Bhutan has a rich and unique cultural heritage that has largely remained intact because of its isolation from the rest of the world until the early 1960s. One of the main attractions for tourists is the country's culture and traditions. Bhutanese tradition is deeply steeped in its Buddhist heritage. Hinduism is the second dominant religion in Bhutan, being most prevalent in the southern regions. The government is increasingly making efforts to preserve and sustain the current culture and traditions of the country. Because of its largely unspoiled natural environment and cultural heritage, Bhutan has been referred to as The Last Shangri-la.
To preserve the indigenous Buddha's Teachings as their long-guarded culture and tradition, Menjong Chöthün Tshogpa, a charitable organisation was established in 2002 by The Supreme Dharma King or Trulku Jigme Chöda Rinpoche 70th Je Khenpo of Bhutan.
All Bhutanese citizens are required to observe the national dress code, known as Driglam Namzha, while in public during daylight hours. The rule is enforced more rigorously in some districts (dzongkhag) than others. Men wear a heavy knee-length robe tied with a belt, called a gho, folded in such a way to form a pocket in front of the stomach. Women wear colourful blouses over which they fold and clasp a large rectangular cloth called a kira, thereby creating an ankle-length dress. A short silk jacket, or toego may be worn over the kira. Everyday gho and kira are cotton or wool, according to the season, patterned in simple checks and stripes in earth tones. For special occasions and festivals, colourfully patterned silk kira and, more rarely, gho may be worn.
Additional rules of protocol apply when visiting a dzong or a temple, or when appearing before a high-level official. Male commoners wear a white sash (kabney) from left shoulder to opposite hip. Local and regional elected officials, government ministers, cabinet members, and the King himself each wear their own coloured kabney. Women wear a narrow embroidered cloth draped over the left shoulder, a rachu.
The dress code has met with some resistance from the ethnic Nepalese citizens living along the Indian border who resent having to wear a cultural dress which is not their own.
Monks join the monastery at six to nine years of age and are immediately placed under the discipleship of a headmaster. They learn to read chhokey, the language of the ancient sacred texts, as well as Dzongkha and English. Eventually they will choose between two possible paths: to study theology and Buddhist theory, or take the more common path of becoming proficient in the rituals and personal practices of the faith.
The daily life of the monk is austere, particularly if they are stationed at one of the monasteries located high in the mountains. At these monasteries food is often scarce and must be carried up by the monks or their visitors. The monks are poorly clothed for winter conditions and the monasteries are unheated. The hardship of such a posting is well-recognised; to have a son or brother serving in such a monastery is recognised as very good karma for the family.
A monk's spiritual training continues throughout his life. In addition to serving the community in sacramental roles, he may undertake several extended silent retreats. A common length for such a retreat is three years, three months, three weeks and three days. During the retreat time he will periodically meet with his spiritual master who will test him on his development to ensure that the retreat time is not being wasted.
Each monastery is headed by an abbot who is typically a lama, although the titles are distinct. The highest monk in the land is the chief abbot of Bhutan, whose title is Je Khenpo. He is theoretically equivalent in stature to the king.
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