Now into my third week here in Bhutan. Because I’ve been working very hard, I’ve literally been stuck in my apartment (because the internet is faster here than at the office) or I’ve been walking up and down the hill to the office. I’ve had no time to explore beyond Thimphu and very little time to go into the city to select handicrafts.

But get handicrafts I must as this is really the only thing Bhutan has to offer. I admit I knew very little about Bhutan before being officially invited to come and work here. I know that it is considered a remote Himalayan kingdom but that’s about it really. I don’t know why but I expected Bhutan to be stuffed full of gemstones and glorious Bhutanese products. Ah, no.

Bhutan really only produces two things (that I can see). The first is electricity, which they sell to India and the second is textiles and traditional weaving. There is a push to go organic and you can buy some lovely soaps. I bought a ginger and lemongrass soap for around NZ$2.00. The smell is wonderful, the bar is creamy and it’s 100% organic. So I think the organic sector will grow in Bhutan very quickly over the next few years.

There are two ways you can come to Bhutan. You can visit as a tourist and cough up an exorbitant US$250.00 per day. This provides you with accommodation, food, a driver and guide. The guide goes with you everywhere and it’s Bhutan’s way (frankly) of controlling who comes here and tracking tourists when they are here. To put this into perspective, the daily rate would be NZ$305 per day and, since I’m here for 36 days, that would cost nearly NZ$11,000 (excluding airfare).

The second way is you are officially invited and you don’t have to pay the daily amount or be followed around by a guide. If you are with a guide, what I’ve discovered is that the guide gets a commission when you buy textiles. The best place to buy textiles is at the Bhutanese Authentic Craft Markets, which is basically a row of huts at the top of Norzim Lam (main street of Thimphu). Popping into each hut, you’re met with an astonishing array of colourful, woven textiles. But beware: some are machine-produced rather than hand-woven. You can get cotton or raw silk purses, handbags, rugs, scarves and so on. If you’re with a guide, you are slugged with the tourist price and then the guide goes back to get the 10% commission. So we’ve had to produce our official status letter that tells everyone we’re officially invited and therefore should be given Bhutanese prices.

I could buy a ton of textiles as they’re really quite stunning. But I realize that the patterns and colours won’t look the same back in New Zealand. I’d love to buy a kira (the large piece of material Bhutanese women wear as a long skirt) but where am I going to wear this back home? To feed the horses hay? LOL. Guess I could cut the material up and make some cushion-covers but diva dog, Zsa Zsa, has a thing for cushions and she’d chew them up. Speaking of Zsa Zsa, I’m considering adding to her collection of “blankets from around the world” – I’ve spotted a gorgeous black and white blanket but it’s made from yak hair, which means it’s a bit rough rather than fluffy. I don’t think the little diva dog would approve.

I’ve bought just a few practical things and will limit myself to these. You can also get quite paralyzed when selecting items. You think one item is THE most gorgeous thing you’ve ever seen; only to find in the next hut something more colourful. My advice is if you’re in Bhutan for a week or so, take the time to browse for a few days before pouncing. Offering less money is acceptable although, given the poverty level here, you do feel terrible. If I think it’s a reasonable price for something that is hand-woven (and taking up to a month to produce), I don’t mind coughing up the price they are asking. It’s a whole heap less than I’d be paying in NZ anyway for a comparable item!

Here’s what I bought from a few different huts at the markets.

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A beautiful raw silk scarf. Cost was 800 Ngultrum or around NZ$16.00.

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Traditional-patterned hat. This is a gift for a friend in NZ. She wanted a “happy looking” hat. Cost is around NZ$10.00.

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Two small wallets. The yellow and red one is a gift; the other one, I’ll use back in NZ. They cost 350 Ngultrum each or around NZ$6.50.

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Small makeup purse for my handbag.

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