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Bhutan – On the world map of happiness

Bhutan or ‘Druk Yul’ – Land of the Thunder Dragon – as the locals call it, is where the Nature Knights, an eco-adventure club from Mumbai, took a trip to. At the eastern end of the Himalayas, the Knights never imagined that this beautiful country would be just as picturesque and breathtaking as the catalogues showed. The group, which prides in being “zero tolerant” to garbage and ensures that at every trip it “leaves only foot prints behind and takes memories back with it”, was happy to see that Bhutan not only maintains the country’s beauty by enforcing civic responsibilities but also makes sure that the new infrastructure does not harm or disfigure the heritage of the place.

Coming from India, the first thing that Asif, founder of Nature Knights, saw was the instantaneous change in the degree of cleanliness and organisation. Bhutan, separated from Nepal by Sikkim on the west and from Bangladesh by West Bengal on the south, is strikingly different from its neighbours in terms of clean surroundings.

A global survey, World Map of Happiness, conducted by the University of Leicester in 2006, has rated Bhutan the happiest country in Asia and the eighth-happiest in the world after its untouched rich and unique cultural heritage. This unspoiled and virgin natural environment and rich cultural heritage, isolated from the rest of the world, has earned the title of being the ‘The Last Shangri-la’. Cities as well as the country-side still retain their greenery and the age old culture of singing folk-tales that are embedded with multi-layered meanings of moral and social importance are still upheld in daily life. The cities are well planned and any new construction has to blend with the existing buildings and landscapes. People wanting to build new houses are allotted separate plots for construction, thereby not hampering or demolishing the existing heritage structures.

The cities have brilliant functional water management systems that ensure that every household has enough supply of water. Even the prayer bells along the country side and in the monasteries use hydraulics from flowing streams to keep running continuously. The Nature Knights team, which usually accepts the hospitality of any of the locals and visits their house for a meal, was impressed with the importance given to general hygiene even by children. Children as young as three or four years old were aware of the importance of washing their hands before and after food and keeping their surroundings and their play area clean. Not one rough paper or rubbish is thrown out of the window. Spitting in public is prohibited and anyone caught doing so is fined. Urinating in public is the worst offence anyone could commit and offenders are subjected even to a few days of jail!

To the surprise and horror of Nature Knights, even driving had to be undertaken with caution. In the event of water from potholes splashing on a passer-by while driving through, one could be fined. The team therefore had to ensure that there was no one anywhere close to a pothole while its jeep went over it.

The government had earlier put a ban on hawking, but after a discussion with the local representatives who explained the status of poverty and their dependence on the small trade for their livelihood, the King allows hawkers to put-up small outlets outside their houses and on the streets with the pre-condition that they maintain the place and keep it clean and hygienic.

The local diet includes a lot of butter and cheese from yaks and cows. Actually most of the milk is turned to butter and cheese. They even have a popular drink called butter tea! Rice, buckwheat, and maize are accompanied with pork, beef, yak meat, chicken and mutton as a staple diet. Discreetly, in spite of cold climate, any form of tobacco sale is banned and offenders could face life behind bars.

All in all, the Bhutanese follow the matriarchal system and lineage but accept polygamy. Having learnt this, the Nature Knights team has decided to form an all-male team for its next visit to The Last Shangri-la.

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