Happy Together

Tradition meets modernity in the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan

By Kate Siber

Photo by Kate Siber

In my flight out of Paro the next day, while I watched immaculate forests spread beneath us, I wondered how Bhutan might look in five years, whether its strong Buddhist traditions could survive the encroaching Western consumerism, and whether this concept of Gross National Happiness could sustainably see the country into the 21st century. I thought of one afternoon Chencho and I spent hiking to two tiny temples tucked high in the hills outside of Paro. On the way back down, I asked him what he would change about his life.

“Nothing,” he said.

“Nothing?” I asked, incredulously. “You’re perfectly happy?” Everyone wants to change something.

“Yes, perfectly happy.”

“That’s hard to believe.”

“I wouldn’t change a thing. I’m perfectly happy,” he said simply. I wasn’t convinced.

Along the narrow path, we watched schoolboys on their way home, while bent old women carrying loads of rice stalks nodded as we passed. As I watched the afternoon light wane over the lime-green rice paddies, crawling the hills until overtaken by a salad bowl of pines, rhododendrons, and ferns, I thought I began to understand at least one indomitable thread of the spirit of Bhutan’s people. And at that particular moment, I began to believe him.

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Issue 25

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