Travel is full of joyful moments. On the International Day of Happiness, we share some of our best memories.
The valleys of Bhutan stretch open in gaping smiles. Descending into the country’s capital city, Paro, it feels as though those little patchwork fields are opening their arms in welcome. There’s something inherently happy about this compact Himalayan kingdom where measures for economic wellbeing are eschewed in favour of a far more meaningful index: Gross National Happiness.
That’s not to say grumpiness doesn’t occur here. In the valley of Gangtey, I meet a group of children walking home from school. One of the girls is jubilant, her face split open in a broad and contagious smile; a second one scowls along with the boys. I can’t blame them: after all, they must walk long distances up and down mountains to get to and from school each day.
Instead, the population’s happiness – their wellbeing and sense of contentment – is measured collectively, a kind of happiness project enshrined as a goal in the country’s constitution in 2008. All those little moments of peacefulness and pleasure and appreciation and love and compassion are added together until they comprise a great, big, happy whole.
And so the monks at the temple in Gangtey Valley are smiling as the bells resound across the terraced basin. The children playing soccer with their teacher are laughing as they kick the ball high into the air. The students clambering uphill on their way home from school will soon be happy again, too, for food and family and rest await them.
And I’m positively exultant, for I’m gazing down on what is the happiest valley in all of happy Bhutan, according to my guide, Jimba, and its beauty has filled me to bursting with gratitude. TTW
Images: © Catherine Marshall. For more information visit the Tourism Council of Bhutan
PYRAMIDS OF GIZA, EGYPT
The taxi crawls through the throngs of revellers on the streets of Cairo. “Is there a festival on tonight?” I ask the driver. “No,” he laughs. “Egyptian premier league final, Cairo team Al Ahly win,” he tells me. That explains the joy on the faces of the people in the streets. The joy etched on my face is the knowledge that tomorrow I’ll be seeing a childhood dream with my own eyes – the Pyramids of Giza.
In anticipation of the morning’s adventure, a kaleidoscope of butterflies dance in my stomach. I drink a thick sweet black coffee and through the café window and the Cairo haze I see a surreal image – the peaks of the pyramids. I am lost for words and leave the café as quickly as I can with my guide.
The Pyramids of Giza tower before me: I am in awe and can’t contain my joy, I have a smile so wide my sun-chapped lips are cracking. Scenes from the picture books I devoured as a child about the lost civilisation of ancient Egypt are here before my very eyes.
I am taking this moment in time to feel the sun, the sand, the wind, the dust and this wonder of the ancient world. I am happy. TTW
Image: Leonardo Ramos. For more information visit Egyptian Tourism Authority
THAILAND, LAND OF SMILES
“Come and visit!” Peter cajoled in his baritone voice down the line from Patong Beach. So, I did – many, many times. And each time I visited I felt a deep sense of happiness, of relief. I could shrug off the tension and pretence of whatever life I was temporarily leaving, like an old skin weighing me down, and step into a gentle new one, allowing me to be ME.
From the infectious madness of Koh San road in Bangkok, trekking in the jungles, sublime beaches and wonderful scuba diving, Thailand has so many joyful memories. However, there is far more to this “land of smiles” than hedonistic tourism pleasures. It’s one of the few countries in South-East Asia that was never colonised, and legend has it that the Thais simply charmed any would-be invaders. They certainly charmed me.
I loved the pleasure of a gorgeous hotel room, but Peter also shared local treasures such as a village football tournament in the outbacks of Krabi, where everyone was out and about at a farm school for a day’s fun in the blistering heat.
And of course, the food. What could be more blissful that a Thai foot massage followed by a dish of Som Tum, that spicy green papaya salad as addictive as the country.
Peter lived half his life in Thailand for nearly 20 years, dividing his time between Johannesburg, Phuket and Chang Mai. After he died unexpectedly in his 50s, I still imagine that I can visit him there, that he is waiting to show me more of his beloved Thailand. TTW
Images: © Diana Streak. For more information visit Tourism Thailand
GOLD COAST, AUSTRALIA
It was the early 1990s and like any newly arrived visitor to Queensland’s Gold Coast, I had to try out the region’s famous theme parks, which include Warner Bros Move World, Wet’n’Wild and Outback Spectacular, among others. When I say “I had to”, I mean I was dragged along unwillingly. Roller coasters are not my thing: drinks coasters are, with something wet and wild in a glass on top.
We started off at Dreamworld, the largest and perhaps most famous of the theme parks. Eschewing the more scary-looking contraptions, we lined up at the Eureka Mountain Mine Ride – a roller coaster that weaved and whizzed in and around a brownish lump of a mountain, its human cargo carried in coal train-like carriages. I had to sit on the outside seat because my brave companion who had dragged me there in the first place decided he’d have the inside seat, not the one right by the mountain precipice.
We buckled up. The engines started. The carriages shook, rattled and rolled. We were off! Hurtling up and down coal shafts, tilting, twisting, lurching, jolting, zig-zagging. Then a funny thing happened as we careened round the first major bend: I got the giggles. From then on, I just couldn’t stop laughing, it was like being constantly tickled. It was the most joyous ride, and I didn’t want it to end.
The Eureka Mountain Mine Ride no longer exists. She came to an end, aged 20, in 2006, and lay derelict for a decade before being dismantled. But at some point today, while sitting at my desk at work, I shall pay her homage. I shall swivel in my seat, tilt and lurch, guffaw and giggle. When my colleagues give me strange looks, I shall proclaim, “Eureka! It’s the International Day of Happiness, have some fun.” TTW