Bhutan’s Amazing Festivals

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By John Child in Thimphu, Bhutan

Visiting Bhutan is an otherworldly experience. The last Himalayan Shangri-La opened its doors to tourism in 1974, and even today only a few thousand people each year are granted visas. The capital, Thimphu, is still a small town – no traffic lights – and Bhutan’s roads are mostly one lane wide with turns every few seconds as they wind up and down the steep mountains.

Bhutan’s careful (and slow) development is intended to preserve the country’s cultural values. In that, it has succeeded: Bhutan’s religious festivals continue virtually unchanged from centuries ago.

stag mask lama

Lama in a stag mask dances in Bhutan.

clown phallus

A clown with wooden phallus entertains the crowd with ribald jokes between dances.

dance master

The monastic dance-master in a skull mask accepts a donation from a spectator.

prayer wheels

Spectators twirl prayer wheels as they watch the festival dances.

temple monks

Monks crowd the temple steps to see the proceedings.

masks lamas
Lamas accompany the dances with drums, horns and cymbals.

Horrifying masks are part of the lesson of each dance: religious messages for a non-literate society.

Lamas accompany the dances with drums, horns and cymbals.

je khenpo
The Je Khenpo, chief abbot of Bhutan

The chief abbot of Bhutan, the Je Khenpo, observes the proceedings.

The culmination of the festival is the unveiling of a giant applique scroll, a thongdrel, at daybreak: Viewing it gives salvation to the attendees.

thongdrel
Giant applique scroll, a thongdrel

John Child is The NewsBlaze Nepal Correspondent, a journalist in Kathmandu who writes about goings-on in and around Nepal and her neighbors.

John Child is The NewsBlaze Nepal Correspondent, a journalist in Kathmandu who writes about goings-on in and around Nepal and her neighbors.