Suitcase and World: Of penises and cheese.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Of penises and cheese.

Yes, this posting is about penises and cheese. How are they related? Well, they're both iconic symbols of Bhutan.

Let's start with the penis first. *wink*

Everywhere we went in Bhutan, graphic and colourful paintings of penises adorned the walls of homes, shops, eateries and even on this garbage can that we spotted at the teashop located on the hike up to Taktsang Dzong.

Penises also made an appearance in the souvenir shops - most typically as key chains and wooden sculptures.  Just so you know, I was never tempted to buy a penis keychain ;-)

The origin of the penis as as protecton against evil can be traced to a Buddhist monk, Dama Drupka Kinley, who lived back in the 16th century.

Drupka Kinley is mostly remembered for his unconventional and at times outrageous methods of teachings - usually with strong sexual overtones and inclinations, his drinking habits, womanising and his complete disregard for the social norms.  Somehow, all this translated into the penis being a symbol of fertility for the Bhutanese.  Go figure.

Legend also has it that Drupka Kinley, also known lovingly in Bhutan as the "Divine Madman" would hit errant demons over the head with a wooden phallus to subdue them and turn them into protective deities.  Ergo, the penis also wards off evil.  Huh?

(Side note.  It's reputed that archery was Drupa Kinley's sport of choice and just happens to be Bhutan's national sport.  Coincidence?)
Drupka Kingly is so revered that there is actually a temple, Chimi Lhakhang, dedicated to him.....which I did get to visit.

Some of the phallic drawings I saw were pretty darn large and quite graphically detailed. Perhaps, the larger the penis painting and the more anatomically correct the rendering, the more protection it provides? :-)
And tell me, who expects to see a ginormous penis painted on the side of a building?  Not me, for sure.  So, when I first saw this pair flanking the front door of a house, I mistook them for candles. I think it was the "white flame" that threw me off :-)
Okay, enough about penises....I can't type that word anymore.  On to the cheese.  As I had written in a previous blog posting, the national dish of Bhutan is ema datse which is chillies in cheese sauce.  As I had expected, ema datse showed at every meal and it ranged from medium hot to so-so hot, to mouth numbing hot to mind blowing hot.  
In Bhutan, chillies are considered to be a vegetable NOT a condiment.  Both red and green chillies are eaten here and both are equal in the heat department.

Luckily for me, I can handle super spicy hot food so downing the chillies was not a problem for me though I cannot say that was the case for most of my tour mates. There were quite a few instances where someone would bite into a piece of green chili, mistaking it for a green bean.  Oh, the pained expressions that were followed by downing of liquids and gulping of rice to try and alleviate the discomfort of the burning sensation.  No, not a happy campers :-(
<= That sludgy looking stuff on my plate?  Ema datse, of course!
This time of year is chili season so when I was wandering through the central market in Thimphu, I saw people buying chillies by the bucket loads.  Another common sight were chillies being dried on rooftops to ensure a supply of this much loved vegetable during the winter months.  One rooftop after another dotted with red chillies laid out to dry in the sun.....quite a sight to see!

So, there you have it.  Penises and chillies.  Two iconic symbols of Bhutan, a country with a very unique and distinctive culture.