Bhutan’s fall festivals

This is subscriber only post.
Get one year of online-only access — only $15!
Below is a sample of the article.
Please login or subscribe to ITN to read the entire post.

Approximately 2,500 visitors visited the kingdom of Bhutan for the late September/early October festivals in 2006 — a record-high attendance. Despite full flights and hotels at capacity, the festival season was one of the most enjoyable I’ve ever experienced. Everyone was on their “best behavior,” following the new rules governing demeanor and dress for the festival season.

The Ministry of Home & Cultural Affairs had published this circular:

“Thimphu Tsechu — Tsechus, or festivals, are religious events. The ground where they are held is purified and consecrated by lamas so that when you are watching a festival you are, in essence, on the perimeter of a religious ground. The behavior of the viewer should be conducted with this in mind.

“The dancers, whether monks or laymen, are in a state of meditation. They transform themselves into the deities, whom they embody on the dance ground. They generate a spiritual power which cleanses, purifies, enlightens and blesses the spectators.

“Festivals are not vulgar spectacles or common entertainment events. They are not held as tourist attractions. They are genuine manifestations of religious traditions hundreds, if not thousands, of years old. Today, outsiders are given the privilege of witnessing these sacred rites.

“Bhutan hopes that by offering this privilege to the outside world, it in no way impairs or infringes on the sacredness or beauty of the ritual.

“Festival Etiquette — Because of the sacredness of the location and the presence of the Royal Family, Je Khenpo, Ministers and other high-level guests during the Thimphu Tsechu, the following rules should be observed:

“1. Once inside the dzong premises, no hats or umbrellas are allowed.

“2. Proper attire is required. For the tourists, full pants and sleeved shirts are appropriate. Shorts, tanktops, jeans and sport shoes are not allowed. Bhutanese law mandates that everyone wear traditional gho and kira inside the dzong. We would also encourage and welcome tourists to dress in our traditional attire.

“3. Photographers are requested to behave respectfully and must always remain outside the dance ground.

“4. Flash photography is NOT allowed.”

These rules were enforced, although officials were allowing skirts and dark-colored pants/jeans. They were NOT allowing white sport shoes at all.

While attendance was high at all of the festivals, most tour operators did a splendid job of getting clients to the festivals early, as there were security checks prior to entering all dzongs.

We arrived one hour prior to the first day of the Thimphu festival and had excellent viewing and photographic positions. There are no seats at the festivals; be prepared to stand or sit behind the white lines reserved for tourists.

In 2006 the Royal Government of Bhutan decided to stage additional drupchens in all of the district dzongs prior to the beginning of the Thimphu Tsechu. Drupchens are prayer ceremonies to bless the ground where the tsechu will be held, to offer thanks to all the deities for permitting the people to build holy monuments at these specific places and to request that they protect these sites from natural disasters like earthquakes, floods and so on.

The drupchens at the Thimphu Tsechu included many religious didactic dances, including the well-known Black Hat Dance. Although no photography is permitted, attending the consecration ceremony is a highly moving and spiritual experience.

Concurrent with the Thimphu Festival is the Wangdi Festival, staged in the Wangdue Prodrang Dzong built overlooking the confluence of the two rivers, a 3-hour drive from the capital.

Farther afield, the Tangbi Mani Festival in Bumthang starts with a moving Fire Blessing on the first day. Culturally rich, the festival attracts hundreds of finely dressed locals who also come to sell their local products and exquisite textiles from the east.

While the emphasis has always been on the well-publicized festivals of western and central Bhutan, the Gom Kora Festival, just outside Trashigang in eastern Bhutan, should not be missed. The masked dances are impressive and beautifully choreographed. Few Western tourists attend this not-so-well-publicized but dramatic religious festival.

Plan ahead for the fall or spring festivals. Air and hotel space get booked up five to six months beforehand.

Lastly, a new book I highly recommend is “Treasures of the Thunder Dragon. A Portrait of Bhutan” by Her Majesty the Queen of Bhutan, Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck. It’s a personal account of her many journeys on foot to remote locales across Bhutan, where she discovers sacred and healing hot springs, centuries-old monasteries shrouded in myth, and a little boy who is later discovered to be a reincarnation of a great 17th-century ruler.

This book is available in Thimphu bookstores and in the Thimphu Handicraft Centre for approximately $15.

KATHLEEN FUNG, Far Fung Places, LLC, 1914 Fell St., San Francisco, CA 94117

Please login or subscribe to ITN to read the entire post.

Approximately 2,500 visitors visited the kingdom of Bhutan for the late September/early October festivals in 2006 — a record-high attendance. Despite full flights and hotels at capacity, the festival season was one of the most enjoyable I’ve ever experienced. Everyone was on their “best behavior,” following the new rules governing demeanor and dress for the festival season.

The Ministry of Home & Cultural Affairs had published this circular:

“Thimphu Tsechu — Tsechus, or festivals, are religious events. The ground where they are held is purified and consecrated by lamas so that when you are watching a festival you are, in essence, on the perimeter of a religious ground. The behavior of the viewer should be conducted with this in mind.

“The dancers, whether monks or laymen, are in a state of meditation. They transform themselves into the deities, whom they embody on the dance ground. They generate a spiritual power which cleanses, purifies, enlightens and blesses the spectators.

“Festivals are not vulgar spectacles or common entertainment events. They are not held as tourist attractions. They are genuine manifestations of religious traditions hundreds, if not thousands, of years old. Today, outsiders are given the privilege of witnessing these sacred rites.

“Bhutan hopes that by offering this privilege to the outside world, it in no way impairs or infringes on the sacredness or beauty of the ritual.

“Festival Etiquette — Because of the sacredness of the location and the presence of the Royal Family, Je Khenpo, Ministers and other high-level guests during the Thimphu Tsechu, the following rules should be observed:

“1. Once inside the dzong premises, no hats or umbrellas are allowed.

“2. Proper attire is required. For the tourists, full pants and sleeved shirts are appropriate. Shorts, tanktops, jeans and sport shoes are not allowed. Bhutanese law mandates that everyone wear traditional gho and kira inside the dzong. We would also encourage and welcome tourists to dress in our traditional attire.

“3. Photographers are requested to behave respectfully and must always remain outside the dance ground.

“4. Flash photography is NOT allowed.”

These rules were enforced, although officials were allowing skirts and dark-colored pants/jeans. They were NOT allowing white sport shoes at all.

While attendance was high at all of the festivals, most tour operators did a splendid job of getting clients to the festivals early, as there were security checks prior to entering all dzongs.

We arrived one hour prior to the first day of the Thimphu festival and had excellent viewing and photographic positions. There are no seats at the festivals; be prepared to stand or sit behind the white lines reserved for tourists.

In 2006 the Royal Government of Bhutan decided to stage additional drupchens in all of the district dzongs prior to the beginning of the Thimphu Tsechu. Drupchens are prayer ceremonies to bless the ground where the tsechu will be held, to offer thanks to all the deities for permitting the people to build holy monuments at these specific places and to request that they protect these sites from natural disasters like earthquakes, floods and so on.

The drupchens at the Thimphu Tsechu included many religious didactic dances, including the well-known Black Hat Dance. Although no photography is permitted, attending the consecration ceremony is a highly moving and spiritual experience.

Concurrent with the Thimphu Festival is the Wangdi Festival, staged in the Wangdue Prodrang Dzong built overlooking the confluence of the two rivers, a 3-hour drive from the capital.

Farther afield, the Tangbi Mani Festival in Bumthang starts with a moving Fire Blessing on the first day. Culturally rich, the festival attracts hundreds of finely dressed locals who also come to sell their local products and exquisite textiles from the east.

While the emphasis has always been on the well-publicized festivals of western and central Bhutan, the Gom Kora Festival, just outside Trashigang in eastern Bhutan, should not be missed. The masked dances are impressive and beautifully choreographed. Few Western tourists attend this not-so-well-publicized but dramatic religious festival.

Plan ahead for the fall or spring festivals. Air and hotel space get booked up five to six months beforehand.

Lastly, a new book I highly recommend is “Treasures of the Thunder Dragon. A Portrait of Bhutan” by Her Majesty the Queen of Bhutan, Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck. It’s a personal account of her many journeys on foot to remote locales across Bhutan, where she discovers sacred and healing hot springs, centuries-old monasteries shrouded in myth, and a little boy who is later discovered to be a reincarnation of a great 17th-century ruler.

This book is available in Thimphu bookstores and in the Thimphu Handicraft Centre for approximately $15.

KATHLEEN FUNG, Far Fung Places, LLC, 1914 Fell St., San Francisco, CA 94117