Two and a half hours after taking off from the busy, humid streets in Thailand’s capital city, through the breaking cloud and fog, we began to see green, and lots of it. As the plane continues its descent between the Himalayan peaks, splashes of colour appear amongst the endless blanket of trees. First the red and white of monasteries, then cows, and finally people and dogs are visible wandering along the terraced hillside paddies and pastures. It’s at this point that I start to feel that the flight’s reputation as a highly nerve racking experience is well deserved. But for me, it was one of the most thrilling sight-seeing tours that I could imagine- and our trip had only just begun. As we land in Paro, we are greeting by a large poster featuring the bright smiling faces of the current, and previous four Kings. I saw this as appropriate, given that Bhutan is the magical Kingdom where the pursuit of ‘happiness’ is seen as a national priority.
Almost two years later, my husband and I will return once again to this incredible place- to live and work for a year. Now, sitting on a train just before 6am on what will be my last, much less thrilling journey between Geneva and Paris after two and a half years of commuting, I am more certain than ever that we’ve taken the right decision.
Shortly after getting married, I took a job a great job in Paris- and as much as I love my work, my colleagues, and the city, there is something about the ringing of my alarm at 5pm on Monday mornings, getting home at the end of a long week after 22:00, and experiencing one of the ‘most romantic cities in the world’ without my husband, that I certainly won’t miss.
With both of us passionate about our work, the decision to move apart for a time was an easy one, but the debate about where to move back together was not all that easy. Finding the ideal job in our respective fields in the same city, or even the same country, is not obvious. We’re certainly not the only professional couple that has experienced this common conundrum, but after living on the rails between two wonderful cities, it was time to find some common ground. The question was where…
It was a year after our wedding that we took our first trip to Bhutan as a belated honeymoon, but it was only after about two days in this beautiful Himalayan Kingdom that it was unanimously decided. Over dinner one night in an empty hotel just outside Thimphu (Bhutan’s capital city), we began to map out our life in Bhutan, which included a traditional house, a Bhutanese mountain dog (officially known as Bhutia sheepdogs), and of course touring bikes to explore the country along its few paved roads. We were not sure how, but we were certain that we would find a way to make it back to live and work in this wonderful place. Almost two years later, what was then just a sketch in our minds, has quite suddenly become an imminent reality.
With a population of about 740,000 nestled amongst some of the highest unclimbed peaks in the world, Bhutan makes for a combination of the things we love most: vast untouched mountains, unlimited opportunity for adventure, fresh mountain air, peace, quiet, and a rich history and culture.
The adventure in Bhutan this time around will go far beyond the mountains and trekking we experienced during our honeymoon. Aside from the country’s natural beauty and calm, its political history is like none other that we know, leaving us with an incredible curiosity to learn more. With the powerful giants of China to its North, and India to the South, the fact that this tiny country remains on the map is in itself an amazing feat. The thing that fascinates us most though, is their innovative approach to environmental preservation and balanced economic development. Given that we both spend most of our professional energy thinking about ways to make the world more sustainable, it’s in a way not surprising that we were intrigued to learn more…
To highlight a few of many facts that captivated our curiosity:
- In 1972, the former King, Jigme Singye Wangchuck, declared famously that the country would measure progress, not by seeking to enhance GDP, but by focusing on the ‘ Gross National Happiness’ of the country and its people;
- Its constitution includes unprecedented environmental measures, with such requirements as the necessity to preserve 62% of the country under forest cover at all times. Currently, it maintains a rate of about 72%;
- It was also the last country in the world to introduce television- in 1999. As two people who don’t own a television, this certainly has appeal…
While Bhutan has one of the smallest economies in the world, we see it as a world leader in the implementation of forward looking policy design. As much as we hope to share our expertise with Bhutan in helping them achieve their policy goals through our work there- in reality, I think we’ll take much more from them in learning, than what we’ll be able to leave behind.
Every country has its challenges, and I’m certain that we’ll experience many of them once on the ground, but for the moment, we are simply basking in the excitement of moving to what we see as an idyllic country that will teach us so much.
By: Antonia Gawel