Bhutan: Symbolic first days - "Life is too short and we have to be good."

Bhutanese people have this unique tradition of twisting prayer wheels. There are some grandmas and grandpas who spend their entire days just twisting around the prayer wheel by the stupa. There are prayer wheels as well placed in the rivers - for constant rotation, as well as in some places where they can be rotated by the wind. There are prayers written on these wheels and when rotated, they send these prayers to the universe. I "spoke" through my guide to this one old lady who doesn't do anything else but pray and twist the wheel and she told me that "life is too short and we have to be good".





In Bhutan it is normal for people to wear their traditional national clothing and it is compulsory to do so in any administrative place. The one for women is called Kira and the one for men is called Ghos. It is really unbelievable how much requisite a man can collect in his Ghos - sometimes I have the feeling they could take out a whole goat!




Another of the first symbols one gets very well familiar with from the very beginning is the... Phallus. The phallus in Bhutan is a highly honored symbol of fertility, beginning life and prosperity. They have it drown on the walls of their houses...to protect them from bad spirits. One could easily see monks carving wooden phalluses in front of the temples. I asked my guide why the vagina was not considered sacred since it also had quite a role to play in the sacred beginning of life, but he laughed and did not really answer my question. I am still on that page, though :)

 

I visited a traditional medicine hospital - one where people are treated with the only thing I could conclude is that people go there with a great hope and in the waiting area there is....obviously a gigantic prayer wheel for people to pray for their health while waiting.





In the capital, Thimphu, there is one single traffic light and it is....a person. Some years ago they put a traffic light, but the citizens thought it disturbed the environment of the city and demanded its removal, so today Bhutan is the only country with zero traffic lights and no car accidents.





The local municipalities are called dzong. There is a dzong in every major city and what is very impressive is that half of the building is administrative and half is a monastery. It somehow symbolizes the very tight connection between politics and religion in the country. My own conclusion is that Buddhism has greatly impacted the way Bhutan is managed and while I am a firm supporter of secular systems, I tend to think that Bhuddism has had a miraculous impact on the politics of Bhutan given that the last time they were in war was in 1865 and nowadays they measure their economic development by Gross National Happiness.


Apart from that, the dzongs are miraculously beautiful - there are hundreds of beasts, serpents and mystic creatures drown on their walls (no phalluses, though!) ...again to protect the municipality of evil spirits. In the dzongs one can pray and normally could also track the whole history of Buddhism on drawings on the walls. One of my favorite drawings is the one of the five friends - an elephant, a monkey, a rabbit, a bird and a tree. I find it beautiful for a few reasons: 1) it portrays the reincarnations of Buddha and the fact that he had beed into several different bodies, including a plant before his consciousness has found a way to his final reincarnation and to enlightenment. 2) it symbolizes the interdependence between all little and large creatures on Earth and that we are all connected and dependent upon each other.  

At the Punakha Dzong I meet a young monk at the age of 11 who is selling some bracelets and making offerings of a medicine....which heals EVERYTHING. I immediately take a package BUT too bad I have no issues these days and can't figure out what to heal myself from. The thought of having it handy is very soothing, though. I am sure it works.







I am in love with Bhutanese kids. They all go really long way to go to school. Sometimes they wake up at 4am because it takes them 2-3 hours to reach the closest school, they are always smiling, always wearing their ghos and kiras and always trying to talk to me in English.





Finally...WEED. Weed grows freely around the streets in Bhutan but it is strictly illegal to smoke it. However, it is a recommended food for animals, particularly pigs, as when they eat it, they get hungry, eat more and grow faster - true story!

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