A Journey to the holiest of Bhutan
Flashy clothes, colorful masks, jumps and dances, the religious festivals in Bhutan, the Tsechu, are demonstrative celebrations. They happen all year around in different locations of the country. To visit Bhutan without assisting to one of them is a bad idea. One of the most popular is held in Paro between March and April.
Bhutan, the Kingdom of the Dragon, the country with the highest rate of happiness in the world, is virtually still unknown. Unknown to the point where when we couldn’t go to Tibet as planned because the border was closed and were offered to go to Buthan instead, we had to look for it on the map! Lucky for us, the country wasn’t on the usual tourist trail.
Strolling along the streets and villages of Bhutan is to realize that a world without McDonald’s, Starbucks or Zara is possible. A world in which there are no signs for Coca-Cola. In which the only known pasta Indian, but the Italian never heard of. A land where three cars on a street form a jam and where people wear traditional costumes for their everyday whereabouts. If you wear traditional costumes everyday, what do not wear on religious holidays?
Nestled in the middle of the Himalayas, Paro Airport, the only international, is considered by Boeing Corporation as one of the world’s most dangerous for landing and takeoff. Bhutan remained isolated from the world for centuries. Their traditions and culture have remained unchanged until the late twentieth century. For a long time they haven’t allowed television, Internet and even cars trouble their lives. During our visit, we noticed young people beginning to wear jeans and abandon working in the fields. Pretty understandable when carrying a suitcase for a tourist from the taxi to the hotel room gets them a tip, which is nearly half the salary of a farmer.
This lack of contacts with the outside world has allowed them remain so genuine, that it can be interpreted as naivety and could surprise you in the first encounters. They can ask you questions such as whether it is possible to cross the street in company of soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo in Madrid or how much you get charged for burn your photos onto. They can now watch the world football and basketball world cups on Indian cable TV.
Walking up to the temple Simtokha Dzong, a fortress located near the capital, Thimphu, we met with a gentleman who stopped by to chat with us. Later Kuenzang, our guide, explained the man was the Prime Minister. We had suspected the man was someone important from Kuenzang, body language – he kept his head bowed and eyes down as we talked. That same afternoon, in a park in Thimphu, we watched an archery competition. One of the archers, noticing the presence of tourists, approached us to explain that archery is the most important sport in the country and that they were competing to commemorate the celebration of the first Buthan national elections in 2008. This time gain, Kuenzang was staring at the ground while the man spoke to us. When we left, he said it was the leader of the opposition. We then realized that we had been lucky our steps had taken us to Bhutan.
The Tsechu Bhutan Full story upon request. Available in French in Spanish
Copyright: words and photos Sara Amata and JAAC / The Tribe Press Agency
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