A Dzongkha Handbook in context for travellers.
Hello! Or should I say “Ku-zu-zang-po”. This article is for travellers in Bhutan wondering how to go by and communicate when commuting or to simply lengthen an otherwise simple exchange of smiles with the locals. I will first go about introducing the official language of Bhutan, Dzongkha. Many of the words are monosyllabic hence it is easy to slowly articulate so take your time to do that! Don’t worry, the Bhutanese will appreciate the efforts and it will enrich your experience in Bhutan.
Here’s the secret to speaking Dzongkha effectively, for first timers, have these phrases handy; crumple post it notes in your handbag, scatter them in your Iphone notes and practice with your tour guide when you are on the road. Heck! You can even request for your driver to blast Bhutan folk songs as you wind down the window screen to watch the picturesque scenery as the melodious tunes left me humming even though I could not fully understand its meaning, but it was the beginning of my acquisition and familiarity with Dzongkha.
Now, I will provide you with a few phrases and words in context. Don’t worry, recite a couple of times and just pluck these phrases out and interact! Step out of your comfort zone and interact, only then will you unravel and witness the Bhutanese culture unfolding right before your very eyes. Here’s ten, or should I say, chu-thumb-ba phrases for you.
Che/ 1. Casual Greetings
What is your name?: Ming Ga Chi Mo?
Where are you from?: Chhoey ga te lay mo?
How old are you?: Kay Lo gadem chi Ya si?
Goodbye: Log Jay Gay
Saying hello is universal, so in Bhutan don’t forget to smile and utter these few phrases! When you speak in someone’s language
Ngi/ 2. Addressing Elders
What is your name?: Na gi tshen ga chi mo?
Som/ 3. Refusing Gracefully
No more, thanks: Me Zhu (gesture a hand in front of the mouth)
Zhe/ 4. Directions & Time (On The Road)
Here: Na/ Nalu
There: Pha/ Phalu
Where: Ga tey
In front of: Dongkha
Next to: Bolokha
Nga/ 5. Shopping
What time does it open/ close?: Chutsho gademchi lu go pchiu/ dam mo?
What is this?: Ani ga chi mo?
How much?: Ga de chi mo
That’s too much: Gong bom may
Du/ 6. Emergency
I’m ill: Nga nau may
Where is the toilet: Chhapsa ga tey in na?
Where is the hospital?: Menkhang ga tey in na?
Din/ 7. On the Phone
Hello: Kuzuzangpo la
Who is speaking: Ga sung mo la?
I’m …. Speaking: Nga … zhu do la
Yes, yes: Ong, ong
Yes in affirmation: Ein ein la
Signing off: Las la. Laso la
Gay/ 8. Eating & Drinking
Please eat: Zhey
(Hot) water: Chhu (Tshe)
(Dried) chilli: Ema (kam)
Milk tea: Na ja
Butter tea: Su ja
Where’s the bill: Ga de chi mo
It was tasty: Zhim bay (Index finger on the cheek)
Gu/ 9. Flirting
I love you: Nga choe lu ga
Do you miss me: Che nga dem mey ga
I miss you: Nga choe drem mey
You're so beautiful: Che namay samay jarim dhu
Chuthumb/ 10. Miscellaneous
Thank you: Kadinchey / Kadinchey la
I will always vividly remember the face of an ol’ Himalayan lady and how she lit up instantly when I muttered a “Kadinchey la” after I purchased a few souvenirs from her. She then handed me finger snacks and talked to my tour guide in Dzhongkha; my tour guide told me she wanted me to have the snacks she fried earlier that day, with no charge. I was stunned. Was it because of my simple utterance in Dzongkha? Perhaps. Who knows? Try speaking in Dzongkha with the locals to find out. ;-)
May the power of Dzongkha aid you in this escapade here in Bhutan. Tashi Delek.