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29 August 2015 / leggypeggy

Playing dress-up at a farmhouse in Bhutan

Bhutanese weaving

A close-up of the fine weaving by Dechen

Back of Bhutanese weaving

Back of the weaving

Earlier this week, I showed off the elaborate and colourful traditional clothes worn by the people when they attend a festival Bhutan.

Little did I suspect that within a week of enjoying the sights and sounds of the Paro Festival, I would be donning a Bhutanese outfit in the home of the woman who made it.

A little background first. We camped our way across Bhutan. There were a few nights in hotel, but almost three-quarters of our 15-day stay was in tents. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend that much time in tents there, but that’s another story.

For now, I’m talking about fabric, weavers, traditional clothes and a very special family in rural Bhutan.

We met the Lhadeen family—note: Bhutanese don’t really have surnames, but at least two family members use Lhaden/Lhadeen in their names—when we camped on a hill near their dairy farm in east central Bhutan. Their house is just down the hill from the small village of Sengor and they were returning home from a community meeting.

There was mum, Dechen, and daughters, Carma and Chokey. The three women were in dressy versions of the day-to-day Bhutanese outfit. A group of sassy schoolchildren came up to us just before them, doing the silly antics that kids do to get your attention. Two were especially bold and entertaining, and they turned out to be Chokey’s kids.

Bhutanese children

Chokey’s two kids on the left

Carma has quite good English, plus our Bhutanese guide, Tek, was there for extra translations. With warm hospitality, the family—mum was especially insistent—invited us for tea at 5pm.

I always feel a little sheepish about accepting such invitations. I don’t want to be thought of as the foreigner who takes advantage of generous hospitality from people who might not be able to afford it.

But the invitation was so genuine and heartfelt that we willingly accepted. Plus it was a wonderful opportunity to see inside a rural home.

Poor John didn’t come—he’d already taken himself off on a long walk. So Tek, Anand, Deepti and I set off just before 5. We shed our shoes at the bottom of the entry steps and were welcomed into the warmth—and I emphasise warmth because a cosy fire was going in the kitchen—of a Bhutanese farmhouse.

Bhutanese kitchen

The farmhouse kitchen was like a family room with the wood stove in the middle

Tea and simple treats—popcorn is a common snack in Bhutan—were served and we exchanged mini life stories.

You already know a lot of mine, so here’s a bit of theirs. Mum and dad have three children—two sons and a daughter. Chokey is married with children, and Carma and the son—we didn’t get a chance to meet him—are both single.

We were treated to a show-and-tell of the looms and some pieces of wonderful textiles (kiras) the women in the family had woven. Kiras are rectangular, about two metres long, and are the main part of a woman’s traditional dress in Bhutan.

And then came the invitation to try on an entire Bhutanese outfit. How could I resist? The colours and patterns were breathtaking, and the work was flawless. Oh yes, why not.

Carma and Chokey made short work of getting me trussed up. If you look at the photos carefully you might be able to figure out how it all comes together. I’m still pondering how it all worked. There are no buttons, no zips, no darts—just two sets of clips that go over the shoulder and anchor the fabric, front and back.

Finally there’s a fancy belt/cumberbund and a shiny jacket over the top.

It was the dressiest I’d ever looked on an overland trip, and I have to say I scrubbed up rather well.

Deepti was next, and we had fun playing dress-up like kids.

At the family’s insistence, we moved into the shrine room for lots of pictures. The family commissioned someone to build and decorate the shrine for prayer and contemplation. The same painter added lovely artwork to the right of the shrine and to other rooms. You might notice some of the work in the kitchen pictures.

Then came the question from Dechen. Through Carma and Tek, she asked if I’d like to buy the kira I was wearing. The dairy farm was profitable, but not so much so that that they could put their younger children in higher education. So would I consider buying that piece for 20,000 ngultrum (their currency) or about US$330 at the time.

Dechen and Peggy

All dolled up and with Dechen in front of the family shrine

I gulped. It’s a lot of money for something I’d probably never use. That said, I knew the price was more than fair—I’d been in plenty of souvenir shops where prices were way through the roof. I saw a chipped and not-at-all special teapot (no it wasn’t an antique) that had a price tag of 10,000 ngultrum.

The price for this weaving—while high on the face of it—was fair to her and to me. The work was exquisite, and Carma and Chokey explained that their mum wasn’t weaving anymore because her eyesight was no longer good enough for the task.

Of course, this made it a one-of-a-kind and never-to-be-repeated item.

But I stalled. It’s not like I needed an elaborate hand woven piece of fabric. It’s really lovely, but it’s a lot of money, I said. I’ll have to ask my husband if he thinks it’s okay. Yep, I used Poor John as an excuse to think things over.

group shot

Deepti and Anand with Chokey and Carma. They thought Anand was like a giant

So we made arrangements to return at 9 the next morning for a final decision.

That evening, Poor John and I discussed the matter at length. We both figured Dechen might get 10,000–15,000 ngultrum for the piece in her local market or even from a souvenir shop. We also figured we’d pay about 30,000 to 40,000 for something like it if we were to buy from some souvenir shop.

But do you buy something you don’t need—that you don’t need at all? Finally, we came to a decision we could both live with.

Next morning was rather frightening. We arrived at the farmhouse to learn that Dechen was having heart palpitations. I suspected it was nerves, but you never know. We offered to take her with us to the next large town so she could see a doctor. That was rejected. She couldn’t possibly go without first saying prayers and giving offerings at the family shrine.

Bhutanese shrine

A magnificent shrine in the family home

The more pressing and all-important question was would I buy the piece?

The answer, of course, was Yes. And do you know why?

Dechen had me when she said she wanted the money to provide more education for one of her children.

Poor John and I decided to treat the purchase as a scholarship. You don’t get anything for providing a scholarship, except the satisfaction that a young person might go further in the world that they would have otherwise.

My only regret is that the ‘scholarship’ won’t stretch to allowing both Carma and her brother to pursue more education. At this stage, only her brother is studying, and Carma is now working in a town away from home. She pops up on Facebook chat every now and then to say hello. I hope her chance to study comes soon.

So if you get to Bhutan and then to Sengor, try to find the Lhaden household and buy another piece of Dechen’s weaving. Or maybe a piece by Chokey or Carma. Believe me, your money will go to a worthwhile cause. Oh, and my purchase of the kira put an immediate stop to Dechen’s heart palpitations. Whew!

Food
And if you’re feeling a bit peckish (Aussie slang for hungry), check out my cooking blog for a recipe on cucumber and salmon bites.

Bhutanese textile

Dechen holding the ‘scholarship’

72 Comments

Leave a Comment
  1. thegreyeye / Aug 29 2015 3:32 am

    wow, what an adventure … you really look pretty in it 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Aug 29 2015 3:40 am

      Thanks, I felt like a movie star. I don’t think I’ve ever been so dressed up.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. thegreyeye / Aug 29 2015 3:40 am

    The most I like in your travel is your sensibility, not a lot of people have this quality 🙂

    Like

    • leggypeggy / Aug 29 2015 3:43 am

      That really means a lot to me. Trust me, I’m not always sensible, but I hope I am when it counts.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. neha(guddu) / Aug 29 2015 5:27 am

    JUST WOW !!
    YOU ARE REALLY VERY LUCKY……
    MOREOVER,YOU SEE THINGS SO CLOSELY…..

    Like

  4. Laurie / Aug 29 2015 5:37 am

    How beautiful the weaving! How beautiful the scholarship! How beautiful are you and John!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Ralph / Aug 29 2015 7:48 am

    Really great and you look so chuffed! It reminded my humans of the Sister Festival for the Miao people in China when they lived there a few years ago. When local people invite you so generously into their homes its so heart warming and meaningful.

    R

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Aug 29 2015 1:43 pm

      Thanks Ralph. I’m glad your humans know how special it is to be invited home by local people.

      Like

  6. Galavanting Gran / Aug 29 2015 8:07 am

    A great experience but what a dilemna.

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Aug 29 2015 1:46 pm

      It wasn’t hard to decide once we treated the purchase as a scholarship. And besides, I still have that amazing piece of fabric.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Curious to the Max / Aug 29 2015 9:32 am

    Your generosity, whether the money is used for scholarship or simply living their daily lives, was a gift of grace and kindness. You and Poor John are beautiful pieces of human tapestry to be treasured.

    Like

    • leggypeggy / Aug 29 2015 1:48 pm

      Oh, I think we got the greater gift. I know the son is studying and doing well, and I have that magnificent piece of textile. I think I might put it across my dining table, and whip it off whenever food is served there.

      Like

  8. Sy S. / Aug 29 2015 9:40 am

    Hello LeggyPeggy,

    Your blog posts often is better then the previous one, as a rule.. and this one is no exception.
    What a beautiful home, with the artwork, prayer areas, well stocked kitchen (pot and pans). And the hand weaved “KIRA” dress, so colorful and beautiful. Along with you looking so “dapper” with the KIRA on… Your children,relatives and friends should give you and Poor John a mock wedding with you wearing it some day (back in Australia). Maybe you can also hang it on the wall, I know no space left… And you and Poor John are sp generous to pay US $330 and toward a child’s education.

    In many third world countries, the people just can’t travel to foreign lands. So having tourists/ foreign travelers in their area and offering to invite them over to their home…is a special opportunity to meet say you and Poor John. And I also would feel a little guilty in the host family spending money for food… since they would most likely cook a special meal.

    Again, a GREAT POST!

    Like

    • leggypeggy / Aug 29 2015 4:26 pm

      Thanks for the high praise. We especially loved meeting the family and seeing the inside of their home. Such a rare privilege. And now I have that fabulous piece of weaving for a visual memory.

      Like

  9. fidzie / Aug 29 2015 4:01 pm

    Thank you, Peggy, for sharing. How wonderful to be able to contribute to education.

    Like

    • leggypeggy / Aug 29 2015 4:17 pm

      Thanks so much for stopping by. The education part was the most important part in my opinion.

      Like

  10. Vicki / Aug 29 2015 4:28 pm

    What exquisite work. If I had the money at the time of travelling, I would have bought the proffered items too. Back in my travelling days in the 1970s I could have easily earned the money to replace buying such items I’d never use, whereas that material/clothes would have been their way of earning a living. Such superb workmanship is well worth the money.

    BTW A friend bought me back some lovely sari material from India and would you believe I made it into a tablecloth & table runner. Don’t use them often, but they’re more use than a sari. I also used part of the small piece of short-sleeved top material to make a cushion cover. All lovely. Obviously it wasn’t expensive silk…….just cotton, but very fine indeed.

    Like

    • leggypeggy / Aug 29 2015 5:13 pm

      You made brilliant use of the sari material. I buy all sorts of fabric on my travels, and tablecloths are a good way to use it up. I bought a mud-art piece in Timbuktu that I use as a table runner.
      I like your cushion cover idea. That’s a new one for me.
      Handicrafts are such useful purchases—even if I don’t have a use for them, they provide an income for a craftsperson.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Jane / Aug 29 2015 7:16 pm

    It’s beautiful work and considering the number of hours it would have taken to hand-make, it’s certainly not overpriced at all. I think it will be a gorgeous reminder of the gift of education you have given to one of their children. I am very unlikely to travel to Bhutan in the near future but wonder if there is some way that people in Australia could buy such an item from the family and have it sent over? To have such a special, unique piece of work and knowing the money is going to help with education make it an appealing proposition. By the way, it looks gorgeous on you! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Aug 29 2015 7:51 pm

      I bet I could figure out a way for someone to buy a piece and get it sent to Australia. Anand and Deepti plan to return to Bhutan and they could make arrangements with Tek, our guide. So something like that should be doable if anyone is ever interested.
      And, yes, I am thrilled to own the piece.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Jane / Aug 29 2015 8:23 pm

        That would be great. Could you send me an email via my contact page if something could be worked out and I could organise something then. 😀

        Like

      • leggypeggy / Aug 29 2015 10:11 pm

        Hi Jane—I’d be happy to do that. Hope it’s okay if you can wait a week for me to start the process. In 45 minutes, Poor John and I join a week-long bicycle–barge tour in France and I won’t have internet.

        Like

  12. suchled / Aug 29 2015 7:32 pm

    The blonde chick looks OK all glammed up but those three kids at the start look delightful.

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Aug 29 2015 7:51 pm

      Those kids are gorgeous—and so cheeky. The blonde chick is boisterous.

      Like

      • suchled / Aug 29 2015 7:53 pm

        That’s pretty obvious. Looking good.

        Like

      • leggypeggy / Aug 29 2015 8:01 pm

        She’s probably a troublemaker too.

        Like

  13. Dorothy / Aug 29 2015 10:11 pm

    Love the fabric Peggy. amazing work. I would have it as a wall hanging, it would give a room a warm glow. If you can find a spare wall with your collection. Your energy for travel is amazing, I would be tired by now, I must be getting old!

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Sep 1 2015 5:51 am

      Good idea Dorothy, but I don’t think I have a big enough wall. I reckon the dining room table, when it’s not is use, is my best bet.

      Like

  14. annabelletroy / Aug 29 2015 10:45 pm

    The textile is truly luminous; you looked beautiful in it. Exotic travel can certainly give a person the zest for life we should have all the time…maybe you do have it all the time; I always feel there is something jolting/transcendent about other places that gives me a kind of boost.

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Sep 1 2015 5:52 am

      Thanks so much. Luminous is a good word to describe the piece of fabric. As for travel, I do think it super charges me.

      Liked by 1 person

  15. Midwestern Plant Girl / Aug 29 2015 11:54 pm

    You are so sweet to help the children. You look very beautiful in it. Well worth the money IMO.

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Sep 1 2015 5:54 am

      Thanks. It’s really pleasing to know it’s helped someone with their education.

      Liked by 1 person

  16. simpletravelourway / Aug 30 2015 3:57 pm

    Good purchase – and your decision making was spot on. Every time you look at the weaving it will make you happy.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Mary in Manhattan / Aug 31 2015 7:02 am

    Amazing that you got to experience this! This is how everyone should travel.

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Sep 1 2015 5:55 am

      It is a wonderful way to travel. And it was an amazing experience.

      Like

  18. BunKaryudo / Sep 2 2015 2:40 am

    You suit it. It reminded me initially of a Japanese Kimono, but when I looked more closely I could see that it’s worn completely differently. It’s anybody’s guess how it all stays together! Nice though! 🙂

    Like

    • leggypeggy / Sep 6 2015 4:52 pm

      The clips on both shoulders seem to keep it all from falling down, but otherwise I[‘m not completely sure how it works.

      Liked by 1 person

      • BunKaryudo / Sep 6 2015 5:14 pm

        Well, however it manages to defy gravity, it is rather fetching. 🙂

        Like

  19. The Sock Mistress / Sep 3 2015 2:50 pm

    beautiful fabric and it will bring great memories in future

    Liked by 1 person

  20. ledrakenoir / Sep 6 2015 3:27 am

    Really be fascinating and really do enjoy this post… 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  21. chattykerry / Sep 6 2015 11:54 pm

    You look like a million dollars in that ‘scholarship’ outfit that has such a special meaning. My cousin had wrap weaved especially for me in Laos a few years back and bought it for much the same reason. Every time I look at the wrap, I have tears in my eyes both from the sentiment and that my cousin committed suicide some time later. Thank you Peggy for such a lovely blog and touching my heart.

    Like

    • leggypeggy / Sep 7 2015 4:20 am

      Oh Kerry, I am humbled to have touched your heart. What a bittersweet memory for you—to have the joy of the lovely wrap but the heartbreak that came later. I hope one day you’ll be able to share a pic of you wearing the wrap

      Liked by 1 person

  22. jfreshly / Sep 8 2015 2:15 pm

    Really nice outfit handmade and you were able to help out a family pay for education when they were in need. Seems like a win-win to me!

    Like

    • leggypeggy / Sep 8 2015 3:51 pm

      That’s the perfect way to think of it—a win–win for everyone.

      Like

  23. karmalhaden1994@gmail.com / Sep 11 2015 1:50 pm

    my heartfelt gratitude goes to my grandma for spending your precious time writing story about my family and helping my brothers education. And also remembering all those moment spend with us in my village.

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Sep 11 2015 3:08 pm

      Dearest Carma—I am proud to have been able to support your family and your brother’s education. We also have wonderful memories of staying in your village, meeting your family and being welcomed in to your home. Many thanks to you.

      Like

      • karma lhaden / Sep 16 2015 7:00 pm

        you are always welcome and hope you will come to Bhutan again. though we have nothing to offer for you all, we are so happy to meet with you all.

        Like

      • leggypeggy / Sep 17 2015 4:44 pm

        We would be so happy to meet you again too.

        Like

  24. Schnippelboy / Sep 12 2015 4:35 pm

    Tolle Fotos, es war eine kleine Reise für mich. Danke

    Like

    • leggypeggy / Sep 12 2015 4:42 pm

      You’re very welcome. Thanks for stopping by.

      Like

  25. Alison / Jan 1 2016 2:00 am

    What an incredible experience, getting to stay with locals and learn about their traditions and to know their family! 🙂 The clothing is beautiful, too. Interesting to see the back of the garment, too!

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Jan 2 2016 7:02 pm

      It was a wonderful experience and I feel lucky to still be in touch with the family.

      Liked by 1 person

  26. Redazione Antonia / Jun 16 2016 10:31 pm

    Wonderful! Beautiful dress, photos, super blog!

    Liked by 2 people

  27. Michelle Arpin / Aug 21 2016 10:08 am

    Hello Peggy, I enjoyed this blog entry. I had heard about Bhutanese weaving but had not seen any examples. Wow! I found your blog when looking for the source of an image that I found while browsing on the net. I have used your picture of the children in traditional Bhutanese dress to make a vector silhouette and I would like your permission to perhaps use it in a logo. A friend of mine is setting up a charity in Sonamthang (Panbang) that would primarily be a free day-care center for the rural Khengpa children. The idea is to help prepare them for school, as these children have their own language and will only be using the national Dzongkha (and English) in school. They are also living in extreme poverty. The charity will provide busing services, a warm lunch, a modern building with real facilities, a wonderful playground and many activities to help bring them up to par with kids growing up in larger towns. If you would like to know more about this Panbang Khenpa Olay Support Organization (PKOSO) project, just e-mail me and I can send you the documents that I have been helping my friend to edit. He is going to Thimphu tomorrow to apply for certification with the CSOA and I believe the completion of the logo may be critical to receiving final approval of his plan. michelle.arpin@mail.mcgill.ca

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Aug 21 2016 12:32 pm

      Hello Michelle, I be delighted to have you use the image for the logo. When everything is up and running, I’d like to do a blog post about the charity too. I’m sending you my email address. Cheers.

      Like

  28. maureenrose7 / Oct 5 2016 8:45 am

    You look fantastic in that! the whole home looks so cheery and colorful I just love it! so many nice photos!

    Liked by 1 person

  29. robertcday / Apr 4 2017 6:52 pm

    Amazing pictures. You look so very happy. 🙂
    Kindness – Robert.

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Apr 4 2017 10:12 pm

      Glad you noticed that. It was a fantastic experience.

      Liked by 1 person

      • robertcday / Apr 5 2017 12:56 am

        🙂
        Do we know each other well enough yet for me to ask you about those legs, Peggy?

        Liked by 1 person

      • robertcday / Apr 5 2017 6:06 pm

        🙂 I guess not.

        Liked by 1 person

      • leggypeggy / Apr 5 2017 6:45 pm

        Been swamped today, so only just saw this. 🙂
        The legs? So you wonder about the legs? It’s a long story. Maybe I should do a post on it. For the time being, I’ll say that having taken dancing lessons for 14 years means I do have reasonable legs.

        Like

  30. Christy B / Aug 10 2017 7:37 am

    No buttons or zippers… but it’s so lovely!!

    Liked by 1 person

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