I met the first Bhutanese monks already at the airport of Bangkok, before boarding the flight to Paro. A familiar sight, after having visited other Buddhist countries in the region. Wrapped in a red cloth, monks are easily spotted anywhere in the country. Buddhism is clearly embedded in public life of Bhutan, and the religion has a virtual monopoly on religious life in the country. Monks are obviously an important element in the visibility of Buddhism in the streets. Their life is not always easy. Boys (even though there are nuns in the country, they are a small minority, and I did not see any) can start at an age between six and nine years old, and are then educated to read the language of sacred texts, chhokey, Dzongkha and English, before they have to choose their future in Buddhism.
Their choice is to either take a theoretical or practical way, with the latter being the most common one. After having visited several remote monasteries high up in the mountains, I gained always more respect for the monks who were living there. Far away from a village, they live under very basic circumstances, and I could well imagine that during winter, the monasteries would be very cold to live in, as most of them do not have heating systems and are located at altitudes of over 4,000 metres.
Bhutanese monks are friendly and welcoming to guests, but I did not find them as forthcoming as monks in other countries in the region. Perhaps their command of English is not sufficient to communicate with foreigners, or they might be shy, or not used to meeting foreigners. At the same time, they are often smiling, offering holy water in temples which the visitor is supposed to sprinkle in his hair, or demonstrating how a flute made of human bone is being used as an instrument. At times, I found monks in a very playful mood, running after each other, threatening to throw cabbages, hiding, giggling... It was not always easy to imagine these often young guys going into retreat for a long time. Nevertheless, it is common for a monk to, at least once in his lifetime, meditate in a remote place close to a monastery for a period of three years, three months, three weeks and three days. To me, it seemed something that was hard to imagine.
Around the World in 80 Clicks
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from Bhutanese monks (Bhutan). Clicking on the pictures enlarges them and enables you to send the picture as a free e-card or download it for personal use, for instance, on your weblog. Or click on the map above to visit more places close to Bhutanese monks. Read more about this site.