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Day 103: Gantey

Michael Palin - HimalayaOf course, there are telephones and cars and satellite dishes and laptop computers, but they are inside traditional buildings and used by people wearing traditional dress. Bhutan sees no contradiction between its past and its present. Its history is not to be found on display in tourist-friendly heritage parks, but on the street and in the countryside, as a part of everyday life. National costume is worn throughout the country, quite unselfconsciously, and very elegant it is too. The men wear the kho, pronounced 'go', an ankle-length robe with prominent white cuffs, pulled up to knee height and tucked into a belt. Women wear the kira, a length of silk or cotton wound around the body, and a short jacket called a togo. The fabrics are locally made and distinctive, varying from plain, utilitarian designs to complex weaves and intricate patterns.

Concrete has not yet rolled over Bhutan. Thanks to careful husbandry, over two-thirds of the country remains forested and the majority of the houses I've seen from the single-track main road that runs east from the airport at Paro are combinations of colourfully decorated wood frames and rammed earth walls, reminding me of Alpine chalets and Tudor manor houses.

The village of Gantey, at which we arrived late in the day, is set in restful landscape in the central part of the country, on a hill overlooking the broad glacial valley of Phobjika. Surrounding and enclosing this peaceful place are the Black Mountains, which rise above 16,000 feet (5000 m).

As if to confirm this bewilderingly thorough and barely believable change in our circumstances, light snow is falling outside as I take one last look at the ghostly outlines of wide roofs around us and begin the delicate process of inserting myself, and hot-water bottle which all of us have been thoughtfully provided with by the management, into the narrow neck of my sleeping bag.
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  • Series: Himalaya
  • Chapter: Day 103: Gantey
  • Country/sea: Bhutan
  • Place: Gantey
  • Book page no: 239

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