Traditional Attires of the Himalayas

Blessed with one of the richest cultures of the world, these power places of the Himalayas proudly embrace their traditional attires as an integral part of their daily lives.

Bhutan, ‘the last Shangri – La’, is known worldwide for their brilliance in being able to guard their cultural values. The Bhutanese people are bound by a strict rule of national dress code in their day to day lives. Even today, Bhutanese people can be seen in their colorful traditional Bhutanese attire – Gho worn by men and Kira worn by women, which is believed to be a 16th century old custom. Their national costume adds to their national pride and serves as a unique identity.

Gho is a knee-length dress, identical to the Japanese kimono and the Scottish kilt. It is tied up at the waist with a hand woven belt called kera, forming a pouch in the front. The sleeves are usually made of raw silk, cotton or polyester, which are neatly folded to form white cuffs called lagey. The costume is complete with long socks or stockings and traditional handmade boots. Men also can be seen wearing Kabney, a long scarf made of raw silk, worn from left shoulder to opposite hip; especially when visiting dzong or a temple, or even when appearing before a high level official. The locals, regional officials, ministers and the King, wear significant coloured Kabney, indicating varied status on its own.

Kira is an ankle – length long skirt piece, made with fine woven fabrics and beautiful colour patterns. Inside the kira, a long sleeve blouse called wonju is worn. The set is completed with a short open jacket called as tego worn over the dress. Rachu, an embroidered woven scarf, also made of raw silk and rich patterns is hung over the shoulder.


Nepal is a multi – ethnic country with over 100 ethnic groups, each having unique cultural values, practices, traditional attires, accessories and jewelries different than the others. While the national dress of Nepal is Daura – Suruwal or Labeda Suruwal for men and Gunyo-Cholo for women, the Nepalese are greatly influenced by clothing styles of the neighboring countries which have led to significant variations in the costumes.

Daura is a double breasted sleeved shirt of knee length, which is tied up at the sides. It is worn with Suruwal, a loosely fitted trouser, with a long cloth called Patuka wrapped around the waist. The set is complete with Dhaka Topi, a traditional cap made of fabric – Dhaka, which is a symbol of national pride. Some also wear a waist – coat over the shirt and carry a khukuri, the national weapon and the symbol of the brave Gurkha soldiers of Nepal. The Nepalese men proudly wear their traditional costume during festivals and special occasions as it holds a religious importance for the Hindu and Buddhist practitioners of Nepal.

Cholo is a top or blouse which is tied at the sides and Gunyo is a sari (skirt like), woven from cotton or silk fabrics, draped around the waist. On top of the Gunyo, a long cloth called Patuki is wrapped around the waist. The costume is complete with traditional jewelries.

Nepalese women can mostly be seen in elegant Sari, a five to nine yards length fabric, draped around the waist with one end draped over the shoulder. The sari is worn with a fitted crop blouse having short or long sleeves. A matching petticoat or inner skirt is worn under the sari. The sari is linked with grace and is widely popular as traditional attire worn during various festivals and special occasions of Nepal.


Tibet also has several ethnicities each with their own set of customary attire. The main costume is the chuba, a distinctive piece of ankle length robe tied around the waist with wide elongated sleeves, worn by both men and women differently. Women wear dark-colored wrap dresses over a silk blouse called wonju, and a colorfully striped, woven wool apron, called pangden signifying the marital status of a woman. Men wear the unique woolen hat while ladies adorn their crowns with ornaments made of precious stones. The dress originated as a clothing to protect themselves in the high altitude and from the cold temperatures of the Himalayas.

Kailas – Mansarovar Kora

Mt. Kailash and Chiu Monastery

For centuries Mount Kailas is known as the most sacred pilgrimage destination in Asia. It is common for pilgrims to circumambulate the sacred mountain, commonly called Kora (Pilgrimage Circuit) or Parikrama. Often pilgrims encompass both the Mansarovar Lake and Mt. Kailas in a quest to wash away the sins of their life time.

Mt. Kailas, at 6714m, stands tall and unique from the rest of the mountains. It is accessed via the small town of Darchen, the starting point of the kora.
The mountain is known in Tibetan as Kang Rinpoche or ‘Precious Jewel of Snow’. It has major beliefs for different religions. Hindus believe Mt. Kailas to be the abode of Lord Shiva and Lake Mansarovar to be a creation of Brahma. To the Buddhists, it is home to Demchok, an infuriated manifestation of Sakyamuni.

Lake Mansarovar

Lake Mansarovar is considered one of the most sacred lakes in the world. According to ancient Hindu and Buddhist cosmology, the four great rivers of the Indian subcontinent, the Indus, Ganges, Sutlej, and Brahmaputra, arise from Mansarovar. Pilgrims circumambulate the lake and bathe in its holy waters. Legend has it that the mother of the Buddha, Queen Maya, was bathed at Mansarovar by the gods before giving birth to her son. Following the edges of the lake, the kora offers brilliant hues at this high elevation. The journey is enlivened by a series of monasteries along the way.

For centuries, this sacred mountain has witnessed pilgrims and adventurous visitors, although it is still amongst one of the less travelled areas. Due to the remoteness of this region of Western Tibet, travelers hesitate to undertake this route. However, in recent years, there have been more people keen on visiting.

Lhosar Tashi Delek!


Pola & Mola (Tibetan for grandfather and grandmother) are an old Tibetan couple living in Nepal. Originally from Lhasa, Tibet, they migrated to Kathmandu in the late 1950’s to begin a new life in Nepal. A young 20 year old Pola had on his shoulders, the responsibilities of educating his younger siblings and taking care of his parents. Despite cultural and language differences, he set foot exploring the streets of Kathmandu.

Initially, he bought Nepalese spices, tobacco and candles; and exported them to Lhasa. He recalls those days when there were no roads and they had to send men on foot till the border carrying the supplies for days. “The Nepalese people are very hard working and with a Khukuri attached to their shirts, they carried goods on their backs,” he recalls. This went on till 1969, after which the highway was built and the Tibet – Nepal trade flourished. Since then, he traveled back and forth for 48 years between Nepal and Tibet, importing raw wool, musk, Tibetan thermos, campus shoes and later the famous Tibetan carpets from Lhasa to Nepal and likewise, exporting herbs, cotton, jute, ghee etc. to Lhasa.

While Pola sold Nepalese imported goods in the popular Barkhor Street in Lhasa, Mola stayed in a small retail shop they opened in the busy streets of Ason in Kathmandu selling all types of clothes, shoes, accessories, etc. “I made a lot of friends in Ason”, she says. “Those were the carefree days; chitchatting and drinking tea with fellow shopkeepers is how I improved my Nepali.

After 57 years in Nepal, Pola & Mola share fond memories of Tibet and Nepal comparing similarities & differences between the two places they call home. “The same astounding landscape, mountains, hard-working people yet so distinct in culture and language.

With 4 children and 6 grandchildren, they now live a happy retired life in Nepal. “Life has shown us so many phases, between being born and brought up in Tibet and retiring in Nepal. We love our life and are happy but what is important to us is that we do not forget our Tibetan culture and heritage, the place that defined our existence. We are proud of our traditional dress – Bakhu and our Tibetan language. Also, on this happy occasion, we would like to wish everyone a very happy Lhosar. Lhosar Tashi Delek!”

Learn Five Fun Facts

BHUTAN:

1. Bhutan is the only country that measures its progress by its “Gross National Happiness.” This tiny nation is arguably the happiest country on earth.

2. Bhutan’s people planted 108,000 trees to celebrate the birth of their new prince in 2016. Not to forget, plastic bags have been banned in Bhutan since 1999.

3. Bhutan is the only nation in the world where the sale of tobacco is banned. Those who bring their own tobacco products into Bhutan are subject to duties and customs at the Paro Airport.

4. Until the 1960’s, Bhutan had no roads, automobiles, telephone, postal system or electricity. Bhutanese had no access to TV or Internet until limited access was permitted in 1999.

5. The first foreign tourists were allowed into Bhutan in 1974.

NEPAL:

1. The flag of Nepal is the only National flag that is not rectangular in shape and is over 2000 years old.

2. 8 of the world’s 10 highest peaks are in Nepal, including the highest point on Earth, Mount Everest at 8,848 m (29.029 ft).

3. Nepal has the world’s densest concentration of World Heritage Sites.

4. Nepal has over 80 ethnic groups and 123 languages.

5. “Better to die than be a coward” is the motto of the world-famous Nepalese Gurkha soldiers who are an integral part of the British Army since 1815.

TIBET:

1. Titled the “Roof of the World”, Tibet is literally the highest place on earth with an average elevation of 4,500 m (14,764 ft).

2. Tibetan people by tradition place prayer flags around their houses & properties for spiritual protection. These prayer flags are made up of 5 natural elements each a different color of blue, white, red, green, yellow each symbolizing Space, Air, Fire, Water and Earth.

3. Tibet is known as the world’s “Third Pole” as, after the North and South Poles, it holds the third largest quantity of glacially stored water.

4. Potala Palace, the chief residence of the Dalai Lama is exclusively constructed on “Marpori” that translates as “Red Mountain”. The 13-storied palace has no elevator with about 1,000 rooms to explore and houses 200,000 Buddhist images.

5. Namtso, ‘the heavenly lake’, is the highest saltwater lake in the world that leaves one spellbound by its glistening beauty, pure blue water, and spiritual element.