Textile Odyssey Tour to Bhutan (and Assam) - Sept. 14 - Sept. 29, 2020
Meet in Guwahati, Assam, India and depart from Paro, Bhutan
Following two resoundingly successful tours to Bhutan in 2017 and 2018, Textile Odyssey returns to the tiny Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan, known for its government’s guiding principle of “Gross National Happiness.” One of the most isolated countries in the world, tourism and modern development is at a minimum due to the government’s efforts to protect the environment, wildlife, and cultural traditions. Over eighty per cent of the natural environment remains under forest cover. In this pristine countryside, weaving is a revered activity that continues in many Bhutanese homes. The best textiles, known as hingtham or “heart weaving,” reflect much meditative concentration, dexterity, and a creative sense of color harmony. As we travel overland through eastern Bhutan, we’ll meet local weavers in their homes and co-ops and learn about their weaving, dyeing, and yarn-spinning processes.
We’ll see a variety of hand-woven textiles such as:
1) kushuthara, the exquisite silk and cotton discontinuous supplementary weft patterned cloth created with thrima and sapma, special weaving techniques in which the pattern wefts are interworked with one another and warp yarns to create raised designs. Some of these woven designs resemble a chain stitch.
2) bura, cloth made of wild raw silk
3) yathra, wool textiles woven with supplementary weft designs
4) mathra, twill-woven plaid wool textiles
5) yura, “country cloth” made of nettle fiber
6) yak hair products, some very soft baby yak hair
Natural dyes still in use in Bhutan include plant materials such as indigo, lac, madder, onion skins, peach leaves, yeast flower, turmeric, dogwood leaves, viber num leaves, rhodendron leaves, oak leaves and walnut.
An Exciting New Addition to the Itinerary: As part of Textile Odyssey’s commitment to provide unique, off-the-beaten track, and eco-conscious tours that promote cultural diversity and support living cultures, we’ll make a special visit to the Brokpas, a small semi-nomadic ethnic group who live in one of Bhutan’s most isolated valleys. Until recent years, it was a two-day journey into this remote region. With a new road on its way to completion, we’ll be able to drive into the village. (Fun fact: This wildlife sanctuary is believed to be the habitat of the Yeti, or Migoi, as the Brokpas call it.) This exciting encounter is a rare opportunity to learn firsthand about Brokpa culture, beliefs, ways of living and textile production. The Brokpas are yak herders and one of the few cultures in the world that practice polyandry. Women’s traditional clothing includes raw silk striped tunics and red jackets that feature animal motifs woven in discontinuous supplementary weft designs. Men wear red woolen tops and tunics made from animal skins. Perhaps the most distinctive feature of Brokpa dress is the felted yak hair hat, designed with five tails or “spouts” to keep the rain off their faces.
Other highlights of this tour include:
1) Two tshechus (festivals). These grand Tibetan Buddhist festivals are ways in which communities from distant as well as nearby areas come together to witness religious mask dances, receive blessings, and socialize. We’ll see religious mask dances as well performances of folk songs and dances. These events are wonderful opportunities to see the vivid, colorful costumes and masks worn by performers as well as the beautiful kiras and brocade jackets worn by female attendees and stylish ghos worn by male attendees.
2) Throughout our travels, we will enjoy the spectacular architecture of Bhutan’s beautifully painted and carved wood dzongs, temples, and monasteries. These works of art are created by master painters and carvers.
3) The beautifully designed Textile Museum with its wonderful exhibits of textiles from all over Bhutan.
4) The School of Arts and Crafts - Weaving, embroidery, piecework, woodwork, stone and clay sculpture, silver and bronze work and painting are some of the skills taught here.
5) Demonstrations of the weaving of muga silk in Guwahati, Assam, where the trip begins. This fiber, which is unique to the area, is woven on jacquard looms.
6) Visit to local farmhouse for dinner and a traditional hot stone bath (optional)
7) Tiger’s Nest or Paro Taktsang, the iconic and breathtaking Buddhist sacred site and temple complex perched on a cliffside. Built in 1692 around the Taktsang Senge Samdup cave where Guru Padmasambhava meditated for three years, three months, three weeks, three days and three hours in the 8th century. Padmasambhava is credited with introducing Buddhism to Bhutan. Paro Taktsang is the best known of the thirteen taktsang or "tiger lair" caves in which he meditated.
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