The Happy Tourist from Bhutan

Tashi Chophel is a lecturer at the Royal University of Bhutan Sherubtse College. He can be reached at

Tashi Chophel is a lecturer at the Royal University of Bhutan Sherubtse College. He can be reached at

On July 1st 2011, I left the hills of Bhutan to study in Spain with a grant from the ERASMUS MUNDUS SCHOLARSHIP, which allowed me to pursue a Master’s program in International Humanitarian Action Studies. I took a two-year leave period from work. Who would have known that my destiny to pursue a 24 months Masters course would change my attitude and perspectives towards life? My host city was Bilbao. Yes, this is the city of the football club, Athletic Bilbao.

My journey begins from my host city in Bilbao. Bilbao is a place that differentiates itself from Spain. In fact, they don’t want themselves to be called SPANISH – at least that is what I have learned from them. They have a distinct culture and a unique mode of life. They call themselves as inhabitants of the Basque and the language they speak is originally known as Euskera. The symbols in Euskera and Castellano might be the same, but they are totally different when used or written. They say that Euskera is a difficult language that needs quite an effort to handle compared to Castellano. But quite ironically, most of them speak Castellano, the Spanish language. The difference in their cultura is pinned in the political crisis when Spain saw Franco as its leader. The brutality that the Basque suffered is still warm and vehement.have numerous stories and a lot that I would like to share. That one opportunity opened up so many others to forge my travels out into the world beyond Spain. As a result of that one chance I got to visit 10 different countries and several cities across Europe.

Another distinct culture that the people of Bilbao preach is that people are affectionate towards raising dogs. One can see various breeds of dogs all over the city – in fact, in every nook and corner. I have heard people say that they respect their dogs as much as their women.

Through my studies I had the pleasure of meeting and interacting with humanitarians from across the world. And when I told them that I came from Bhutan, people were curious and wanted to know more about it. Many would tie Bhutan with Gross National Happiness and were very curious to know more about this philosophy. This was the norm. On my trip across Europe, I came to be known as the Happy Tourist from Bhutan. It was amazing how people only knew of this tiny nation through this beautiful philosophy of ours. I came to be known as the “UNOFFICIAL AMBASSADOR OF BHUTAN TO SPAIN” – at least for myself and embarked about imparting all that I knew. I felt rather privileged to narrate this and I was even interviewed by three media channels. Furthermore, I was also invited for various round table meetings to initiate and take part in discussion related to it. And I did my best to enlighten them as much as I could on this subject. I proudly display a link to this interview on my Facebook page.

My next journey took me to Southern Europe. Southern European countries are well known for rich food and its wine culture

I found myself in Pamplona, famous for its Bull festival, popularly known as San fermin in Spanish. If you have ever wanted to know what it feels like to be running for your life, you will find that answer here. Yes, this can only happen in Spain. It was quite an experience, a kind of spiritual one in some respects, because it really made you understand what your life means to you. The running festival is a weeklong and it witnesses people from different regions. There are rules in this festival though, and it starts with the dress code. One has to wear white pants, a white shirt with red belt and a hat.

Lucky me, I survived to see my next destination, France, and live to tell the tale!

I have heard it from my friends in France that France approximately gets around ten thousand tourists every day. And most of them can be found like every tourist does, circling the Eiffel tower. I am now one in one of those figures too!

It is not just the Spanish that love food and wine. The French cheese and wine are some of the important contributions to the world when it comes to cuisine. So, thanks to my friend Francois that I celebrated Christmas with his family. He lives in a small village called Pau.

As I already told you earlier that I had proclaimed myself as the unofficial ambassador of Bhutan to France, the next exciting agenda that came across my stay with Francois was cheese making. One could see bits and pieces of Bhutan-France friendship growing rapidly because French love cheese as much as we Bhutanese do, although how it is consumed varies and also the French have many, many varieties as opposed to ours – the fresh cheese zoedhoe (rotten cheese). This friendship was stretched further when they even gave me the opportunity to herd cows with his family. I don’t think many Bhutanese would have that in mind when they think of visiting France, but for me it was something that made me feel like I was back in Bhutan and I was happy.

Known as one of the most beautiful cities in Europe, my next destination was Prague in the Czech Republic. Starting from the remnants of the First and the Second World Wars, this city has valuable heritage.

For chocolate lovers, Belgium is the place for you. The country has the best quality chocolates to offer you and I had my fair share of them.

On the other hand The Netherlands seemed to attract tourists because of its legality of the use of marijuana and prostitution. But once you are there, you come to learn that The Netherlands is not only about dope and prostitution. I was captivated by the country life of the Dutch. With my guide and friend Heilke, I was able to learn so much about Dutch and its glorious history. What I found most curious is that time waits for no men (even women) when it comes to their dinner. They eat at six o’clock!

Talking of dinner, some of the best food I have ever had was in Italy. I cannot even begin to cover all there is to see in Italy, but I can tell you that you will never have a bad meal in this country.This is Italy’s soft power – pizzas and pasta. I met up with an old friend, Matteo Miel, who lived for around two semesters in eastern Bhutan teaching at Sherubtse College in the School of Social Sciences. He taught Political Science. So, it was like meeting my fellow country man again. He took me to some of the old and finest restaurants and it was in those vicinities that I learnt what real Italian pizzas tastes like.

From Italy I hopped on to Portugal and then to Berlin.

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