Buddhist worshippers don’t have to fend off tourists
In Bhutan’s capital Thimphu, the locals have the holy sites almost to themselves.
What you see at the city’s National Memorial Chorten, for instance, is devout Buddhists going round and round the holy stupa, but hardly any tourists.
It’s the beginning of the tourist season in Bhutan, but so far the number of foreigners visiting this remote Himalayan country is lower than expected this year.
Usually, Americans make up the highest number of tourists to Bhutan. They come to witness the ancient Buddhist sites, the spectacular Himalayan mountains and the traditional way of life in Bhutan.
But this year, the Bhutanese are afraid that the Americans might not be able to afford the costly trip because of the economic crisis.
Waiting for the tourists to arrive
On these early March days, there are only a few Westerners on the streets of Thimphu. And many of those are aid workers, UN employees or members of NGO’s. The Bhutanese are still waiting for the tour groups from the US, France or Germany to arrive this year.
The low turnout of tourists is especially evident at the city’s major tourist sights. One of them is the National Memorial Chorten, which is one of Thimphu’s most important relgious shrines.
This giant white stupa was built in 1974 to honor the popular third King of Bhutan, Jigme Dorji Wangchuk. He died in 1972 and is considered the founder of modern-day Bhutan.
Every morning, large numbers of elderly Bhutanese women and men come here to worship. They walk around the chorten in a clockwise direction immersed in prayer, sit down a while and chat, then go for another round.
Before or after making their rounds, the faithful stop by the entrance to the shrine to whirl the big red prayer wheels, setting of the bells that you can hear throughout the premises.