Thimphu: It’s Saturday in Bhutan and Lotay Tshering has just completed urinary bladder repair surgery on a patient at the Jigme Dorji Wangchuck National Referral Hospital. But Tshering is no ordinary doctor. During the week, he also happens to be prime minister in the Himalayan kingdom famous for measuring citizens’ Gross National Happiness. “For me it’s a de-stresser,” said Tshering, who was elected prime minister of the nation of 750,000 people last year in only its third democratic election since the end of absolute monarchy in 2008.
“Some people play golf, some do archery, and I like to operate. I am just spending my weekends here,” the 50-year-old told AFP. No one at the hospital bats an eyelid as Tshering, wearing a faded lab coat and crocs, walks through the busy corridors. Nurses and hospital attendants continue with their jobs as normal. The Buddhist kingdom is in many ways a case apart, benchmarking itself on happiness instead of economic growth.
One of the pillars of Gross National Happiness is conservation of the environment. Bhutan is carbon negative. Its constitution mandates that 60 per cent of the country remains forested. It is big on ecotourism and charges a daily fee of $250 per visitor in high season.