Postcard From Bhutan No. 2 – Caution: Flying Phalluses

Prompted by Sunday’s T Magazine article on Bhutan, and by your response to my first Postcard From Bhutan, I thought you might like to see more of its attractions, these man-made and as lovely as the country’s natural scenery.

Buddha Mural, Bhutan

The tiny Buddhist kingdom’s thousands of temples and monasteries are customarily  decorated within an inch of their yak butter lamps. Those butter lamps can be a problem, however, as nearly every old temple–some dating to the 15th century–has burned and been re-built. 

Temple Wall Mural, Bhutan
The Four Friends, Buddhist legend, Bhutan. A popular image of four friends who teamed up to find a way to get to the fruit high in the tree.

You want me to hurry up and get to those phalluses, don’t you. Patience, we’re working up to it, if that is the expression.

Painting of the Realms, Bhutan

The historical figure I took a shine to was the Divine Madman. Why are you not surprised. Below is the door to his temple. Photographs are not allowed inside temples, but we were lucky on this day to be able to attend a fertility blessing ceremony for a fellow traveler. Phallus alert: The blessing is partly accomplished by a monk (gently) bonking bless-ee on the head with a 10-inch wooden phallus. Let me explain.

Doorway at Temple of the Divine Madman, Bhutan

The late 15th century Tibetan lama Drukpa Kunley was a character, to say the least, known for his bizarre, outrageous, and often bawdy behavior. He had me at namaste. But hey, he got people’s attention and spread Buddhism across the land. The people revere him. He was also quite (ahem) the “swordsman,” as my mother would say, reputedly bringing his upright brand of enlightenment to thousands of women. The phallus was, and is, promoted as a symbol of power, fertility, and good luck. 

If you see what I mean.

Phallis shop/house in Punakha, Bhutan
House in Gangtey Valley, Bhutan

Notice the lovely earth tones.

Painted phallus, Bhutan

…Also used for marketing purposes on shop buildings. It keeps the customers coming.

I can’t believe I said that.

Shop facade with phallus painting, Bhutan.

 The temples and religious buildings, signified by the dark red stripe around the exterior, are phallus free. Some decorum must be maintained after all. 

Temple in Bhutan

Here is the Buddha sitting under the tree at left with the prayer flags. So beautiful in the dappled sunlight.

Buddha under prayer flags, Bhutan, via my Instagram
Decorative window grate in temple, Bhutan, via my Instagram.

Even the trucks are decorated. 

Eye above headlight on decorated truck, Bhutan

 All this beauty can be exhausting.

He is just resting his eyes.

Sleeping man under sign that says “Refresh Yourself,” Bhutan

 Thank you for your visit today, and please kindly exit through the gift shop…

The market in Thimpu, Bhutan

More Bhutan and other recent adventures on my Instagram here. Read Jody Rosen’s excellent and comprehensive article in Sunday’s T Magazine here.

Next: Carolyne Roehm’s lovely tribute to Oscar de la Renta, and what it was like for a little girl from Missouri in Oscar’s atelier in swingin’ 70s New York.


  1. I cannot stop laughing. =) I personally hope that I never have to meet a ‘swordsmen’ with vampire teeth as described in the lovely marketing. So glad you enjoyed your journey. Thank you for sharing as always. xo

    1. You are so welcome Lisa, and thank you so much for writing. Perhaps there is some inspiration here for next year’s Halloween costumes? 😉 xox Frances

  2. I hope you can hear the laughter from NorCal…Still laughing! While we’re all on the edge of our seats, awaiting the release of Bee Cottage, I hope you’re seriously considering a “travel collection.” With or without the you-know-what, Bill Bryson has nothing on you! You take it to a whole new dimension of elegance, inspiration and fun.
    Happy trails Fabulous Frances!

    1. Ha! Thank you, Jan! A travel collection…. hmmm I like the idea! And thank you for your kind words about the Bee book. I will finish the thing when I find time finally to sit still later this month. Happy Trails to you too!

  3. Wow!! So incredibly wonderful-all the vibrant colors, textures and I can only imagine the fragrance all around you. It looks like a travelers paradise. We are all on count down now until your book so enjoy yourself.

  4. what I find astonishing… that they (the phalluses) are all circumcised!!

    Do they really do that in this part of the world???

    I am so surprised! You sure can recognize those things; can’t you? The signs…everywhere!

    amazing to say the least!!!

    1. Well Penelope, thank you for your comment and for your observation. I will defer to those more knowledgeable than I about the circumcision practices of the Bhutanese. As to the phalluses, I am guessing that because they are depicted as erect, the presence of foreskin is less apparent.

  5. Reading this at the office, needed a break from some rather somber documents. My co-workers are all VERY interested as to why I am sitting her cackling and guffawing! One of your most colorful posts (in oh, so many, many ways), Miss Frances, thank you for the laughs!

  6. Dear Frances, Oh, what wonderful memories your trip to Bhutan brought back! Your photography was stunning. And yes, the Eagles Nest is daunting, what an amazing hike that was! It is the last Shangril La! Hope to see you sometime soon!
    Best, Sandy

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