been sanctified to tame a tiger. The history of the holiness of this place is derived from the incident when the 8th century Guru, Padmasmabhava emerged in eight incarnated forms after meditating in one of the caves of the monastery devotedly. Another alluring name is Tenzin Rabgye, who built the temple here in 1692. It has been specified by many authors that Padmasmabhava was reincarnated in form of Tenzin. A plethora of Tibetan saints and eminent figures have come to the Tiger’s Nest to meditate, like Milarepa (1040-1123), Machig Labdron (1055-1145), and Thangton Gyelpo (1385-1464).

The structure of the place is exquisitely comprehensive and emanates senses which gives an absolutely diverse and magnificent experience to the visitors. The monastery buildings consist of four main temples and the residential shelters by acclimatising to the rock ledges, the caves, and the rocky terrain. All the buildings are unified through steps and stairways and all of them have balconies to offer artistic and heavenly views of the valley down below. Tholu Phuk is the name of the cave where Padmasmabhava first entered, and the cave where he meditated is called Pel Phuk. The wooden bridges along the paths just add to the whole enchanted feel of the place.

Bhutan’s GNH Policy

“There is no path to happiness, happiness is the path.” – Gautama Buddha

Bhutan is the abode of happiness, being only country in the world that prioritizes happiness and keeps it above everything else. The Government of Bhutan focuses on one philosophy to function, and that is the level of happiness amongst its people, called the Gross National Happiness. It involves an index which is used to measure the combined happiness of the citizens of the country.

The concept of GNH is something to enthusiastically look forward to for all the other countries as well. The prime realisation and implementation of the thought that real success and the utmost achievements lie in the happiness and the well-being of the citizens of a country is commendable and inspirational. It surely is something that could change the world, a ray of glistening hope for eradicating the atrocities and creating positivity… the big change everyone wishes for. The experiences of the people visiting the country have been extraordinary, many of them confess that a visit to this country has given them a new perspective in life and a new world to look at, with a clear and revitalised vision.

“Gross National Happiness is more important than Gross National product”, said Jigme Singye Wangchuck, the 4th King of Bhutan, during an interview with a British journalist in 1972. That was when the term was actually coined. The first GNH survey was conducted in 2008, followed by a second one in 2010, and the third nationwide survey was conducted in 2015. The GNH Surveys cover all the twenty districts. The results are reported for varying demographic factors such as age, gender, residence, and occupation. Gross National Happiness values the collective happiness of people by amalgamating the importance of nature and traditional values, and accentuating enormously on the same.

Bhutan also has a GNH Screening Tool. It is a system which confirms that all development policies and projects of Bhutan are studied under the concept of GNH. The GNH Screening Tool evaluates, monitors, sets goals and nurtures national awareness about all the conditions that are favourable to the happiness and security of the people, and the nation as a whole. The GNH screening tools can be applied in two phases, at project level and policy level. Generally, it consists of three types: For all ministries and sectors (e.g. good governance), For respective ministries (e.g. education, health), For individual sectors (e.g. youth, employment).

The Gross National Happiness Policy has four pillars and nine domains. The four main pillars of Gross National Happiness are maintainable and justifiable socio-economic development, environmental conservation, protection and advancement of culture, and upright governance. Psychological wellbeing, Health, Education, Time Use, Cultural Diversity, Good Governance, Community Vitality, Ecological Diversity, and Living Standards are its nine domains.

In this rapidly transforming era, the only milestones considered by the humans today are in terms of business of finance, industry, or trade. While focusing on all of this, we forget the basic essence of human life, which is a stabilized and happy mind and lifestyle. The welfare of people is the ultimate path to everyone’s goals. The importance of a healthy mind has to be promoted and encouraged more. With a nourishing approach like the GNH, everyone gets closer to their dream life.