The Political Science Program at Texas A&M University-Kingsville, with the assistance of the University’s Division of International Studies & Programs, is pleased to introduce its Bhutan-based program on Traditional Economies and Sustainable Development - a pioneering partnership between A&M-Kingsville and Royal Thimphu College (RTC), Bhutan.
The Bhutan Program (BP) is being directed by Dr. Nirmal Goswami, Professor of Political Science, A&M-Kingsville. The BP includes graduate and undergraduate students traveling to and staying in Bhutan in May 2013, attending classes at RTC, and visiting multiple sites through field trips in Northwestern Bhutan. Areas of focus include history, politics, economics, culture, sustainability and environmental policies, etc., with reference to both Bhutan and South Asia.
You are all invited to cyber travel with us as we learn about the uniqueness of Bhutan and the Eastern Himalayan Region. This blog will document our experience. You are welcome to post comments.
Wednesday, August 7, 2013
As we pack our bags the memories of the days spent across Bhutan come back to life. This country has left an impression and a mark in all of our lives. We were all challenged to step outside of our comfort zone and accept a whole new life style for the past two and a half weeks. Words cannot explain the impact this trip has on our lives. From the first warm greeting at the airport from Tshering to the goodbyes around the campfire. The first day we arrived at sat by the fire speaking with the Bhutanese students trying to find a common topic and learn from them to now while we are still sitting fire blazing and now saying goodbye to people who have impacted our lives. The staff and students at RTC were the most hospitable and caring people we could have hoped for. Arriving in a new country is never easy and always makes you unsure. Our perceptions were completely altered from the first day until now after all the experiences we bonded through.
The Bhutanese were so welcoming and always made us feel comfortable. We have hiked monasteries, visited temples, spoke with a lama, held discussion with monks, played soccer with children monks, visited a nunnery, learned about Buddhism and worshipped Buddha at various temples and much more. Not only did we visit sites but we were able to speak to experts in politics and sustainability all over Bhutan. We never simply visited a site to take pictures but rather attended interactive lectures across the country.
Our experience alone at Royal Thimphu College gave us the chance to listen to lectures from the local college. Interacting with the students allowed us to see that even halfway across the world their lives are very similar to ours. They enjoy the same activities as us music, dancing, sports, and movies. They are facing the same problems we have in US like unstable job market, relationships, and trying to find our next step after university.
We will all go back the US still processing all that we have experienced and been through. But we are already changed, enlightened, and grateful to be in such a beautiful country with beautiful people. We are forever thankful for everyone who made this experience possible; Dr. Goswami, Royal Thimphu College staff, Tshring, guest lecturers, the RTC students, and Texas A & M Kingsville.
Words will never express the experience we have had in Bhutan.
Wednesday, May 29, 2013
Monday night the students, faculty, and staff gathered for our farewell dinner. We were entertained, first, by 12 traditional Bhutanese performances. The program dancers were both men and women. The most entertaining was Drametse Nga Cham, a religious dance that incorporated masks. This dance was performed only by men and has roots in eastern Bhutan. The masks added a dramatic dimension. Both male and female dancers performed Deki ki Nyem, a traditional Bhutanese folk dance that symbolizes happiness, to end the show. To our surprise, there was a final dance after what we thought was the end. The Tashi Tashi is a farewell and good luck dance, all guests were invited to attend the performance circle. It took most of us some time to catch on, but we all really enjoyed how it lightened the mood and brought everyone together.
After the performances, we all enjoyed dinner and conversations with people we have grown to love and learn from. As we were enjoying our time, some realized the bitter-sweetness of the moment. Most of us will never come back to RTC or Bhutan, however, what we learned while we were here I believe was a life changing experience for us all.
We will always cherish Bhutan!
As our bus pushed over another steep mountain range, I saw the sign: National Dairy Development Center. My eyes immediately widened. I was filled with excitement and ready to learn about a part of Bhutan’s livestock industry. I was very interested in how this particular industry was developing in a country that is advancing in such a fast rate.
As we entered the building we were greeted with huge, warm smiles. They escorted us to a conference room where they served us tea and then presented a PowerPoint about the center. We learned that the main breeds they use are Jersey, Brown Swiss and some of their native breed cattle. One of the main things this center does is provide farmers with the equipment to be sustainable dairy farmers. Any farmer who wants to participate in this project has to fill out an application and turn it in to the dairy center. The applicant has to meet specific requirements. Once the farmer has established its dairy farm the center will pick up the milk and process it. I like this project because it helps rural farmers have a steady income source. At the moment they don’t export much of their products. They do export some to India but much is kept and sold in Bhutan. Another thing the center does is artificial insemination. They took us to the lab where they do this procedure. The lead lab expert demonstrated how the whole process is done; he explained each step and described what each machine did.
We visited Tashichhodzong, the dzong in Thimphu, for the celebration of Lord Buddha's Parinirvana. This holiday, the holiest and most auspicious day in the Bhutanese Buddhist calendar, marks the point where Siddhartha Guatama, the Buddha, attained Nirvana through physical death (something slightly similar to the Christian Easter, for context). The dzong was full of people - mainly Bhutanese Buddhists but also foreign tourists - who came to participate and witness the holiday.
Especially significant was the unfurling of the Throngdrel, a three-story-tall tapestry displayed only on important occasions. So revered is the tapestry that simply viewing it is believed to absolve a person's sins. A huge line of people processed around the tower from which it was hung - clockwise, as is the custom - to see the Throngdrel and gain karma.
Especially significant was the unfurling of the Throngdrel, a three-story-tall tapestry displayed only on important occasions. So revered is the tapestry that simply viewing it is believed to absolve a person's sins. A huge line of people processed around the tower from which it was hung - clockwise, as is the custom - to see the Throngdrel and gain karma.
Of course, my account of the experience would be incomplete without mentioning one other aspect of the celebration. Among the Buddhist practitioners attending the celebration was His Majesty, King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck. As monks played horns and drums, he and Her Majesty the Queen walked into the temple, and we stood maybe thirty feet away from them!
Coming from a Western, Christian background, I was fascinated by this Buddhist holiday. This is because on the surface, there is little in common between the two religions, but beneath all the differences, common threads such as community, celebration, and ceremony connect the two traditions to each other. For me, this was the most important part of the celebration of the Parinirvana.
On a Thursday, we were at Thimphu’s Jigme Losel Primary School.This school has flourished thanks to its headmistress, Ms. Choki Dukpa, who has attempted to integrate environmental awareness into its curriculum since she started in the School in 2005. Evidence of her green techniques can be seen through the multitude of potted plants in old plastic jugs or green-painted tires converted into flower pots. Besides the in-class instructions emphasizing sustainable practices, students learn through experience by working together, by classes, to tend to their garden as well as their own hand washing stations.
Each classroom has numerous old plastic jugs filled with water and fitted with hand-made spouts so that children can easily wash their hands together before and after lunch. It's really quite a heartwarming sight to see. In 2011, Jigme Losel received international recognition when it won an award for Educational Innovation from UNESCO for their feeding program. During our visit the principal explained that students whose parents could not afford to provide an adequate supply of meals often performed poorly in school due to hunger. To solve this, faculty and parents sought to ensure that all students had access to proper nutrition. They were able to do this with the help of community volunteers who provide the food for students who cannot afford to bring lunches.
We all loved our visit to this primary school. In fact, we had to be herded out to get to our next event!
You can learn more about Jigme Losel here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/global-development/2013/jan/02/nature-teacher-bhutan-conservation-classroom
Today we visited the Institute of Traditional Arts (Zorig Chusum) in Timphu. Bhutanese customs believe that there are 13 different types of art one must master; in this institute 6 of the 13 traditional arts are taught. These arts include woodcarving, sculpture, tailoring, embroidery, and painting. We visited several classrooms and saw the students hard at work, from the less advanced courses to the more advanced. The first classrooms we entered were Woodcarving I and II, there we saw the process of woodcarving from the simple to the intricate carvings of dragons displayed on the walls. We then visited a Sculpture V classroom which featured a class of mostly girls, and the number of students was larger than all the other classes we visited. We found it interesting to learn that students in the tailoring class worked on both traditional and western wear. The classroom we entered next was the Embroidery IV, this was the most colorful classroom of all, as it was beautifully decorated with the students’ work which consisted of traditional Bhutanese arrangements hanging from the ceiling. The next class was a painting classroom of mostly males; it was quite large. The students demonstrated incredible skill and talent as they sketched their work. There were also amazing sculptures and paintings of prominent Bhutanese religious figures such as the Buddha of Compassion. The last place we went to within the Institute was the Show Room, where some of the impressive work done by the students were for sale.
The Zorig Chusum truly gave us a glimpse of the uniqueness of Bhutanese culture as depicted through art.
On 28 May we hiked to Taktsang (Tiger's Nest) Monastery near Paro, western Bhutan. While the building itself is one of the most important sites in the country, the path getting there is equally as impressive. As we drove to the parking lot at the base of the climb, we were able to see the Monastery nestled nearly 1,000 meters high, on a cliff-side.
|Our hike begins!|
At the base of the climb, a number of peddlers cried out “shopping!” as we passed, hoping we'd spend what ngultrum we had left on their handicrafts. Others were offering horse rentals for the trek. While some of us had earlier considered the equestrian option, our guide recommended against it, citing safety concerns.
The very beginning of the path had us crossing an open field. While it was fairly level, it gave us a glimpse of the scale of our endeavor; towering high above us was the Tiger's Nest. Soon we entered the wooded hillside and the real climbing began. Even with frequent switchbacks, the path had a considerably steep grade. Most of us had to pause at regular intervals to catch our breath in the thinning air. After 45 minutes to an hour of hiking, we reached a cafeteria, where we paused for much needed water, glucose, and sodium.
|Taktsang from below|
The second portion of the path started out as steep as the first, but leveled out somewhat as it continued. Following a final set of switchbacks, we arrived at the main lookout for the Monastery. While some of us may have had second thoughts about the hike, the view we saw erased all our regrets. A waterfall cascaded down to the left, an open view of Bhutanese countryside to the right, and the Monastery itself dead ahead. After a set of 700 or so steps, we were at the door of the Nest itself.
After our tour had completed, we began our descent back to the parking lot. While no longer having to cope with thinning air, the long downhill path proved very taxing to what leg strength we had left. We stopped again at the halfway cafeteria, this time for a sumptuous lunch. At around 4:00 P.M. (we had started six hours earlier), we were all back in our bus, en route to the hotel for some much-needed rest and recuperation.
The hike to the Monastery and the view of the Monastery itself, as you near it, are truly iconic experiences. Cliffs, mountains, waterfalls, mist, cloud, alpine forest, and then the Monastery. We felt like we rode the mountains, touched the sky, and were embraced by the Monastery!
Sunday, May 26, 2013
Today (May 25th) was well spent in Thimphu -- a day which celebrated the Buddha's Enlightenment. We caught a glimpse of His Majesty, had Nepali food for lunch and then visited a youth service project which took the form of a small traditional Bhutanese village and was aptly named Simply Bhutan.
At the entrance, we stood inside a replica watchtower and later were led to a courtyard in which there stood a wall that split the courtyard in half and had two murals painted on both sides. After admiring it, we were then given the chance to change into Bhutan’s national dresses. The girls wore kiras while the guys wore ghos , and later were taking pictures in front of the two murals.
While still wearing traditional dresses, we were given a tour of a traditional replica rural home complete with a kitchen on the ground floor which consisted of a wood burning clay stove and butter churners while the 1st floor had a living room and a altar room, a Bhutanese home’s most important room in which only holy individuals can rest.
We next took up the national sport of Bhutan: archery. Everyone had multiple tries at hitting aa target 10 feet away. Most of us failed miserably except for Brisa, who by her second chance hit the target! Having been shown-up by Brisa, we were then introduced to a resident artist who had cerebral palsy and yet was still able to create amazing works of art using only his feet!
Simply Bhutan gave us a taste of the country’s culture; we were still participating in various activities towards the end of the tour. One was the act of tossing prayer coins into a golden prayer vase which was floating in a pool of water at the foot of a shrine. If coins hit the vase it is seen as a sign of good luck and if a coin gets into the vase then that prayer would come true. All of us were fortunate enough to at least hit the vase. The final activity, in which three of us participated, was aiding in the clay stomping process that produces the adobe-like walls used in constructing traditional homes, the stomping process includes singing songs of forgiveness in case insects were accidentally killed during the stomping process.
All in all, we were very fortunate have had the chance to experientially learn about Bhutanese culture.
Saturday, May 25, 2013
Bhutan is one of the planet's youngest democracies, and much is being done to foster this new form of government. Some policies are beneficial, while others tend to detract from Bhutanese society. The same could be said of many successful democracies around the globe. So hopefully, these efforts are a good sign.
|Bhutan National Council Chambers|
Karma Tenzin, a reporter who covered much of the early stages of Bhutanese democracy, gave our group a presentation on the development and implementation of this new system. Following gradual movements towards democracy, the Constitution of Bhutan was ratified in 2008, with the country's first elections held shortly thereafter. These first campaigns were underscored with divisions within villages along political lines. There were only two political parties, and both penetrated the closely-knit family communities that make up the majority of Bhutan's voting population. The country is set for a second set of elections later this month; there will be four competing parties instead of two. Some officials are hopeful that the greater number of political parties will lessen the divides in the Bhutanese villages. Others are concerned that the intra-family divides will worsen, with some of the wounds from 2008 not yet healed.
One example of policy being influenced by public opinion was the Tobacco Control Act. The act outlawed tobacco possession in 2004, and was amended to include mandatory jail time for violators in 2010. The Bhutanese population opposed to the law went to social media, particularly Facebook, to voice their opinions against the policy. Soon, the Prime Minister and his deputies made Facebook accounts of their own, and an online debate on the policy began. It is remarkable that the country has embraced such modern mediums of discussion at this early stage of its voyage into a constitutional monarchy. In 2011, the penalties on the act were lessened, and the King pardoned all incarcerated under the law (except for a monk who, according to religious standards, should not have been in possession of tobacco regardless of Bhutanese law). The response to this law showed that the Bhutanese citizens could unite to reform laws of the land, a critical element in any successful democracy.
How these events and how democracy in general will affect Bhutan in the long run is yet to be determined. Most of the Bhutanese population seems to be cautiously optimistic, and I believe most of us on this adventure share their sentiments.
Dr. Janet Schofield and Matt Schuelka’s lecture overviewed the current education system in Bhutan, current policies, and current issues. The education system in Bhutan has greatly expanded in the last 50-60 years. There are currently 500 schools in the country. With the adoption of Gross National Happiness as a guiding principle Bhutan is trying to get all kids into schools. In rural areas access to schools, because of terrain, is a major problem. Many of the students have to walk long and dangerous paths in order to attend school. Around 20% of students do not go to school because of the costs. The literacy rate in 2005 was 52.8% but it is expected that, with the expansion of schools, literacy will rise. The government wants to expand schools as well as create inclusion within the school systems. Bhutan has a new policy intended to include disabled children in all schools. Some of the schools provide meals for students who come from low income backgrounds. It was discovered that many of the students had a lower performance due to just being hungry.
The government currently provides free education until grade 10. After grade ten the students take standardized tests in order to qualify for further education. There are a few state scholarships offered for those who qualify and the students must pay for a private institution in order to continue their education. The first private college started only in 2009. Many students end up having to continue their studies abroad due to lack of access to higher education. Also, there are currently not enough jobs within the government or country to support all university grauates.
There is a shortage of well-qualified and trained teachers. The majority of teachers only have a 10th grade education. In many of the classrooms the teachers have a 50 to 1 ratio. The students are instructed in English and Dzongkha. Bhutan has around 20 languages so students are learning not just one but two new languages. Bhutan is facing many of the same issues as other countries with reference to education but it is improving. This lecture gave us an informative insight into the education system in Bhutan.
Friday, May 24, 2013
The main focus of today’s activities was education. With that in mind, we visited Loden Foundation (www.loden.org), one of Bhutan’s first registered charities.
The Loden Foundation supports education and economic growth in Bhutan. The Foundation has programs that “promote education, learning, and entrepreneurship among the Bhutanese children and young adults.” Their programs aid students from pre-school through post school. Their pre-school program targets children between ages three to six years through early learning centers, especially in rural areas. Another program the Loden Foundation has is a need based scholarship program. The scholarship program aims to help students pursue higher education. The students are selected by combining both financial needs and merit. The third program that the Foundation runs is the Loden Entrepreneurship Program; this aims to increase employment among young adults with academic credentials. The program provides students with training and support. The program also extends business start-up loans to young aspiring entrepreneurs.
The Foundation also has a sponsorship program which, for US$150, can provide basic education and care for one child for a year. The situation for many young children in Bhutan is that their families cannot provide essential care. The Loden Foundation seeks funds from donors which are then used to provide for items such as clothes school supplies, food, etc. Currently, the foundation is supporting 70-80 children through this program.
I am proud to say that we, as a group, raised enough money which we gave to the Foundation to support two kids for a year. Our small way of trying to make a difference in the World!
Tuesday, May 21, 2013
We finally felt the rays of the sun for the first time in Thimphu, Bhutan. It was the perfect day for Sports Day in RTC. Sports day is a day where students can take a break from studying and enjoy some good competition. It includes a lot of track and field activities and games like musical chairs, tug-of-war and three- legged race.
As we watched the relays against the RTC students, we noticed that some of them were running barefoot! We were amazed! Luckily the activities were on a soccer field. Each student gave it their all. They all wanted first place and nothing less. The track and field came to an end and they prepared for the musical chair round. Every student and staff member was encouraged to play. They asked if we wanted to participate and of course we couldn’t refuse such a fun invitation. We waited with anticipation for the music to start…”Oppa gangnam style!” The first round was on! We showed off our gangnam dancing skills to RTC. Everyone got a good laugh out of it. We did not win at musical chairs but it all turned around when it came to the tug-of-war competition. We first competed against the RTC staff. Some of the RTC students joined our team and some cheered us on from the side line. With their help, we were able to take down our opponent. We moved on to the second round. There we competed against RTC students. We brought that one home as well! Our first place price was a box of chocolate bars! Yum! That’s my perfect gift. It was so much fun getting to do these kinds of activities with the RTC students. It was a great opportunity to make new friends and get some exercise. Everyone in RTC is super friendly and great competitors.
Today we went to a market in Thimphu. The Centennial Market is one of the largest markets for Thimpu area farmers and artisans. The Market sold fruits and vegetables imported from India on one floor and the local organic goods on the other. Across a river in front of the Market, there were multiple stalls which sold a variety of handicraft items made by Bhutanese craft-workers; we did a lot of shopping here. The bridge connecting the two sides of the Market was amazing; there were prayer flags hung all the way across the bridge. The handicraft stalls sold both Bhutanese clothes and western clothing. We were especially interested in the traditional Bhutanese items such as prayer wheels, cymbals, horns, clothes and baskets as well as some products from Nepal. Although we were able to speak with most of the merchants our guide helped us communicate with some of those who did not speak or had trouble understanding English. We were able to get great prices for the items we bought because we haggled! When everyone was done with their shopping there, we continued our shopping in small shops within the City of Thimphu. There were a large number of small open shops located alongside one another in a l-o-n-g row; there were almost a 100 of them! These shops had much of the same lovely handcraft items as those we saw in the Market but with more price variations. Overall, we truly enjoyed shopping in Thimphu!
El Paseo Del Rio Por El Mercado
Hoy tuvimos la oportunidad de visitar un mercado en Thimphu. El Mercado Centinal es uno de los mercados domesticos mas grandes para los granjeros de Bhutan. Despues de nuestra llegada al Mercado Centinal nuestra guia nos explico que en un piso se vendian frustas y verduras importadas de la India, y en el otro se podia encontrar productos organicos locales en venta. Del otro lado del rio entfrente del mercado se encrontraba el area de manualidades, fue en esa parte que se llavaron a cavo la majoira de nuestras compras. El puente entre estos dos lugares era algo impresionante de ver por si mismo. Havia banderas de oracion colgandas por todo el puente. El lado de Artesanias podia ser dividido en dos partes, del lado derecho se encontraban en venta ropa tradisional y no tradicional de Bhutan, mientras que del otro lado se podia encontrar en venta artesanias, cadenas de oracion, ropa, canastas y algunos productos importados de Nepal. Aunque nos pudimos comunicar con la majoria de los vendedores, nuestra gia nos ayudo a comunicarnos con aquellos que no hablaban ingles. Fuimos capases de obtener buenos precios por los objetos que compramos. Algunos estuviantes hasta regatiaron para conseguir los precios que querian. Cuando todos los estudiantes havian terminado en ese lugar, continuamos nuestras compras en unas tiendas pequenas en la cuidad deThimpu. Alli se podia encontrar un gran numero de tiendas pequenas lado a lado. Estas tiendas tenian muchas hermosas artesanias similares a las que haviamos visto en el mercado anterior pero los precios estavan mas variados. El mercado tenia ambos precios altos y vajos para el mismo artefacto dependiendo de la tienda. Fue en este lugar que los estudiantes tuvieron que ir biscando de tienda en tienda, buscando el mejor precio. Despues de un dia de compras nuesta experiencia de compras en Thimphu llego a su fin.
Monday, May 20, 2013
Saturday, May 18th
We started our morning at 9:30 A.M. with a presentation by Dr. Samir Patel on the environment in Bhutan. Dr. Patel began by discussing how a smaller population played a key role in the environmental health of the country. The key philosophy was “the lower the population, the less consumption, means less pollution.” This philosophy is beginning to fade as the population in Bhutan is beginning to grow, as well as an increase in developmental activities. Bhutan, however, has a government that prides itself with reference to the country's environmental policies. The country is constitutionally required to keep at least sixty percent of the country forested.
Water is a key resource in Bhutan and hydropower is a major domestic and export product. The country's climatic and geographic conditions make this possible. The monsoons replenish the resource very efficiently as most of the water is stored in the glaciers and then gradually released down the mountains. Like all countries the main source of water pollution is due to industrial effluence. The water quality of rivers tends to deplete as it travels through the towns of Bhutan, but studies show the rivers in Bhutan cleanse naturally. However, this natural cleansing process may not continue if Bhutan's development policies are not managed well.
The air quality in Bhutan today is not a problem but data shows there are about sixty thousand vehicles and the number increases by ten thousand annually. The growth in Bhutan in the past five years has been very rapid, but because the country's only energy source is hydropower there are no emissions. The geography of Bhutan makes hydro power possible because from north to south the countries elevation changes rapidly from about five thousand meters to one hundred meters above sea level.
The rapid change in geography also makes for great biodiversity in Bhutan. Bhutan is not a very large country but contains over seven thousand species of plants and animals. Plants and animals of Bhutan are protected. The environmental policies in Bhutan is part of everyday life. In many countries everyday citizens may not abide by environmental laws; that's not how the Bhutanese behave, they hold the environment close to their hearts.
The day started off a bit different from the last because, rather than prepare for a speaker, we prepared for a hike up to the Tango University of Buddhist Studies located at Tango Monastery. This hike, although set in the most picturesque location in the world, was incredibly difficult due to the steep inclines and the thin air. Although the hike was troublesome, according to the Bhutanese, the harder the trek, the greater the reward. Words cannot begin to describe how true that was for all of us.
Upon reaching the monastery we were given a brief tour of the temple area. Some of the students even paid their respects in the traditional Bhutanese manner. We were also given the opportunity to speak with some of the student monks and ask them questions. From this interaction we learnt that they have to away from their families until the completion of the required eight years of studies. While all of this was enriching, nothing could compare to the best part of the day when all of us had tea with the Monastery’s abbot, Khenpo Sangay, also the Principal of Tango. Having an opportunity to meet at length with with Abbot Sangay was something very few people get; we were very privileged to have had this chance. Throughout the Q&A he shared with us the basic ideals of Buddhism that, I believe, were less about religion and more about being a good and moral person. He shared with us the ideal of keeping oneself as an example. He also told us that the idea that he really wanted us to take back home was to always examine our actions, “to always examine your actions between good and bad; what’s going to cause harm, what’s going to cause others pain and what’s going to cause them happiness.” He hoped that we would always be conscious of this. What the Chief Abbot said today about awareness and about keeping ourselves as an example would be something we would always carry with us. The experience overall was humbling, enlightening, moving, emotional and so much more but you must know that no amount of words used can ever adequately explain the wisdom that filled the room and the impact it had on all of us.
After arriving in Bhutan, one of the first things I noticed was the traditional dress donned by much of the population. The usage of the kira (for females) and gho (for males) holds great significance for the Bhutanese population. The Bhutanese dress is most distinctive. Introduced in the seventeenth century by the Tibetan lama who unified Bhutan, the gho is a knee-length robe that is tied at the waist worn with long socks. On special occasions, the gho is complemented by a kabney, a silk scarf, that runs from the left shoulder to the right hip. People of great importance, such as the King, wear a yellow kabney, as yellow signifies royalty in the country. The kira is an ankle length skirt worn tightly around the waist by a cloth belt. It is usually worn with a long-sleeved blouse called a wongsu and a short jacket called a toego. For special occasions, the kira is complemented by a red rachu, worn on the left shoulder. Brooches are often pinned on the toego, adding a slight characteristic of individuality to the customary dress. One of our speakers, Ms. Kunzang Choden, mentioned that even the most fashionable youth would shed their latest trending clothes for the Bhutanese national dress, due to the importance of it to their culture. In fact, Bhutanese law mandates that government officials and school teachers wear kira/gho to work. Children too, wear them as school uniforms.
On Thursday night, a group of RTC students let each of us borrow an outfit to try on. Speaking for myself, it was actually pretty comfortable and really warm. However, the belt that holds up the ankle length skirt was tied really tightly! It reminded some of us of how a corset might feel. After the guys in the group were dressed in their ghos one of the Bhutanese students mentioned how the gho provides the largest pocket! One of the most interesting observations is that each person, although wearing traditional Bhutanese dress, wears shoes that reflect individuality. I've seen men wearing hiking boots, loafers, or even crocs. Women wear a variety of shoes too, including three inch heels! I loved getting dressed up and plan on purchasing my very own kira before we leave!
Friday, May 17, 2013
Yesterday morning we began the day with a lecture from the Director of RTC, Dasho Tenzing Yonten, and another from a famous Bhutanese author, Ms. Kunzang Choden. Director Yonten gave us a brief rundown on Bhutanese history and described a few cultural highlights.Ms. Choden explained Bhutanese beliefs in an easy to follow conversational manner. To begin, we learned that their culture strongly relies on astrology to guide activities. The daily astrological horoscope is posted in a newspaper, on television, and radio. If it does not suit citizens to take part in certain activities that day, then they will not. They also do not celebrate individual birthdays. They have a National Birthday that everyone celebrates. Regardless of the day of your birth, you will be considered 1 year old on the first day of their first lunar calendar. If you are born August 1st and the 2nd is that special day, you will not be 1 day old, but 1 year old. Ms. Choden also spoke on marriage. There is no formal law on marriage. If two people (or more) live together then they are considered married. If at any time one moves out, then they are no longer married. In the 1980s a marriage act was adopted that protected children as far as custody. Bhutanese recognize heterosexual, polygamy, and polyandry marriages. There are also a great deal of fatherless children in the country, but it is not seen as taboo. In fact, many folk tales have fatherless children as heroes. Women also never take their husbands surname. “Women never become 'Mrs. Somebody'. You are who you are before you’re married, and that does not change,” was a very strong statement she made. In regards to names, men and women also have the same name. There is no male or female version. Surnames have also become a new trend. You can imagine how hard it is to make arrangements for people with only one name that may be the same, with the same birthdate.
The women on the trip felt very motivated by Ms. Choden's remarks. She was very inspirational.
From L to R: Dasho Tenzing Yonten, Cassandra W., Ms. Kunzang Choden
Thursday, May 16, 2013
Today we learned the benefit of asking a Buddhist monk a complex question. For background- We had the opportunity to visit Changangkha Lakhang, a Buddhist temple in Thimphu, where Dr. Karma Phuntsho gave us a brief history of Buddhism in Bhutan; it was a very substantive and informative presentation. Dr. Phuntsho, who has both a doctorate from Oxford and the training of a Buddhist abbot, divides Bhutanese religious history into three phases- in the first, people worshipped nature spirits which lived in the trees and mountains; in the second, Buddhism was the driving force in Bhutan, characterized by figures like the Zhabdrung, the One at Whose Feet We Bow; the third is the current day, the time of layering secular themes upon ancient themes. I really should look into buying his book.
The temple itself was dedicated to a Buddhist god of compassion. A worshipper explained to me that this god sacrifices his own enlightenment to save other souls, but every time he saves all the souls in hell, he rests, and every time he rests, souls go back to hell, and the cycle repeats again. Not a life I envy.
Tomorrow we're hiking to another Buddhist site, the Tango Monastery. I look forward to visiting the monastery and I am assuming the hike there won't kill me!
Finally after over two years of Dr. Goswami’s planning the Bhutan RTC Trip 2013 is taking place. Our first flight was from Corpus Christi at 11 am. Bags packed and passports ready we were seen off by parents and friends. The first leg was to Houston with transfer to Newark. The flight out of Newark was a total of 13 hours and 7600 miles to New Delhi, India. We were all excited to see Dr. Goswami in his “he-is-from-this-part-of the world;” it made things more fun.
We were all exhausted by the time that we reached New Delhi. The diversity of the population was apparent as soon as we stepped off the plane. We were warmly greeted by the staff of the Pamposh Guest house. The driving in India is quite different from the United States with no set lanes or clear traffic laws. We had a great Indian meal and enjoyed the scene from the balcony after our meal.
In the morning we had breakfast and walked in the park next to the hotel. There were groups of people doing yoga classes and going for a morning stroll; we enjoyed this quick snapshot of New Delhi. The flight from New Delhi stopped in Nepal. As we flew along the Himalayas we saw Mt. Everest and Kanchenjunga – two of the three highest mountains in the world! It was an awesome experience. We arrived in Bhutan when we landed in Paro – a spectacularly located airport. We were greeted by Tshering Dolkar from RTC and traveled 1.5 hours on windy roads through the rugged terrain of the Himalayan Mountains. After over two days of traveling we finally reached RTC’s beautiful campus; We were greeted by staff and students who welcomed us with cultural performances. We felt welcomed right away! It was apparent that they were as excited as us. The genuine happiness of the people we met was inspirational and created a wonderful welcoming experience. We start our first activities tomorrow. We are happy to be in Bhutan!
|Mount Everest 8,848 m|
|Airport Paro, Bhutan|