Kuzuzangpo La and heartfelt greetings from Drukyul, or the realm of the Thunderdragon, the Land beyond the Sky and Clouds, the Last Shangri La, also known as the Kingdom of Bhutan and our home in the Himalaya.
Hidden high in the mountains, tucked between Tibet and India, Bhutan is the most improbable place on earth, a unique blend of the old and new. We've been pretty quiet up here, missed out on the Industrial Age, the World Wars and such, in fact many of us didn't know you existed until we got your email.
If you are reading this the chances are you know something about Bhutan already such as the fact that we have a new King, His Majesty Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, we pursue Gross National Happiness as opposed to GNP, we were the first country to ban tobacco and just about every visitor mentions the crazy landing at Paro Airport. But this is only the beginning of the joys, surprises, fascinating encounters and crazy wisdom to be discovered as you journey across the country.
Many excellent publications and websites will give you the main facts and figures about our nation and we highly recommend the Tourism Council of Bhutan website www.tourism.gov.bt
for such detailed information. On this page, We would like to share some of quirkier and perhaps more colourful things we know about our homeland to give you an insight into what kind of experience you might have as a traveler to Bhutan.
Guides Of Bhutan Quick Facts
The capital, Thimpu has over 100,000 inhabitants and not a single traffic light
We Bhutanese call foreigners “Chillips”
Within our borders, about 19 different dialects are spoken, including Sharchop, Bumthap and Kurtoep but Dzongkha unifies them all – most young Bhutanese also speak Hindi, Nepali and English
Walk, cycle and drive to the left or clockwise round anything and everything that looks sacred (chortens, stupas, temples, monasteries, prayer flags and wheels) and you can’t go wrong
The public buses which brave the twisting narrow and bumpy routes across the country are aptly named “Vomit Comets” - Paro to Bumthang takes 10 hours in one of these overloaded people carriers
His Majesty Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck is a keen Mountain Biker, Archer and Basketball Player
The animist pre-Buddhist “Bonism” is alive and well in the form of tightly threaded bamboo frames called spirit catchers placed outside many village houses
There really are tigers in Bhutan! Just ask the BBC wildlife filmmakers behind the TV documentary, Lost Land of the Tiger
There are no family names in Bhutan – your name is either given by a high abbot or you are named after a temple your parents take you to or after the day of the week you were born on or some combination thereof
Bhutan’s highest foreign revenue source is from hydro electric power
GMT vs BST the fast and frantic pace of life in the modern world slows right down on reaching our mountains with the concept of Bhutan Stretchable Time becoming the norm
Only 23,480 tourists (Chillips) visited Bhutan in 2009
MAKE IT A REAL PILGRIMAGE TO TAKTSANG Don’t just take your camera to the Tiger’s Nest, bring along offerings as the locals do on their pujas, giving thanks to the deities for your time in their Kingdom. Butter for votive lamps and some incense plus a small cash donation brings the whole experience alive.
MAKE A WISH WITH PRAYER FLAGS Hang your own wish fulfilling prayer flags at a high point or over a river on one of your adventures, be it Taktsang Monastery, Nyi Mi Zam the bridge over the Pa Chhu river or at a high mountain pass.
DIP IN A HOTSTONE BATH A social or family event, a popular form of medication and great for soothing weary muscles. Riverstones are heated until white hot then dropped sizzling into a coffin shaped wooden tub filled with spring water. You then slide in, layback and enjoy the river views whilst the heat and minerals released from the rocks do their work.
SHOOT SOME ARROWS Try your hand at the Bhutanese sport of archery with traditional bow and arrows on a local Bha Cho or archery range – if the Tibetans try to invade again you will be ready.
ESCAPE TO LUXURY FOR A NIGHT
– Having braved the wilds of Bhutan treat yourself to a final night of delicious food, pampering and a swim in the pool at the at the five star hotel Uma Paro www.uma.paro.como.bz
SAMPLE BHUTANESE TREATS Look out for carpets of wild strawberries in spring, red rice, matsutake mushrooms in summer/autumn, the Swiss Guesthouse in Bumthang’s cheese, honey and Red Panda beer, ara (the local hooch), chugo the hard yak cheese or gobstopper, marijuana (only for the pigs!) and more chillies than you have ever seen.
RIDE THE WINDHORSE Book a delicious freewheeling biking descent from a high mountain pass.
VISIT SHANGRI LA The Phobjikha Valley is our Lost Shangri La those who make it to this magic place understand why we love it so much.
IN THE CARETAKER'S FOOTPRINTS AT KYICHU One of the oldest temples in Bhutan with its magic orange tree bearing fruit all year round. In front of the main shrine, shuffle your feet into the footprints worn by a former caretaker who is said to have made more than 1000,000 prostrations on this spot.
VISIT VAST, THIMPU The Voluntary Artists’ Studio, was set by a group of professional artists as a non profit and non governmental organization. Its primary objective is to provide potential vocational skills and alternative positive use of free time and facilitate participation in the national and international art realm. Meet some very talented local artists at work in their communal studio upstairs.
DRESS UP The traditional kira and wonjo for the ladies and a gho for the men. The wrap around gho provides a useful deep pocket or rather pouch for keeping all manner of things in eg a snack, mobile phone, pen, paper, cash etc.
NIGHT HUNTING Ask your guide about this traditional pastime, but ladies keep your windows firmly closed at night!
Useful Bhutanese Phrases
Thank you: Kadrinche
Thank you beyond the sky and clouds: Namid Same Kadrinche
Good luck, safe journey, best wishes: Tashi delek
Ok/Yes: Ya ya tub
What is your name? Che gi ming ga chi mo?
My name is… Nga gi ming...
How are you? Ga dey bay yoed?
Where are you going? Ga ti jo ni mo?
Where do you live? Ga ti doeb mo?
Your country is beautiful: Che gi gyal khap ja chii chii du
Spot the Diety
With such a rich spiritual culture, Bhutan’s abundance of legends, myths, deities and beliefs can make a visitors head spin. So herewith a few of the key characters to look out for in thangkhas, on murals or as statues both at sacred sites and in people’s houses, cars in fact everywhere.
GURU RINPOCHE the 8th century saint who brought Buddhism to Tibet and Bhutan flying on the back of his consort in her manifestation as a tigress. He is depicted with a pencil thin moustache and holds a dorji (thunderbolt) and a trident
LORD BUDDHA takes so many forms including Buddha Shakiamuni – or Gautama Budhha is the Historical Buddha and the main statue in most temples in Bhutan. Avaloketshvara or the Buddha of Compassion who when he realized all the suffering in the world manifested eleven heads, a thousand hands and eyes and twenty one tears forming the Tara in an attempt to liberate all sentient beings
THE TARAS are goddesses formed from the 21 tears of Avolketshvara to assist the Buddha of Compassion in his work, Green Tara is the mother of all
THE SHABDRUNG was the bearded reincarnation (rinpcohe) of a Tibetan Drukpa teacher and unifier of all the separate principalities into one nation - Bhutan
THE GUARDIANS or Kings of the Four Directions can be found at the entrance to most goempas (monasteries), dzongs and lhakhangs (temples). They are warriors who guard the world against evil spirits, ogresses, demons and earthly threats
Palbheu (Endless Knot) symbol of the nature of reality where everything exists as part of a web of karma and its effect. It also represents the infinite wisdom of the Buddha, and the illusory character of time, and long life as it is endless.
Gyaltsen (Victory Banner) symbolises the victory of the Buddha's teachings over death, ignorance, disharmony and all the negativities of this world, and victory over evil forces.
Khorlor (Dharmachakra) it is said that after Siddharta Gautama achieved enlightenment, Brahma came to him, offered a Dharma-Wheel and requested the Buddha to teach. It represents the Buddhist teachings.
THE FOUR FRIENDS or Thunpa or harmonious brothers - an elephant, monkey, hare, and partridge forming an acrobatic pyramid beneath a tree – this apocryphal story originates in the Tittira Jataka legend of one of the Buddha’s previous lives. This mural illustrates that age must be respected above learning, greatness, or noble birth. This artistic expression of a form of cooperation has shaped an attitude of participation and community teamwork. It is a constant reminder for us to adopt a harmonious and co-operative relationship with the natural order
More Bits and Bobs about Bhutan
CORDYCEPS (Yartsa Goenbub) Are they fungi or caterpillars or both? The Bhutanese seem undecided but their magical healing and viagra like qualities makes them so highly prized that Tibetans head high over the Himalaya into Bhutan to hunt for them. They are the country’s highest valued natural product with the wonder fungi’s best price per kilo in 2010 reaching Nu486,000 (US$11,045).
THE KABNEY AND RACHU When Bhutanese visit any sacred site, Government Office or are performing any official business their equivalent of the tie is the kabney for a man and rachu for a woman. The kabney is a fringed, white rough woven cloth which is draped ceremoniously around the torso. The colour of the kabney represents your rank with white for commoners, yellow for His Majesty and orange for the Lynpos (Government Ministers). The rachu is a colourful woven band which again is wound around the torso in a specific way.
PRAYER FLAGS A typical prayer flag has at its central image a horse (windhorse or lung-ta) bearing three flaming, wish fulfilling jewels on its back. Around the horse are 20-odd mantras - powerful ritual utterances - each dedicated to a particular deity. In addition to the mantras are prayers for long life and good fortune of the person who erects the flags. Prayer flags are printed from wooden blocks on to coloured cotton - traditionally the five colours are blue, white, red, yellow and green.
DRUKPA KUNLEY (The Divine Madman or the Wise Crazy) The Tantric Buddhist Master Drukpa Kunley is one of Tibet's foremost saints and yogis and the patron saint of Bhutan. He belongs to the Drukpa (Dragon) school of Tibetan Buddhism and is renowned and greatly loved by all the people as an enlightened master and an exponent of 'crazy wisdom'. He taught through outrageous behavior and ribald humor in order to awaken the people he met to a higher awareness free from conventional morality and self-obsession. In particular he took his female friends and disciples along the path of sexual desire and relationship to free them from attachment to the illusory world and to awaken their buddha-nature. He would constantly taunt the monks with jest and insult to dissolve their hypocrisy and hidden faults. He was a Dzogchen yogi following the highest path of Yoga-tantra and his Dzogchen songs are some of the best in the Tibetan language. This Saint of 5,000 Women established the temple of Chimmi Lhakhang near Punakha in 1499 and people come from all over the world to be blessed with fertility.
THE TAKIN Bhutan has the Divine Madman to thank for their national animal - the Takin – and there is no way around the fact that it is one ugly beast. According to legend, in the 15th century a large congregation of devotees gathered to witness the great saint’s magical powers, with the people urging him to perform a miracle. However in his usual unorthodox and outrageous way, he demanded that he first be served a whole cow and a goat for lunch. He devoured these with relish, leaving only bones and after letting out a large and satisfied burp, took the goat's head and stuck it onto the bones of the cow. With a snap of his fingers, he commanded the strange beast to rise up and graze on the mountainside. To the astonishment of the people the animal arose and ran up to the meadows. This animal came to be known as the ‘dong gyem tsey ‘(takin) and to this day, these animals can be seen in the wilds of Bhutan and still defy categorization by taxonomists.
The religious festival or Tshechu tradition in Bhutan is an ancient one with most communities holding such gatherings at sometime during the lunar year. The laymen or monk dancers are in a state of meditation, assuming the personas of deities, which they are representing. The leaping, whirling dances bless the witnesses and also instruct them in the ways of dharma or Buddhist teachings through the retelling of legends and historical events. Tsechus are celebrated for three to five days with both monks and laymen taking part in the ritual mask dances and pageantry. We advise our guests to avoid the overcrowded festivals of Paro and Thimpu and go for the more intimate local ones. Please contact us to find out more about local festivals at firstname.lastname@example.org