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Bhutan Treks: the Brokpas of Eastern Bhutan

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Portrait of villager, Jongkhar" © 2009 RadioFreeBarton, used under a Creative Commons Attribution license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/deed.en"

In the 1990s, the Merak and Sakten region of eastern Bhutan was closed to outsiders. Its re-opening in 2010 means that visitors on Bhutan treks can now experience this beautiful part of the country and meet the culturally unique Brokpa people who dwell there.

The Brokpas live in the extreme eastern part of Bhutan; treks in this remote region are the only way to encounter them. They use Sharchop, a different language to that spoken by other Bhutanese, and are ethnically distinct, having migrated to the region many centuries ago. According to legend, they once lived in Tibet – until their king commanded his people to remove the top of a mountain that cast a shadow on his palace. One woman, Aum Jono, suggested that it would be far easier to bring down a head than a mountain. After beheading the king, Aum Jono led her people to eastern Bhutan where they have lived ever since. She is now worshipped as a protecting deity.

The word 'brokpa' can be translated to 'nomad' or 'herder', and the Brokpas remain semi-nomadic yak-farmers to this day. Bhutan treks in this region provide an excellent opportunity to meet a distinct ethnic group and observe a way of life untouched by the modern world.

The Brokpas are easily recognised by their woven red jackets and the black yak hats. The hat's five spider-like legs are designed to direct rain-water away from the wearer's head and body. Yaks are essential to the Brokpas' way of life and are farmed not only for clothing but for food and transportation.

The valleys in which they live are said to be a home for the famous Yeti. Most of the stories are told by yak herders, pursuing strayed yaks into high mountain reaches. They report that the Yeti has white or light red hair and a footprint one foot long. It is also said that it emits an odour of garlic and feeds primarily on bamboo shrubs. To the Brokpas, the Yeti (which they call Megay) is a guardian deity of these remote areas and should be treated with respect.

So keep your eyes peeled on Bhutan treks in the eastern mountains, but don't be too disappointed if you don't see Yeti. A chance to meet the Brokpa people is more than adequate reason to trek with us to Merak and Sakten.

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