Season 3
23 Minutes

E95 | Gyambo | How I Contribute To Happiness In Bhutan

Gyambo Nb is a citizen of the small country of Bhutan where he was born and has lived his entire life. Bhutan is heralded around the world for its commitment to fostering gross national happiness (GNH).

Gyambo works as a guide who accompanies groups on tours of his beautiful Bhutan. In his spare time, Gyambo is a committed champion of solid waste management, Gyambo regularly goes on garbage-collecting walks in Bhutan villages and the countryside to help keep his country clean.

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Achim Nowak  00:05

Hello, I am Achim Nowak and I am so happy to welcome Gyambo to the MY FOURTH ACT podcast.

Gyambo  00:13

Thank you, Achim.

Achim Nowak  00:16

Gyambo, was born and raised and has lived his entire life in the small and beautiful country of Bhutan. Gyambo is a guide to tourists who he shows his beautiful country. That is how I first met Gyambo when I was visiting myself about five years ago. Gyambo is also deeply committed to waste management, and keeping the beautiful country of Bhutan clean. This is one of his projects that he engages with when he’s not tour guiding. So welcome, Gyambo. I’m happy that you’re here.

Achim Nowak  00:56

And I want to ask you a question that I ask every guest to start with. And I have a hunch the answer may be different for you from Bhutan. When you… when you were a young boy and you thought about your life growing up? Who did you think you wanted to be? What was in your thoughts?

Gyambo  01:16

I came a few days back from my village. Came from a few days back from my village, and it took me a day. It took me seven hours to drive from my village to Thimphu. That time when I landed into my village, I said “Wow,” I never thought that will happen to my village. During my time when I went to school, I had to walk three days, two nights in the jungle, one night on the road, and then we would reach the school. When I was five years old. I never thought “oh, we’ll have that road.” Long time back. I was just wondering, when I came here “Wow, so wonderful.” And I went to school. My dad took me, in the morning to the assembly hall… assembly line… National Assembly. In the morning, when we go to school, we got to do the national anthem and then we got to see for the word of wisdom. So we got one line. So my dad put me there in line, he was next to me. And he told me “I’ll come back.” I lost him. I’ve been waiting for him for days. He is not coming. During my time, I’d go to my village only once a year, for winter vacation, summer vacation, and then go back to school, it was far. So I never thought… I don’t have any aim in anything. I just wanted to go back home. Stay with my parents.

Achim Nowak  03:01

Allow me to interject for a moment because you mentioned Thimphu. Thimphu is the capital of Bhutan. It’s the largest city in Bhutan even though by some… compared to some other countries, it’s not that large. But it wasn’t as large as it was at some point. I’m sure.

Gyambo  03:24

Yeah, yeah. And for me, big city is Tongsa at that time, like I’m from Central Bhutan, one of the remote areas of our country.

Achim Nowak  03:31


Gyambo  03:32

I started there and when I was just standard five and I said “Wow, I want to be a doctor.” Because when we get sick and we go to the hospital and then they wouldn’t treat us when we got there and I thought “Wow, why can’t you do that?” When I grow I wanted to help people when they’re sick. Especially in my village we don’t have a hospital at that time so then I thought I could help my people in the village when they’re sick.

Achim Nowak  04:07

So, did you become a doctor?

Gyambo  04:10

Oh! Haha! I couldn’t become a doctor because I couldn’t study well and then you know, for me, coming from far, you know, like from the jungles. We got problems with English. I am really good in Dzongkha. In Bhutan when you study we got almost all the subjects…. We got eight subjects, six English and only two in Dzongkha. And these days, you can see the children were born in a town they got problem with the Dzongkha, our national language. So very poor English and it is very difficult for me to complete my study. And then you know, I couldn’t go to class. I decided to become a guide because, you know, I found that once… after leaving my school, one of my uncle, he you took as an assistant with him as a guide. And then I thought “Wow,” when I started just below my school, we had a guest house. Only hotel in that town. The guest house, we see tourists coming there. And then they say, “Oh, your country’s Beautiful.” Beautiful? My uncle said all these people are coming from developed country where there’s lots of cars, buildings. They said “It’s so beautiful,” I said “Oh, it’s forest, jungle.”

Achim Nowak  06:00

I had to start as I’m listening to you, because, you know, I grew up in Germany, but I also grew up in other countries. And some of the places where I grew up, were very beautiful. But I’m not sure that everybody always knew that they were in a beautiful place. Because sometimes we take what we are for granted. When you were growing up, or as you became a tour guide, did you know that Bhutan is a really beautiful country?

Gyambo  06:30

The first word, when we go on the tour with the tourist…  we welcome and then there’s a “Wow.” When they came from the airport, they say “Fresh air!” It’s beautiful. When you stop for the first time, after receiving them and putting them into the car, before we go to the temple, we stop on the way for 5 or 10 minutes. That fresh air and then they acknowledge, “Your country is so beautiful.” And then I thought “Yes, you are true.” Sometimes like we feel that, oh, the grass is always greener on the other side. Still then, I find that  I’m living in a beautiful place here.

Achim Nowak  07:24

You’ve been a tour guide for a long time now and I’m just curious. That means dealing with a lot of people from many different parts of the world. What have you learned about people as a tour guide, besides the fact that Bhutan is beautiful? What stands out for you?

Gyambo  07:46

In Bhutan we have a saying that goes… Like birds, they don’t have the same feathers. It goes like this, each and every people are different.  But with me, I feel that happiness with me. It starts from the morning, as you can see. Me, now, being into cleaning my country, waste management. I’m really deep into that. Now, I am a Buddhist, actually. But I tell people that’s my religion. This management cleaning is my religion. Same with that. Because I don’t want to see garbage. If I see garbage in the morning, I’m not happy.

Achim Nowak  08:56

I’m thinking about two things that we’re talking about here that in many ways go hand in hand. There is Buddhism, which is such an important part of your beautiful country. And then there is waste management, which is something you are so passionately involved with. And let’s just separate those two for a moment and start with Buddhism and then we’ll talk about waste management. I’m very curious if you had a chance to describe to us what what does Buddhism look like in Bhutan? What what are some practices or habits that that are important to you as a Buddhist who, who grew up with Buddhism.

Gyambo  09:38

In the morning, when you’re a small child, you can see your parents early in the morning. They have water in front of the altar. Each and every Buddhist people got an altar room at their home. Even if they have one room, they’ll have a picture of Buddha or whoever, like some other deities. They’ll put seven offerings, they offer water in the morning, every day for sunrise, before sunset, they’ll pour it out and other people burn incense. That’s how we have the practice. And then we follow that, and we go and pray. Our parents, they pray that and we follow them. That’s how we got Buddhism in the country. And also here we go… It’s in every village, we got the astrologer. Since you are born, we go to him, and you die, we go to him, people will go to him and he will say what to do what not to do. And when we build a house, he will come and do some ceremony. And then he’ll say what to do and at what time which people should start the work and when we build the house. When you put the main door we’ve got a ceremony and also the window we got a ceremony. So because of that we got strong believe on the Buddhism. So we believe that we got so much from it, and also you can see we are living in between two big giant countries. We got no much problem you know, because we got fate on religion of Buddhism. So because of that, we feel that even to our children in the way, we tell them but we don’t force them, you got to the Buddhists. We tell them that but we don’t force them. So we don’t force anyone to become Buddhists.

Achim Nowak  11:57

Let’s talk about what you call your real religion which is waste management. For our listeners, I’ve met Gyambo and I remember so enjoying your warm energy and spirit as a guide and then I started paying attention to you on Facebook and when I saw you on Facebook I saw all the work you do in waste management because you report on it which is really important. So let’s begin here, how did you become interested in waste management? Like why you said I really want to make this something important in my life?

Gyambo  12:42

Actually, how it come to me… we were talking about my country early. The tourism, the first word they say “your country is so clean.” Yes, I believe that. You got a clean country long time back but now every year is getting more waste coming in to the country. I think throughout the world we are having a problem. These days we get everything coming from different parts of the world. Junk. Wherever we see everything packed in a plastic. Long before we don’t have all those. And then in 1999, I found my country is clean and then every time they’d say your country is clean and then every year you see all big piles of garbage. And then sometimes I have to hide that and talk to the guests. When I see that I go talk to my guests by saying “oh these are the experiences.” I don’t want them to see that. And then, you know like, I went on doing all those, Then I’ll go ahead and then I just found trash and put it in my back. Then all this is coming more and more, I couldn’t put in my bag so I put in a plastic bag and then my friends tour guides, they started telling me “oh, that’s too much.” And they are talking like, you know, “oh, you’re doing this so your guests would like you?” Which really made me felt me like, that’s sad,  that they would think that, they should follow me. So it went on and went on and in  2019, it was June. I was with a guest and I dropped them to the hotel and I went to a restaurant to drink and then I saw a television going on there. I saw our present Queen and on some government officials and also like one of the… he’s supposed to be one of the head of a monk, we got five of them. So one of them, was with her, they were the cleaning campaign. And the message was “YES! I’m going to come out now” with our Queen and the religious head, well they could do why can’t I do. We are nothing and then from there I promise. Okay, I’ll do now. Every Saturday. Actually, I have chosen that Saturday because I am also like a member of RSP  in our country, where they used to do once a month cleaning campaign. So I helped them, so they do measure they get the kilograms and then they measure and then they do that, they’re big people, big office and then they also have some other people. So with me I thought, I should do every Saturday and there are lots of people who wanted to join me so that common people take a holiday weekend for them to join us, I have chosen Saturday, sometime I do in Sunday. That’s just how. From there I started coming out to the public and then I started until now I never missed a single Saturday and so far I had collected 75,500 kilograms of waste in our country. After that, now we don’t have the job here of being a tour guide because of the virus. And then last year I thought of a national clean campaign because I want people to know that, to give awareness throughout the country, I thought of taking some other people. I went to some offices to get funds. All officers laughed at me “you are going to walk throughout the country? That bullshit, you cannot do it.” I thought of just taking some of my friends. Actually my plan was around four to five months because I’ve never done that. I have been to the all the places but it will take time. So have chosen the good day. Because, again, the Queen, our present Queen. She’s a she’s a patron about the waste management, everything in the country environment and I used her birthday to celebrate on her name, and also our children. On her birthday and then a place of the ancestral home of our royal family.

Gyambo  19:11

So at last, I ended up going alone, because people like, at that time there were lots of people who came to me, and said “I am not going to do that.” They even laughed at me. Of course. I went. I did it. It went well. I worked for 94 days. And I cleaned almost all, not almost all, but actually I went to give other good people the knowledge, to educate. So my plan was, I want to capture like I wanted to capture in the place. The monasteries.

Achim Nowak  19:53


Gyambo  19:54

Our country’s divided into 20 Districts,  there we got monasteries, And then I wanted to educate them. So actually, I found really is costly, and no fund at all. So, actually I want to attract them because of knowledge. Me telling to people 100 times is better for them to tell once. Being a Buddhist again. Being a Buddhist, if monk tell you to do this or that people will listen. So because of that I went to the monasteries. I cleaned 20 lands of 20 districts with the help of monks.

Achim Nowak  20:46

Well, another question that’s forming in my mind as I’m listening to you. I think the work as a guide, that takes a lot of energy because you’re around people, they all want to talk to you, they have questions for you. So I would imagine, at the end of the day, you can be a little tired and exhausted and then going on the walks to clean on a Saturday or sometimes Sunday. That also takes a lot of energy. How do you how do you, Gyambo, manage your energy so you can do all of these things?

Gyambo  21:27

Oh, actually, I got used to it with all those. So I got to manage my energy because I love it. When you like doing something we get extra energy instead of getting tired. You love doing that. In fact, if you don’t do that, you feel like “ugh.” During the lockdown I missed that. I felt like something is getting. Some things really missing with me.

Achim Nowak  22:01

Gyambo, thank you for having this conversation with me and for taking my guests and listeners into a whole other world that they may not know. I’m so happy I got to meet you. And I happy that we get to celebrate Bhutan and the work you do during World Happiness week. And I wish you nothing but continued happiness in your own life and also continued impact in the work that you do. It was such a pleasure to speak with you.

Gyambo  22:38

Thank you, Achim.


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