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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…


Written by Thorsten

October 6, 2008 at 5:49 am

Dinner doggie-style

with 23 comments

Dog meat butcher I’m a vegetarian. I don’t eat meat. And though I don’t like the smell of raw meat at butcher shops, it usually doesn’t bother me very much.

But when I looked around an open-air market in Hanoi today, I did get slightly nauseous in one corner of the market. I came across something that I hadn’t anticipated: dog butchers.

Nothing for the faint-hearted

There were about three or four stalls selling dog meat. All of the animals had been skinned and grilled. Some were lighter in colour, others reddish brown and crispy looking.chopping up dog meat

As I walked by, a Vietnamese woman was buying some dog meat. I guess she didn’t want the whole animal, because all of a sudden, the butcher swung her big knife and hacked the dog that lay in front of her in two. WHACK!

And CHOP, WHACK, CHOP, the butcher continued her mad frenzy. In the end, she had chopped the grilled animal to pieces the size of goulash.

The butcher put everything in a bag, the Vietnamese housewife took it and walked away happily.

Dining with the dogs

I knew that there are dog restaurants in a northern suburb of Hanoi. But I hadn’t expected to stumble upon grilled dogs at the market stalls just outside my hotel. After all, it’s an upmarket hotel in downtown Hanoi.

But I suppose not many of the hotel’s international guests venture into this Vietnamese market – even though it’s just a few steps from the hotel.

It must be an acquired taste

The smell at the dog meat market stalls was strange. Hard to describe. Was it the smell, the sight or the idea of the dead dogs that made me feel sick?

The Vietnamese clearly aren’t as sensitive. For them, dog is just as common a dish as pork, beef or chicken.

A tourist from New Zealand, whom I talked to a few days ago, said he had tried dog meat at one of the city’s dog meat restaurants. He said he liked the taste.

dog meat butcher

I don’t think I could have eaten dog meat. Even if I wasn’t a vegetarian, dog is where I’d draw the line. Seeing and smelling those grilled dogs at the market made that very clear to me.

In Vietnam, it’s mostly men who will eat dog. Women don’t seem to enjoy it as much. Eating dog is associated with aggressiveness.

But even the Vietnamese men will not eat dog meat at the beginning of the lunar month. That’s considered bad luck.

So At the beginning of every lunar month, Hanoi’s dog meat restaurants stay closed.

And the ladies selling grilled dog at the street market have a few days off. To walk the dog?

Written by Thorsten

June 2, 2008 at 12:03 pm

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