The Thunder Dragon Pursuing Happiness

Bhutan is a cheeky country, promoting the philosophy of Gross National Happiness. They dilligently measure this elusive emotion, standing taller than David preaching to a Golliath world that aquiring material things does not lead to joy.

Since 1971, the King and parliament base their nation’s happiness on spirituality and physical need fullfillment. For survival, humans require protection from the elements, food, and good health. Nothing greater occurs unless these basic needs are met.

Free health care and free education were giant steps in this little Asian land. Bhutan is successful at this, but the United States fails. I’m ashamed of my homeland and the political dung heap we allow to fester.

Having spiritual fullfillment is easy when 75% of Bhutan is Bhuddhist.  During my visit I saw people of all ages begining their day at the local Bhuddist Stupa, spinning prayer wheels and fingers slipping over mantra beads. Their faith is strong. Their commitment to compassion for all beings is impressive, rising with a sun hazy with curling incense smoke. Young couples believe in the power of prayer, dropping elderly parents at the temple in the morning. Their post retirement job is to beseach God for compassion IMG_0015and abundance for every life. This is a serious and endless mission. IMG_0020

The King took another leap in 2007 by demanding a parliamentary democracy and he entered his country into the United Nations. Sandwiched like a  rare piece of prime rib between the white rice of China and India, local politics remain a high wire trapeze act without a safety net.

China already took some of the northern proviences and their request to place three highways through Bhutan to access India were quickly denied. An uneasy silence remains. Out of necessity, this tiny country with a big heart dances economically with India. Fear is expressed candidly.

“What will happen if China decides to invade us, as they did in Tibet?” Our guide held no illusions. “Will the United Nations protect us? We don’t think so, because we don’t produce anything great nations need.”  He believed that the majority of adults in Bhutan wouldn’t know the difference living under a communist China.

But this land of a dragon licking seven wishing jewelsIMG_7421 is on the cusp of change. Through education of a large young population, Bhutan is entering the twenty-first century with lightning speed. The question is: Can they keep their brightest minds living at home and not escaping abroad for higher paying jobs? 

I really admire the King for addressing this issue as well. I’ve never seen a country so full of pride about their heritage or a greater love for their King and Queen. There is a national dress code for all workers. Men wear a traditional robe called a Gho and women were a dress (Kira) topped by beautiful jackets.

The edict intends to bolster national pride and culture. It’s working. I went to a local festival near the capital city of Thimphu in a downpour of rain that didn’t stop anyone from tromping through the mud and dressing in their finest.


Forced Exodus in Bhutan (Barking Dog Bites)

Every Country slips to the dark side when a leader can’t see how the chess move plays out down the line. Innocent families get killed over misconceived notions.  Violence escalates and the land becomes embattled in civil war.

From 1989-2004, Bhutan entered into a time of terror. With large Nepali and East Indian populations, the Bhutanese feared for survival of cultural and political control.  The King, (k-4, father of the current King) mobilized the army and police for removal of all Nepali and Indian illegal aliens. Many of these supposed squatters were third generation, born in Bhutan, with no other homeland.IMG_0071

Over 80,000 people were rounded up and forced to sign papers stating that they renounced their land. they were warned to leave and to never return. It’s interesting to note that India helped Bhutan at the southern border by grabbing the refugees and plunking them into Nepal. India didn’t want this problem in their country.

Nepal refused to allow the displaced families work visas and the United Nations stepped in to open seven refugee camps.

Back in Bhutan, a dress code was entered into law. Everyone must wear Bhutanese traditional clothing and speak Drukpas. Teaching languages (other than English) in school was eliminated. The King was dilligently removing diversity.

Of course, there was resistance, which turned from peaceful demonstrations to full-out terrorist attacks.  Bombings occurred in the capital, Thimbu. The government retaliated with physical and mental abuse. People disappeared and the mystery remains.  Online I found a list from a refuge camp of 52 names presumed dead, but the real numbers are not known two decades later. Details are buried in time and the land taken isn’t available any longer (per the prime minister).
IMG_0079Flash back to 2003 when the south of Bhutan faced Indian separatist groups who set up heavily armed terrorist camps filled with guerilla soldiers.  Negotiations were attempted, but fell apart. By January 3, 2004 over thirty camps were “eliminated”. Those who live by the sword, truly died by the sword.

World news at the time focused on Afghanistan, Iran and Iraq  where ethnic cleansing rivaled Adolf Hitler.  This allowed King Wangchuck secrecy for a time. But we are all held accountable at the end of the day.

With mounting questions, Father King abdicated at the young age of 50 and placed his 29 year-old son (Jigme Wangchuck) on the throne in 2006. It was a brilliant move to end the discussion. Junior was educated in the United States and England with a firm foundation of democracy and an astute understanding of the political playing field. Luckily, he is adored by his people and respected by other world leaders. Approximately 25% of the population in Bhutan today is of other ethnic groups, but they all must comply with the cultural rules or suffer shunning. They have no identity of their own. IMG_0081

One of the four Mother Queens commissioned 108 Holy Stupas to be built at the top of 10,000 foot Dachula Pass. This number is auspicious, and dedicated to all who died in the conflicts. This often foggy, moody place also has a beautiful temple on the highest spot.


In the meantime, over 60,000 refugees in the Nepal camps have been relocated to the United States, Britain, Australia, the Netherlands, Norway, Canada, Denmark, and New Zealand. Although there is never a good excuse for force against another, I hope these survivors now face a better life with greater opportunities. I pray for their peace, unending happiness and prosperity.

Outrage over injustice must be aimed at any country doing harm to any ethnic group. When I was in Bhutan the begining of October, the Tibet border was closed by the Chinese as thier removal of native Buddhists continues and incoming Chinese citizens take their land. Refugee camps in Nepal are overflowing.

Back in the United States, President Trump is recommending similar measures that King Wangchuck enacted with removal of  illegal aliens who have children and grandchildren born here. Supremacy and ethnic purity is not what this country teethed on.  I’m hopeful he learns about Bhutan’s lesson, because our population of immigrants–legal or not– have far reaching consequences. A similar event in the US would make Bhutan look like a cake walk.

 Namaste. Let me greet the goodness within you. IMG_7658