The Land of the Thunder Dragon

Whatever tales and legends you might have heard about Bhutan, chances are high that they are true. My favourite facts:

traffic policeThe capital doesn’t have a single traffic light. Thimphu is the cutest capital I’ve ever seen, nestled in a lush valley, crossed by an untouched river.  None of the houses is higher than six floors, and they all are built in the traditional style, with sloped roofs, monochromatic walls and ornate wood-carvings around the doors, windows and roof-lines. Around 100 000 people are living there – peacefully guided by traffic policemen.

Buying cigarettes is illegal, but everybody knows his or her little shop, where they are sold under the counter. The sole complain smokers have: Since cigarettes are only available in the black market, prices have doubled. Nonetheless I’m amazed the tobacco makes it into the Himalayan country at all, considering that only three streets connect Bhutan to the outer world (in this case: India, there is no street into neighbouring China).

Red Panda Weiss BeerDrinking is possible, but not on Tuesdays, which is a declared dry day. Bhutan even has it’s own brewery for Weißbier, run but by a german-spreaking guy from Switzerland. Back in 1967, Fritz Maurer applied for a job as a cheese-maker for the king of Bhutan himself. It turned out he liked the country, which is as mountainous as his homeland. So he stayed, but missed tasty beer. Nowadays his brewery churns out 1000 bottles of  „Red Panda Weiß Beer“ a day – in re-used bottles of the Indian Kingfisher beer, because there’s no glazier’s workshop in Bhutan.

chilisChilis are not a seasoning but the main ingredient of dishes, used like a vegetable. One theory I heard: Because it is cold in the mountains and fuel is limited, chilis are used to warm people from the inside. Often served with red rice. (Which is also used to clean the hands instead of washing them before the meal. Just grab a handful, knead for a while and, voila, the palm and fingers are clean!)

Democracy, introduced only in 2008, wasn’t the result of a rebellion or protests or even a single demonstration. As unbelievable as it seems, the democratic system was a gift by the 4th king. So now, after going to the polls the second time, people are still trying to figure out how to voice their opinion and how to debate constructively. And of course they all love their king!

penisPenises are painted beside the entrances to many houses, in order to ward off evil spirits. Some are also cut out of wood and dangle from the ceiling, others guard the front door. Apparently every painter is depicting his own best piece – it’s the only one he has seen, I got told.

The government is conducting a regular survey on people’s happiness. Turns out, 41% of Bhutanese are considered ‘happy’. To measure the gross national happiness, nine components of wellbeing are taken into account: psychological wellbeing, health, education, time use, cultural diversity and resilience, good governance, community vitality, ecological diversity and resilience, and living standards. The outcome: Men on average are happier than women; especially well off are unmarried and young people. The happiest people by occupation include civil servants and monks. Interestingly, the unemployed are happier than corporate employees, housewives, farmers or the national work force.

TakinThe Takin is the most incredible national animal. It has a plumb, bovine like body, covered with dense, long yellow to brown hair. The short, stocky legs end in two-toed hooves, and the head is defined by a large arched “Roman” nose. It is so unique, taxonomists couldn’t relate it to any other animal and gave it a category by itself.

The mystic story however goes like this: Lama Drukpa Kuenlay, the “Divine Madman” (the guy who is also responsible for the penises on the houses), one day ordered that he be given a whole cow and goat to eat, before performing a miracle. Having devoured both, he stuck the goat’s head on the bones of the cow. On his command, the animal came to life, arose, rant to the meadow and began to graze.

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