Welcome to Merak in Trashigang district, eastern Bhutan
Merak literally translates as “Set on Fire”. Story goes that when the Brokpas came to Bhutan led by Aum Jomo (their Local Deity) the place was cleared by fire to create this settlement. Believed to be from southern Tibet, their history and Aum Jomo’s mythical story is a fascinating one.
History of the Brokpas
Eons ago, there lived a tyrant king in Tshona, Tibet who tormented his people during his reign. One day he ordered the Brokpas to remove the head of a mountain as it was blocking the sun’s rays from falling on his palace. Even after toiling day and night, the Brokpas couldn’t even remove a small tip of the mountain. This was when Aum Jomo conspired with the people to put an end to the King’s tyranny by killing him. It was after this incident that She led the Brokpas to the south and into Bhutan where they settled here.
When the Brokpas reached Bhutan, they also settled in another place called Sakteng. It is believed that since Merak is on a higher altitude they chose to travel further up. “The ones who were not strong enough to travel to Merak stayed in Sakteng,” a local tells me (with pride I must say). So that is how the Brokpas came to settle here.
Lifestyle & Traditions
The Brokpas are semi-nomadic people. The families settled here take their herd of yaks for grazing towards the Tsamdro (grazing land). The travel happens once a year in the mountains where they live in huts and sheds for four months (end of april to August). They’re economically dependent on livestock products as the land in these harsh parts of the country don’t grow much. The landscape here reminded me of Haa. The cluster community is so close-knit with houses right next to each other with only a muddy pathway dividing them.
Brokpas are a very distinct tribe of people speaking a unique language. The dialect sounds like an interesting mix of kurtoep, Tibetan and sharchop. But the most distinct feature is their traditional attire. You’ll be instantly mesmerized by what they wear – the women’s maroon pink jackets and skirts or the sheepskin that the men wear.
It is quite a sight indeed.
Brokpa Traditional Attire
One of the first things you notice when you step into Merak is the traditional attire of the Brokpas. It’s so beautiful. Men wear a red woolen jacket called Tshokham Chuba but I fell in love with the intricate attire of the women here. Ama Ngaden of our homestay in Merak was kind enough to teach me how to wear it.
The traditional Brokpa attire for women is a beautiful layer of thick cotton dress and jacket ensemble. The red Bura (cotton & silk) dress is called Shingka tied with a thick black woolen sheath pushed at the back of the dress known as the Meykhem. A colorful tego compliments the maroon cotton dress followed by the traditional intricately designed red jacket called the Todung. The ensemble is finally complete with the unique felt hat called the Tsetpu Zham.
If you visit Merak and would love to try on their traditional attire, you can ask your local homestay to arrange one for you at a small price.
In an effort to promote the livelihood of the community, Park officials at the Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary have increasingly stressed on the promotion of tourism opportunities. From support to locals in setting up homestays to providing awareness on ecotourism opportunities, SWS partners believe in bettering the livelihood of the Brokpas through experiences like these for visitors.
If you ever visit Merak please do stay at her homestay. The place is lovely & so is the host.
Read my other blogs on Merak Sakteng.