Bhutan Comes to Washington, DC

Washington Travel Blog

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Bhutan on the National Mall

Bhutan: Land of the Thunder Dragon was the theme of the 2008 Smthsonian Folklife Festival. Every summer, the Smithsonian Instiution sponsors the festival on the National Mall to explore the culture and traditions of one country and one US state.

The country featured this year was Bhutan. A range of outdoor exhibits told of Bhutan's arts, beliefs, foods, music, architecture, and traditional medicine. More 100 Bhutanese came to Washington to participate in the festival and present their country's traditions. I went to the festival on Thursday afternoon to learn something of Bhutan, a country I have never visited.

Exiting the Metro at Smithsonian Station, I was greeted by a large Bhutanese temple constructed on the Mall.

Himalayan Buddhist Temple
The eye-catching temple formed the centerpiece of the Bhutan exhibition. Around it were tents with exhibits of food, clay sculpture, incense making, architecture, textile work, painting, medicine, music, weaponry, and woodcarving.  There was also a philatelic tent for Bhutan stamp collectors!

The temple was a real Buddhist Temple. Monks of the Zhung Dratsang monastic body had come from Bhutan to operate it. I joined the queue to enter the temple. Inside was an altar on one side and a row of the monks on the other reciting a chant. Local followers of Buddhism were taking a moment to make offerings at the altar. At one point, the monks began to play their musical instruments, two long horns and a two drums. Except for the Washington summer temperature, one was for that moment transported to Bhutan!

Outside the temple, I looked at several of the exhibits.

Temple and flags
Two participants were demonstrating the making of incense sticks, using a mortar and pestle-like grinder and a press. A girl explained that a number of ingedients, including sandalwood, clove, saffron, and honey, among many other herbs and plants, were blended together to make incense.

At another location, a man gave a talk and demonstration of Bhutanese food. He stated that a nationwide Bhutanese cuisine has only developed within the past 50 years as road and air communication has improved contact among the different regions of the country. The typical Bhutan dish is cheese and rice with pepper. Bhutan is the only place, he said, where hot peppers are considered a vegetable rather than a spice.

I had lunch at the food tent, named the Druk Yul (Thunder Dragon) Kitchen.

Temple detail
(Food at the festival was not inexpensive. A main dish was $9.00 and a drink $5.00.) I selected a chicken with rice and beans dish called Jasha Tshoem. (I suppose Ema Datsi, the cheese and chili pepper dish, would have been the most typical.) A mango drink was a refreshing accompaniment. I struck up a conversation with a couple sitting at my table. It turned out they knew the Indian caterers of the kitchen who had been contracted to operate the food service for the festival. That family, they said, owns several Indian restaurants in the area. So, we could be assured the food was South Asian in origin. It was good, if a bit on the bland side. (I'm sure the Bhutan peppers and spices had been toned down for American tastes.)

Of course, I definitely enjoyed taking photos of all the displays and activity!

tvillingmarit says:
Nice blog as usual
Posted on: Jul 15, 2008
hummingbird50 says:
Wow that is very cool...it is great that they do that, so people can learn about different cultures...very cool!!!
Posted on: Jul 14, 2008
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Bhutan on the National Mall
Bhutan on the National Mall
Himalayan Buddhist Temple
Himalayan Buddhist Temple
Temple and flags
Temple and flags
Temple detail
Temple detail
Window decoration
Window decoration
Exterior decoration
Exterior decoration
Decterior decoration
Decterior decoration
TRemple detail
TRemple detail
Queue to enter the temple
Queue to enter the temple
Decorative wall inthe temple
Decorative wall inthe temple
Altar
Altar
Temple altar
Temple altar
Object of worship
Object of worship
Making an offering
Making an offering
Ceiling decoration
Ceiling decoration
Ceiling decoration
Ceiling decoration
Instruments
Instruments
The Monks play their musical instr…
The Monks play their musical inst…
Incense and Clay Sculpture
Incense and Clay Sculpture
Bhutanese clay sculptor
Bhutanese clay sculptor
Clay sculpture from Bhutan
Clay sculpture from Bhutan
Clay sculpture form Bhutan
Clay sculpture form Bhutan
Grinding incense ingredietns
Grinding incense ingredietns
Pressing incense sticks
Pressing incense sticks
Incense sticks
Incense sticks
Incense display
Incense display
Childrens activities
Children's activities
Traditional chant
Traditional chant
Layap tent made of yak wool
Layap tent made of yak wool
Festival Participants
Festival Participants
Food tent
Food tent
Menu
Menu
Jasha Tshoem and mango beverage
Jasha Tshoem and mango beverage
Painting
Painting
Painting
Painting
Woodcarving Lathe
Woodcarving Lathe
Peppers
Peppers
Foods lecture
Foods lecture
Foods display
Foods display
A break for modernity
A break for modernity
Bhutanese building techniques
Bhutanese building techniques
Learning to grind meal
Learning to grind meal
At the Smithsonian Folklife Festiv…
At the Smithsonian Folklife Festi…
Texas swing band
Texas swing band
Washington
photo by: b93sp