Yangyel Lhaden 

In the sleepy Gelephu town, Sangay8 Hair and Beauty Salon is alive with music and scissors snipping. A place where people come to redefine their looks, and a place where Tshewang Norbu, a unique figure with a colourful personality, reigns as a male unisex hair stylist.

At first glance, Tshewang is hard to miss. With his ever-changing hair colours, a stylish slit eyebrow, and an earring adorning his left ear, he stands out in a crowd. But there’s more to Tshewang than meets the eye. Behind his vibrant appearance lies a journey of self-discovery and transformation that took him from the sacred world of monasticism to the glamorous realm of hair styling.

Before his career in the world of beauty, Tshewang embarked on a different path. Born and raised in Gelephu, he felt an inexplicable fascination with the life of a monk during his childhood. At the tender age of 11, Tshewang approached his mother, Neten Choden, with a heartfelt desire to become a monk.

“I thought he was joking, but he wouldn’t take no for an answer,” Neten recalled. “He pleaded and cried until I agreed.” With no prior family history of monasticism, Tshewang’s request came as a surprise. However, as fate would have it, his kaytsi, a traditional Bhutanese astrological birth chart, revealed that he was destined for this spiritual path.

With his mother’s reluctant support, Tshewang embarked on a new chapter in his life. He met Lama Kuenzang, a wise spiritual guide who would become his mentor, and under his guidance, Tshewang donned the robes and shaved his head. The feeling of pride and joy engulfed him as he embraced his new identity.

Tshewang’s monastic life began at Jangsa Dechencholing Monastery in Kalimpong, India. The routine of a monk was rigorous and structured, from early morning prayers to day-long classes, punctuated by meals and moments of respite. The discipline and teachings of the monastery shaped Tshewang’s character, instilling in him a sense of respect, humility, and self-reliance.

Yet, as Tshewang grew older, he couldn’t help but feel a growing curiosity for the world beyond the monastery walls. The monotony of religious life started to wear on him, and his mischievous nature occasionally got the better of him. Sneaking out at night, he explored the streets of Kalimpong, dressed in casual clothes, his monastic robe hidden away.

In one particular escapade, Tshewang’s admiration for Bollywood heartthrob John Abraham led him to “borrow” gym equipment from Bhutan House, near the monastery. Determined to sculpt his body like his idol, Tshewang and his friends relocated the equipment to their room, unaware that his fascination with the outside world would soon lead him down a different path.

As time went on, Tshewang’s longing for the outside world intensified, and his dedication to monastic life wavered. Eventually, he mustered the courage to inform his mother of his decision to leave. Neten reminded him of his own fervour for becoming a monk and reluctantly let him go, realizing that Tshewang needed to forge his own destiny.

Leaving the monastery behind, Tshewang set his sights on a new goal: becoming a hairstylist. He enrolled in a three-month course at the Yakthung Academy in Siliguri, India, where he honed his skills and discovered his passion for hair styling. A family in Kalimpong took him under their wings, providing support and financial assistance during his transition.

Tshewang’s talent flourished, and with his newfound profession, he found a way to give back to his family. Sending the majority of his earnings to his parents back home, he became a pillar of support. However, as his success grew, Tshewang faced societal judgments regarding his appearance.

“People judge me for my looks,” Tshewang admitted. “But I enjoy styling because it’s not only a marketing strategy, but it also allows me to express myself.” Changing his hair colour became a way for him to embrace his individuality and gain a fresh perspective on life. It also served as an eye-catching advertisement to attract younger clientele to his salon.

Through his experiences, Tshewang has come to realize that one’s appearance holds no bearing on their character or religious devotion. “It is important to be a good person, to refrain from harming others,” he affirmed. “This is the true essence of the religion I learned.”

As Tshewang continues to make his mark in the world of hair styling, his journey serves as a testament to the power of self-discovery and the courage to pursue one’s dreams. From a young boy captivated by the allure of monkhood to a vibrant hairstylist unafraid to challenge societal norms, Tshewang’s story is a reminder that sometimes the most unexpected journeys lead to the most extraordinary destinations.