Bhutan Culture and Customs

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Bhutanese people are known for being happy. You'll pick this up pretty quickly on your Bhutan tour! They don't care about TV, radio or the internet, they're well rested, they live with little pollution and their surroundings are stunning - and they're grateful for it. You'll find that as long as you show good manners, dress modestly and smile, you'll have an epic time. Check out the ins and outs of Bhutan culture below and you'll be making Bhutanese mates in no time... 

The food

Imagine a cross between Chinese, Indian, and Tibetan food and you'll have an idea of what cuisine is waiting for you when you travel to Bhutan. Typically the dishes are served with a side pairing of white or red rice and centered around meat (usually Pork or Chicken). The majority of Bhutanese dishes are prepared with chilies and can be pretty spicy, especially by Western standards! So take it slow. 

Meals are often comprised of lots of small tapas-style dishes which are served in wooden bowls. The Bhutanese traditionally eat with their hands and to get them nice and clean they'll roll around a small ball of rice to remove any dirt. 

You'll find that in most hotels and restaurants catere towards international visitors, food is served western style with plates, knives and forks. Eating with hands is still commonplace in traditional local eateries or if eating Bhutan food at someone’s home.



Language

The national language of Bhutan is Dzongkha, meaning 'language of the fort', and is widely spoken in the western region. However, because of the wide diversity of the Bhutanese people, there are also 19 dialects and languages spoken throughout the country.

Speaking Dzonghka is no easy task, with a simple greeting of 'Kuzoo zangpo La'  for hello and 'Kadrin chhe la' for thank you, you'll have your work cut out for you learning this old-Tibetan language.

Don't worry if you're not up-to-date with your Dzonghka though, English is widely used in schools and spoken by most Bhutanese!

Religion

You'll be fascinated by the powerful role religion plays in Bhutan. With 75% of the population practicing Mahayana (tantric) Buddhism, it's easy to feel the people's connection to the land, animals and other people.

Nearly the rest of the countries population practices Hinduism, which is closely related to Buddhism. Even so, the King guarantees the freedom of religion and small pockets of Bon (the country's animist belief system) and Christianity exist.

Taking photos

Most Bhutanese (especially children) are extremely friendly and happy to have their photo taken so don’t be afraid to ask. However, you might want to get your photos in more rural areas, it's becoming more common to get a western style answer in the bigger cities! 

You can photograph in most Dzongs and Lhakhangs except in the assembly halls or religious temples and you may need to leave your bags outside before going inside.

Overall, Bhutan is pretty easy-going about photography by tourists. If you do come across signs prohibiting photography, stick to the rules and refrain from taking photos of military installations and you'll be just fine. 

Etiquette

  • Shaking hands is not Bhutanese custom, but is becoming more widely accepted in larger towns... A formal greeting would be to bow with our hands stretched out in front of you open with your palms facing up.
  • When you visit a Dzong or Temple you should take off your shoes before entering, move in a clockwise direction, only whisper, and leave a small offering of money (oh, and no photos inside!). 
  • Refrain from passing negative comments on religion, the royal family and chief abbot.
  • Always ask for permission if you are photographing a person.
  • Cover up - dress modestly. 
  • Only enter temples and monasteries if you have permission, you can let your guide lead the way here. 
  • Refrain from using hats and sunglasses inside religious places.
  • Use your right hand or both hands to give or receive.
  • Use your palm to point to something rather than your finger. 
  • Don't wash, swim or throw objects into lakes, many of which are considered sacred.

We know that's a lot to remember, but don't worry. On our Bhutan tour, you'll have two local guides and a New Zealand guide who will be with you every step of the way!

 

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