I wanted to visit Bhutan for several years but the high cost of a visa -- $250 per day -- made it difficult.
I partnered with a local company in 2012 who got me in for a more reasonable daily rate.
I partnered with a local company in 2012 who got me in for a more reasonable daily rate.
Thimphu is the 50-year-old capital of Bhutan. With crimson-robed monks, Indian labourers and government ministers clad in ghos and kiras (traditonal dress), Thimphu never feels more than a friendly over-sized village.*
Based on core Buddhist values, Gross National Happiness places real value on cultural heritage, health, education, good governance, ecological diversity and individual well-being.*
Gross National Happiness considers growth not as an end but rather as a means of achieving more important ends.*
Bhutan's arts and crafts vary from sacred murals to bambo bows.*
However, artists do express their own personality in minor details (for example, the shading of clouds or background scenes).*
Dechenphu Lhakhang is home to Gyenyen, the valley's protective deity, and so is off-limits to tourists.*
The Taktshng Goemba (Tiger's Nest Monastery) is miraculously perched on the side of a sheer cliff 900m above the floor of the Paro vallley. The only way up to the Tiger's Nest is to walk, ride a horse or fly up on the back of a magic tiger.*
The National Memorial Chorten is for many Bhutanese the focus of their daily worship. Throughout the day, people circumambulate the chorten, whirl the large red prayer wheels and pray at a small shrine inside the gate.*
Once inside Paro Dzong, my guide told me I couldn't take any photos or video so I placed my camera on the floor still running and caught this monk dancing.
Paro Tsechu features four days of cham or ritual religious dance followed by the pre-dawn unfurling of a giant thangka or painted picture depicting the eight manifestations of Guru Rinpoche.*
Thimphu is apparently the world's only capital without traffic lights. A set was installed a few years back, but residents complained that it was too impersonal, which is why the beloved white-gloved police continue to direct traffic with balletic grace.*
The Asian country of Bhutan is known for the rich cultural appreciation of its citizens. Over the course of the year, numerous festivals are held to worship the gods and pray for prosperity in the coming year.
At religious ceremonies, men perform the Cham dance. The dancers are accompanied by monk musicians and the dance acts as moral instruction, reminding those watching to have compassion for sentient beings and the gods. The dances act as a form of meditation, purifying the souls of those attending and bringing good luck. Only monks or male members of the Royal Academy of Performing Arts are allowed to perform the Cham dance due to religious instruction.
The Royal Academy of Performing Arts trains young dancers the traditional dances of Bhutan. In the outdoor theatre, shows are held for the public. Stories of characters depicting gods, demons, warriors, kings, animals and so many others are featured and told by the dancers through very precise movements. Each movement made by the hands, head and feet carry a different meaning, so dancers must perfect their movements in order to tell the right story to the audience.
It was easy to forget that young monks were still boys at heart.
Young nuns too are just girls at heart.
A small factory produces tradition Bhutanese paper handmade from the daphne bush.*
The takins, Bhutan's national animal, were so tame that they wandered around the streets to Thimphu looking for food, and the only solution was to put them back into captivity.
The main form of dance is the cham, performed at the tsechus and other festivals held throughout Bhutan.
Hand-woven and embroidered textiles are generally recognised as Bhutan's premier handicraft.*
Paro is the heartland of the Drukpa people and is home to the only airport, the most popular festivals and the largest, oldest and most spectacular dzongs (monastic forts) in the kingdom.*
Gross National Happiness has become Bhutan's philosophical banner and a gift to world grappling with materialist growth economics.*
Based on core Buddhist and human values, this measurable index is a counterpoint to the economist's Gross National Product.*
Traditional art has two important characteristics: it is religious and anonymous.*
Zilukha Nunnery is a modern nunnery in the hills surrounding Thimphu.
A Nepalese-style chorten sits on on the ridge above Begana.*
Near Paro, stand the ruins of Drukgyel Dzong built in 1649 in a location chosen for its control of the route to Tibet.*
ven unfinished, the huge 50m tall steel statue of Buddha Dordenma commands the entry to the Thimphu valley.*
On the hike up to the Tiger's Nest Monastery, we stopped at a small monastery.
The first day of the spring Paro Tsechu is held in the courtyard of the Paro (Rinpung) Dzong.*
Of approximately 5500 formal monks in Bhutan, half are under the patronage of the Je Khenpo, the other half subsidised by private support.*
Bhutan is a country deeply rooted in culture and tradition. The central religion practiced is Buddhism, and numerous monasteries are scattered throughout the country. Buddhist monks follow a hierarchy. A leader heads the religion with five masters in charge of the subjects of religious tradition, liturgy, lexicography, logic and university. One of the five masters will act as a successor to the leader.
Most monks are celibate keeping with the tradition, but in some sectors of Buddhism, monks are allowed to marry and raise families while passing on the tradition to their loved ones. Organizations of nuns throughout Bhutan are popular, keeping with the traditions monks pass on. Monks spend their days in the monasteries studying, meditating and following rituals. Religious rituals include monastic singing and chanting together in prayer.
Monuments are built near monasteries to honour the dead heroes of Buddhism. Surrounding monasteries are prayer flags. Fabrics in colours of blue, white, red, green and yellow are strung up with prayers sewn onto them to ward off evil and demons, keeping the holy ground holy and blessing the surroundings. Each flag is representative of a different element, creating health and harmony through balancing them.
The Kingdom of Bhutan is a landlocked country bordered by China and India. The prominently Buddhist country recently changed from an absolute monarchy to a constitutional monarchy, holding an election in 2007. Unfortunately, much of Bhutanese history is unclear because of a fire in 1827 that destroyed many historic records. Ranking in as the happiest country in Asia, and eighth happiest in the world, Bhutan was under strict rulings, only in 1999 lifting a ban on television and internet, and still facing a traditional dress code at public gatherings.
Because of the bans on certain technologies, Bhutanese culture is strong among its citizens. Much of the country still wears the traditional dress outside of public gatherings and abide by the feudal system, meaning specific colours and fabrics signify status. Numerous monasteries around the country allow for the country's primary religion, Buddhism, to be practiced and taught.
There are numerous festivals throughout the year taking place in Bhutan to worship the gods and commemorate lost kings. Dancers depict heroes, demons, gods, animals and historical figures, gathering the country together. The national sport, archery, is practiced by teams and also gathers large crowds of people from all over.
Despite the beautiful landscapes of Bhutan, much of the world will not be able to experience it. While Bhutanese citizens are encouraged to travel, it is rather difficult and expensive to travel there from outside Asia.
Pancham is an energetic dance based on a vision by Pema Linga and is thought to lead believers directly to the presence of Guru Rinpoche.*
We accidently came across a group of soldiers playing a game with rocks.
Gross National Happiness has become Bhutan's philosophical banner and gift to a world grappling with materialistic 'growth economics'.*
There are strict iconographical conventions in Bhutanese art and the Bhutanese artists observe them scrupulously.*
A photogenic gold-painted rock painting of Guru Rinpoche can be found near Begana.*
The Dochu La is marked by a large array of prayer flags and an impressive new collection of 108 chortens. On a clear day, the pass offers a panoramic view of the Bhutan Himalaya.*
The Paro Dzong is one of Bhutan's most impressive and well-known dzongs, and perhaps the finest example of Bhutanese architecture.*
The Royal Academy of Performing Arts is the home of the Royal Dance Troupe which works to preserve Bhutan's folk-dancing heritage and trains professinal dancers who perform several of the dances at the Thimphy tsechu.*
We unexpectedly came across local children enjoying a swimming hole after a heavy rainfall.
Bhutan's national sport is archery. The targets seem impossibly tiny and the distance immense and yet the target is hit quite regularly.*
Khuru is a darts game played on a field about 20m long with small targets similar to those used by archers.*
The craftwork of Bhutan, much like the rest of the country, is very much rooted in tradition. In order to keep the Bhutanese culture alive, and pass down the skills through generations, schools like the Institute of Zorig Chosum are responsible for training students to create various traditional pieces of art.
The art forms of Bhutan are very similar to those of Tibet. Popular figures are rooted in Vajrayana Buddhism, and divine beings are pictured as shapes or objects in lavish colours. These crafts represent the "spirit and identity of the Himalayan Kingdom" and are commonly referred to as the Zorig Chosum. This translate to the "thirteen arts and crafts of Bhutan". The sacred arts include carpentry, painting, paper making, blacksmithery, sculpting, bamboowork, needlework, and many others.
Resources are found and created to make these crafts a possibility. Bamboo work features bow and arrow making to keep their national sport, archery, alive. Textiles are created uniquely and given as gifts for major milestones like birth and marriage. The colours, figures and shapes are all rooted in Buddhist tradition, and will continue to be taught for generations to come.
The Choki Traditional Art School trains disadvantaged kids in traditional arts of painting, sculpture and carving.*
It was a great honour to invited to a traditional Bhutanese wedding.
A wedding singer entertains the wedding guests.
Dranyeo Cham celebrates the diffusion of the Drukpa lineage in Bhutan by the Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal.*
Thimphu's incense factory churns out between 5000 and 10,000 sticks every month.*
* These captions are from Bhutan -- Lonely Planet's travel guide.