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Never on a Sunday

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The gho and the kira - traditional dress in Bhutan

The gho and the kira - traditional dress in Bhutan

When visitors first arrive in Bhutan, they are usually fascinated to see that almost everyone here wears the national dress.

The impression you get is that of an exceptional place, rich in tradition and unified through a particular kind of clothing not worn anywhere else in the world.

But there are two sides to the coin.

The Bhutanese don’t wear their national dress totally out of their own free will. If they could, most of them would also put on jeans and t-shirts.

Especially the kids would much prefer to look just like everyone else in this world.

But there are laws in Bhutan stating that the people have to wear the national dress when they are in school or in a shop, on formal occasions and when they are in any kind of government office or institution.

Some government offices will not serve natives who are not properly dressed. And policemen will reprimand or fine Bhutanese who are wearing western clothing in the streets.

The only time these rules seem to be more relaxed is in the evenings, after government offices and public institutions have closed, and on weekends.

When you walk through Bhutan’s capital Thimphu after sunset or on a Sunday, you’ll only see very few men wearing the traditional gho and very few women dressed in the kira.

Instead, the people then prefer exactly the same outfits that people in the rest of the world like to wear: jeans, t-shirts and sneakers.

This is especially true for the young Bhutanese.

I have visited Bhutan three times over the past four years and it’s my impression that the popularity of western clothing is increasing.

I can’t remember seeing this many teenagers in western clothes in the evenings and on weekends before.

I guess this is due to increased exposure to Western culture in the form of movies, tourists and TV. After all, Bhutan didn’t even have television ten years ago.

Who knows how much longer the authorities will be able to uphold the rules promoting the national dress if this is not what the (younger) people want?

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Written by Thorsten

October 15, 2008 at 5:32 am

One Response

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  1. maybe you met the wrong people……..we are bhutanese and love wearing our national dress 24/7.
    and with just 3 visits in the last 4 years ……this does not make you an expert on our cultural norms!
    so all foreigners ….while visiting another coutry ….stop being judgemental!

    pema dukpa

    October 16, 2008 at 9:16 am


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