As our teeny tiny Druk Air flight came barreling into the Thimphu airport runway, we banked left to narrowly avoid a giant mountain and with a nerve-wrecking "thud" we had arrived. The heart was pumping again.
Over the past ten years the world has been swept with a level of sameness that, while in many ways has driven the quality of life up the world over, has also meant an obsession with economic "growth" to the detriment of local culture, customs, history, and norms. Yet here, in the tiny Kingdom of Bhutan, the focus has remained on one thing - happiness. So much so that the nation has actually developed a mathematical algorithm to calculate gross national happiness, or GNH. It is all anyone seems to talk about and yo rare swept up by it almost immediately.
No one is in a rush. Immigration happens slowly but surely, always with a smile. The baggage carousel seems to spin a little bit slower and even though most Bhutanese are arriving with big screen televisions from Thailand, they don't seem all that fussed by them. The ATM insists that you "put happiness first" when withdrawing cash. The speed limit on the FREEWAY is 50kph (35mph). There is not a single traffic light in the entire country.
As we reach the capital city I assume we are pulling into a farm town to refuel or something. Every building must be built in traditional Bhutanese style to maintain harmony. There are absolutely no chain restaurants because "what is happy about that," I am asked. I feel as if I have stepped into the world's last bastion of pure humanity.
Just when you think it couldn't get any more bizarre, we learn we just had dinner with the King's cousin. "Oh, the royal family is very low key. No ego, more happy," they say. I'm feeling overwhelmed in a brilliant way. There is still more world to see. There are places that haven't turned into Mcadonalds KFC shopping malls. There is still something to be learned from other cultures, people, and places. It seems my lesson this next ten days is to tap into that happiness quotient. It should be easy with no distractions.
For now, I just need to get my biker gear ready. Tomorrow we are cruising through the Himalayas with the Dragon Riders, Bhutans answer to The Hell's Angels. There mission statement is to ride away "spreading peace" and delivering food and necessities to those in need. Is this place for real?