Manujendra Kundu: This should be the ideal scenario of any society which believes in equality. But unfortunately, in reality, having such a society seems to be a figment of the imagination. That is why, I felt the urge to uphold this very distinctive aspect of my visit to Bhutan.
I do not know whether I have any ability to communicate as a travel writer, because I never tried my hand at writing in this genre. However, ignoring the shadow of such serious shortcomings, I have gathered the courage to give it a shot to share some experiences of my recent trip to Bhutan just as a visitor. But I must make it clear at the outset that if the readers long for some sort of a landscape narrative, they would be disheartened.
As we all know, Bhutan replicates the incredible blend of beauty, enormity, and solemnity of the Himalayan range of Darjeeling, Sikkim, and Nepal. In the strictest sense, I did not have any experience vis-à-vis the natural splendour except for the Taktsang Monastery popularly known as the Tiger’s Nest, a human creation par excellence, and an edifice extraordinaire. But in my opinion, what makes the ‘Land of the Thunder Dragon’ delightfully engaging is its wonderful human relationship.
In this land of constitutional monarchy, the ubiquitous portraits of the King in every public or private façade/interiors surely speak volume about the undisputed popularity of Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck. What is intriguing and captivating is the fact that Bhutan may be dependent on other countries for some resources essential for its survival, but it appears to be way ahead of its neighbouring lands. The moment one enters this mountainous country either by land or air, one would start sensing the existence of an unusual social fabric. The first thing that would catch one’s eye is their traffic management and waste disposal systems, which are inconceivable in many south Asian countries, though one may certainly find casual approach in many areas.
The second and the most charming and wonderful among all is, at least that is how I would remember my Bhutan trip, the positively candid relation between a man and a woman. Such frankness, amiability, and camaraderie between the two genders are reassuring in the context of South Asia. I saw women indifferent to the mundane precariousness freely roaming around the streets of Thimphu in the dead of the night in an inebriated state after the weekend parties at different nightclubs and pubs. The male passers-by did not even cast a furtive glance at them. In most of the shops and hotels of Phuentsholing, Thimphu, Paro, Punakha women call the shots. Maybe there are invisible male instructors lurking around somewhere, but in the forefront, one can see happy, active women workers, independent entrepreneurs. This should be the ideal scenario of any society which believes in equality. But unfortunately, in reality, having such a society seems to be a figment of the imagination. That is why, I felt the urge to uphold this very distinctive aspect of my visit to Bhutan.
Today when even in the advanced countries safety and security of women is a serious concern, the world must introspect and visit Bhutan not just to enjoy the flora and fauna of the amazing Himalayan range, immersed in the exhilarating valleys and hillscapes, but also to re-examine the portraits of human relationships and study the astonishing social fabric of the small country which would perhaps make us better individuals.
Words: Manujendra Kundu
About the author: Manujendra Kundu has been Indian Council of Social Science Research (ICSSR) postdoctoral fellow at the University of Delhi. His area of work was 19th-century Bengali media and Hindu-Muslim relationship. He wrote So Near, Yet So Far: Badal Sircar’s Third Theatre (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2016), and is editing a book on women performers in Bengali theatre. Besides, he has also worked as a journalist for Anandabazar Patrika and Zee Media for nearly 10 years.