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


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

Ngenpa Gudzom is the most inauspicious day on the Bhutanese...

Ngenpa Gudzom literally means the meeting of the Nine Evils. (Ngenpa = Evil, Gu = Nine, Dzom = Meet)

Dec 10, 2021 11:43

What is your birth mewa (birth marks)?

Mewa indicates a karmic relation from life to life.

Nov 16, 2021 14:42

How to make your own Bhutanese suja (butter tea) at home

All you need are 5 simple ingredients and 10 minutes of your time.

Nov 15, 2021 13:56

What's your element: water, fire, earth, wood, metal

Each of the five elements possesses its own attributes.

Oct 29, 2021 13:55



Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom is one of the 15 shortlisted films for Oscars 2022 International Feature Film Category

The Academy Awards, popularly known as Oscars is the most prestigious award within the film industry.

Jan 10, 2022 16:01

Bhutan experienced one of the heaviest snowfalls in a decade

On December 29, 2021, Bhutan experienced one of the heaviest snowfalls since Gasa’s record of 12cm in 2018.

Dec 30, 2021 16:47


Bhutanese artist invited to decorate life-sized tiger sculpture for display in Singapore

Renowned artists showcase artworks to promote tiger conservation issues.

Jan 21, 2022 12:52

Bhutan's transition into the age of digitalisation

Bhutan embraced the ICT sector and endeavour to build its economy around it.

Jan 13, 2022 12:07


Online businesses are becoming more and more popular in Bhutan

Even though the Internet was developed in the 1960s, the tiny Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan was only introduced to it in June 1999.

Jan 20, 2022 12:41

Yathra weaving, the uniquely Bumthang culture

Unlike other places in Bhutan, the people of Bumthang don’t do agricultural work. Instead, they weave yathra products. Traditionally, every...

Sep 13, 2021 17:06


Outstanding individuals, schools and clubs awarded for their contributions to grassroots football

On December 22, 2021, the Bhutan Football Federation (BFF), a bronze member of the AFC Grassroots Charter,presented awards to unsung heroes...

Jan 11, 2022 14:15

Bhutan's national women cricket team won ICC Women's T20 World Cup Asia Qualifier 2021 opening match

The United Arab Emirates is currently hosting the ICC Women's T20 World Cup Asia Qualifier. The two ICC Academy grounds in Dubai Sports City...

Nov 23, 2021 11:13


Bhutan banned mountaineering out of respect for the local spiritual beliefs

While there are many stunning peaks in Bhutan, mountaineering is prohibited in Bhutan.

Nov 29, 2021 11:51

My first Jomolhari Base Camp Trek experience, a journey within and beyond

Find out what to expect on a 5-day Jomolhari Base Camp Trek itinerary

Nov 26, 2021 15:01


Ngenpa Gudzom is the most inauspicious day on the Bhutanese calendar

Ngenpa Gudzom literally means the meeting of the Nine Evils. (Ngenpa = Evil, Gu = Nine, Dzom = Meet)

Dec 10, 2021 11:43

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

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

Nov 22, 2021 15:29


Bhutan undergo blackout period to curb COVID-19 transmission

Bhutan went into a “24 hours blackout” in 14 Dzongkhags with the detection of a positive community case on 15th January 2022. 141 new cases...

Jan 18, 2022 16:43

Bhutan to roll out booster shots next week for priority groups

Kingdom of Bhutan has thus far organized two vaccination campaigns in March and July 2021.

Dec 16, 2021 12:26

Subscribe to our newsletter

Never miss out on new happenings and news stories!

Download Daily Bhutan Mobile App

Connecting with us just got easier!