Tag Archives: bhutanese

Pigss do fly

In Bhutan at least.  Seriously! Fact! True!

I have come across them on many occasions.  How high were they….pretty damn high!

Too much of the wacky backy had left them like Cheech and Chong, these guys were so stoned there wasn’t even a grunt out of them.  On my walk to work I pass by so much weed, and by weed I mean marijuana, growing wild everywhere.  You can’t go five meters without seeing the stuff (and this is in the middle of the city).  It’s funny that in a country where it grows literally as a weed, they have a prescription drugs problem.  And as its growth is so widespread, it is collected and promptly fed to pigs.  This may explain the ridiculous amounts of fat which you find when you order pork here.  It comes to the table diced and sliced into large pieces, about 1cm meat and 5cm of fat.  I am not joking; I actually can’t eat much of it, the thoughts of eating that much fat turns me off and there is not much that is edible that can do that.

The Bhutanese however, love the stuff.  May be like the pigs strict weed diet, it is somehow affecting me. What do they feed the chickens and cows?  Or maybe by not eating enough of the pork I’m missing out some of its possible medicinal properties?
Medicinal properties you ask!!? Well, I have managed to knock off an impressive 11kg over the last three months aided and abetted by a few under-the-weather-moments.  While the food is good, the quality of meat can sometimes be hit or miss and therefore my appetite has taken a beating over the weeks.  Being a good boy, I haven’t been tempted to overcome my reduced appetite with ‘the munchies’!

Perhaps I’m just a little too adventurous with the food – or not adventurous enough! Of course this will be hard for any of you to believe knowing my penchant for food; in fact, I imagine you find this news distressing.  You’ll be glad to know its holy month here…again and I was recently informed that there are four a year and so no meat is sold.  Jazus.

All I can say is, Bhutan gives a whole new meaning to ‘happy as pig in shit’!

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Its just a phallus after all

Willies, dick’s, penis’s, phalluses call them what you will – but you’ll find them all in Bhutan.  Dotted all around the country in all manners of erect glory.  They are made, with sensitivity I’d imagine, from wood, clay or metal and are placed over doorways and the eaves or painted on the exterior of buildings maybe a meter or more in length, some spurting others not.  Locals pass no remarks; they get more amusement out of the tourists taking pictures.

To the western eye this may seem crude.  There is no way for shying away these effigies.  But why do the Bhutanese create them?

It is believed that the phallus formed an important part of the Bon religion before the advent of Buddhism in Bhutan.  Although Bon religion,or elements of, are believed to still be practiced, in small very remote parts of Bhutan but has generally died out.  It is referred to as an animalistic and shamanistic faith.  This religion was the worship of nature – sun, water, mountains etc.

In the same way as paganism was incorporated into Catholicism in Ireland, elements of Bon religion are found in Buddhism.   The common perception by many Bhutanese is Lam Drukpa Kinley known as the Divine Madman.  With a reputation for his unrestrained sexual practices and his rebellious nature against an entrenched Buddhist hierarchy, Lam Drukpa Kinley used his wild ways not just to shock the leaders of their faith but to satisfy his sexual needs on unsuspecting females and even subduing demoness’s with his reportedly overwhelming manhood.  The monastery of Chimmi Lhakhang in Lobesa, Thimphu, is dedicated to this Saint.  Many couples wishing to start a family can seek a blessing from a Lama who taps the pair with a phallus to the crown of the head.

Leaving aside this Divine Madman, the phalluses are believed to ward off evil spirits and protect houses/people.  When blessing (!) a newly built house the phallus plays a leading role.

Five phalluses (or daggers) are used, signifying the five different manifestations of Lord Jambayang (a god).  According to Dasho Lam Sanga “On the eastern eave is placed a white dagger representing peace, purity, and harmony.  A red coloured dagger representing wealth and power is placed on the west.  The yellow dagger representing prosperity is placed on the south, and on the north is placed the green dagger representing protection. The fifth dagger placed inside the house is usually blue in colour and symbolizes wisdom.”  These are put in place in a tug-of-war like ceremony between the men on the roof and the women at ground level standing on the eastern eave of the house.  A basket of five cocks are tied along the rope and the games begin.  Eventually the phalluses reach the eaves of the house and are put in place.  I’m told quite a bit of Ara (local wine) is also involved ….. maybe its helps with any performance anxiety 😉

Thanks to www.keystobhutan.com for some of the info.

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Epic Mission, Great Adventure

I face the 3rd last mountain pass trying to get back to our base camp.  Tashi and I are out front, another two are about 15 minutes behind us and another group of three is at least 90 minutes behind them.  We’re in a white out, I want to say that low cloud cover has smothered us but since we are at least 4.3km (14,000ft) above sea level somehow I think the clouds are exactly where they are meant to be.  Not realizing the height at which we would trek to, I had not taken medication to combat altitude sickness, I’m nauseous, my legs are exhausted and have been for the last three hours, with every step is a struggle.

We left from the telecommunication tower above Thimphu at 7.30 that morning.  Backpacks filled for the overnight camp.  I have our dinner packed away in my rug sack and we take it in turns to carry the tents.  It takes us 4 hours to climb to Phajodhing monastery from 2,300m to 3,600m where we eat lunch.  We drop off the backpacks into the monastery, we’ll camp here tonight.  At 11.45am we set out on the second half of the climb and what we believe will take us 2hrs to reach our destination, Simkotra Tsho, a high mountain lake.  The first hour and a half gets up to the first pass at Thujedrag Goenpa (4,070m).  The first signs of the near permanent snow is scattered across the mountain peaks which are laid out before us.  Kinlay, who has trekked this route, known to as the “Druk” path, 9 times but the last time was over ten years ago.  He believes that the lakes are just over the next mountain pass.

Five passes later and we reach the lake, its visible we’re all shattered; we look down on the lake from a cliff ledge as it is laid out below us, about the size of a football pitch, perched above the valley far below.  Three of the group discuss going down the 150m to the lake edge, I have no problems in letting them know that I’m not able.  I really feel the altitude at this point and my stomach is doing summersaults.  The three start the descent as we wait, its 4.00pm at this point.  It’s taken us over 4 hours to get here and I’m conscious that we have only a couple hours of light left.  I decide I’m going to start back to camp and the other three are only too keen join me.  We signal to the others that we’re off.   The clouds have moved in at this point.  One of our group is suffering from a bad headache, a sure sign of altitude sickness while the second is nauseous.  All four of us are beyond tired.

The third last mountain pass was a bitch, Tashi and I broke away from the other two, I knew I needed/wanted to get to a lower altitude.  The gradual incline for more than a kilometer rising to a height of 4,300m was killing me.  We stopped at least five or six times, from our snail’s pace, to rest and catch our breath.  We finally get there.  We make it back to the last pass above Phajodhing at 5.20pm and wait for the two behind us.  I was worried, Kinlay was pretty sick and I could see in his face he was scared.  Tashi and I had agreed to wait at the pass as long as we could, leaving enough light for the hour hike into camp.  We decide if it came to it, we would leave our hiking poles on the path with our torch so that the other two could use them to find their way back down.  The sun had set at this point.

Luckily after 20mins they came into sight and 15 mins later they made it to the pass.  None of us were as concerned for the three we left behind.  All local, they did not seem to be as affected by the altitude.  Tashi and I made for home.  One of the benefits of the steep decent is the reversal of the otherwise deadly altitude sickness.  If I learned anything from a month in Nepal 8 years ago is if you feel it, you must descend immediately.   Tashi and I got back just before nightfall just as the wind and hail picked up.  The other two were 10mins behind.  The monks were a godsend, giving us all hot water.  I, along with the others, were frozen.  The other three arrived back two hours later in pitch darkness, a little worse for wear.  Boy we were glad to see them.  They had wandered off the path four times in the darkness, but thankfully each time realizing it before they had gone too far.  The wind and hail has beaten into them but they had two got torches.  Feeling like, what I can only describe as shit, we went to pitch the tents…..I’m the only one out of seven who had done this before, I couldn’t believe it!  We collected firewood and managed to get a camp fire going, wet wood and all.  It took us until 11.00pm to get dinner cooked but boy was it good.

In hindsight we should have acclimatize at Phajodhing before trekking to the lakes the following day.  It went from an adventure to an epic mission but we made it.  Lesson learned – prepare better!

We’re already planning our next trek! 😉

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Tigers Roar

The Thongdrel is over 400 years old, four stories in height and about 25m wide as it is hoisted up on the front of the monastery building.  It depicts Guru Rinpoche (the second reincarnation of Buddha) and his bringing Buddhism to Bhutan.  It is unrolled by monks in the top floor of the monastery who winch the Thongdrel up as a team of around fifty people at base of the building slowly unroll it with every heave.  A single drum beat is played very slowly.  The moment it reaches the top the hundreds of people who have gathered to witness this event prostrate before it.  Its 3am in the morning and the Land of the Thunder Dragon lives up to its name as the thunder rumbles overhead and the rain descends.  It’s an auspicious sign, cleansing the sins of the people present.  Many of these people have travelled for days, some by foot, from all over the country and from all over the world to witness this.  I can only look on with respect.  They then form an orderly queue and wait, some for hours, to touch the Thongdrel and receive a blessing.  This spectacle has played out like this for over 400 years.

I leave at 7am to return to the traditional farmhouse in which I’m staying for the night/morning.  The Thongdrel was taken down within a couple of hours, for fear the ancient tapestry might be damaged by the rays of the morning sun.

At 9.30am I can sleep in no longer, I can hear soothing tones of a horn coming from within the building.  The smell of incense fills my room.  I get dressed and make my way into a reception room which is next to my bedroom and I’m greeted by the farmhouse owner.  Off the reception room is the altar room, it seems every house has one but this is essentially two rooms and quite large.  Four monks are chanting rhythmically to the sounds of two horns and a drum.  Three of the monks are wearing the normal maroon attire while the fourth, on a raised platform is wearing orange and yellow, signifying his importance.  He appears to be in his late twenties or early thirties.  This is a very special occasion the owner tells me, the high Lama, who arrived with his team earlier in the morning is believe to be the partial reincarnation of Guru Rinpoche (Buddha) himself and his ceremony in the house will last for about six hours.  Offerings of food, water and incense are all laid out to the gods and I am taught how to correctly prostate myself before the altar and to the high Lama.  He does not speak but smiles at my efforts.

It’s a country that is still extremely spiritual.  I am surprised by the number of youth joining the religious order; some look as young as ten years of age.  Many have come from some of the poorest families and it appears to be common that one member of a family will join an order.  It will be interesting to see how many will in the next ten years.  The youth at the moment are looking towards countries like South Korea and Japan for inspiration, skinny jeans are in, groups of guys wear over styled hair and spirituality and Buddhism is taking a back seat.

Strangely, I can’t help but feel I’ve seen this before.  Ireland and Bhutan bare stark similarities, I feel a certain sadness in the inevitable.  As the Celtic Tiger raged, Ireland faced the same important decisions that Bhutan faces today.  Ireland gripped capitalism or maybe capitalism gripped Ireland, took her (Ireland) for a cheap ride and kicked her out the next morning.  I think she is now doing the walk of shame, and slinking back to sobering reality.

In the case of Bhutan, it is flirting with the big C (capitalism).  In recent years, imports from India have soared and with the Bhutan Ngultrum pegged to the Indian Rupee it has made the currency artificially high.  Cheap money and loans within the banking system have driven consumerism in the country and its dependence on India for everything from cars and milk, to cheap labour and rice – many items that Bhutan could easily produce itself .  And so, within the last few weeks Bhutan has made the difficult decision to limit access to the Indian Rupee.  It seems that it is possible to learn from the experiences of others, and the Government is now trying to plug the holes and wean itself off the reliance on India.  Fortunate perhaps, but at the same time, this foresight is having huge repercussions.  Imports of basics from India are now on the rise, my tins of baked beans have gone up by 20% (mum, send me beans please!) along with many other more essential items, the cheap Indian labour is also under strain.  Many Indians workers are not migrating to Bhutan for work as their employers can no longer pay them in Rupee’s.

While the roar of my own home’s Celtic Tiger’s has caught a cold and now whimpers, I admire the steps in which the Land of the Thunder Dragon embraces its past as it grapples with the tough decisions that will shape its future.  Thankfully when they talk about tiger’s roar, they are very much of the real variety, one they are very careful to nurture.

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Chili on the willy

The Director General (DG) of the organization has got a promotion, well done DG! He and the misses are packing their bags off to greener pastures.  To send him on his way he kindly had an event to celebrate the occasion.

I was left behind at the office.

Little old me was not extended an invite.  On their realization that I was on my lonesome, a driver was dispatch to collect from the office.  We stopped on-route to pick up a scarf from a clothes store.  I was given a crash course on how to present this white silk scarf embroidered with eight auspicious lucky signs.  I arrived and was greeted by the DG on the lawn where tents had been erected for the occasion.  He is wearing a pure silk, brightly hand embroidered, gho with leather knee high embroidered boots, a sword attached to his belt ran from his hip to his shin.  The sword was presented to him, similar to a knighthood, by the king.  He escorts me into his home, leads me down a long corridor to a room at the far end.  I enter this small room, with traditional bright Bhutanese hangings adorning the walls.  The patchwork of yellow, red, blue, green and white are found throughout many building.  Butter lamps (gold chalices) line, three or four deep, in neat rows along two tables against the walls, burn off the oil placed within with an aromatic smell.  I have entered the prayer room.  I have the silk scarf in the left hand, neatly folded in a particular manner along one seam.  The DG turns to face me, I stand before him and gently toss the scarf across my right forearm while keeping hold of the other end with my left hand and in Dzongkha (the native dialect) I congratulate him, I bow low and extend my arms to offer him the scarf.

I have taken part in my first official celebration.

I return to the party outside were we drink, snack and chat.  Food is a buffet and chillies once again are the order of the day.  There is a red and green chilli salad, I kid you not…all chilli with a dressing.  Then there is also pork and chillies, I swear I had to search for a few morsels of pork underneath a mountain of chilli.  I was warned off the natural yoghurt as it is an acquired taste, something I should try another time.  I return with my pork marinated in chilli and the Bhutanese red rice and yes that’s because of its colour, quite nice actually.  Some of the traditional dancers and singers entertain us as we relax (check out the vid http://youtu.be/WomBWkAIR3U).

I have also moved into a noice apartment in, what I’m sure, is the Beverly Hills of Thimphu, also pictured and much nicer than the previous apartment.  Gone are my days of Bhutan clubbing!  I did find myself drinking straight whiskey in “Tiger Bar” last Friday and signing “With or Without You” on the Karaoke machine.  Bhutan LOVES karaoke, it’s a pity about my singing.  I just got the internet connected at home last night and so I get to update you all.  I did spend all last weekend scrubbing the place and I’ve thoroughly disinfected it and am ready for visitors.  It’s all going well and next week I plan to visit the neighboring town of Paro in the east for their festival or Tsechu.

As promised, check me out in my gho!

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