Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Bhutan Treks - The Brokpa People and Their Legends

Eastern Bhutan is arguably one of the world's most beautiful regions - and it is home to the culturally unique Brokpa people, who live in Merak and Sakten. For almost two decades, Bhutan treks in that part of the country were not permitted by the government for undisclosed reasons - rumours alleged the desire to protect the Yeti - but the regions of Merak and Sakten are now open again. Bhutan treks there offer the truly memorable opportunity to meet these wonderful people.

Ethnically Unique

The Brokpas speak Sharchop, a different language to that spoken elsewhere in
Bhutan - more noticeable to visitors on Bhutan treks, they dress uniquely. Brokpa people are easily recognised by their woven red jackets, often detailed with stitched animals, and curious black yak hats. These hats have five spidery legs, designed to channel rainwater away from the wearer's head and body. As befitting the name Brokpa, which can be translated to mean 'nomad' or 'herder', the people remain semi-nomadic yak herders, relying on the animal for clothing, food and transport. For anyone with an interest in minority ethnic groups and the preservation of traditional ways of living in an increasingly modern, homogenous world, Bhutan treks in Merak and Sakten are a must.

Aum Jono and the King's Demand

Like many Himalayan peoples, the Brokpa have a story of their origin. They moved to
Bhutan many hundreds of years ago - according to them, this is because they once lived in Tibet, until a conflict with a ruler. This king demanded that his people remove the top of a mountain because it blocked the sun, covering his palace in shadow. One woman, Aum Jono, who did not think this ridiculous order should be obeyed, told her people that it was far easier to remove a head than a mountain-top. The Brokpas agreed. After killing the king, Aum Jono led them to safety and prosperity in eastern Bhutan. She is now revered as a protecting deity, with a festival held in her honour.

Brokpas and the Yeti

Anyone planning to go on
Bhutan treks will surely have heard of the Yeti. To the Brokpas this creature is called Megay, and yak herders to this day report encountering Megay in high, thickly forested altitudes, typically when they have pursued a straying yak. According to their remarkable tales, the Megay consumes bamboo shrubs, is white or light red in colour, and smells of garlic. The Megay is not a curiosity, as it is to Westerners, but a guardian deity of remote mountainous regions - and the Brokpas accordingly treat it with respect.

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