Our hike along the Trans Bhutan Trail (TBT) from Pele La continued down through a vast open meadow, passing by a campsite of semi-nomadic yak herders and a few local farmers along the way. My guide Singay and I were headed to the village of Rukubji where we would stop and enjoy a traditional Bhutanese meal at a local farmhouse. As one of the first authorized trail guides of the TBT, Singay has been setting up a network of passport ambassadors along the way who offer food and lodging to intrepid travelers.
I was looking forward to having a traditional meal and learning more about the Bhutanese way of life for many of its people. Per the World Bank, roughly 60% of Bhutanese live in rural areas today as opposed to almost 96% in 1960, before the first highway was built. The past 60 years have seen more change and modernization in Bhutan than ever before.
As we entered the village, Singay told me that Rukubji is known for its special Lhakhang (temple), Kuenzang Choling. It is believed that the temple was built over 300 years ago by a Lama named Tshendhen Duelwa. Unlike most temples, it is not built on a ridge with a view out over a valley, but rather on an extended plateau and close to two rivers. Local legend says the temple was built on top of the head of a snake demoness which was subdued by Duelwa.
Rukubji is also famous for its unique local dialect. While Dzongkha (which translates into the “language of the fortress”) is the official and national language of Bhutan, there are over nineteen spoken dialects throughout the country. Given its mountainous topography, many communities have been isolated for centuries and developed their own unique dialects that can still be heard today.