Finding Happiness Bhutan Day 1 is part of the ANA, Take Me ‘Round the World Trip Report.
Relieved that my tour company was not a scam (see How to Book a Trip to Bhutan), I began my journey to find happiness. The first step was to leave Paro, the only city with an international airport, for the capital city of Thimphu. The first sign I saw was ominous and unexpected. It said “We are watching you. Don’t do drugs.” This anti-drug campaign was all over. It is targeted at the growing drug problem among the youth. I was surprised there is a drug problem in a country like Bhutan. I thought of it as a drug-free Disney zone because it is a country that measures wealth based on happiness.
We checked into the hotel. It reminded me of a hotel in Vang Vieng, Laos. It looked like it was quickly constructed to meet the growing tourism demand. Outside there was non-stop construction. Luckily, I couldn’t hear it from my room. The room was decent. It had solid Wi-Fi, a hot shower, CNN International, and a comfortable bed.
The dinner was good but lacked the spice that Bhutan is famous for. This would be a trend throughout the trip. After Day 2, I complained to my tour guide about the bland food. He said that most tourists did not like spice so the hotels and the tourist restaurants served what they thought tourists would enjoy.
TPOL’s TIP: Don’t have meals at the hotels or the tourist pit stops. Make this clear to the tour guides as soon as possible.
The beer, on the other hand, was strong and delightful. I highly recommend the red rice lager.
TPOL’s TIP: Beer isn’t on the menu, so make sure you ask for it.
After a quick nap, we went to the Tashichoedzong, Fortress of Glorious Religion. I was surprised when I saw a golf course right next to the fortress (see Total Consciousness: Golf in Bhutan). Before going to Bhutan, I thought it was a country largely unaffected by the western world. I didn’t think I would find so many bars, hear so much reggaeton, let alone have a golf course right next to the central temple. The same surprise happened in Dubai where the Sheikh Zayed Mosque is right across the street from Dubai Marine, home to many nightclubs and bars (see The Best Nightclubs in the World). It is interesting that one side of the street is spiritual and the other is spirits.
You never know who you’ll meet when you travel. This guy, @TheTurbanTraveller, has driven all over the world, reminding me of my editor, who has pedaled a bicycle all over the world (see Who Is The Most Interesting Man in the World (After TPOL)?).
The Wheel of Life
A little disillusioned by my first impressions, I entered the temple wondering if this Happiness Index was a marketing scam. Then my tour guide explained the Buddhist wheel of life. I’m not going to act as if I have a complete understanding, but what I learned is that humans are all inflicted with a mental disease characterized by three animals: the pig which signifies ignorance, the rooster which signifies desire, and the snake which signifies anger. These three are all connected. One leads to another. As humans, we can only hope to control these. Only the Buddha has conquered these inflictions. Even monks endure to control them.
The proclamation that everything is a continuous struggle made the teachings relatable and applicable. Though Buddhism was created centuries ago, the teachings hold true today.
Back to Tourism
The obligatory photos of the fortress and the temple are necessary for me to appreciate how old these structures are. Entering the temple, photos are not allowed.
TPOL’S TIP: It’s a myth that you can’t step on the step in the entrance of the temple. I was once told that it meant I was stepping on the back of Buddha when I did so. My guide said that the step has a functional purpose. When a stranger would come to the temple, he would step onto the step, and inadvertently hit his head. That would announce his presence.
Downtown is not what I expected. Again, when I thought of Bhutan, I thought quiet and peaceful. I also didn’t think drinking would be prevalent. I was wrong. There are bars after bars and many karaoke places that stay open until the early morning. I was also told that locals like to party hard. All news to me.
Day 1 was full of surprises. Day 1 is in the books.