Once upon a time in the Dragon’s Kingdom there was a nun. She was living a simple life, far away in the mountains, concentrating most of all on prayers and meditation. One day when she was in the garden she heard a loud roar. She thought it was a wild animal and she hid in her house but the noise was getting louder and louder. Suddenly someone broke the window. She just frozen when she noticed the biggest foot she ever seen in her life sticking out of the window frame! Also she noticed that whatever the animal or person it belonged to – the foot was hurt and bleeding. Without any hesitation she decided to fixed it up. The moment she finished the creature just vanished as quickly as it appeared.
Next weeks after the strange meeting she started to find dead animals in her garden: deers, rabbits, wolves… „Migoi… It must have been Migoi” – she thought and left her house. She new that if she stayed, Migoi would keep on killing animals to give them to her as a present, the sign of his gratitude. She did not want any animal to killed because of her.
All around Bhutan everyone know the legend about the nun and Migoi. Migoi (in direct translation from dzonka: „strong man”) is the mystic animal called by westerners – Yeti. What is only a fairytale in Europe, in Bhutan is the reality! Many people believe it actually exists. Moreover, there are many that claim they have seen it. The place we travelled to in Bhutan was actually a conservation area designed to protect the legendary animal. But not only him. It was also designed to protect the life of half-nomad tribe Brokpa („mountain people”). Brokpa people are in Bhutan almost as mythical as Migoi itself. In other parts of the country children when noughty are often scared by parents „If you do not stop misbehave I will take you to Brokpa….”. They were said to be bloodthirsty and cruel, hanging people from the trees, killing them in most painful ways. Well, sound like fun! We decided to go!
Brokpa people live far away from… everywhere! If you travel from Poland it will usually take you a day in planes (three connections necessary at least), a day in bus, a day in jeep on really remote roads and finally two trekking days and you are there! This is not an easy trip. Till 2012 this region was completely shut for tourist traffic and only recently people started visiting Merak-Sakteng region.
„How often do you see tourists here?” – I once asked a Brokpa men.
„Often! More and more people come here.”
„So they come once a week? Once a month?”
„No, no, no! Maybe… Once a year!”
This conversation I had is the best illustration on how little people come here. It is indeed really, really far away!
The Brokpa villages at a first glance does not differ much from any other village in Bhutan – mud on the road, children looking with curiosity on european tourists, Brokpa shepherds coming down to the village with their most peculiar jackets made from deerskin. The gorgeous women, wearing the most characteristic, black cup, the main sign of their half-nomad tribe. At the beginning everyone greeted us with a bit of reluctance, but soon the reluctance was overcome by curiosity and all doors in Sakteng were open for visiting. Of course we were accepting all the invitations. It was a wonderful experience to visit people in their houses – it was also a wonderful experience when they visited us…
There were ten women who came to visit our camp late in the evening.. Each of them was representing one family from the village. They came caring the beautifully done thermoses and offered us ara. It is hard to describe what ara is – first and most important it is just disgusting and you should not try it at all. Unfortunately, when guests come you should not refuse to accept the gift, you just drink it. Ara is a local specialty – the drink done from boiled rice alcohol and fried egg. It tastes worse than it looks, which is challenging as it looks really bad. Still we just needed to drink it and pretended we enjoyed it. Some of us lied claiming to be abstinent, but then they were given the local tea, which in my personal opinion was even worse than ara – milk, tea, salt and fat does not really go together well…
The evening finished even better than it started – with Brokpa songs and dances! We also decided to try our best singing famous Polish folk song „Hej sokoły” – maybe it was not the best performance ever but we received a loud applause. Although we did not speak Brokpa and the women did not speak Polish we understood each other perfectly. Smile and gestures usually suffice when both sides are open and wish to communicate!
Sakteng is a kind of place where you would like to stay at least a month, not only two days as we did. Goodbyes are always difficult as they usually come with sorrow and sadness. I was sad leaving Brokpa village and Brokpa people. The way back to civilisation was also not easy as we needed to trek our way back as well. On the way we saw the people building new road. Probably next two or three years they will finish it, the access to the village will be easier – good for people for sure, but will the Sakteng remain the same? With all its beauty and authenticity? I do not know, but I am really glad I visited that place before coca-cola and more hygienic alcohol took over the village.
Author: Joanna Zubkow