“Simply Bhutan” in Thimphu, is a museum which seeks to showcase the traditional culture of the Bhutanese people.
We were welcomed with the drink “ara”, a fermented drink made from rice, in the small circular welcoming area, on the walls of which hung the photographs of the five kings. Those who had passed on to other realms had the white “kadar” draped below the photograph. Those still alive had it draped around the top of the photograph. This is a small white scarf which symbolises purity and is used during all ceremonies.
Our guide, a pleasant young girl, told us about each of the kings and the appellate given to them which represented the most significant achievement during their respective reigns.
The first one , who had established the kingdom, after unifying all the warring warring factions within the land was known as the King of Unity. The second who worked towards establishing Bhutan as a distinct cultural and political entity , removed from the rest of the world, was known as the King of Separation. The third was known as the King of Modernity. The fourth Jigme Singme Wangchuk who is known for factoring in the Happiness of the people into the country’s development goals is known as the King of Happiness and the present one, who ascended the throne after his father’s abdication and has been carrying forward his father’s intent of establishing an elected Government is known as the King of Democracy.
There was a range of caskets, big and small, weapons, water carriers made from yak leather and ropes made of yak hair , placed around the area.
All of it had been articles of everyday use in the old days. Bhutan had changed a lot since then, of course. But there is still an abiding simplicity in the living styles even now.
Their traditional dress , for example, is uniformly worn by everyone even now. May be there is some difference in the material, but to the outside observer, there appears to be no scope for the Bhutanese population to flaunt their status through the range and texture or design of the clothes they wore. Food similarly, is very basic. I did try out a couple of traditional dishes, Emu Dakchi , which had potato and Kewa Dakchi made from big green chillies, both cooked in a white cheesy sauce. My taste buds approved it.
Just inside the entrance are, there was a live demonstration of how mud walls used to be built, by ramming wet mud with poles, singing all the while to make their labour light.
The guide told us that the songs also included prayers asking forgiveness from all the bugs and insects that they were likely to be killing in the course of building those mud houses.
Those houses were very well suited for the climate of the land. One later learnt from the Internet that the Bhutan Nuns Foundation, headed by the well known Dr, Tashi Zangmo was doing much in reviving and promoting the old construction methods.
There was also a corner devoted to the “Fertility Saint”, with an array of phallic representations .
Women wear them as talismans around their neck or hang it on the eaves or at the entrance of the houses to usher in prosperity. He is also known as the “Crazy Saint” because of the unusual methods he employed for bringing enlightment to the people. There is monastery in Punakha dedicated to this saint.
You can read more about this crazy /wise saint in this link :
Inside the quaint cafeteria, four girls swayed to lilting music while we sipped at a sample of “Suja” or butter tea, which is very popular in Bhutan. It is brewed with tea leaves, yak butter,a dash of salt. They had sprinkled a smattering of roasted rice grains on top of the brew.
After the guide took around . explaining all about the traditional living of Bhutan, we reached a stall where a real surprise awaited us. Here sat Pema Tshering , who had been inflicted with cerebral palsy when he was a child. Abandoned by his parents, he grew up in the village under the care of his grandparents. The queen mother happened to visit that village and came across the young boy. Moved by his plight, she sponsored his education in an art school where he learnt painting and carving. Pema now earns a living out of this craft. He has received recognition worldwide now. The work is exacting , he admits, but he is happy that he is able to eke out a living. He is even planning to build a house for his parents who are now old. Compassion and forgiveness constitute a major gene in the emotional wiring of the Bhutanese people, it seemed.
This is a place any traveller to Bhutan must visit. For some reason it was not included in our itinerary arranged by the Travel Agents. Thanks to the suggestion rendered by Wangchuk, who drove us and accompanied us to the various places, we were fortunate to have not given it a go by. They charge Rs.200 per person for entry, but it was well worth it.