The Bhutan Odyssey - A photoblog on people and culture of Bhutan
Bhutan is the only country in the world that measures the nation’s progress using the index of ‘Gross National Happiness’ instead of ‘Gross Domestic Product’. In our quest to understand Bhutan, we travelled extensively through Phuentsholing, Thimphu, Punakha, Phobjikha and Paro and we found entire Bhutan to be a photographer’s paradise. We clicked many photographs of people and places that we weren’t able to put in our previous blogs, but they are essential in understanding Bhutan, its people and its culture. So, we decided to create this photoblog so that we can share all those beautiful pictures with you. Stay tuned.
This is the 9th article of the series - The Bhutan Odyssey. If you have missed out on our previous articles of the series, read them by clicking on the links or photos below:
9. Photoblog on people and culture of Bhutan (This article)
Till 1950, education in Bhutan was mainly monastic. Bhutan opened its first secular school borrowing its curriculum from India under the rule of second King. The third King made English language as the official language of instruction. Today, you can see plenty primary, secondary and post-secondary institutions across Bhutan. We were fortunate to visit a school in Phuentsholing. And what struck us the most is their attention to sports. It was refreshing to see that sports-participation was compulsory for girls, unlike India. While we were able to witness a girls’ volleyball match, we were surprised to see how enthusiastically the boys cheered for the girl’s team. We also got a chance to interact with the kids who happily showed us their colourful classrooms and their textbooks.
Bhutan, being located at high altitude, has thinner air. Due to an increased fraction of red blood cells in the bodies of the locals, their cheeks are always flushed with redness. Bhutanese children generally are fair-skinned and have round faces with flushed cheeks. We came across some kids wearing the Bhutanese traditional dress and we couldn’t adore them more. The kids were lovely, cute, kind-hearted and innocent, just like any other kid and we weren’t able to stop ourselves from clicking their playful smiles. They held our hands, played with us, even sang for us and melted our hearts.
Another school that we were fortunate in visiting was in a remote village in Phobjikha. The children here were practising dance moves that was to be performed on an upcoming Teacher’s day celebration. They were all dressed in Bhutanese national dress - (Gho for males and Kira for females) and sang together in chorus while dancing. We sat there in the big wooden hall that they performed in, watching them giggle and dance. Their school was located in an extremely beautiful setting surrounded by green valleys and hills. And we were forced to admire and think ‘If only we had such a stunning setting around our school, we would have hardly concentrated on studies’.
Traditionally, Bhutanese families, if they were able to, would send one of their children to join a monastery. We met many Buddhist monks and nuns in Bhutan; especially while visiting the dzongs and temples. In one of the monastic schools, we also got to know their daily schedule that started at 4 AM and continued till 10 PM. This entire period included reciting prayers in the morning and evening, reading religious scripts, studying, playing, extracurricular activities like singing, making candles, participating in sports and playing musical instruments. And after going through such a busy ordeal, they sustained their infectious smiles. We played football with kid monks at Chimi Lhakhang in Punakha, got in deep conversations about Buddhist religion and Bhutanese culture with adult monks at several places and peeked into the daily life of nuns at Sangchen Dorji Lheundrup nunnery in Punakha. While most of them were very shy, some were extremely friendly and the others were non-affected by our presence and continued reciting their prayers and performing their rituals.
In Bhutan, the elderly people are respected immensely for their wisdom. Most of the elderly population spend their days praying and visiting a temple. They are very strict with their religious practices. We did not come across old beggars or for that matter any beggar at all. All the old people that we met were active and kept their lives busy in some or the other way. Respecting and taking care of the elderly is one of the important aspects of Bhutanese culture and Buddhism. We are not sure of what they thought when we clicked them, but they made excellent portraits. Most of them were welcoming and smiled as we took their pictures.
Majority of Bhutanese are staunch followers of Buddhism. In fact, Buddhism is inscribed in every place that we visited in Bhutan – be it colourful prayer flags, prayer wheels, white stupas, dzongs, monasteries, temples or even the traditional houses. Spirituality is embedded in the daily life of every Bhutanese. It won’t take you too long to grasp the basics of Buddhism when you visit Bhutan. We enjoyed clicking these religious aspects of people in Bhutan where they prayed with utmost innocence and were loyal to the King
Another set of people that we loved clicking were the working class. We photographed men and women working in shops, factories and street markets. We saw the flag unfurling ceremony at Thimphu dzong where soldiers dressed in formal attire marched before unfurling the Bhutanese flag. We saw nuns washing utensils and clothes and watering plants all by themselves. We saw men selling fruits on the street-side. We also saw working men and women on the streets, all dressed up, commuting to their offices. We were delighted that women formed a big chunk of the working force and there was no discrimination.
We hope you enjoyed going through the pictures in this photoblog. We thank Nature Tourism Bhutan for all the support and assistance they provided us in making our trip to Bhutan unforgettable. You can book your customised tour to this Himalayan nation with Nature Tourism Bhutan by contacting them through their website.
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Let us know what you think about our pictures or whether they helped you in understanding the people and culture of Bhutan in the comments section below.