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Tidbits from Bhutan

Text by Patty Simon – Bhutan

For the last week, we were so busy and did not have internet so I am going to write snippets of our fantastic experiences…

Bhutan does not have a G.N.P. Instead they have G.N.H. – Gross National Happiness! Seriously! Their motto is not about acquiring wealth or material things but in carrying on the culture, passion, tradition and tranquility that has made Bhutan unique, along with modernizing.

The national sport is archery. The target is far away… So far , I cannot see the arrow land.

We landed in Bhutan 14 years ago seeing rocks holding down roofs made out of slats of wood and departed seeing roofs made of shiny new tin. Our first trip memories included red rhododendrons lining the roads. This trip had us seeing red but on every rooftop – red hot chili peppers that are a staple in the Bhutanese diet – chili cheese and rice.

Bhutan consists of mountains, mountains and more mountains which means the roads are like pretzels and the edge is a sheer cliff drop. The monsoons reek havoc along with overuse in this developing country. One must put all their faith in their driver. One road sign read, “Inconvenience regretted – Shooting stones”.

Good Karma! Our group must be living right because we had the good fortune of three top experiences:
– having an exclusive visit to the Parliament building. It was so beautiful that I cried!
– attending the 60th birthday celebration of the former king with banners, dances, speeches and raffle (the whole country celebrated as the former kings died young)
– visiting with the Chief Justice and other Parliament ministers

It was interesting to try to understand democracy after a monarchy. There are many good things coming out of it but the underbelly seemed similar to what some of us complain about in the US. Once unified, the party system has created divisions download to the family level which is quite sad. False promises by people running with partisanship seeping into everyday life are other issues.

A recommended movie by our friend for your viewing pleasure is “The Birth of Democracy”.

The architecture is so unique, the wood carvers and painters are superb. The traditional houses are three story. The bottom floor is used for sheltering cattle and livestock. The second floor is storage of grain and food. The top floor is living. The beams are wood. The walls are stucco or wood. Bhutan is all forest! valley floor by aquamarine rushing rivers or terraced fields for agriculture. The painting on the beams and window frames symbolize unity, harmony, prosperity, love – all good for family life.

One cannot get enough of watching millions of prayer flags all over the country. They are impossibly strung down from mountain tops to monasteries, like the Tiger’s Nest in Paro hanging off a cliff high above the clouds. They are hung vertically on tree poles- all in white- to honor the dead. It was told that as they flap in the cool crisp wind, the prayers magically take to the air. Imagine being surrounded by all the invisible prayers. Religious or not, it is a good feeling.

My journal is filled with hundreds of names and reincarnated names of the same gods and goddesses, the stories are are even more complicated but at the end of the day, it all,makes sense. It is all about protection, happiness, doing good, casting out evil, and ultimately enlightenment.

Bhutans’ biggest friend and supporter is India. The roads you see and the products in the stores you buy all come from next door. We happened to be in the country when thenIndian president came in for the birthday celebrations. Imagine wrapping this whole tiny country in a big fat bow. The roads were lined in miles of banners, portraits, flags and welcome signs.

To end, “If we have a compassionate mind, we have no enemies”.
We left Bhutan with a warm feeling in our heart and even some Facebook friends!

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The Naked Man Dance

Text by Patty Simon -Bumtang, Bhutan

After spending 2days on a harrowing, windy road (not like a nice Colorado mountain pass but more like a pretzel!), we get to our destination – a Buddhist festival in Bumtang (Google map it). Why? We wanted to attend one of the major festivals.
What we did not know is this- the first dance we would see would be naked men at one on the morning in the freezing cold, dancing around a huge bonfire (which I am sure they were thankful for).
Sad to say we could not take photographs. It was not sad because we wanted to slip into a juvenile place and giggle at the sight of so many penises. It was sad not to capture what was truly a beautiful National Geographic moment. The silhouettes of ballet-like, thin young men with their heads wrapped in white prayer shawls to hide their identities (and keep them warmer!), at one point looked like that beautiful Matisse painting of the dancers. Picture a blackness only found in Bhutan against a full moon high in the sky with young men with their own kind of “enlightenment” – the warm glow of the massive bonfire on their beautiful skin. A monk would use a drum or cymbal to create an ancient beat they would dance to going around the fire. There was a fun risqué element where pairs would go close to the audience shaking their private parts to sounds of laughter. We were lucky enough to be in the front row.
This was not just fun. This was important. This dance was meant to distract the demons away from the building of the Buddhist temple. Each family gave a male to participate. I felt safe knowing these evil elements were surely cast out. I could sleep soundly tonight.