Ah, Bhutan. The peaceful Himalayan kingdom where tigers are said to leap from the gorges that tower above seemingly endless rice paddies. A land hardly touched by the outside world, where it's still so, so difficult to get in: you're required to spend $250 per day if you want to be in the country legally.
I'll leave discussions about whether Bhutan's mountain-high price is worth it for another article, but today's topic is arguably just as hard...pun very much intended. Why on Earth are there thousands of phallus paintings and sculptures all over Bhutan?
History of Bhutanese Phallus Paintings
It isn't know for sure when phallus paintings started appearing in Bhutan, or what their original meaning was, but the oldest surviving structure that depicts them is rural Bhutanese monastery Chimi Lhakhang, a structure built to honor Drukpa Kunley, a 15th century lama known for his eccentricity.
Although the paintings initially only appeared within the monastery, adherents to Kunley's teaching spread them throughout the country, which is why you can find them just about everywhere in Bhutan today, from homes, to schools, to restaurants – make sure and inspect the walls nearest to you before you choose your seat at dinner.
What Do Penises Mean in Bhutanese Culture?
Generally speaking, an erect penis is said to keep away evil people, spirits and gossip. It's for this reason that many modern Bhutanese paint phalluses onto their new homes and businesses, more than six centuries after the death of Drukpa Kunley. This is much to the chagrin of city-dwelling Bhutanese, who largely reject antiquated folk practices such as this, but the nonetheless remains ubiquitous.
Most penis paraphernalia in Bhutan exists on private, secular buildings, but some religious structures (namely, Chimi Lhakhang), have phallus paintings inside them. Some temples even have penis carvings and sculptures, made of wood and metal, which are used in rituals to bless children – born and unborn. In some circles, it's said that hitting a woman on the head with a (fake) phallus will make her more likely to bear children.
How to See Phallus Paintings in Bhutan
As I mentioned earlier in this article, Bhutan has imposed a minimum per-day expenditure on people who wish to travel there, which as of December 2014 is a steep $250 per day. The good news is that this fee includes a tour guide (not to mention food, transportation and nightly accommodation of at least three stars), so it's unlikely that you could travel to Bhutan and not come across a phallus painting by design. Like tour guides in any country, the Bhutanese are keenly aware of what makes their country special.
The strict requirement that foreign visitors have tour guides has, of course, led to the formation of many tour companies, some of which are unfortunately not legitimate. If you're considering a trip to Bhutan, your surest bet is to visit the Tourism Council of Bhutan's official tour operator directory, to make sure you choose a company that is reputable and licensed. You can also browse sample itineraries on the site, which will help you determine how long you want to stay, which is crucial since you have to pay by the day.
You know, so you don't get d*cked over when you're in Bhutan.