MERAK- The Land of Reds

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Merak lies at an elevation of 3500 Mt above sea level. The village is surrounded by rugged mountain terrains which for centuries remained isolated from the rest of the region. Although Bhutan opened its door to tourism in 1974, Merak and a few other places in the country remained pretty much closed to tourists until 2012 owing to ever increasing demands of more adventurous tourists who found such exotic places more alluring.

Merak is popularly known for its myths and folklores. Merak is often known to the outside world as the land of the abominable snowman or the elusive ‘Yeti’. If you ask any adult Merak resident about this mystical native of the snows, they will share many true life experiences which of course will border around myth and truth. Nevertheless, one cannot but stop wondering about the existence of this strange phenomenon.

The highlanders living in Merak have their own distinct cultural and linguistic characteristics. The place offers visitors to experience a unique semi-nomadic lifestyle and culture. The annual Merak festival is a festive occasion when most of the residents are home and people from the neighborhoods all join in. It is the only time of the year when the herdsmen get the much needed respite from their daily routine of cattle rearing in the high pasturelands.

This annual festival in Merak is no different from any other such festival in Bhutan when people take these occasions for family reunions and a time for festivity and merriment. People turn out in their best costumes and feast on the best of local food and cuisines which families bring packed even as they make themselves comfortable around the festival grounds.

Ache Lhamo Dance is one of the most sacred dances that is performed only in certain places like Merak-Sakteng in Tashigang District and Lauri in SamdrupJongkhar. The Merak-Saktengpa people perform this dance-drama once a year during the annual festival. Ache Lhamo Dance is considered sacred and unique because of its characters and relevance. Another intangible culture in the form of performing arts is the Yak Chaam. The yak dance is believed to be the replication of the legendry take of Thopa Gali while it also signifies paying due respect to yaks in the form of dances as the yak is the main source of income for highlanders.

The most distinctive feature of these semi-nomads is their attire. The attire of the Brokpa appears heavy-duty material woven from a combination of yak hair, sheep wool and animal hide. Woman’s dress is known as ‘Shingkha’ and men wear ‘Chupa’. Both woman and man wear invariably don their heads with their protective headgears famously known as the ‘Tshitpi Zham’. The disc-shaped hat has five half foot long tentacles extending outward that allow rain drops or melted snow water to run off thus keeping the heads dry and warm.