Today, we visited the massive Dzong in Thimpuh, Bhutan. A dzong, pronounced “zong” means fortress in Bhutanese. The name of this fortress in Thimpuh is the Tashichho-Dzong. The Tashichho-Dzong is a Buddhist monastery and fortress. It was built in 1216. Today, it’s where the government is headquartered for Bhutan.
We were going to the dzong to see one of the biggest religious festivals in all of Bhutan. The festival is held once a year for three days. When we arrived, we got out of the car and got into line. There were so many people wearing so many different colors and outfits. Everyone looked bright and colorful and happy. I felt excited to see everyone so beautiful and I was really excited to see the festival, since I had no idea what to expect. I thought it was going to just be a big party with a stage and dancers.
When we walked into the huge courtyard where the festival was being held, we could see so many people dancing and waving in the crowd. We walked up some stairs and went over to a spot where nobody was sitting. We sat in the corner on stone steps, like everyone sitting all the way around the courtyard.
The festival is called the Tsechu festival. We learned that thousands of people from all over Bhutan come to see it. There are mask dances, folk dances and they play music. The whole thing is basically a religious play. It is thought you gain merit and gain good karma by watching the festival. When people go to the festival, they have to wear their nicest clothing, so it is when men look for a wife, because they are all dressed up really nice. There were only two instruments that were mainly played, the symbols and the drums. All the dancers wore beautiful and elaborate costumes, and did very amazing dances. We learned that some of the dances can last for more than an hour, so they have clowns dressed in masks and red suits that entertain people so they don’t get bored. The call the clowns “atsaras.” The clowns wear these really crazy masks, and they do cool acrobatic stunts and make jokes. One dance that we watched called the Black Hat Dance, was first used by Guru Rinpoche, who was the person who flew from East to West Bhutan on a flying tiger. He used the dance to subdue a demon. Many of the dances were for keeping the evil demons and the bad spirits away.
Right before we left, we were taking a nice family picture and one of the atsaras came up to us and pulled mom onto the stage! Because this is a day when men try to find a wife, he said to Mom: “I will keep you!” Then, mom said: “That’s my husband,” pointing over to dad. Then, the clown said to Dad, “I will keep her.” After about five minutes of Mom being on the stage, right in the middle of all of the crowd and dancers, she came back and was laughing and a little embarrassed. We all headed out. Mom was so embarrassed after being put in the courtyard by the clown, but I thought it was exciting and funny that mom was a part of the scene and festival and that we got to laugh watching her out there.
Before we left, we walked into the Dzong to look around. When we walked in, we went through security and then walked up a flight of stairs to a large courtyard. The courtyard was not as large as the one where the festival was being held though. Even from inside the Dzong, we could still hear the sounds of the festival with the music, horns, chanting and people dancing right behind the wall of the dzong that we were exploring.
We crossed the courtyard and walked into the main temple, which had a large room and we saw a huge Shakyamuni, the Present Buddha statue sitting on the other side of the room. We gave a small offering of money, and then a monk gave us some Holy Water to drink. He poured it into our cupped hands and said a prayer, then we sipped it and splashed it on our head. It tasted minty and like menthol, and I felt happy to be there and be blessed in such a beautiful place.
We walked to the sides of the Buddha to see many small Buddhas in robes in glass cases. There were thousands of them. We walked outside and spun many of the prayer wheels that ran around the Dzong. While talking with Dorji (our awesome guide, maybe one of the best we’ve ever had) we learned that parts of China, India, Nepal and Tibet were colonized by Britain, but Bhutan wasn’t. They were never colonized, because of their natural defense, the Himalayas. Bhutan is pretty much isolated inside of the Himalayas, so nobody could get to them. Although, now with cars and planes, China and India could easily conquer Bhutan, because they are such a peaceful country. We headed out and left the beautiful, noisy and colorful festival.
We had an amazing day visiting the Tashichho-Dzong and the Tsechu Festival!