Bhutan at her best, and for good reasons…

I am often given to understand that I am too naïve to look only at the brighter side of the world and merrily ignore the other side of reality. But even in the dreary nights of despair, I know that with all its imperfections, the world is still a good place, and despite all its aches and afflictions, life is still beautiful and precious – worth-preserving and worth-celebrating.  I am not blind to the other side. But I cannot miss the obvious.

At a time like the present when the whole world is reeling under unrelenting agony and devastation unleashed by the scourge of Covid-19 and unmitigated misery caused by man-made catastrophes and natural calamities, it is ever so easy to give in to despair and despondency. At the same time, there are countless men and women of goodwill around the world who give their all and bring relief and respite to those in need.

Back home, Bhutan is writing a new epic of heroism and sacrifice through the personal examples of a People’s King who has transformed the conventional notion of monarchy and majesty into a supreme instrument of public service and national well-being. In one lone royal Kupar of our beloved Druk Gyalpo Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, sitting on a wooden bench under a frontier outpost and having a frugal lunch, are woven heart-melting stories of numberless risk-fraught travels of our extraordinary King who has committed His all for the safety and welfare of His people.

This precious Jewel of the Himalayas holds sacred treasures as the Awakened Buddha and the Second Buddha and the Zhabdrung have given us. It holds precious treasures as the great Wangchuck Dynasty has gifted us. Each successive Wangchuck King has been a builder, reformer and consolidator of rare vision and courage and invested the sacred Throne with unparalleled dignity and majesty – rare in monarchical traditions in the world. They have each been in a royal league of their own as true embodiments of Servant Kings.

Despite the lurking fear and large fallout of the pandemic, these Covid-times have witnessed the best of Bhutan in myriad ways. Thanks to the sustained prayers presided over by His Holiness Chyabje Rinpoche for the well-being of our Tsawa-sum and the world, the whole country has turned into a veritable temple of worship right from the advent of the dreaded virus over a year ago. It was indeed a rare privilege for the people and frontline warriors to meet our revered Drukgyal Zhipa as His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck took an ordinary Hilux to travel to the perilous south to provide succour and strength at a difficult time.

Her Majesty our beloved Queen has been deeply involved in looking after the well-being of the frontline workers and vulnerable groups throughout these challenging times. Members of the Royal Family have been making their own special contributions, including by serving as de-suup, to the national effort. All sections of the Bhutanese society, at home and beyond, have joined the Royal Government and continue to make their inputs as it fights the spread of the invisible enemy.

As desired by His Majesty the King, no human life has been lost to the virus, barring one with pre-existing conditions. Isolation episodes have fluctuated between zero and around 300 at peak, recovery rates are very high and the overall infection cases are under 1500, the vast majority of them being imported. Tracing, testing, quarantining, treatment, accommodation, food and transportation are undertaken by the government at state-cost. Hardly any case is allowed to slip through the cracks. Our dedicated de-suups and security personnel keep constant vigil on the borders and across the country as our committed healthcare professionals and support teams attend to the needy. Some 95 percent of all eligible citizens have received the first dose of the vaccine within two weeks.

Chartered flights are organised by the government for all Bhutanese who wish to return home from abroad, including those undergoing medical treatment outside Bhutan. Financial support is provided to those rendered jobless as well as interest-waivers to the ones who have bank-loan burden. Farming activities are booming, skills development initiatives are picking up, and villages are returning to life again. Tourism and construction sectors have faced major setbacks but they could bounce back quickly once the pandemic is behind us. In the meanwhile, goodwill and support from our bilateral and international partners have been deeply heartening.

In many ways, this a rare high point in the life of our beloved country. In the course of this past year, Bhutan has come together as a family under the extraordinary leadership of His Majesty the King; the Royal Government and the people have rallied round a common cause; and there has been a spontaneous manifestation of amazing goodwill, abundant positive energy, and a most heartening spirit of caring and sharing across the society. Bhutan at Her Best: Sunrays through the rain reflects the country’s response to Covid-19 through the eyes of a wide cross-section of the Bhutanese population and Bhutan-watchers.

This is how we call up the outer and the inner self of the nation and weave its collective memory and build our shared history and pass these on to succeeding generations to do their part in the forging of our common destiny. Mother Nature’s boundless grace and generosity are written over in the breath-taking beauty of our incredible country that is home to an amazing variety of flora and fauna, nourished and freshened by life-giving mountain-air and suckled by the gift of our silver-streams that gurgle down our snow-capped mountains to water our fields and turn our turbines below.

And, we have the blessings of the peerless Buddha etched in the myriad monasteries and lhakhangs that edify our land, in the prayer-flags and mantra-banners that stretch from hill to hill, and in the mani-walls and sacred objects that invoke the power of the divine for the gift of life beyond life. Then, here are the human of the species, blessed citizens of Bhutan who call this god-gifted land their home and animate it with their hopes and their dreams, their faith and fealty, with their capacity for wonder and for creativity.  

And, where in the world would there be kings who stake their all for the well-being of their people but in the land favoured by the divine as Druk Yul? Remember the Father of Modern Bhutan who would travel incognito to find out His people’s predicament, the King of Destiny who led the army and saved the country from grave danger, and witness the sacrifices of the People’s King who serves with love and leads by example.

This moment in Druk Yul could mark a turning point in its destiny. It is not always that kinder skies arch over nations and align their lucky stars as we have now with the sublime presence of a saintly Chyabje Rinpoche, the larger-than-life blessed presence of the Great Fourth, the wide-awake vigil of a peerless People’s King, and the uplifting reassurance of our precious Gyalsey. If our public servants, elected officials, political entities, and common citizens are not inspired by these blessings to rise above our frailties and measure up, we may never be this fortunate again.

Even as I celebrate the good fortune of this nation and its people, my heart aches at each weary step my King takes along risky border-trails, drenched in rain and soaked in sweat, far away from the joyous company of family and the comfort of palace. My heart breaks at each safety protocol breached and every trust betrayed, just as I shudder at each instance of death-rites conducted for a living person in this land of myriad blessings.

There are no miracles here. We have to match the blessings of this Dharma Land with the goodness of our thought and action. Certain acts are just not compatible with the purity of Druk Yul. We can begin by accepting where the rains are beating us, by identifying and checking the forces that divide us and weaken us, and by advancing the positive elements that unite us and build our vitality and integrity as a people and as a nation.

The sacred home of GNH, this is the only Bhutan we have, ‘our most precious treasure in the world’ in the precious words of our beloved King. We can only value it and treasure it and pass it on while we have it – pure, sublime, unsullied – Bhutan at her best – such as she is, such as we wish her forever to be.

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Some personal reflections: Thakur S Powdyel, former Minister of Education.