An unusual animal

This Sunday, I met one a very unusual creature: Bhutan’s national animal, the Takin. There is a Takin reserve on the outskirts of Thimphu. A few years ago, this area housed a mini-zoo, but it was decided that keeping animals captive for entertainment was not in accord with Bhutan’s philosophy and the zoo was closed and the animal freed into the wild. The Takins, however, were so tame that they kept wandering around the streets of Thimphu looking for food, so they had to be put back behind fences. (In general, animals in Bhutan are very tame which is probably due to people following Buddha’s teaching of not killing.)


There is a very interesting story related to the origins of Takin. Once Bhutan’s famous saint, Lama Drukpa Kuenlay (that I’ve mentioned in a previous post) was asked by his followers to perform a miracle. He asked them to first bring him a bull and goat to eat. After he ate both and left only the bones, he put the head of the goat on the bones of the bull, he then commanded the new animal to come to life and run to the meadow to feed! A bizarre fact, giving credence to the miracle story, is that, the Takin actually can not be easily categorized, as it is not related to any other animal and so  it is placed in it’s put in its own category, budorcas taxicolor.


There are also beautiful deer at the reserve. The reserve is clean and quiet and there are many visitors. As I was leaving, a group of Indian dignitaries arrived in black Mercedes Benzes and accompanied by armed body guards (which is very rare in Bhutan).


After visiting the reserve, I went up to the telecommunication tower (2685 m) that provides nice views of the city. There were many many flapping prayer flags everywhere. The belief is that these prayer flags have to be on high points as the wind will blow their prayers to the sky. As I was walking, I met a couple who had brought some prayer flags to install there. I did not ask them what they were praying for, but it was beautiful to see them among hundreds of dancing colourful prayer flags, looking for a suitable spot to raise theirs.


I continued walking and at the entrance to the telecommunication tower (which is restricted and also should not be photographed), I met a father with two sons who were going for a hike to Wangditse Goemba. I asked him the directions and continued walking in the same direction.

Walking through a cool pine forest and a ridge, I got to the Goemba where on top of a hill, a young group of monks were playing soccer (a scene right out of The Cup!) and an old man was dozing off.


Nearby, two old men were chanting “Om mani padme” and turning big prayer wheels. I sat in this meditative and beautiful spot for a little while and then headed down the hill.


There was a small group of walkers in front of me, carrying a little baby wrapped in a blanket down the hill. After a little while, I lost sight of them and started making up poems and songs in my head as I was coming down the mountain.

I remembered when I was young and we used to go hiking every weekend with my father and brother in Tehran. I really enjoyed those walks. We had a small spot far from the crowds that we had dubbed “our peak”. We would walk there and have oranges and tangerines and then walk down to our house where we would have roasted chicken and potatoes (made by mom) or kebabs (made by dad). I remembered the smell of the earth when it rained, the feeling of small pebbles in my shoes and the taste of those dishes.

As I was thinking these, I heard strange but playful sounds behind me. I stopped a looked back. Three small kids were running down the hill in slippers with their hands stretched out, making airplane sounds (and spitting!). They ran past me and I remembered, I used to do the same when I was a kid.

Going further down, I reached the Dechen Phodrang monastery. Again, some monks were playing soccer.


After a brief pause, I walked back to the city along a road that went through terrace farms and from which I could see the gigantic Thimphu Dzong.


As I was walking, a tourist bus with windows full of hands holding cameras and iPads pointed at the Dzong passed me.

Walking into Thimphu, I saw a group of men playing the giant dart game (which is very similar to Bhutanese archery with teams dancing after the throws and singing teasing songs to each other). I was very thirsty after the walk and decided to go to a small local bar for a beer. A young friendly girl was tending to the bar. We chatted a little about life in Bhutan and suddenly there was a rain storm outside and all the men who had been playing, came in the bar wet and laughing.

There was a lot of animated talk about the scores and coloured scarves (signifying the scores) were distributed according to how people had performed. I sat there very content and chatter with a couple of the players and decided it was time to try the local arra, which is a rice wine not unlike the Japanese sake. I hear traditionally it is drank heated and also with a raw egg in it! I decided to try it without the egg and I liked its taste, although it would probably be better heated. After the rain had slowed down and after a second arra, kindly offered on the house, I headed out and strolled towards my apartment, thinking of the takin’s creation story.

5 thoughts on “An unusual animal

  1. “They ran past me and I remembered, I used to do the same when I was a kid.”
    Spanned across different times and places, yet some things never change 🙂

  2. I can’t wait to hear more about Lama Drukpa Kuenlay’s exploits!

    One comment about your climb up the telecommunication tower, which you reference with “(2685 m)”: I assume this is the altitude of the tower and not its height? That would be QUITE a climb! According to wikipedia, Thimphu’s altitude ranges from 2,248 m to 2,648 m. That’s my geeky fact-checking attention-grabber for the day… 😛

    • :)) yes, you are right. The climb to the tower is not very long (maybe a rigorous 30 minutes from it’s base), being in Thimphu you are already in high altitude and so going up even a little brings you to a very high (globally speaking!) point.

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