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Life is good for animals in Bhutan

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Meat shop in Thimphu, Bhutan

Meat shop in Thimphu, Bhutan

Most Bhutanese are devout Buddhists. And one of the cornerstones of Buddhism is that it’s wrong to kill animals because they are part of the divine creation.

Unfortunately, most Bhutanese also like eating meat. And that opens up a dilemma: if you want to eat meat, you have to slaughter animals.

But what can you do as a Bhutanese, if you like traditional meat dishes like phak sha laphu (stewed pork with radishes) or no sha huentseu (beef with spinach)?

strips of meat hanging out to dry

strips of meat hanging out to dry

The solution these clever Buddhists have come up with is simple – even though it might not be 100 % in line with what Buddha wanted: they have “outsourced” the slaughtering of animals to India.

Every piece of meat you eat in Bhutan was slaughtered across the border and then imported.

Animals in Bhutan lead a good life

Cows in Bhutan wander the streets like in neighboring India, and no one gets mad at them for blocking the road. It’s taken for granted. They have a right to be there.

Offerings to the gods become a meal for the pigeons

Offerings to the gods become a meal for the pigeons

Cattle is only there to help pull the plough across the rice paddies or to get milk.

Chickens are only kept to get eggs.

In the country’s many Buddhist monasteries, the monks and nuns leave offerings of rice, which pigeons and other birds will happily feed on.

And no true Buddhist would swat a fly or a mosquito – it’s better for your karma to shoo it away than to kill it.

Thimphu’s dog dilemma

In Bhutan’s capital Thimphu, the roaming dogs caused problems for tourism in recent years: the dogs would sleep all day and bark all night. That didn’t seem to bother the Bhutanese, but the tourists complained because they couldn’t get any sleep.

Of course, the Thimphu city council couldn’t just call a dog catcher and kill the stray dogs.

Instead, the city had an animal shelter built high up in the hills above the city,

Every once in a while, the dog catcher now drives around the streets of Thimphu, collects stray dogs and brings them to the compound in the mountains.

And there, the dogs can live happily ever after.

Unless they choose to dig a tunnel under the fence and make their way back to the streets of the capital. But then, the endless Buddhist circle of life would just begin anew…

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Written by Thorsten

October 6, 2008 at 5:49 am

A day in medieval Mongolia

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Welcome to medieval Mongolia

Welcome to 13th century Mongolia

I always hoped that I’d never have to hear Baccara’s Sorry I’m a Lady again. The song is pure 1970’s Eurotrash.

But here it was again, like a bad memory. It was playing in the beat up car that was taking us out of Ulan Bator and into the Mongolian countryside.

What an absurd scene, to be listening to Baccara as we are driving by the derelict, soviet-style apartment blocks on the outskirts of Ulan Bator.

My driver had put on a cassette with 1970’s and 1980’ music in the car (yes, they still have cassette players in their cars here – I guess that tells you a little bit about how old the cars are). After Baccara, we went on to hear a host of other singers that radio stations in the West have rightly banned from the airwaves: Chris Norman, Wham and Modern Talking.

Listening to this music as we were bumping along the pot-holed “highway” somewhere in the Mongolian grassland just felt bizarre. There were nomads herding their goats and sheep by the side of the road. Families were picnicking with a view of the passing cars. Wild horses were grazing on the open plains. And we were listening to “I should be so lucky” by the young Kylie Minogue.

Miles from modern civilisation

The road was bad, so the driving was slow. It’s hard for me to guess how many kilometers we’d gone out of Ulan Bator, when my driver left the paved road and turned onto a dirt road.

We went about 10 kilometers on this sandy road, which kept taking unexpected turns and which had bumps and holes that were hard to see.

My driver was going at least twice as fast as I would have driven on that kind of surface. I was a little uneasy and my palms were getting wet.

Then, as we rounded a bend, a palisade fence suddenly became visible in the wide open plain. It was almost like a mirage. The fence had a gate that our road led right up to. In front of it stood two Mongolians dressed like 13th century warriors and blocked our way.

This scene, accompanied by the 1980’s soundtrack from the cassette player, took the absurdity of this whole ride to yet another level.

The guardsmen stopped our car, exchanged a few words with my driver, and then let us pass. We followed the dirt road for a few more turns and arrived at a yurt camp. “The King’s Palace”, said a sign that was written both in English and Mongolian.

King's Palace yurt camp

Unfortunately, that sign was just about the only thing that was bilingual at this open-air museum called “Mongolia in the 13th century”.

Hardly anyone at the “King’s Palace” or at any of the other five yurt-camps that make up this recreation of Mongolia in the 13th century spoke a word of English. And since I didn’t have an interpreter with me, I mostly just wandered through the camps and looked around.

Inside the King's Palace yurt

Inside the King's Palace yurt

“Mongolia in the 13th century” consists of six yurt camps and tries to recreate different aspects of life in Mongolia in the times of Ghengis Khan.

Apart from the “King’s Palace”, there is a yurt camp that concentrates on shaman rituals. Other camps are all about cattle breeding, soldiers’ life or the making of crafts.

"Medieval Mongolian" smoking a pipe made of an animal bone

"Medieval Mongolian" smoking a pipe made of an animal bone

But if you don’t speak Mongolian or have an interpreter, it’ll be difficult to talk to the people living in these camps.

A lady in one of the camps, who spoke a little English, told me that they got about a hundred visitors per day, which she considered “a lot”.

However, while my driver and I were taking our tour of the park, we were just about the only guests there.

The camps were kind of dead

Most of the 13th-century-employees were just waking up, cleaning the place or doing repair work. So they didn’t really bother to greet us or put on their little show for us. I guess they only show the shaman rituals or how make traditional arts and crafts when larger tourist groups come around.

The park supposedly covers an area of some 350 hectares (850 acres). So you’ll do quite a bit of driving, getting from one camp to the next.

For me, that was almost the best part of the trip. I got so see a lot of open Mongolian countryside, rocky hills, beautiful valleys, and vast grasslands. And the air out there was so much better than in downtown Ulan Bator!

When we’d completed our tour of the six yurt camps, we headed back out the main gate of the open-air museum.

The two guardsmen in their traditional outfits nodded good-bye as we drove by. Then they went back into the shade of the palisade fence to continue their summer-afternoon nap.

And the cassette player in our car started playing George Michael’s “Last Christmas”.

Written by Thorsten

July 20, 2008 at 9:39 am

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