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Expat life in Thimphu, Bhutan

Choosing a table outside Coffee Culture I am quickly joined by a very small girl dressed in snowflake patterned fleece leggings, jean jacket with sequinned strawberries, fuzzy red boots and a high pony tail. Her tiny teeth are rotting in her mouth and neither Ama nor Auntie is anywhere to be found. Her brown hands are wrinkly and dry like those of an old dwarf farm worker. I’ve managed to gather that her name is Nisha. We’re playing a hilarious game of ducking under the table and squealing as we pop up.

After she spills my cappuccino I teach her to say “coffee is good.” I try to entertain her with markers and paper to draw on but she is much more enthusiastic about stirring my coffee, licking the spoon and trying to stick it back in my cup. With only a sip left she finally manages to dunk the contaminated spoon. I drink it anyway and let her taste the last few drops resulting in a face that expresses serious doubt in my beverage choice. Two ladies at the table next to us order her a brownie (after I offered her a handful of cashews and she threw them at me) and with no further ado she runs away. Later, I spot her running hand in hand through the parked cars with the lot attendant.

The city is bigger than I expected. Water must be boiled, filtered through ceramic, then charcoal. Strips of meat hang from a clothesline and jerky dries in the sun on the roof. The lopsided bamboo construction scaffolding is terrifying. Life here is relaxed. Very, very relaxed. No one is in a hurry. I ate a pomegranate directly off the tree in our yard, and found a happy litter of eight trash dump puppies and every evening at dusk, as the mountains recede into shadow, the sky is washed in soft shades of sugar spun pink and purple…

After a month of dancing with strangers on the sidewalks I’ve finally gotten used to passing people on the left. I still wave at the kids hanging their heads out the car/bus windows but no longer gasp when drivers stop without warning in the middle of the street to answer their cell phones (it is illegal to talk on your phone while driving, but okay to abruptly park your car in the middle of traffic). The gohs on motos are my favourite; whizzing by with their helmet heads and knobby brown knees exposed between skirt and sock.

Bhutan Life

I will never tire of the human rainbows that form when a group of women walk down the street in jewel hued kiras. I continue to marvel as they climb asphalted hills in stilettos, stepping down strategically from three foot curbs. This is one of the few places I’ve ever lived where the women actually smile at me when I walk past and where a female doesn’t have to brace herself for a slurry of cat calls when approaching a group of men. The only verbal attacks are the high pitched ‘hi, hello, good days!’ that burst forth from gaggles of children. I always try to time my afternoon strolls with the final school bell. The streets fill with kids in their tiny gohs and kiras toting picnic basket lunch boxes. Anxious little guys immediately drop the top half of their goh and tie it around their waists for a more comfortable after school look. Teenage girls grin sweetly and the boys, shy but respectful, smirk and giggle when I look at them. I make faces at the bobbling baby heads strapped to the backs of their mothers, their sideways raindrop eyes staring back curiously. The babes old enough to walk tumble around the streets like little Michelin tire men; barely able to stand in their mini puffy coats, furry hats and fake Uggs.

Some of the strange little details seem more commonplace now but not a day passes that something doesn’t surprise me. Little by little I’m sure those things will fade to normalcy as well but I don’t expect to ever get used to being called “madame”.

Jessica Verno 

 Jessica is an intentional wanderer of the world with an insatiable appetite for adventure and a strong affection for words. Her words paint the faces of people she meets, the mountains she climbs and the experiences that have marked her personal evolution. She is currently based in Thimphu, Bhutan, working on freelance projects and revelling in the beautiful conundrums of the capital city. To read more of her work, visit: This week’s pictures are courtesy of #BhutanStreetFashion