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Day 104: Gantey

Michael Palin - HimalayaAs in Tibet, decoration of the houses is of great importance. In Bhutan an added refinement are the finely drawn paintings on the white, half-timbered walls, some of which are not for the prudish.

I counted about half a dozen painted penises in Gantey village, erect and beribboned, and often emitting a thin trail of cosmic sperm. They seem to be as unremarkable here as a box hedge in Dorking. Françoise Pommaret's Odyssey Guide to Bhutan explains that they were inspired by the teachings of one of the country's most popular religious figures, Drupka Kunley, who lived around the turn of the 16th century and was known as the 'divine madman'. He was from a distinguished family and, though he refused to take holy orders, he wandered the country with his own brand of Buddhism, which put the sexual act at the centre of religious experience, and from what we know, he practised what he preached. The fact that his phallocentric ideas are still celebrated says a lot for Bhutan's relaxed attitudes to sex. If you painted a penis on your house in Dorking, you'd probably be arrested.

Benji's enthusiasm for the rural way of life – and over 80 per cent of Bhutanese still work on the land – seems to be greater than his powers of mobility, but he insists in clambering up steps cut out of a tree trunk to show me the interior of one of the village houses.
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  • Series: Himalaya
  • Chapter: Day 104: Gantey
  • Country/sea: Bhutan
  • Place: Gantey
  • Book page no: 242

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