Bhutan modernises…with soul intact (IANS Travel, With Images)

March 22nd, 2011 - 1:32 pm ICT by IANS  

Paro (Bhutan), March 22 (IANS) Colourful wooden windows, intricate work on roof railings and paintings of tigers, snakes and dragons adorn the walls of most homes. Pointing to a new concrete house architecturally similar to the old ones made of mud, Bhutanese tourism official Namgay Tenzin says, “We are modernising, not Westernising.”

“We Bhutanese believe in preserving our culture and heritage. So we are changing, but at the same time we know where to draw the line. Our outlook is modern and we are trying to incorporate changes in our lives without compromising on our beliefs,” he tells this visiting IANS correspondent.

This is the changing face of Bhutan, popularly known as “The Land of the Thunder Dragon”, a country of 700,000 people that is now actively promoting itself as a tourist destination to spur economic development.

Life glides at a luxuriously slow pace. Roads are not wide, but no one is complaining as no one is in a tearing hurry to overtake. There is no honking or traffic lights - one has all the time in the world to appreciate the picturesque Himalayan mountains and beautiful flowers.

It was only in the 1970s that Bhutan opened up to outsiders as it had always been anxious to protect its indigenous Buddhist culture, landlocked as it is between China and India.

If one is seeking solace and looking out for some peace of mind, Bhutan is the place to be, with its philosophy of “Gross National Happiness” (GNH) - an attempt to measure the quality of life of a country, and not just its Gross Domestic Product.

In fact, the moment one lands at the airport in Paro, the pollution-free, fresh air makes one realise how small things can contribute to the overall happiness of mind, body and soul. Paro is 65 km from Bhutan’s capital Thimphu.

Bhutanese life is firmly intertwined with tradition. Hence, 95 percent of the population wears the traditional dress - the knee-length wraparound ‘gho’ for men, who pair it with knee-length socks, and ‘kira’, the ankle-length dress for women.

They proudly carry their outfits and climb hilly terrain, play football and do household chores with ease.

“We will never give up on it. We have been wearing it since we started going to school; so being uncomfortable in it is out of question. Do you feel uncomfortable in a sari?” Pem Tshoki, a woman who lives in Paro, asks me.

This traditional outfit is worn in schools, colleges, government offices and other work places. Over the years, the outfit has been influenced by fashion trends, especially Kira. The blouse has been tweaked a bit and pepped up with a more contemporary style.

For those who have visited Ladakh and Sikkim, Bhutan has stark resemblances to these Indian areas as far as arid mountains, monasteries and the roads are concerned.

The houses too have preserved their traditional architecture.

“Now we are making houses of stones and concrete, but the architecture remains the same. This is mandatory because this will help us in preserving our culture,” says Jurmi Chhowing, a design student in Thimphu.

But more than the roads, houses and landscape, it’s the pace of life in Bhutan which is its most enchanting facet. There are no malls or multiplexes and people prefer to wile away time playing carrom in the afternoon or practising archery - their national sport.

The country teaches that there is more to life than just chasing superficial happiness at the cost of human emotions. One gets a taste of a radically different lifestyle and witnesses how people are opening up to the world without compromising with their traditions.

The solace one finds in this peaceful environment is priceless.

A good way to head for a holiday in the beautiful region is to book your tickets with MakeMyTrip’s new chartered flights inclusive of holiday packages for Bhutan. The exclusive package will be available during April-July. The package starts at Rs.33,000 per person for seven days.

Bhutan is an all-weather destination. Spring and summer are good to get a closer look at the flora and fauna of the country, while autumn is considered good for trekking.

Places to visit in Thimphu - Buddha Dordenma, a 169-ft tall Buddha statue; Takin Sanctuary; and Changangkha Lhakhang, one of the oldest temples in Bhutan.

In Paro, tourists should make it a point to see Taktsang Monastery, a popular trekking destination that is also known as Tiger’s Nest; and Chela Le pass.

How to reach from India: Besides MakeMyTrip’s chartered flights from next month, Druk Air operates from Delhi, Kolkata and Guwahati. Or by road from Assam or West Bengal.

(Shilpa Raina can be contacted at shilpa.r@ians.in)

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