Temporary Closure of Monastery

In the Kuensel (the local newspaper this week) an article appeared indicating that the Changangkha Lahkhang would be closed for a period of 3 months.  The article mentions that they will be constructing a ticketing booth.

Please Be Respectful in Bhutan

Changangkha Lhakhang
Front view of Changangkha Monastery in Thimphu.

This particular monastery doesn’t usually see a lot of tourists and it is not frequent that we would add it to an itinerary unless a guest was specifically asking to visit a lot of monasteries.  Therefore the closure probably doesn’t really directly affect many guests but the article contains a small comment that we would like to point out:

He said there have been issues of increased waste and violation of cultural and religious norms such as taking pictures in prohibited areas and often dirtying the areas.

No Photography

There are lots of places in the world where photography is simply not allowed and, in many countries, you can end up in jail for photographing people or government buildings.   While you are not likely to end up going to jail in Bhutan for taking pictures where you shouldn’t, the best course of action is to simply put the camera away when the guide tells you to.

The places where you are not permitted to take pictures is pretty easy, don’t take your camera out while you are inside the monastery.  A good indication that you should take photos is to look down at your feet!  If you are wearing your shoes, then it’s probably okay to use your camera and if you have removed your shoes because you have entered a temple then you will need to ask your guide first.

A very good example outside of Bhutan is the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican. There, photography is outright banned because of the need for a flash to be used inside the dimly lit room.  However, if you go, you will probably witness the following:

  1. Visitors walk past a huge sign that says no photography.
  2. Everybody looks up at the ceiling and enjoys the view.
  3. One person takes out their phone/camera and snaps a picture.
  4. All 50 people in the room then think it is okay and take a picture.
  5. Guard yells for people to not take photos.
  6. Room goes quiet for about 60 seconds.
  7. Go to step 3.

As you can see, one person who breaks the rule causes everybody to think that it is okay.

Why a ban?

There is the theory that camera flashes degrade the pigment in paintings and over time cause the paintings to fade.   In fact, in Bhutan most of the paintings on the monastery walls are hidden behind curtains.  While I’m certain that the curtains are there mostly to keep the smoke away from the artwork it doubles up as something to help prevent fading.

What if you just don’t use a flash?  Well I can tell you that most people with point and shoot cameras do not know how to actually disable the flash or don’t think of it.    While you say that you know how to operate your camera, just think of the Sistine Chapel description above, one picture taken means many more. In fact, we have had guests before shooting documentaries and they applied for and were granted permits for photographing inside the monastery.  You can image the reaction by the other guests complaining about why some people were allowed to take pictures while they were not.

Probably the most likely reason for restricting photography is that when people enter a temple, they are entering a spiritual place, the temple was not built to be a tourist attraction.  When people are visiting a spiritual place, the last thing that they need is to be disturbed by people clicking pictures of everything and taking selfies with the relics.   The use of a flash (which is likely to happen accidentally) is certainly going to be spoiling the peacefulness of the place.  If you want an example, think about a time that you have been on a long flight and all the shades are closed…. have you ever seen somebody grab their camera with a flash?  That is highly irritating because you really don’t want light at that time, especially if you have been watching movies or even sleeping.

Secondary Item

The news article of course mentions that a ticketing booth was being set up.  Now if a monetary is a place of worship, why are they setting up a booth to sell tickets?   First of all, it will not suddenly cost you money to enter this place if you have come on an all-inclusive tour; the entrance fees would be paid.   So why the entrance fee?  Monasteries do not receive any of the $65/day royalty (at least not directly) so their only form of income is through donations.  We encourage you to consider making a small donation (just $2 is fine) to the monasteries since this is likely their main source of funding.

Follow the customs

Remember that when visiting a place, you are a guest and if your host wants you to behave a certain way then you do your best.

  • If they say don’t take photos, put the camera away.
  • If they say don’t touch things, don’t do and make sure that any children you have with you also follow the rules.
  • If they say don’t talk, keep quiet.
  • If they say wear certain clothing, then do it.

Examples of Inappropriate Behavior

In this section, I’ve decided that I would keep a list of events and photos of people disrespecting the local cultures.

Here, a visitor has found a ladder and decided to climb on top of one of one of the chortens. The chortens are shrines and should not be climbed on.


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