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Photo Stories: Capturing Phobjikha, The Idyllic Town of Bhutan

Photo Stories: Capturing Phobjikha, The Idyllic Town of Bhutan

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It was a beautiful evening when I got the first look at Phobjikha valley or otherwise called as Gangtey. The town looked idyllic, serene and picturesque as the rest of Bhutan and I saw a lot of people in the streets, something uncommon in the sparsely populated country of Bhutan.

Phobjhika
The beautiful valley of Phobjikha

I wanted to have a look at a day in the life of people here and so asked Pema, the cheerful driver to pull over the car. Hoping out of the car with my camera, I set out onto the streets enjoying the pleasant breeze passing over my face.

He told me that we would be going to a home stay after this. Instead of longing for a soft bed and a hot cup of tea after a long drive, I was more thrilled in strolling through the streets of Phobjikha somehow.

This post is a photo essay of Phobjhika and its beautiful people. This is my first attempt for a photo essay, and I feel these pictures tell the daily life of these people more powerfully than words. Read on and tell me if you choose to agree or not!

Phobjikha
Market on the way to Phobjikha

Found this market on the way to Phobjikha. There are small sheds at numerous places throughout, which is constructed by the government to help people sell their produce directly. Most of the markets are usually filled by women who sell plenty of fresh vegetables and fruits. I munched a lot of apples, which I never usually do. It was because they were so tasty, juicy and sweet. It also saved me from starving, adding as my snack sometimes.

Phobjikha
Women in the market

Women are independent, hard working and self-reliant here, which was hard to miss for me to notice. They were mostly selling big green chilies, apples, and cucumber in this market.

Phobjikha
Chilies are used as regular vegetables. People have it raw!

I couldn’t resist capturing these green, big chilies because they are an integral part of Bhutanese cuisine.Unlike most of the countries, chilies are a part of mainstream vegetable and most of their very popular dishes include chilies – like the Ema Datshi. I was surprised to see people having chilies raw along with their lunch and dinner.

Talk about spicy food and the food of Bhutan is hard to beat! Now, if you thought Indian food was spicy, you need to taste the food of Bhutan before making your decision! Although I liked the spicy element(because I just love spicy food!), I wish I could take more. Because I couldn’t have more than two serving no matter how tempting the food was!

Phobjikha
Little girl who posed in Phobjikha

If there is one thing which I loved the most, it was clicking the cute little kids in Bhutan. Be it their innocence or their adorable smile or their beautiful outfits, I loved clicking them. I found this little girl on my way to the Dzong, who was walking with her grandma. After requesting her through signs to click her photo, this is how she posed! Probably shy or scared, she didn’t smile even after almost 5 min of clicking.

Nevertheless, ain’t she so cute?

Spotted this boy with his toy walking. Managed to capture his pleasant stroll with his uncles and grandfather, who were walking back towards the town.

Phobjikha
Little boy with his toy

Headed to the Gangteng Monastery next, which was crowded with people. The annual traditional festival in Bhutan, ‘Tshechu’ festival had just ended in Phobjikha the day before I’d gone and the town had witnessed a lot of visitors. Tshechu festival is held in every district of Bhutan during the tenth month, and traditional dance performances and rituals take place with grandeur.

Phobjikha
Gangteng Dzong, Phobjikha Valley

Yes, you saw it right. That is the paintings of a phallus on the wall of the shop. And the picture of the phallus is not restricted to Phobjikha alone. The people of Bhutan worship the phallus, and the walls of the shops and homes are painted with the phallus. The reason for this involves a legend – Long ago, a monk named Drukpa Kunley lived here. He started the practice of worshiping phallus, which was said to drive away evils spirits or demons and helped people to have a clear conscience.

Phobjikha
Paintings of Phallus on the walls of homes and shops are a common sight in Bhutan

The monk also called as ‘Divine Madman’ for his unorthodox practices, also built a temple for phallus -‘Chimi Lhakang’ in Punakha, where an enormous wooden phallus is worshiped even to this day. It is called as fertility temple, and people visit this temple to have children. The Lama blesses by hitting the women with a wooden phallus. Also, erect wooden phallus with handles is attached to all the corners of the homes in Bhutan, which is mainly for driving off the evil spirits.

And as I walked along, I saw many beautiful women going about their daily routines with their little children tied to their back. Not only in Phobjikha, but women in Bhutan habitually carry their little ones on their back, which is also found in some parts of India in the East.

Phobjikha
Women in charge of shops

But what caught my attention is not just that. Women carry the weight of the responsibility of the family very well, just like in the most parts of the world. But what was strikingly visible is the dominance of women. You can see most of the hotels being managed by women, carrying children on their backs and handling full crowds and totally booked tables.

You can see women carrying blocks of waters for miles or driving cars with ease on narrow and dangerous roads. Women look after many of the things in Bhutan. Surprisingly, patriarchy is not highly prevalent. But men don’t seem to worry much about this. In fact, they treat their women with utmost respect and dignity.

They are not scared of their safety despite having to live in deserted farm houses. Or in remote villages with intermittent electricity. They feel pretty much safe here.

And the more I traveled here, exploring the beautiful country of Bhutan, the more confident I became about this fact. Women are resilient, confident, strong willed and independent here. And at the same time warm, gentle and courteous.

It is also the reason I never feared traveling solo in Bhutan. In fact, I was floored by the hospitality of these people who took care of me while I was there.

Also, if you need help in planning your trip to Bhutan or want to know about the permits and entry formalities, you should read this post.

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Phobjika valley

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Reshma Narasing is a dreamer, a bibliophile, a hopeless travel addict, a passionate writer, and a girl who gulps down large mugs of coffee many times a day. The Solo Globetrotter is the place where she takes people like you virtually, sharing her combined love for traveling and telling stories.

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