Surviving Druk Air and Discovering Gross National Happiness

I am standing in a long queue at Heathrow airport, arrived early thinking I’ll check in then go and find a nice coffee before spraying myself with a selection of scents in duty free that I will regret for the rest of the journey, in short a relaxing travel experience. However the computers have stopped working and it’s chaos. Hours go by and I am still in a queue. There are problems with visas, I wave a piece of paper I have been given that I was assured would explain everything to a nonplussed and deeply harassed lady in a crisp airline suit. This is the start of my journey to Bhutan, not an easy place to get to so it would seem!

But arrive I do, after 10 hours sleeping on a floor in Delhi airport, more visa issues and a flight across the Himalayas that resulted in the air stewardess of Druk air turning quite green for a worrying amount of time and me trying to remember if I had written a will!

I came to Bhutan to work on an Arts and Music festival held across Thimphu (The capital.) I had pre-conceived ideas of how my time would be spent when not working in blissful meditation on green hillsides in the nation that rates the national happiness of the country as it’s maker for success.

Sometimes the universe has a different plan with what’s in store for us often far greater than our imaginations can conceive. I did indeed find the strong connection with Buddhism that permeates the country, schools and hillsides, but more unexpectedly I also found a thriving rock scene! On my first night there freshly off the plane of death I found myself in a heaving bar drinking Druk lager and listening to a local band play ‘Rage against the Machine.’ So the theme of my stay in Bhutan was set.

The Bhutanese wear their traditional dress, the Gho for the men and Kira for the women, with the occasional western clothes thrown in at all times. Giving the country a dignified feel as fabrics peppered with golds and regal greens and reds fill the streets and countryside.

In Bhutan, weaving is not merely a skill, it is a ritual of love and tenacity that comes from the heart.

Over half of Bhutan’s population is involved in weaving during the year. Cloth is integral to every aspect of Bhutanese culture, enmeshed in social hierarchy, wealth, political rank, and commerce. The gentle whir and thump of traditional back strap looms harmonizes with the sounds of daily life, from rushing river valleys to Himalayan foothills.

Weaving is also a religious act in Bhutan’s Buddhist culture, with colour and pattern selection amounting to forms of spiritual exercise or devotion. Many Bhutanese weavers use silk from wild silkworms, but Buddhism’s mandate of non-violence prohibits killing any fellow living creature, so the worms are allowed to escape.

When it came to buying fabrics for this collection I am guided by a friend I have made, he has recently split up from his girlfriend and feeling the delicious sadness that we have all felt at sometime or another. He insists that food is the only thing that will cheer him up and I am ushered down a small street up a selection of stairs to a dimly lit room to be presented with the hottest dishes I have ever encountered. I soon realise that it was not the food that my friend required for his return from heart break to happiness as much as laughing at me as I sweated my way through one chilli laden dish after another. He does however take me to the best selection of fabrics to be found in the city and I spend hours discovering the rich textiles I now associate with Bhutan. As dusk falls we leave the string of tiny shops and weavers houses behind he turns to me ‘Dinner?’ he suggests, ‘Huumm’ I say!


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