Tshoglhams, the 'colour-coded' traditional boots of Bhutan

Email

The colour of the traditional boots indicates the status of the wearer.

If you were to fuse all the culture in Bhutan into one tangible item, you get the tshoglhams. And you can wear them on your feet!

Tshoglhams are traditional boots typically worn by Bhutanese men during festivals and formal occasions. They are knee-length with vibrant colours. Nowadays, there are modern versions with high heels or platforms for women, known as lhams, that reach just above the ankles.

Recently, half-tsholglhams have also emerged.

The boots have a trademark upturned toes. They consist of three individually made parts that are sewn together. 

The lower portion of the boots are usually made of leather applique and are white in colour. The middle part has intrinsic images embroidered onto the brocade, often featuring phoenixes or flowers. Last but not least, the upper portion is made of silk brocade or woollen material, with patterns sewn onto the fabric.

The Bhutanese usually don’t wear tshoglhams during their daily life. However, they are required to do so during certain ceremonies. You often see them don these exquisite masterpieces on special occasions too. 

One official ceremony that mandated that tshoglhams were worn was the first tshogdu (national assembly) in 1953, where all the members of the assembly wore the traditional boots. 

King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuk wore tshoglhams during his coronation in 2008. His boots were designed by Italian fashion house Salvatore Ferragamo. His Majesty can be seen wearing tshoglhams during various formal occasions including the Royal Wedding Ceremony with Queen Jetsun Pema.

The process of making tshoglhams is tedious. Not to mention hard work. It involves leather, silk, and lots of needlework. Not surprising, it is considered one of the 13 traditional Bhutanese arts and crafts, classified as weaving (thagzo).

Traditionally, these boots were made of silk cloth (gechen). But over time, though the main design hasn’t changed, the material used to make the boots have. Instead of thin leather soles, thick rubber soles are now used to make them more comfortable. Customers also bring their own designs for their boots or add zippers as they please.

What does the colour of one’s boots indicate?

The colour of a person’s boots depends on their social status. 

Here’s a simple rundown:

Yellow - King or Chief Abbott (Je Khenpo)
Orange - Ministers
Red - High-ranking officials 
Blue - Members of parliament/National council
Green - Normal citizens

One cannot simply wear any colour they please. If you are a normal citizen or tourist, the shops would only sell you the civilian green boots.

The ups and downs of the tshoglhams

Tshoglhams are believed to have been introduced to Bhutan with the arrival of the Zhabdrung (Great Tibetan lamas) in 1616. 

Sadly, the art is slowly dying out. Nowadays, the Bhutanese prefer more practical shoes.

By the end of the 20th century, the only ones who still wore these traditional boots were the ministers (lyonpo or lyonchhen) and dasho, who are royal government officials awarded an honorary title by the King.

Given the hard work it takes to make a pair of tshoglhams, coupled with the low demand, it is no surprise that the art has been at risk of being lost forever. Right now, the only ones to wear the boots are high-ranking monks and officials, as well as dancers. Perhaps an occasional tourist here and there. Each person buys perhaps two pairs of shoes in their lifetime.

A pair of boots cost between Nu. 1,800 (USD30) and Nu. 6,000 (USD150). Given the lack of demand, selling the boots is not a feasible way of making a living.

As such, the art of making tshoglhams nearly died once before. Leading up to the 1953 national assembly when it was mandatory for all the members of assembly to wear the boots, there were no bootmakers in the country. They had to source the boots from Kalimpong in India.

Rescuing the tshoglhams

The former prime minister of Bhutan, Tshering Tobgay (who was the director of the former National Technical Training Authority in 2001) took actions to preserve the art of making tshoglhams.

Determined to ensure that the art doesn’t die out, he sent a teacher and six students from the National Institute of Zorig Chusum to Paro to study under Lopen Tenzin Wangdi.

At that time, Lopen Tenzin Wangdi was the only remaining person alive who knew the art of making these boots. He was trained in Tibet and was tasked with making the boots for members of the royal family and senior civil servants. However, the master bootmaker could not find anybody to pass the art down to. 

Through the initiative, five masters and 16 apprentices were trained in the art. Thus, they have ensured the continuation of the tradition.

Now, the art of making tshoglhams is taught at two Zorig Chusum Institutes, one in the capital of Thimphu and the other at Trashiyangtse in eastern Bhutan. 

If you wish to snag yourself a pair while you’re in Bhutan, one place that has a nice selection to choose from is The Craft Gallery in Thimphu. You’ll want to experience strolling down the streets of Bhutan in your very own tshoglhams. 



Related Posts

What are the 13 traditional Bhutanese arts and crafts?

“Were I to epitomise Bhutanese art with one word, that word would be colour... The attention to detail, the symmetry of...

Jun 09, 2021 11:17

Traditional costumes of Bhutan and the evolution of kira

The Kingdom of Bhutan is unique for many reasons, but one peculiarity that sets them apart is their dress code.

Apr 21, 2021 11:25

Chunipa Losar: Bhutan's Timeless Celebration of Traditions and...

Chunipa Losar is a day of offerings, a moment when communities come together to express gratitude, seek blessings, and...

Jan 12, 2024 12:31

Bhutan's Time-Honored Tradition: Exploring the Nyilo Season and...

Approximately 750 children recently took part in the traditional practice known as "lolay" in Bhutan, marking the...

Jan 04, 2024 14:18

Balancing Dreams and Realities: An Attempt of a Bhutanese To Live...

Australia has long held an equally special allure for Bhutanese with a tantalizing prospect of the ‘Australian Dream’...

Oct 26, 2023 11:51

Crafting dreams in Laya: The carpenter settlers of the highlands

Laya, nestled in the Bhutanese highlands, is known for its stunning natural beauty and unique cultural heritage.

Sep 12, 2023 11:28

Latest

News

His Majesty King Jigme Khesar Visited Singapore And Shared About Gelephu Mindfulness City

On the 5th April 2024, Opera Gallery, an international gallery specializing in modern and contemporary art celebrated its 25th anniversary...

Apr 09, 2024 10:17

Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Historic Visit to Bhutan: Strengthening Bonds and Building Partnerships

India's Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi, arrived at Paro Airport for a two-day State Visit to Bhutan from March 22nd to 23rd, 2024.

Mar 24, 2024 10:20

Features

Rifles and Rituals: Satire and Societal Shifts in Bhutan as Portrayed in 'The Monk and The Gun

Pawo Choyning Dorji, whose film "The Monk and the Gun" offers insight into the Himalayan nation's modernization process.

Feb 20, 2024 11:04

All You Need to Know About Gelephu Mindfulness City

The kingdom of Bhutan is planning to develop a "mindfulness city" covering about 2.5% of its land, which is larger than the size of...

Feb 08, 2024 10:42

Business

Brand Bhutan: Karma Yangchen

Karma Yangchen, a distinguished artisan from Bhutan exemplifies a profound commitment to the art of handwoven textiles.

Dec 14, 2023 10:22

Brand Bhutan: Bhutan Herbal Tea

Bhutan Herbal Tea is the brainchild of two Bhutanese individuals who first crossed paths in New York during a Bhutanese New Year gathering...

Nov 25, 2023 13:56

Sports

Bhutan Cricket's New Milestone: The Inaugural Indoor Cricket Academy

The Bhutan Cricket Council Board (BCCB) inaugurated its inaugural indoor cricket academy on 20th December, with the objective of ensuring...

Dec 21, 2023 14:57

Paro FC Clinches Third Consecutive Victory in BOB Bhutan Premier League

Paro FC has once again claimed the BOB Bhutan Premier League championship, marking their third consecutive title victory during the season's...

Dec 12, 2023 10:26

Travel

Alii Palau Airlines Inaugural Flight From Singapore to Palau via Drukair

On November 23, 2023, Alii Palau Airlines made history with its inaugural flight to Palau.

Dec 04, 2023 10:32

Singapore to Palau: Alii Palau Airlines Launches Historic Route With Drukair

You can now visit the Palau Paradise directly from Singapore!

Oct 27, 2023 16:17

Lifestyle

Chunipa Losar: Bhutan's Timeless Celebration of Traditions and Offerings

Chunipa Losar is a day of offerings, a moment when communities come together to express gratitude, seek blessings, and strengthen bonds.

Jan 12, 2024 12:31

Bhutan's Time-Honored Tradition: Exploring the Nyilo Season and the Lolay Ritual

Approximately 750 children recently took part in the traditional practice known as "lolay" in Bhutan, marking the beginning of the Nyilo...

Jan 04, 2024 14:18

Subscribe to our newsletter

Never miss out on new happenings and news stories!

Download Daily Bhutan Mobile App

Connecting with us just got easier!