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.