Bhutan – tucked away deep in the Himalayas between the powers of India and China, is known as one of the most beautiful and isolated places on earth. It is now the last living Vajrayana Buddhist kingdom; where, during the seventh century, the teachings of the Buddha became the country’s state religion. Over the last twelve hundred years, these timeless teachings of wisdom and compassion have infused every aspect of life in Bhutan.

Many years back I had decided to celebrate my birthday, together with a few intrepid friends, in the Kingdom of “Gross National Happiness.” We planned a trek through the valleys and up the mountain slopes with the mighty snowcapped Himalayas in the background. My guide had chosen a route lined with colorful “mani walls,” bearing witness to the devotion of pilgrims who had made this journey. Only a lonely yak herder interrupted the purity and beauty of the surroundings.

The morning of the third day surprised us with some gentle snowflakes, blanketing the land in a soft white hue. By mid-day we found ourselves stranded on the mountain in a blizzard. We pushed on and came across a small hamlet made up of four simple homes. The villagers welcomed us with open hearts and hands into their homes. Delicious meals were prepared and we gathered around the warm kitchen hearth as stories were told, drinks were passed and strangers became friends celebrating a birthday.

The next morning the sun shone brightly and we began our onward expedition. Our hearts were filled with kindness and sweet remembrances of an unforgettable journey. It was evident to me that the values represented by “Gross National Happiness” are very much a way of life in Bhutan!