The road signs in Bhutan are public service announcements rather than traffic guides.  Last month, I journeyed with my family to the Land of Happiness and discovered that visiting Bhutan is like traveling back a thousand years to a hidden, Buddhist kingdom.  Bhutan does not have a GNP, Gross National Product, but instead a GHP, a Gross Happiness Product.  They are the only country in the world with a negative carbon footprint and the government issued a mandate that 70% of the country must be populated with trees.  With only a half a million people in the entire country and few cars, they only recently introduced a traffic light until the people decided they didn’t like it.  Similar to India, cows block traffic and people don’t even honk.  Oh, did I mention the dogs?  During the day, dogs sleep in the middle of the road but keep you awake all night with their incessant barking.  Had this been China at the Yulin Festival, the dogs would have received the 3-B treatment:  baked, boiled or barbequed.         

For two weeks, my family and I traveled overland from the capital city into the heartland of Happiness.  On our journey, we passed many road signs:

“Smoking is dangerous for your health, and drinking is bad, too.”  And a few miles later, “Don’t drink and drive, your family needs you!”

The highway through the Himalayas is perilous, to say the least.  Sparsely paved with steep cliffs a thousand feet down, long sections of the muddy road are lined with house-sized potholes that swallow trucks to be pulled out by oxen.  Rivers frequently wash away the road and plummeting ravines cast doubt on survival.  Rocks fall from above, and a few days before we made the trip, a boulder crushed the rear part of a woman’s car.   She survived but her two boys were in the backseat.

A few miles from the site of the accident, we passed another sign: “An unsafe community will never be safe for our children and society.”  I could only think how the life of a parent is a life of worry.  And how the world is never safe, even with your kids locked in rear-facing car seats. 

Further down the road at the entrance to a construction company, “We cut mountains, but we connect hearts.”  There are very few businesses in the country but road construction crews are constantly hired to combat nature.  It’s a losing battle.  Scores of laborers from India are paid $30 a month to live in camps near the road, sleeping in blue-tarped tents and eating red rice and vegetables.  All for a buck a day.  There is currently an effort to pave the entire highway, but all we saw was one sad, lonely worker with a trowel.  Probably gonna take a while! 

It’s paradise for those who want to go somewhere without tourists.  It’s the Land of Happiness filled with ancient Buddhist temples and mountain peaks shrouded in mist.  Shrouded in mist, a line I may have once considered naturally romantic, as in Romanticism, but unfortunately the term shroud conveys the image of death.  After a few days here, the happiness becomes oppressive and forced, but that’s maybe because I see darkness in sunshine.  The mist soon turns horrifying and lurks like a predator.  And in the momentary gloom that accompanies all who travel with family for an extended time and eventually run out of words, I found myself strolling alone through holy temples.  The traditional rituals performed by the Buddhist monks were oddly fascinating and I tried not to disturb them, like a kid tiptoeing though his parent’s bedroom while they are having sex . . . I know I shouldn’t be there and the performance seems quite strange, but I can’t help but watch!