X-Rated Snowmen In Shangri-La

Posted on April 23, 2017

Actual stupa covered in snow

While all of Bhutan is in the Himalayas, whose peaks are perpetually snow clad, most of the inhabited parts of the country only infrequently if ever see snow. The capital of Thimphu, and Bhutan’s next largest city, Paro both at 7,300 feet, see a few to several inches of snow most but not all years. When this occurs the King declares a national holiday and all stay home from school and work.  Within a day or two the snow has melted and all is back to normal.

A month ago I woke up in the 9,000 foot Phobjika Valley to a blizzard, 8 inches of snow on the ground and visibility close to zero as the snow swirled around us. Bhutanese were surprised, as mid March is late for snow, and they thought this would be a snowless year. The snow kept us trapped in the Phobjika Valley for that night, as the 11,000’ pass leading out of the valley closed (this information does not come via media as it would in the USA, but instead word of mouth, those who tried to cross the pass found too much snow and icy roads, and turned back). 

At our hotel Sonam, the groundskeeper began constructing a snow stupa even while the storm raged. Stupas, or chortens as they are more often called in Bhutan are religious structures, a square base, topped by a round base, with a cone shaped tower atop both. The traditional material for a stupa is rock or brick. They are meant to last indefinitely and when constructed the builders place an object of value in the base, a religious relic, religious text or jewels. Bhutanese venerate stupas and walking around one in a clockwise direction gains one merit (woe to the tourist who goes around counter clockwise, Bhutanese will holler for them to stop, this the only time one hears raised voices in Bhutan, the reason is alarm that the tourist is doing something bad to his karma, and the Bhutanese shouting at the tourist is attempting to save this person from committing an inauspicious deed). The small snow stupa was carved with attention and love and Sonam continued to check on it, brush off snow as it fell and continued to add details. Lovely we all thought.

By later that day we’d not budged from our hotel, happy to avoid the snow and cold, observing it from the grand floor to ceiling windows seemed ideal. My Bhutanese friends in Thimphu and Paro where the storm had stopped, leaving them with 3-4 inches of snow began posting pictures of the snow sculptures they’d made on Face book. Some of my friends are bodybuilders and they’d make larger than life bodybuilder snowmen. The bodies without heads and arms, but impressive V-shaped torsos and sporting muscular legs. The mid-sections had very defined abdominal muscles. And to make the photos more impressive, they posed without shirts just in back of these snowmen, so as to show off their snow abs and their real biceps (though all of these guys have their own impressive real abs).

In the National Stadium (I suppose the flat ground here made it easy to gather snow) people erected (no pun intended) snow phalluses, all full-blown if you get what I mean. Over 6 feet tall, no detail left to the imagination, there was a small grove of icy white snow phalluses. Phalluses are big in Bhutan, (again no pun intended), and are painted on houses, while wood carved 1 or 2 foot size members adorn front doors, and hang from the eaves. These do not indicate a sex-crazed nation, but rather they commemorate Drukpa Kinley, whose name is usually rendered in English as the Divine Madman. He lived (and loved) 4 centuries ago and was a wandering Buddhist ascetic who used his wisdom, sometimes referred to as his staff (I love Bhutanese euphemisms) to spread the word of Buddhism. A missionary you might call him, with a decidedly different way of proselytizing. He is a beloved figure in Bhutan and the phalluses painted all over Bhutanese homes are said to be his, and are there to bring good luck, spare the homeowner from envy from others. Not, as most bewildered tourists guess, for fertility.

Each batch of pictures I’d see was more x-rated. Towards the end of the day there were many images of couples having sex. These were snow men (and women) mind you, not photographs, but very graphic nonetheless. I can speculate that these images did not appear until the end of the day as they took a lot of work and time (and talent, I gotta say) to fashion them. There were many different positions (please use your imagination). As I’d see another batch of snow people or body parts appear I’d find myself laughing, but also blown away by the creativity and swiftness of Bhutanese and how they instantly set out (on the King announced free day) to build these sculptures.

When I was a kid in Massachusetts we had all plenty of snow in winter to work on perfecting our snowmen, yet we all made the same thing time after time. Roll 3 balls of snow, large, medium, and small, place one atop the other, take a carrot from the fridge for the nose, 2 charcoal briquettes from the garage as eyes and voila, a snowman. Looking back, I realize what me and my friends had no creativity whatsoever in our snowman construction. So unlike the Bhutanese, their snowmen not only rock, they also do something else.

after the blizzaard