Bowled Over by Bhutan - 2007

What backbreaking labor, with little or no machinery to help! This is grunt work of the

most basic kind and whole families are engaged in it. While we visited, it was really very

hot and the roads were thick with dust so that the poor Indians were constantly

breathing in air that must be filled with particles injurious to their lungs. What must their

lives be like back in India that they would eagerly accept these jobs?!

More distressing still is the contempt with which these poor folks are considered and

treated by the Bhutanese citizens. In all candor and with no shame whatever, our

polite and considerate guide informed us that the Indians are just not equal to the


One day he was telling us that when addressing each other, Bhutanese people

customarily add the syllable “la” to a greeting when meeting others. For instance, when

we met monks coming down mountain paths, Kelzang would say in Drongzah, “Good

Morning, la.” He would use that construction in greeting both men and women. As part

of our efforts to understand the place of the Indians in the Bhutanese society, we

asked him if he would use that term of respect when addressing an Indian, either

male or female, young or old. He looked thoroughly confused and a bit surprised

but he answered, “Certainly not.” However, he became quiet and it appeared that he had

never considered the implications of that “linguistic” condescension before! So Shangri-La

does have a dark side after all; only the Bhutanese are entitled to participate in the Gross

National Happiness.

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