I was cleaning up in my blog drafts and found this one from my trip to Bhutan. Before I went, another traveler told me to ask about “night hunting.” So I did. This is what I was told.
In the past, if a man was interested in a woman, he would climb into her bedroom window. Out in the countryside, and most of Bhutan is countryside, there were no lights so it was pitch dark. (I wondered how they found their way in the dark, but then again, I’m a city person.) If the woman got pregnant… the couple’s families would negotiate a marriage.
My guide’s opinion was that “night hunting was more because of lazy business men who wanted to take advantage of innocent country girls and not bother with sweet talk at a bar.”
According to my guide, night hunting is now illegal and considered rape. In modern Bhutan, premarital sex is not frowned on, unwed mothers are cared for by the government, and there are campaigns for safe sex. He told me, “people are more educated so they want fewer children and they want them when they are older.” The previous age for marriage was 16-18 and now many women wait until they are 25.
I can’t remember all the other stuff that he told me but I wish that I had recorded him. Next time, perhaps.
Dzong… dzong… dzong. That’s the deep basal reverberating sound that the Bhutanese alpine horns make during the “tsechu” in the “dzong” which is the building where the festival takes place.
One year later, from a completely different mountain range (Bogota and Thimphu are at the same altitude) on the other side of the world, I remember the tsechu I saw when I went to Bhutan. “Tsechu” is the word for the “tenth day” in Bhutan.
In Bhutan, the second largest “tsechu” festival of the year takes place in April in the town of Paro. The biggest festival is held in the fall in Thimphu, the capital of Bhutan. The tsechu festival is extremely complex which is evident from this sample itinerary:
“We can continue attending the Thimphu tsechu day 2 where you will get to witness Chamms (religious associated dances) like The Black Hat Dance (Shana), Dance of the 21 black hats with drums (Sha nga ngacham), Dance of the Noblemen and the Ladies (Pholeg Moleg), Dance of the Drums from Dramitse (Dramitse Ngacham), Dance of the Noblemen and the Ladies (Pholeg Moleg) and Dance of the Stag and Hounds (Shawa Shachi). Not all dances will be performed in the morning but we will be able witness at least two.”
Although I didn’t understand most of the stories being told, I enjoyed the colors and costumes. For the Bhutanese, the very act of watching the dances is good for their souls. It’s also educational. The monks who perform the roles of the gods and demons must be in excellent shape as the dance is a marathon. Also, of note, is that the costumes are never washed because washing them would wash away the spirits. After being used, the costumes are immediately packed down until the next time they are needed. No airing out allowed…
A popular dance is the Black Hat Dance which tells the legend of how the wrathful gods (good guys) draw out the demons by inviting them to a dance. Then during the dance, while the demons (bad guys) watch, the Black Hats take the bows and arrows from their large sleeves and kill the demons.
Everything, from dates, numbers, directions, hand motions, shawl knots, etc. have Buddhist significance in Bhutan.
Another thing that I found interesting about the festival, and Himalayan Buddhism, is that embarrassment is a tool used to open up the spirit to enlightenment. This was evident at the tsechu with the lively antics of the jester. The jester wandered around making lewd overtures and gestures, including climbing on to the laps of foreigners. I’m sure that his antics made for many a Facebook photo.
And speaking of embarrassment leading to enlightenment, my friend and I had our own enlightenment experience. My male friend and I both bought the cream colored large sash called a “kabney” that the men wear as part of the their formal attire with their gho (see photo). Then we went out in public wearing our kabneys as scarves. This caused embarrassment and my friend was “talked to” by some Bhutanese men. They were embarrassed on his behalf that he was wearing the sash without the proper traditional clothes under it. As a woman, no one said anything to me because it was clear that I was a clueless foreigner… after all no Bhutanese woman would ever wear this piece of male attire! We quickly packed them away, to be worn outside of Bhutan.
For the past six months, memories of a small kingdom, high on the roof of the world, keeps slipping into my mind. Oh, Bhutan, Land of the Thunder Dragon, how my imagination is painting you in colors of the sun! One of the wonders of a selective memory is the rose colored tint on everything. This is not completely the case with Bhutan. There were things I loved about Bhutan and things that I found less delightful (my apologies to my Bhutanese friends although they are too polite to object). I imagine that Bhutan is a bit like Tibet of yore (or Hollywood’s Tibet). Despite it being the land of Gross National Happiness (the king tells you that you are happy so you will be), it’s not all happiness and light (okay, there is is a lot of light).
With April just around the corner, when I think back to the gho-clad men, strong women, crisp air, and quiet spiritualism, my thoughts turn to the spring festival, or “tsechu,” in Paro. The tsechu is a multi-day religious festival and a dream for a photographer (and for those of us who like to take photos). More about the tsechu in a later blog post.
I had so many things from Bhutan framed that my framer asked me if I was Bhutanese. No, but thanks for the compliment.
What makes a woman attractive in Bhutan? Apparently, it depends on the region. In the western regions of Bhutan, an attractive woman is one who can care for her farm. In the western part of Bhutan, the daughter inherits the farm (as they say, “because her parents love her so much” that they give the farm to her knowing that she will care for it). In some areas of Bhutan, the families are matrilineal, or as I was told “the woman is the boss” in the relationship. But, often, the inheritance depends on which child is not doing as well for him or herself.
In the eastern regions, red cheeks and a tall and slim figure are considered attractive. Many young people move to the big city of Thimphu, get a better education, a non-agrarian job, and live together before getting married. Once they have tried it, if they think it will work, then he proposes. Around Thimphu there are many nightclubs where young people like to go to meet, to dance, with singing karaoke being a favorite pastime. The large festivals are also prime seasons for meeting potential mates. The average age of marriage is rising in the city to 25 but until recently, it was much lower.
In Bhutan, there are no outward signs of marriage such as wedding rings or bracelets (Hindu women can wear white Shakha bracelets as an indication of their married status). When I asked, I was told, “you must trust.”
Bhutan. Land of Happiness. Land of Gross National Happiness. Land of the Thunder Dragon. The Hermit kingdom. Whatever the name, it is unlike any other place in the world.
As a non-Indian, Nepalese, or Bangladeshi, getting to Bhutan must be done through a tour company. The company takes care of your ticket, visa, hotel, and itinerary. We used a fledgling company called Bhutan HappyLand Tours. While some of the kinks need to be ironed out, overall, I’m glad that we went. Indeed, I feel myself yearning to go back. Our guide was unflagging in energy and answered every single one of my vast array of questions, from early in the morning till late at night.
They filmed Seven Years in Tibet — in Bhutan — and you might want to stay that long. If you can afford it. It is not cheap to visit at $250 per night, $450 for the ticket from Dhaka, and $40 visa. But beyond that, the only other money you will need is for souvenirs and to tip your guide. Everything is best paid in U.S. dollars (100 bills are best). Druk Air, Royal Bhutan Airlines, is the national carrier of Bhutan and there are only two flights per week from Dhaka to Paro.
There are many itineraries to choose from but we chose the three night tour of Bhutan. We saw archery, graphic wall art, butter churning, monks praying, and much happiness.
Since the country is shrouded in mystery, there are many things that set Bhutan apart from other countries. More in a future blog posting…