Sunday, April 12, 2015

A TATSE OF PARO TSHECHU – an update and an excuse to post some of the photos!

Due to the generosity and thoughtfulness of my current principal last week both Ian and I were given the opportunity to attend the final 2 days of Tshechu in Paro. Since then I have been desperately trying to record this so please bear with me and my almost obsessive need to post photos of Tshechu! This rare privilege was an unexpected kindness for which we were extremely grateful.

Since I have loved every Tshechu I have ever seen and seen every one with eyes wide with wonder, we jumped at the chance to view yet another. I am secretly trying to see as many as possible, in as many different locations as possible, as I have developed something of an addiction for them but this is no easy task to satify this desire, with demanding jobs to attend to.

Here in Bhutan, tshechu is the most spectacular religious festival of the year to say nothing of being a photographer’s paradise and in my opinion no-one should even consider coming to Bhutan without including this event on their itinerary.

There is one held in every major city and lakhang in the country once a year but some are very much more significant than others. This category, of incredibly significant, includes the celebrations in Thimphu and Paro, as well as the one in Trongsa, which we saw in December last year.

The days of the festival are usually declared public holidays for anyone who resides within the district, in which it is being held, and it is a time of great excitement and an occasion to don your most expensive and exquisite, traditional clothing and compliment it with flashy jewelry if you happen to possess any.

We happened to know that Thimphu Tshechu would be held in September and were looking forward to that very much and expecting that it would be our first opportunity to attend this year.

It was such a surprise when my principal not only suggested that we go to Paro, but also generously offered to pay for a hotel for us for 2 nights. At that point we didn’t really know what a true spectacle we were about to enjoy but we didn’t even consider turning her offer down.

She is so very patriotic and proud of Bhutanese culture and takes every opportunity to promote and preserve it.  In her wisdom she knew we should see this and that the most significant aspect of the festivities would be the unfurling of the Throngdrel in the early hours of the morning on the final day. By the way, she also agreed to give the only other expatriate teacher in my school leave to also be able to attend, but unfortunately she was ill and unable to join us.

It wasn’t until we were heading to Paro, after a frantic day at school finalizing all the last minute details for then upcoming (but now complete) first round of English exams for all 3 of the classes I teach, that I suddenly realized that we had been fully immersed in our working lives and establishing ourselves in the capital, since arriving in mid February and had not until that moment set foot outside the city limits.

Despite the forecasts of rain, we were blessed with warm, sunny days and clear blue skies for the entire time we were in Paro, and the views were a real balm for our tired minds and a joy to behold.

The enormous interest and inconceivably, huge crowds at this particular tshechu make it impossible to conceive of hosting the festival inside the spectacular Paro Dzong so it was as usual staged at a lakhang not 100 metres away, in full view of the dzong. The outdoor amphitheater was itself a gorgeous venue and we were astounded that in previous visits to the dzong we had never noticed it.

We filed in with thousands of locals, sure that were in the right location despite our earlier confusion about not knowing exactly where to head. After all where else would that many formally and strikingly dressed individuals possibly be going? Once we were within the compound we wormed our way to a point where it was possible to see and appreciate the colourful spectacle unfolding and did exactly that!

At it turned out, at the exact same time as the Tshechu by no accident, an International Flower Show was also being staged in Paro in the area adjacent to the dzong and we were able to enjoy both events simultaneously.

In addition to these festivities, we were able to take time out to appreciate the solitude and magnificence of the dzong itself while we were in such close proximity. Having been there before did not dampen our enthusiasm and in fact I think it heightened our appreciation, as it was such a haven of quiet and contemplation compared to the lively, colourful spectacle of the tshechu.

Even the prospect of rising at 5am to glimpse the giant scroll couldn’t dampen our spirits and in fact from 3am onward we heard the continual exodus of Bhutanese guests at the hotel and it only inspired us to also get mobile sooner than we had planned. Rumour now has it that this particular throngdrel may never be displayed again but I cannot verify that.

Just when we thought that it might be time to escape the crowds and attempt to get some breakfast, we found ourselves in an impossible crush of humanity and were able to make only very slow progress toward the nearest exit for over an hour. Having decided that there was no option except to simply wait it out, much to our delight we discovered Their Majesties the King and Queen of Bhutan were making their way into the event on the red carpet.

This turned out to be climax of what was already an amazing, extended weekend of sights and delights.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

oNe PhOtO a DaY:

 wEeK oNe MaRcH 2015


MONDAY 2ND PART OF ME: I guess this photo from archives taken by my husband, when we were travelling, really shows the parts of me I like best. Two of my greatest passions in life are photography and teaching and I can’t imagine either of them not being a part of me. This shot encapsulates both and more than that I really like it and the fact that joy is radiating out of my being.

TUESDAY 3RD OPEN: The lower entrance today at school looked more welcoming than ever, with the doors flung open and a special welcome arch erected to signal the school’s gratitude to the sponsors of the exhibition of photographs depicting His Majesty the 4th King’s relationship with India currently on display in the hall. 

WEDNESDAY 4TH GEOMETRIC: The detail of the welcome arch woven from strips of cloth in the 5 colours of Buddhism reveal a very geometric pattern.

THURSDAY 5TH OUT THE WINDOW: Just when I thought that spring was really on its way, we have had a really cold week but this beautiful, late afternoon view from my bedroom window when the last rays of sun strike the distant snow capped peaks still makes me smile.

FRIDAY 6TH REMEDY: No matter what life throws at me a good book is always a remedy and an escape. Even here and with quite a digital collection, we are still accumulating a stash of books that are teaching and learning resources as well as some purchased for pure pleasure. 

SATURDAY 7TH SWEET: Although I don’t really have a sweet tooth since we bought an oven last year, I try to bake a treat for our lunchboxes each week and I went right ahead with Banana Cake this weekend even though there were still a few rock buns left from last week

SUNDAY 8TH YOUNG: This young beauty was dancing as a part of the International Women’s Day celebrations in Clock Tower Square today. She might well have been the youngest dancer involved but she sure knew all the moves and had poise and grace.

 wEeK tWo MaRcH 2015


MONDAY 9TH MAKE: The doors of the PP (Kindergarten) classrooms are all decorated to make the children feel very welcome. This one particularly appealed to me and it must work as I have seen very few teary departures this week even though the little ones have been coming to school for only a week now.

TUESDAY 10TH FLORAL: The floral pattern in this tego (traditional Bhutanese jacket) seemed Chinese inspired to me and sure enough when I asked the fabric was bought in Singapore. It still looked fabulous with a hand-woven kira and Madam Anjana has just the personality to pull it off

WEDNESDAY 11TH HAPPY PLACE:  This playground for the exclusive use of the lower primary students is a very happy place

THURSDAY 12TH DETAILS: These offerings made by the monks for many different Buddhist rituals are incredible when viewed up close and the details of the intricate weaving in the coloured threads are revealed. This particular one was taller than a person and found in Changgangkha Lhahang near our home

FRIDAY 13TH COLOUR: This pattern of very complimentary colours is an embroidered design on a ceremonial scarf or “rachu’. All Bhutanese women wear them on formal occasions and I spotted this particular one at school assembly and asked the girl wearing it if I could snap a shot

SATURDAY 14TH FAVOURITE: Just some of my favourite colleagues at Druk School this morning when we were all waiting for the General Teacher-Parent Meeting to begin. They know how to have fun and enjoy themselves whilst still being totally professional and giving one hundred percent.  I am glad to be on this team!

SUNDAY 15TH SMALL: These fragile and delicate individual cherry blossoms are small but still striking

wEeK tHrEe MaRcH 2015


MONDAY 16TH AFTER: every assembly students are supposed to march with arms swinging off the sports ground and back into their classrooms but very few do it with the enthusiasm of this class VI student. Being Monday it was also a formal assembly so each boy wore his ceremonial scarf known as a ‘khabney’, while the girls each donned a ‘rachu’

TUESDAY 17TH HOBBY: Football is a hobby for many and watching it is an obsession for many more. I’m not a big fan but the Bhutanese National team won its first ever match against Sri Lanka earlier this week and that should finally move them from the bottom of the international ranking. Today there was a rematch in the Changlimithang Stadium in Thimphu and it was attended by huge number of people including all the seniors from my school. This is a shot of the team warming up

WEDNESDAY 18TH TEXT: This text along with many others is displayed in the corridor at my school.

THURSDAY 19TH PRIVATE: This is a private walled housing estate which I suspect is for ministers of parliament but I am not exactly sure. It is quite near where we live but I have certainly never seen anything like it anywhere else in Bhutan.

FRIDAY 20TH HAND-DRAWN: This hand-drawn picture of me was produced by one of my students in Class VIC English. I love the details that she got right after only a month of classes: the earrings, the hair colour, the favourite jacket, the rings and the piece of green plant, I wore when I didn’t have any clothes the right colour for green day last Wednesday.

SATURDAY 21ST SUN-FLARE: through the trees and with a yellow prayer flag flying on the walk to Tango Wangditse Temple. (taken a day late as the sun never actually appeared on Saturday)  

SUNDAY 22ND LEAVES: holly leaves in the sunshine on our walk to the same temple

wEeK fOuR MaRcH 2015


MONDAY 23rd TOO MUCH: Even with way too much haze (caused by fires not pollution) it is still possible to spot the bright orange exterior of Druk School from across the river at Lungtenzampa MSS where I was judging the ‘wall magazine’ competition today

TUESDAY 24TH A TREASURE: I guess that must be me gauging from this note, which was left on my desk at lunchtime today and written by the principal! She did write the date of my birthday, which she only discovered later but it was her use of words that made me think it matched this prompt.

WEDNESDAY 25TH HALF: Before coming to Bhutan I hardly ever saw or bought pomegranates but now I regularly cook with them. Just replace the sultanas or raisins in any sweet recipe with fresh ripe pomegranate seeds. They taste great and even look fabulous cut in half awaiting use.

THURSDAY 26TH I LOVE: I love teaching. I love my current school and I especially love being in a school with PP students for the first time in my teaching career. Although I don’t actually teach them myself I love watching their antics and interactions 

FRIDAY 27TH SOMETHING WHITE: The ‘Legeys’ (cuffs), ‘Khabney’ (ceremonial scarf) and ‘Khadar’ (blessing scarf-worn around the neck here) must be whiter than white to show respect on significant occasions in Bhutan. This is the teacher responsible for inculcating traditional values in my school, being the perfect role model on the occasion of our school purification ceremony (Rimdro) today.

SATURDAY 28TH GIVE: Nature gives us so many gifts of beauty to appreciate and right now I am finding signs of spring everywhere and appreciating that it truly is warmer. This magnificent magnolia is blooming right outside our bedroom window and was not destroyed when the building it was once in the garden of, was demolished a couple of weeks ago.

SUNDAY 29TH ZEN: This is a shot from archives taken in Rangjung in 2011 and it really embodies the Zen concept: that enlightenment can come through meditation and intuition rather than faith alone. This young boy was a newly arrived novice at the monastery and despite not being able to read the prayer book (wrapped in orange in his arms) his devotion to prayer and mediation was only momentarily distracted by the presence of 2 foreigners at the Parinivarna ceremonies.

wEeK fOuR MaRcH 2015


MONDAY 30TH ON MY TABLE: As usual on my table at school are a lesson plan book for each class, my timetable, water, a pile of special books for reading programs, my school diary, a pencil case, bookmarks, notes to self and an ever growing mountain of students’ exercise books to be marked (please don’t tell them but when some are late with their homework I almost feel grateful) Luckily this was taken after lunch so my hot-case has already been stashed in my bag.

TUESDAY 31ST TWO TONE: I don’t know the exact name of these tiny little chorten shaped memorials that are placed in all kinds of nooks and crannies in Bhutan ranging from cliff-faces to the space between the spinning prayer wheels in wall of them, but I do know they are always two-tone and displayed in huge numbers. I believe that they are made from the ashes of cremations as a final tribute to the person and a way to release their soul. Please let me know if I have got that wrong or if you know the proper name for them in English

WEDNESDAY 1ST LUNCH: Everyday I eat lunch with my class IX English group in their classroom and they set up little groups of tables and delight in chattering and sharing their lunches with each other. We have a Dzongkha lopen (teacher) with us to ensure that they pray before they eat and observe correct Bhutanese etiquette but it is still not so formal and a real pleasure to see them interacting and be part of it. I love the joy in Red Dorji’s face in this photo. (she is the girl at the back right)

THURSDAY 2ND BUILDING: The watchtower in Paro now a museum, with restoration after the earthquake clearly visible. Still a very striking landmark building

FRIDAY 3RD THIS IS GOOD: Tshechu is good enough to attract enormous crowds and Paro Tshechu is no exception. This is good and no one ever grows tired of it. This is better than good it is sensational.

SATURDAY 4TH I STOOD HERE: This is the entrance to the very impressive Paro Dzong but with the Tshechu going on in the adjacent lakhang it was all but deserted when we took a break from the crushing crowds and enjoyed a moment of solitude inside in the sacred courtyard

SUNDAY 5TH EGG: No Easter celebrations here in Bhutan but it would be hard to beat Tshechu anyway. However we did have eggs, chillies, tomatoes and asparagus on toast for breakfast. It is still a pretty good celebratory meal.