A Buddhist monk stands alongside the doorway of a temple as if to say, “Welcome to the Kingdom of Bhutan also known as the ‘Kingdom of Happiness’”. Enjoy your visit.
Bhutan is located in Central Asia, bordered in the west by Nepal, the south and southeast by India, and the north by Tibet and the Himalayas. An early morning stop at Dochu La Pass provided this view of the snow-capped Himalayan Mountains.
Buddhism permeates everyday life in Bhutan. The overwhelming number of the 700,000 people in Bhutan practice Buddhism embracing the idea of accumulating merit, respecting the natural environment and respecting religious practitioners.
Prayer flags flutter throughout Bhutan. These prayer flags line the climb to the top of Cheli La Pass where a view of the snow-capped Himalayan Mountains is possible and, if luck holds, Jomolhari, Bhutan’s 2nd highest mountain.
Religious paintings are usually found in temples. This rock painting of Guru Rinpoche, who introduced Buddhism to Bhutan, can be seen from the roadside. Guru Rinpoche is regarded as the second Buddha.
A dzong is a fortress that includes courtyards, temples, administrative offices and accommodations for monks. The Panakha Dzong, seen here, hosted the wedding of the King and Queen of Bhutan in October 2011.
A monk descends the stairs of Paro Dzong. This dzong was used on numerous occasions to defend the Paro Valley from invasions from Tibet.
A procession of monks crosses the courtyard of the Paro Dzong after a religious ceremony at the nearby river called Paro Chhu.
A trio of monks in Paro Dzong is thrilled at the opportunity to use a pair of binoculars loaned to them by a sympathetic tourist to watch a religious ceremony outside the dzong.
Inside Paro Dzong monks play religious instruments, including the long horns called dungchen. Dungchen are made of copper, collapse telescopically to facilitate transport, and are always played in pairs.
Rice, buckwheat and maize are the primary crops in Bhutan and are the staples of Bhutanese cuisine. Rice paddies play a role in rural, panoramic vistas.
Archery is Bhutan’s national sport and competitions are held regularly in most villages. The targets are tiny; the distances quite far. Competitive banter and ritual singing and dancing between competitors add to the fun and drama.
A local woman on the deck of a restaurant in a rural area wears the national dress including a traditional, elaborate silver clip on her left shoulder that holds her ankle-length dress called a kira in place.
Even small villages in agricultural areas have temples. This man has just finished his devotions in one of these rural temples.
A female Buddhist nun uses prayer beads for her devotions. It is not uncommon for a young woman to commit to one of the royalty-funded Buddhist nunneries where she will spend her entire life.
Religious festivals called tsechus are held annually by most dzongs where dance dramas are performed by monks and lay people dressed in masks and colorful costumes. This dancer performs at the Thimpu Tsechu.
These men are in the audience of the Thimpu Tsechu. They are dressed in the national dress that is required to be worn when attending any religious or public event as well as when working.
People are happy to attend the tsechus. It is a time to dress in your finest clothing, visit with friends and family, share a picnic lunch outside the dzong, and obtain religious merit through attendance.
A dancer at the Thimpu Tsechu showers the audience with ground rice from his woven basket. The heavy wooden masks worn by the dancers depict heroes, demons, death heads, animals and gods.
A dancer at the Thimpu Tsechu is dressed in her festival finery, including traditional necklaces.
A young boy dressed in his finest brocade is transfixed with the dance dramas taking place.
A woman uses her scarf to shield her head from the extremely hot mid-day sun. Wearing hats is considered to be disrespectful in the presence Je Khenpo, the Chief Abbott and head of Bhutan’s monastic body, who is in attendance at the Thimpu Tsechu.
During the mask dances, the Buddhist deities are invoked to remove misfortunes. These dances are believed to suppress evil spirits and demons and to bring happiness to all sentient beings.
Phallic symbols are found throughout Bhutan. Often they are painted on homes to the side of the doorway and are believed to prevent family quarrels within the home. These are esoteric symbols believed to ward off the evil eye and to bring good luck.
The wood mask of the atsara (clown at tsechus) is painted bright red with a huge nose, exaggerated facial features, a perpetual grin, a wooden phallus atop the head, and in this image in the groin area, too. This revered folk figure plays the role of a jester.
Yaks are massive animals with thick, furry coats. They are ill-tempered, can quickly become aggressive and know very well how to use their sharp, impressive horns.
Nomadic farmers take their yaks to high altitudes during the summer and bring them to lower altitudes during the winter. This farmer is selling yak cheese and yak butter on the roadside by Cheli La Pass.
Yak tails as well as other yak products, can be seen for sale at markets in India like this market in Calcutta.
A lay monk sells his wares at a market outside Wangdue Phodrang.
Red chillies hang from a window to dry. Bhutan’s national dish is very hot chillies (either green or red) in a cheese sauce served as a vegetable dish, not as a seasoning. It is absolutely mouth-scorching.
Cheo-Bhi Lhamo, the Goddess of Offering, offers a pot of water to the god and goddess living in the temple at the National Memorial Chorten in Thimpu built in 1974 as a memorial to the third king by the king’s mother.
Spinning prayer wheels are ubiquitous in Bhutan. Devotees of Buddhism spin their prayer wheels to gain merit and to help focus their minds on Buddhist teachings.
Two friends circle the National Memorial Chorten in Thimpu in a clockwise direction. Prayer wheels are filled with printed prayers that are “said” each time the wheel is turned.
A local woman prays in Jampey Lhakhang temple believed to have been built in 659 A.D. by a Tibetan king in order to subdue a female Tibetan demon.
Chortens are buildings that contain religious relics. The Chendebji Chorten is located at an auspicious site, a river junction, and the spire is enhanced on all four sides with a compelling pair of eyes.
A monk enjoys a restful moment.
These ancient prayer rocks, together with a face painted on rock, are at the entrance to the Wangdue Phodrang Dzong, built in 1638.
This demon guards the Tamshing Goemba (Buddhist monastery) while perched on a rafter. This goemba was established in 1581.
A young monk sits quietly while contemplating the activities in the courtyard below.
At the Tangbi Mani Tsechu in the valley of Bumthang, the local Chief Abbot blesses the beginning of their tsechu by emptying the contents of a small container filed with rice, assorted grains and water onto the ground.
At the Tangbi Mani Tsechu, Black Hat dancers assume the role of yogis with the power to subdue and create life. They wear brocade robes, wide-brimmed hats, and aprons with the face of a protective deity.
Tsechu dancers, like this dancer at the Tangbi Mani Tsechu, perform steps and movements previously choreographed by Buddhist saints. The heads of all dancers wearing wood masks are wrapped with cloths to prevent injuries from the weight of the wood masks.
A monk intently watches the religious ceremony going on outside the Paro Dzong. That ceremony observed in the reflection in his eye.
A departure from Bhutan takes place as seen through the frame of a temple doorway.