MERAK: The land of Yeti

Merak village in far eastern corner of Trashigang lies at an elevation of 3,500m above sea level. This beautiful highland village of the semi-nomadic Brokpas is surrounded by sparsely-clad mountains. Although Bhutan opened its doors to tourism in 1974, Merak and a few other places remained pretty much closed to tourists. Merak was opened to tourists in 2012 due to ever-increasing demand from more adventurous tourists who found such exotic places more alluring. 

Merak is popularly known for its myths and folklore. It is often known to the outside world as the land of the snowman or the elusive yeti. Any adult Merak resident will share many real-life experiences related to the yeti which, of course, border on the mythical. Nevertheless, one cannot stop wondering about the existence of this strange mythical creature. 

The highlanders living in Merak have their own distinct cultural and linguistic characteristics. The place offers visitors a unique experience of semi-nomadic lifestyle and culture. The annual Merak festival is a festive occasion when most residents are home, and people from the neighboring villages join. It is the only time of the year when the nomads get the much-needed respite from the daily grind in the wilderness.

Like any other festival in Bhutan, the festival in Merak is a time for family reunion, festivity, and merriment. People turn up in their best attires and feast on the best local delicacies. 

Ache Lhamo dance is one of the most sacred dances performed only in certain places like Merak and Sakteng in Trashigang and Lauri in Samdrup Jongkhar. The people of Merak and Sakteng perform this dance drama once a year during their annual festival. Ache Lhamo dance is considered sacred and unique because of its characters and relevance.

Another unique part of Merak and Sakteng tradition is Yak Chham or the yak dance. The yak dance is performed in honor of Thoepa Gali, the God of Livestock, and to celebrate yaks as the principal means of livelihood.

The most distinctive feature of the semi-nomadic culture of Merak and Sakteng is their attire. The attire of the Brokpa is woven with a combination of yak hair, sheep wool, and animal hide. A woman’s dress is known as shingkha and a man’s dress is called chuba. Both women and men wear a yak hair hat with five tassels called tshitpi zham. The tassels allow water to run off the hat, thus keeping the head and face dry and warm. 

THINGS TO DO IN MERAK 

WEAVING SHINGKHA & WOOLEN BLANKET 

When you go around Merak, you will find young women weaving blankets with wool and yak hair. Most elderly women can be seen using the traditional spindle to spin yarns. 

As you stroll around the village, you may stumble across a greenhouse inside which, instead of flowers and vegetables, you will find weavers weaving traditional fabrics. This is probably because it’s too cold for vegetables in the winter but it gets warm enough during the day for weavers. The greenhouse provides ample space for their looms.

WEAR TRADITIONAL BROKPA DRESS

The traditional attire of the eastern highlander is exquisite. It is warm and comfortable to

wear. Women wear shingkha and men wear chuba. They also wear distinctive hat called tshitpi zham. When in Merak, be a brokpa!

VISIT MERAK LHAKHANG

Merak Lhakhang is located right at the top of the valley from where one can enjoy the panoramic view of Merak village. The main statue in the temple is that of Aum Jomo, the principal deity of Merak and Sakteng. The three-day annual tshechu is conducted in Merak Lhakhang. Ache Lhamo dance and Yak Chham are performed during the tshechu. 

HIKE TO JOMO KUNGKHAR

Jomo Kungkhar is a sacred mountain worshipped as the abode of Aum Jomo, the local deity of Merak and Sakteng. Once a year, the highlanders hike to the glorious peak to perform annual rituals and pay homage to Aum Jomo. The site is also home to several sacred lakes and Ney (sacred sites)  related to Aum Jomo and Guru Rinpoche.

VISIT GENGO VILLAGE

Before you arrive at the gate of Merak, you will reach Gengo village. This village is smaller than Merak, but there are several places to visit. At the end of the village is Gengo Lhakhang. You can pay homage to Chenrezig and Aum Jomo. Right next to the temple is what could be one of the oldest houses in the eastern highland. Called ‘Phai katang’, which literally means ‘big house’, it will definitely interest you if you are interested in archaeology.

Tshering Denkar

She is a full-time Bhutanese female solo travel blogger. In her blog, she shares personal experiences and narratives of traveling to various getaways within Bhutan. Follow her https://denkarsgetaway.com or
@denkarsgetway on Facebook and Instagram