Day 18: Culture

Well today was a busy day with a lot of cultural learning. Mostly just moving around Thimpu. The details aren’t horribly important though I don’t think so I’ll try to be brief. There also isn’t a whole lot to do in Thimpu, the country is small and so is the capital.

First up was a famous stoopa dedicated to the 3rd king. Many of the older generation walk circles around it literally all day in the hopes of improving their luck and their karma. They also share their lunches with each other and talk. I guess in that respect it’s not a bad thing, it’s exercise and a good social atmosphere. But they’re scared of not the end of this life, but for their next life in the hopes of being reincarnated in the human realm again to have another chance at finally reaching enlightenment. It’s a bit sad to me because it’s completely consuming what little time they have left with worry and fear. I see a middle age businessman doing his 3 rounds around the stoopa as fast as he can without running, which seems a bit insincere.

I also went to a weaver society which was pretty cool because you could see the incredible skill with which these textiles are hard made. Great detail is added with painstaking work. The end result is incredible but way more expensive than I could afford to bring home at $500 for a piece that could go on a wall.

We also drove up to the top of the local mountain where the giant Buddha I saw yesterday was at. This gave some amazing views of Thimpu down below. I managed to get some HDR photos done finally since the clouds moved a bit slower than it has.

Yet more monasteries. They have so much faith here.

Then to the zoo! Sort of. They called it a preserve which had 2 little pens with Tekins in them. The Tekin is some weird creature that according the legend was put together by a guru known as the “Divine Madman” from the head of a goat and the body of a cow. They’re now protected now, and incredibly strange creatures.

There is a lot of construction going on in Bhutan, it’s growing quite quickly. I wonder how much longer things will remain like this. I think the king has the right idea of trying to improve the quality of life along with economic progress unlike China where it seems to be the thought that quality of life will inherently improve with economic progress. One interesting artifact of this though is that construction isn’t being done by the Bhutanese people themselves, but they believe they lack the skills so large numbers of Indians come up from the south to construct buildings and roads. All of the raw materials used in the construction are also brought up. There is no mining or lumber industries to speak of here which seems like it would help greatly in their goal of preservation. I think this is all tied to how Bhutan lacks density but has a comfortable quality of life unlike India which is much more packed.

Speaking of Indian-Bhutan relations, it’s really quite interesting how tied they are together. India provides protection for Bhutan, though Bhutan does have it’s own military. A large part of the Bhutanese people also speak Hindi. The money, the Ngultrum ( silent g ) is tied to the Indian Rupee. The food is quite similar too in many respects.

I went to the Textile Museum which was all of 3 rooms. It was more about the way in which the clothes are worn than anything else along with some anecdotes about the ethnic minority dress.

Finally we stopped in at the Thimpu Dzong the parliamentary building. Another impressive bit of Bhutanese architecture, but just a scaled up version of what I’ve already seen quite a lot. One interesting thing though was that tomorrow is a holiday, and these giant scrolls will be unrolled on the side of the central building within the dzong. The king is expected to attend, and offerings of snacks have been made throughout the month that the monks are now laying out in these big boxes. Supposedly they get blessed by the scroll, and then people attending take a bite of one of the snacks. It was funny to see Lays chips in there. Holy potato chips?

I heard on the news that the monsoon has hit the Thai Adaman Coast in earnest and it’s pouring bucks and blowing stink. I lucked out to have gotten to enjoy the beach when I did. Out here in Bhutan the weather is unpredictable but it’s not solid rain just yet. Though tonight at 11pm it poured outside.

I kind of like the money here. They don’t really use coins anymore, and the bills of change in size based on value. Makes it easy to tell straight away what you have in your hand is correct change or not.

Anyway today though was mostly to me about the culture and the Bhutanese people. Walking around Bhutan is like walking around around a country with a rift in time, reflections of the past walking right there beside you. They have such incredible pride in their culture and history, and most young people still listen to traditional forms of music and dress in traditional clothing. My guide I can hear humming traditional song from time to time. The other night after dinner they were watching “Druk Superstar” a sort of American Idol for tiny Bhutan where singers have to sing songs in the 3 different forms 2 of which are traditional forms. It’s still a large part of their culture even for the younger generation.

The Bhutanese history is one characterized by superstition, and exaggeration. Stories of Gurus from Tibet coming down and subduing demons. Of Buddhist masters controlling the elements and life itself. Of great battles won by their glorious king’s family. Their history classes must be much more exciting than ours, though I have a bit of doubt on some of the accuracy.

Every day you see people praying and giving offering to protective deities and Buddha. It’s more the older generation, but people from every age group and every walk of life doing it. They’re not like Japan where they’re kind of Buddhist, these people believe heart and soul, and I sincerely believe I’m not just seeing something put on for tourists.

I half expected coming here to find that what I saw in the movie Travelers and Magicians wouldn’t be what I found, but it really is like that here. If you’re curious to see a slice of what I’ve experienced, I highly recommend netflixing that. It’s also not a bad film in itself.

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