Could you walk past these boots? Shopping in Thimphu, Bhutan’s capital, I could not resist them.
It wasn’t my fault. I was egged on by the approving smiles and nods of local men and women in the shop. When the assistant behind the counter wrapped them lovingly and seemed almost reluctant to part with them, I knew I’d made the right choice.
Such boots are not suitable for slithering down rocky paths or scrambling through high mountain passes; they are worn on formal and festive occasions and usually by men. But I don’t see why men should have the best footwear, so I wore them with traditional Bhutanese dress a couple of years ago for the opening of my solo photographic exhibition ‘Other Places: Other Faces’. Held during a northern New Zealand summer, it was 28C in the shade and I sweltered inside folds of hand-woven wool cloth, but one has to suffer for one’s art.
Traditional dress for Bhutanese women, the kira, is a length of fabric (about 2 metres), folded and wrapped around the body from the shoulders to the ankles, held in place at each shoulder with a korma – a set of silver, hooked brooches joined by a chain. A cotton or silk blouse is worn underneath.
Fabrics for the kira are usually woven from cotton or wool for everyday wear, and in brightly coloured silks for special occasions. The many different designs and colours are each characteristic of a particular district in Bhutan. Although men share household tasks – including cooking and sewing – it is the women who weave, making a significant contribution to household income.
The kira is gripped around the waist by a woven belt (kera) embroidered in gorgeously vibrant colours.
A short, silk jacket (toego), usually in plain vivid colours, is worn, loose, over the top. I chose emerald green, with a lovely medallion motif.
Folding and fastening the kira is a complicated business, starting with the fabric held behind you. I had to ask Tsering, the receptionist at the hotel in Thimphu, to teach me how to do it.
You can read more about Bhutan in the ebook travelogue, Journey in Bhutan: Himalayan Trek in the Kingdom of the Thunder Dragon,