Bhutan diaries: happiness in smiles, sports and songs.


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In my quest for happiness in Bhutan, I encountered innocence. I didn’t quite go looking for it, I happened to bump into it.

Where? Amidst a playful pandemonium, it blossomed shyly.

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The playground of Jigme Losel Primary school in Thimphu is abuzz with activity. Young lads indulge in an intense football match, while their teacher’s helpless whistles cannot be heard in the din.

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Parents have turned up in huge numbers to cheer for their kids.

As I struggle to find a vacant place in the stands, I notice a pair of cheeky eyes following me. I look at this stalker from the corner of my eye.

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But my stalker isn’t a professional at all. My confrontation is not met with denial, it is met with the cutest, sheepish smile I have ever come across.

My stalker is twinkle eyed 6 year old, whose new found hobby is waving bye to my camera.

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In the corners of this playground, I find the most innocent, playful and genuine smiles.

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Happiness is innocence, bundled in blue and red school uniforms, coupled with bubbling laughter and an infectious enthusiasm.

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In Bhutan I came across a host of true smiles. No not just smiles pasted on lips. Smiles that reached up to the eyes.

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Smiles that were genuine and heartfelt. Smiles that made me smile, involuntarily.

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Spiritual happiness:

I always thought monastic schools housed stoic, young monks who were absorbed in studies, detached from ‘worldly’ distractions.

Nurturing this strong misconception, I enter Thimphu’s Dechen Phodrong Monastery, a monastic school with a Lhakhang (temple).

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Impish grins welcome me.

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It is break time and the scene in front of my eyes can be described perfectly in two words: Disciplined chaos!

Adjusting their deep red robes while battling the breeze, these young monks make sure their 15 minute break is utilized well. Some playfully wrestling, some shying away from cameras, some engaged in cheerful banter.

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The flurry of activity unfolds so many real, candid moments. When they realize I am clicking them, some pose with a stylish swag!

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Some hide their coy smiles.

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No, I do not ask them to pose for me.

I sneak in to capture their unadulterated smiles, unaffected by the knowledge of someone watching them.

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The bell rang and they all retreat to their classrooms.

In those fleeting moments, I realize how ‘disciplined’ their spiritual happiness is. Calm, unruffled, balanced happiness stemming from pure joy. No, not the joy of being clicked by a stranger, the joy of a full 15 minute break.

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The love for sports:

The cheers outside Changlimithang stadium, intrigued the cricket lover in me as I saw scores of men wearing the traditional ‘gho’ huddled together.

The crowd cleared a little and I saw the cutest game I have ever witnessed: Archery.

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Chewing ‘doma’ (betel nut), these men have their eyes focused on the ‘other end’. (read: other as something that looks half a kilometer away).

The archer knows what he’s doing. With brimming confidence he steps ahead, lifts the bow, breathes in, focuses at his ‘aim’, (I wonder how he can even see it!), pulls the arrow and in a flash the arrow whizzes by, while I am left blinking my eyes.

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Its a bullseye! How do I know? I see them all jumping and dancing. The celebration is amusing, yet adorable!

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Archery is Bhutan’s national sport and is a part of their everyday life. Small tournaments are held in every village and town.

More than a mere sport, it is often seeing as a social event, with singing, dancing and celebration. The bows are traditionally made out of bamboo and targets are made of wood, colorfully painted.

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There are teams on either side, howling and shouting. I am curious to know what this is about. Mr. Dorjee, the stadium facilitator, explains that most teams distract their opponents by teasing them and mocking their shooting capabilities.

He chuckles, “Traditional archery also involves a lot of Ara! (Local Bhutanese alcohol)”

As bamboo arrows whiz by from one end to the other, Doma smeared lips break into grins. The archer has missed the Karey (target) and the opponents rejoice, singing and breaking into a dance.

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Its not frenzied happiness. Nor delirious cheering. But the passion for the sport is heartwarming!

Besides, archery, darts and football are also played actively.

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The Thimphu Football League

Happiness is waking up early to not miss a local sport you have never seen before. Quietly choosing your favorite player because you like his ‘gho’ for some insane reason.

Not understanding the game at all, yet cheering seeing them cheer.

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Songs and Dance:

I always wanted to see a Tsechu in a Dzong. Tsechus are dance festivals held annually at various districts across Bhutan.

These social gatherings draw huge crowds especially for their Cham dance performances. (Masked lamas in colorful attire, recreating incidents from Padmasambhava’s life).

There wasn’t any Tsechu happening anytime soon and Mr. Pradhan, the cordial owner of Hotel Sambhav in Thimphu was gracious enough to organize a special show for us.

A group of six dancers took centre stage and performed nine different forms of Traditional Bhutanese dances.

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Accompanied by instruments like the Dramnyen (Lute), the Chewang (the fiddle), the Lym ( bamboo flute), the graceful dancers sung and danced filling the room with an air of infectious energy.

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Starting with Joenpa Legso (a welcome dance), the troupe changed costumes within minutes for the Mask dance (Drametse Ngacham), performed with drums and cymbals, wearing masks of different animals.

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While the girls mesmerized by singing the classical bhutanese song : Zhungdra, the boys enthralled the audience with the Dance of the Gings, also called the drum dance (wooden masks of leopards and tigers worn).

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It was a color burst, vibrant costumes, melodious songs and energetic dancing. The 2 hour performance transported us to remote villages where people perform dances to show how they weave cloth from wool and to Eatern Bhutan where people dance while pounding the soil during construction of a traditional bhutanese house.

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As they skillfully swirled, in perfect harmony, their zest for life came alive. Evident in every step. It was infectious, because it creeped into the audience and five minutes later everyone was a Bhutanese, dancing away, hardly knowing any step.

The Bhutanese love to sing and dance. No, not just dance troupes nor archers, even the locals.

Ask for an impromptu dance on a cantilever bridge and a group of youngsters oblige. It isn’t the local bhutanese dance, but hip hop!

Under a starry sky, local boys, Sajan and Tanden sing away Hindi songs, peppy Bollywood numbers and slow romantic tracks.

They pull in people to dance with them as if inviting everyone to share their favorite meal.

Happiness is singing a Karaoke with a Bhutanese guy on a Hindi Song, where you fumble with the words, but he doesn’t.

When I started searching Happiness in Bhutan, I never realized how it caught onto me, without a warning.

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Like what I was seeking, was already seeking me.

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The Bhutanese do not do an ostentatious show of happiness.

Their happiness is simple. It is content. And without a doubt, it is contagious.

Gorgeous smiles from the Land of the Thunder Dragon:

 

 

How much ever I would like to believe that this was the district court guard’s childhood picture, it isnt!Β 

 

 

 

 

82 thoughts on “Bhutan diaries: happiness in smiles, sports and songs.

  1. Happiness is all they will share with you – the smiles say it all! Loved this post of yours. Best one from Bhutan yet πŸ˜€

  2. Glad to see so many smiles around – that they reached upto their eyes speaks a lot about their happiness quotient.

    Your journey excites me to visit Bhutan, for there seems to be innocence and a chosen way of life there!

  3. Don’t know whether the unassuming, unpretentious smiles here or the natural captures of those moments or the beautiful lines that go with it – whatever it is – loving it all!

  4. Divyakshi , thanks for the beautiful Bhutanese smiles…..I was looking for one particular dimpled smile..and there it was.. ..! Brought back beautiful memories of Bhutan and my very talented new friend…you…these memories made me smile…..I remember your melodious singing..keep going girl..you are a bundle of talent.

    1. Thanks so so much Cynthia, for being a wonderful travel companion, covering up for me (dimpled guard;) , the jive, all the cooking conversations, the crazy shopping, the Masala chai and the onion pakodas and a lot more! πŸ™‚

      Thanks so much for everything. Meet you real soon πŸ™‚ hugs!

  5. Oh wow, I teared a little when I saw your photos. Such innocence, happiness, and genuine too! We, urban folks, how do we look like? We are frowning, looking glum, and hesitating to smile freely for afraid of people taking advantage of us πŸ™ Thanks for sharing with us Divsi – a great reminder to us to prioritise the key things about life – be happy and smile! πŸ™‚

    1. I love the way you interpreted the post Kat. My intention of the happiness series is exactly this. To stop, pause and see how a small neighbouring country harbours happiness in such simple ways, by being close to nature. I am so glad you got it!
      Thanks again πŸ™‚

  6. Seeing the beautiful cheer and smile on all the faces young and old I can imagine how special this country is. Lovely pictures and interesting write-ups make for a great post. Thank you πŸ™‚

  7. Awesome post.. Loved the write up and the pics are pure joy to look at. Specially the dimpled one πŸ™‚ Thank you dear, I was transported back to Bhutan.

  8. Brilliant photos as always πŸ™‚ Those little children are SO adorable and look genuinely happy. Bhutan truly looks like another world. Photos of the dance remind me of a similar spectacle I had watched in a Buddhist monastery in Kathmandu. I am sure there were some Bhutanese monks participating there too, but it was mostly Tibetans and Nepali Buddhists. I think Bhutanese share the most heritage (language, culture, religion) with the Tibetans. Excellent post! I enjoyed reading it.
    Pooja

    1. Thanks Pooja! Yes, I felt like getting them back home with me;) absolute munchkins! Indeed, Bhutan seems an out worldly nation. Yes , the resemblance with the Tibetan culture is uncanny. I would love to read about the dance if you have documented it. Glad you liked the post:)

  9. This is a very very happy post . Thanks for capturing those innocent smiles. It left me smiling by the end of the post and also left some insight into the lives of these people. Great Post

  10. What a cheerful place you just portrayed…the dancers looked a bit serious but maybe that was the mood they wanted to convey. Three cheers for smiles!

  11. I couldn’t help smiling all along as I browsed through. It’s a greatest blessing of this human life to smile and share the joy that we carry in our hearts with one another. One of the best people I know who could have captured the “real essence” of the smiles is you and you did it, you brought the joy of innocence home. I felt a surge of happiness in my heart, Divsi. This was so beautiful <3

  12. The seventh photo from the top. How did you make the gentleman smile? When our group was around, this gentleman was hiding his face behind a paper. You must have carried some magic wand with you!

  13. Beautiful pictures of beautiful people of a beautiful country. Loved the aura of cheerfulness that permeates all the pics. No wonder Bhutan is the happiest country in all of Asia. <3 πŸ™‚

  14. The people are really beautiful πŸ™‚ There is a happiness and serene calm to their faces. Bhutan is on my list – hopefully end of this year I will manage a trip.

  15. Funny, the whole time I was reading your stories and looking at the images, I was smiling. Thank you for making my day just a little bit better. The world is a better place because of photographers like you going out into the corners of the world to discover and experience life.

  16. Hey & its a formal “hello” from the Awkward Earthling :))
    Firslty, “this was wow” and let me put it straight – No exxageration here..
    Because it touched me.. I mean a personal touch to a travel post πŸ™‚ Normally it doesnt execute so well..
    This is the first post I am reading of yours & thus following you right away !! Gonna devour your space soon..
    Stay blessed & bring us more stories from the far off lands..
    And let the winds brighten your smiles :))

  17. these portraits are adorable, Divsi, some truly genuine happy smiles there… I know little of Bhutan, but it looks so fascinating in your photos… thanks for sharing!! β™₯

  18. Lovely smiles you have captured! πŸ™‚ So many smiles and happiness around.

    Your lines enhance the pictures you took. πŸ™‚

    1. Thanks so much Peta πŸ™‚ I am glad you liked it πŸ™‚ yes Bhutan gets pricey for foreign nationals except Indians and Bangladeshis. But it’s totally worth it! πŸ™‚

  19. There sure seems to be quite an innocence among the Bhutani people not seen in most countries around the world. And I for sure can make this out from your lovely pics and posts :). Looks like happiness seems to be a way of life there.

  20. Lovely Post. Thanks for delving deeper into Bhutanese life and culture and bringing it in front of us. Bhutan is so peaceful and naturally beautiful a place. Perhaps, that’s the main source of their happiness. I found them modest and honest and loved Bhutanese songs,too…. very melodious! πŸ™‚

  21. Wonderful Photo spread. I like the way you have captured the smiles of Bhutan. Ironically, I ended up clicking mostly grumpy kids pictures in the happiest nation of the world! Haha.Though I did get some cool happy shots. Bhutan is a fairyland and I am itching to go back again.

  22. The smiles got to me. So cute and welcoming. Innocence can be witnessed in those smiles.
    I liked the pictures of children wearing crocs and the archery game with the dressing style of locals surely made me think of how they see life and how they enjoy it with such grace. Wonderful collection of pictures. It must have been tough to decide which pictures to keep for this post, hai na?

  23. Read your post at the right time as I am going there next month in a total backpacking style.
    I have read so many articles in Bhutan and your’s way of description is one of the best. Going to read your next blogs as well about bhutan.

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