In August 2018, seven students from the UTS School of Education set off to teach in Paro, Bhutan. It was two weeks of non-stop adventure. We explored temples and climbed mountains in between the lesson planning and actual teaching.
A small country located in the eastern Himalayan region, Bhutan’s culture has been largely unaffected by bordering nations due to the high mountainous peaks that surround it.
We stayed in Paro, which is considered the third largest ‘city’ in Bhutan. It’s about the size of Newtown in Sydney, with only about 20,000 people living there. Bhutan’s streets are crawling with wild dogs and there is not a single traffic light in the whole country.
Bhutan’s crime rate is very low. Most of the local people practice Buddhism, and perhaps as a result, are extremely friendly and welcoming. Bhutanese people are known for being the happiest people on Earth, and this is definitely evident when meeting them.
English is one of the national languages of Bhutan and is widely spoken in urban areas, so you can easily get by without knowledge of the other 28 local languages.
Bhutan’s highest point is 7,570 metres above sea level (while Mount Everest is 8,848 metres). Fortunately for my poor legs, we only climbed a peak of 3,120 metres to Tiger’s Nest or Taktsang Monastery, which is located on the edge of a mountain as shown in the picture below. There were a lot of steps and steep tracks. It took us half a day to climb up to the top but we managed to make it inside.
The sense of achievement that followed us around as we viewed each room in the temple was profound. Many spectacular large golden Buddha statues and other deities glittered at us from above, tapestries and murals lined the walls and a number of Buddhist monks were praying or walking around in their rich red and yellow robes. It was a once in a lifetime experience.
A rainbow shot over the sky as we looked out at the view from the fair side of monastery, but unfortunately we were not allowed phones or cameras whilst on the sacred grounds (so I didn’t manage to snap a picture of the pot of gold), but I don’t think a photo would have done it justice.
The harder part was walking back down the mountain, as it had rained and the track was quite slippery. It was slow going, but we managed to make it back down to the base camp. We finished the hike off with a delicious picnic provided by our hosts from the Paro College of Education and then went and soaked in some hot stone baths to relax our stiff muscles.
Teaching in Bhutan was insightful and a lot of fun. The students at Khangkhu Middle Secondary School were very respectful compared to some of the students you’d find in Australia. They addressed you as ‘Madam’, would stand up every time you entered a room and wouldn’t sit down again until you gave them permission to do so.
Since Bhutan is such a small nation, visitors from a place like Australia are practically unheard of. We were treated like celebrities by the students throughout the two weeks of teaching. Students actually asked each of us for autographs, holding out their hand or a piece of paper with a quick “May I have your signature, Madam?”. On the last day, the students showered us with small gifts and some of the younger kids were reduced to tears. It was hard saying goodbye.
The food in Bhutan was magnificent. It’s very easy to be vegetarian here, as many of the locals are for cultural reasons. We ate a lot of delicious dumpling-style food that the Bhutanese called Momos. Bhutanese people love their food to be spicy, and often serve chilli sauce with every thing, especially Momos.
I would highly recommend visiting if you ever have the chance. Bhutanese people are very proud of their country and they have every reason to be. It’s a beautiful, peaceful place with rich culture, great food and friendly people.
It’s clear to see why Bhutan uses a Gross National Happiness index to measure their population’s collective happiness and wellbeing. Their motto, ‘Happiness is a place’ is spot on.
Blogpost by Stefanie Carmody.