Tsechu Festival with Bhutan Excursion.
This excellent adventure includes the chance to see many of Bhutan’s most important towns and monasteries, as we journey to the beautiful region of Bumthang at the heart of the kingdom. From the lovely Paro Valley, with its spectacularly-located Taktsang Monastery, we will drive by way of Thimphu to the historic winter capital at Punakha. Then, at the charming village of Gangtey in the Phobjikha Valley, we will be privileged to watch the rare and beautiful black-necked cranes at their winter feeding grounds. Continuing eastwards to the town of Jakar, we will witness the amazingly colorful dances and religious pageantry of one of Bhutan’s most important festivals at 07th century Jambay Lhakhang Monastery. This will be a special experience, as we stroll amongst the colorful masked dancers and the equally colorful audience dressed in their finest ghos and kiras. This trip offers a real insight into the cultural highlights of this magical kingdom.
Day 01: Arrive Paro
Flying into the country’s only airport, in the beautiful Paro valley, the clear mountain air, forested ridges, imposing monasteries and welcoming Bhutanese people in their striking national dress, provides a breath-taking first impression.
On arrival at Paro airport, after immigration and custom formalities, your guide from Bhutan Excursion for the trip will receive you and transfer you to the hotel in Paro. In the evening, you can stroll along Paro downtown to see the people and the local stores.
Overnight- hotel in Paro
Day 02: Hike to Taktsang Monastery
Today, we hike up to the famous cliff-hermitage called Taktsang, the “Tiger’s Nest.” This monastic retreat is built into a sheer cliff face high above the Paro valley. Legend has it that the Tibetan Buddhist saint Padmasambhava flew across the Himalayas on the back of a tiger and landed here, bringing Buddhism to Bhutan. The trail to the monastery climbs through beautiful pine forest and an occasional grove of fluttering prayer flags.
After visiting what is known as one of the most venerated pilgrimage sites in the country, we will go off the beaten track further up to the temples that are on the hill tops above Tiger’s Nest. It’s so peaceful there and you can really communicate with nature as you enjoy the views from the top be it that of mountains or the valley. No wonder that some monks have chosen this place to meditate for their life! To go down, we are following a different path that takes us through the pristine thick forest of oaks and rhododendrons festooned with Spanish mosses.
Overnight – hotel in Paro
Day 03: Paro – Thimphu
Paro is a most picturesque valley, with quaint hamlets clustered amidst terraced paddy fields. The town still maintains tradition by way of its architecture and simple way of life and your sightseeing includes; visit to The National Museum, formerly a watchtower holds unique and varied collections, ranging from ancient armor to textiles, thangkha paintings, stamps, coins, and natural history. Visit the Paro Dzong (Rinpung Dzong) built in 1646 during the time of Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal. It now houses Paro’s monk body and the offices of the civil administration. Rinpung Dzong is the venue for the famous Paro Tsechu, held annually in the spring.
In the afternoon, take a drive to Bhutan’s capital, Thimphu, passing through idyllic countryside, with villages and paddy fields on either side of the road. Thimphu has a special charm and it is fascinating to sit and watch a gathering of local people in the town square, wearing their traditional dress and going about their business in a typically unhurried Bhutanese way.
Overnight: hotel in Thimphu
Day 04: Thimphu – Punakha
The morning sightseeing in Thimphu includes; Visit to the Institute of Traditional Medicine; Bhutan has long and rich tradition of medicine based on natural remedies derived mainly from plants and earth, and some animals. This institute has facility for out patients, training, research and production of traditional medicine. The courses to become traditional doctors entail six to eight years of strenuous study after high school. The institute has an exhibition room that imparts excellent look into the tradition.
Visit to the School of Traditional Arts and Crafts, the school offers a six-year course in the techniques of traditional art in religious and secular paintings, woodcarving, and clay sculpture and traditional mask making. One can see students working through progressive levels practicing precise rules of Bhutanese art. The school also has a showroom from where student works are sold at very reasonable price compared to town for same quality of work.
Visit to the Folk Heritage Museum; established in 2001, this is an interesting museum housed in a very old traditional house. The museum is a walk through the fast changing rural tradition, habits and skills, and those of the past. They organize special exhibitions annually on select subject pertaining to Bhutanese heritage.
In the afternoon, we will take a drive to Punakha (02 hours) across Dochu La (3050m) from where one can have a spectacular view of the Himalayas to the north when the sky is clear. The pass is marked by 108 chortens (Stupa) which are Buddhist reliquaries, memorials to the teachings of the Buddha. Sometimes actual relics of the Buddha or revered monks are inserted into the dome of the stupa, but whether or not there are relics inside, the stupas mark the landscape with reminders of the Buddha’s teachings. From here, it’s about a little more than hour’s drive down to sub-tropical Punakha Valley.
In Punakha, we will visit the Dzong that was built by Shabdrung, in 1637, on a strategic place at the confluence of Pho Chu and Mo Chu rivers. The Dzong has played a hallowed role in the history of Bhutan. It served as the seat of Shabdrung’s government, several foreign delegations were received here in 18th and 19th century, the election and coronation of the first King was observed in 1907 and the Third King convened the first National Assembly in the Dzong. The central monastic body continues to reside here in winter. The embalmed bodies of Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal and Terton Pema Lingpa are housed on the top floor of the main tower. Damaged by four catastrophic fires and an earthquake, the Dzong has been fully restored by the present King from the latest fire in 1987.
Overnight- hotel in Punakha
Day 05: Punakha – Gangtey
After breakfast, drive to Wangduephodrang and visit the Dzong which is perched on a spur at the confluence of two rivers. The position of the Dzong is remarkable as it completely covers the spur and commands an impressive view both up and down the valley. Wangdue district is famous for its fine bamboo work, stone carvings, and slate which is mined up a valley a few kilometers from the town.
Then drive up a winding mountain road through oak and rhododendron forest, and over a high pass down into the Phobjikha valley, surely one of the loveliest high altitude valleys in Bhutan. Phobjikha is one of Bhutan’s few glacial valleys, and chosen winter home of black necked cranes, migrating from the Tibetan plateau. Explore Phobjikha valley and also visit Gangtey Gonpa (Monastery), the only Nyingmapa monastery in western Bhutan.
Overnight – hotel in Gangtey
Day 06: Gangtey – Jakar
Returning to the Central Highway, we head east once again, climbing up to the Pele La (3300m). This pass is traditionally known as the boundary between Western and Central Bhutan and the landscape which spreads out on the pass is different to that of the western side. After crossing a bridge at Nika Chu, we enter Tongsa district and follow a dramatic section of the road, carved into the side of a cliff, high above the Mangde Chu. The scenery is beautiful – forests as far as the eye can see, and with Tongsa Dzong visible 20 kilometers away, at the end of the valley. Tongsa means “New Village” as Tongsa was founded in the 17th century, which is relatively recent for Bhutan! We will have the opportunity to visit Tongsa Dzong, which is a masterpiece of architecture with a maze of courtyards, passageways and 23 temples. Continuing our journey eastwards, we re-enter the forest and climb to cross the Yutong La (3425m). Descending to the village of Chumey, the scenery is once again totally different as we enter the wide open Bumthang valleys. After a short climb to Kiki La, we turn a corner to begin the descent to Jakar. From some distance away, we can see Jakar Dzong, perched high above the village. We check in to a lodge which is only a ten minute walk from the Dzong. Approximately 06 hours driving time. Altitude at Jakar: 2600m.
Overnight – hotel in Jakar
Day 07: Sightseeing in Jakar
Today is free for sightseeing in and around the town of Jakar, the regional center of Bumthang. There are several important monasteries in the area for us to visit, including nearby Jakar Dzong, as well as Jambay Lhakhang and Kurjey Lhakhang. We will also have a stroll around the town of Jakar itself, a sleepy outpost, with a few shops and a post office. Comprised of just 04 valleys, running down from the Himalayas to the north, the district of Bumthang is a place of traditional beliefs and folklore. It is known for its brightly colored woolen fabric, known as yathra, which makes a good souvenir of the country.
Overnight – hotel in Jakar
The first day of the festival begins this evening at around 8.30 PM:
Black Hat Dance (Shana) and of the Gings (emanations of Guru Rinpoche): Costume: Dancers wear long brocade robes and ornate black hats perform this dance. The dancer’s who represent the Ging wear shorter robes with masks. This dance is performed to purify the ground and to chase away evil influences.
Dance of Offering (Tshogcham): A dancer offers the body of evil spirits to the deities. After the offering is made the audience goes outside the temple where an arch of pine bushes has been erected.
Fire Dance (Mecham): The arch of pine is set on fire. The fire is said to purify the earth of evil spirits. People who pass through the arch have their sins cleansed. A dancer chases away the evil spirits.
Day 08: At the festival
This is the second day of the Jambay Lhakhang Drup Festival and we will spend the whole day at this remarkable event. We will be able to watch many ritual dances, which are performed beside the monastery. There are a number of different dances, subdivided into three categories: those that are intended to give moral instruction; those that are designed to drive away evil spirits and those that celebrate the Buddhist faith in its many guises. As fascinating as the dances themselves will be the activities of the local people who flock to the festival from far and wide, dressed in their finest clothes. There will also be a number of stalls selling craftwork, jewellery, religious artifacts and thangkas – another retail opportunity.
Overnight – hotel in Jakar
The programme for the day starts at around 10:30AM
It follows a ceremony where a small girl representing the daughter of Sindhu Raja blesses the villagers.
Dance of Singje Yab Yum (Lord of death and his consort): The Lord of Death and his consort perform this dance to protect the four realms over which he has power.
Dance of Nyulema and Peling Ging Sum (Three kinds of Ging): The Nyulema is an evil spirit represented by a boy in a skeleton mask. The Ging with the sticks catch the Nyulema. The Durdag or the Lords of the Cremation Ground (represented with dancers wearing white skeletal masks) bring forward a box, which represents evil spirits. The Ging with swords liberate the mind of the evil spirit by killing its body of flesh. The Ging with drums dance to celebrate the victory of religion over the evil spirit.
Dance of the Jachung Bochung (Two mythical birds): Dancers wearing masks representing the auspicious birds perform the dance. The play of the Atsara Gapo Pawo Solgyo (Atsara who acts like a Pawo). Though most of the stories and plays were originally with Buddhist sub text they now serve as comedy relief for the crowd. This story is about an Atsara (clown with a red mask) who is mad. The Atsara injures his son, as he did not recognize him. He tries to save his son’s life by impersonating a pawo or medium and tries to perform a religious curative ceremony. Being unsuccessful he has to finally call a doctor and a monk to cure his son.
Day 09: At the festival
The programme starts at around 10:30AM
Dance of the four stags (Shacham): The King of the Wind was causing much unhappiness and suffering in the world. Ugyen Rinpoche subdued him and then as a sign of victory rode on the stag, which was the mount of the king of the Wind. Later a disciple of Guru Rinpoche, Namkhay Nyinpo found an effigy of the face of the stag which appeared to be a blessing. Thus the dance came into existence.
Dance of Ging Tsoling: The dance is supposed to take place in the paradise of Guru Rinpoche and is performed by incarnations of the Guru. The dance is said to give blessings to those who witness it as well as remove obstacles to the doctrine of the Buddha. People whistle during the dance to chase away evil spirits and the Ging hit people on the head to chase away impurity from the body.
Dramitse Ngacham (Dance of the drums from Dramitse): The creator of this dance was Kuenga Gyeltshen, a learned lama from the 16th Century who lived in Dramitse. He is reputed to have seen the dance in Guru Rinpoche’s paradise performed by attendants of the guru. The dance proclaims the superiority of religion over evil spirits.
Pacham – Dance of the heros: Pema Lingpa (the Treasure-Revealer who discovered many Buddhist treasures) saw thisdance in Guru Rinpoche’s paradise. On his return to earth he recreated this dance. The most important attendants of the Guru perform the dance. They lead the beings who die into the presence of the Guru.
Phole Mole: The nobleman and the lady. This ‘play’ is about two princes who leave their princesses and go to war. An old couple is to take care of the princesses. As soon as the princes leave the clowns try to frolic with the princesses and also corrupt the old women. When the princes return they are shocked by the behaviour of the princesses and the old women, and have their noses cut off as a punishment. Finally a doctor is called and everyone’s nose is restored and the princesses and princes marry.
Day 10: Jakar – Gangtey
A full day’s drive back to Gangtey, about 6 hours from Bumthang, past Trongsa on the west side of the Pele La pass. There are many interesting sights along the way and you can make frequent stops to stretch your legs and explore.
Overnight: hotel in Gangtey
Day 11: Gangtey – Paro
From Gangtey, the road gradually descends into the balmy Punakha valley, then begins a long climb back up to the Dochu La, where a stunning field of white chortens and colorful prayer flags send blessings up to the Himalayan sky; snow peaks line the horizon. From the La, it is only another hour to Thimphu. Stop here for lunch, then continue to Paro (just under 2 hrs), one of the most beautiful valleys in Bhutan with its slate-roofed farmhouses, graceful willow trees and rushing glacial river beneath snow covered peaks. Afternoon visit to Kyichu Lhakhang, one of the 108 temples constructed by the Tibetan king Songtsen Gampo (only three remain), and one of the two oldest in Bhutan (the other is Jambe Lhakhang in Bumthang). Kyichu is built in a manner similar to the Jokhang in Lhasa. Inside there is a great golden image of Buddha Shakyamuni.
Overnight: hotel in Paro
Day 12: Chele La Ridge Hike
This morning, we will take a drive to Chele La (3750m), the highest motor able pass in the country and hike up along the meadow to Kung Karpo La (4100m). Weather permitting; we will enjoy the breathtaking views of the snowcapped mountains while walking above the tree line along the ridge that divides Paro and Ha valley. The short steep descent from the top will take us to the nunnery of Kila Gompa. Here the nuns, called anims, live a life of contemplation and seclusion, with daily prayer and spiritual practice. The temple itself is surrounded by numerous meditation huts, and many hidden caves lie inside the rocky cliffs. The gompa is surrounded by a lush forest dominated by tall firs. Sparkling mountain streams wind down the slopes, which are covered with a variety of wildflowers and plants.
About 30 anims, or nuns, live here, ranging in age from about 20 to 80 years. The community is one of the oldest of seven nunneries in Bhutan, and was initially established in the early 9th century as a meditation site. After being destroyed by fire, the temple was rebuilt and officially established in 1986 as an anim dratshang (religious community of Buddhist nuns).
Kila Gompa is historically significant as a sacred meditation site. Many renowned Buddhist saints have come here to find peace and seclusion. The main temple houses ancient statues of Chenrezig (Avalokiteswara) and Guru Rinpoche (Padmasambhava) among others.
Life here is simple. The day begins and ends with prayers. The anims arise at 3 AM and study Buddhist scripture until 8 AM when they go to the temple for prayers. The first simple meal of the day (rice, vegetables and tea) is eaten at 10 AM, after which studies continue until 9 PM when a simple supper is served. The nuns retire after a final session of prayer. Most of the nuns have given up properties and left their families to live with the bare minimum of material things. Their studies and subsistence are supported by the government.
Some of the older nuns have retired into meditation, while many of the younger ones pursue basic Buddhist studies and perform religious ceremonies. The course takes 5-6 years, after which they begin meditation, which can range from four months to three years. One young nun, when asked why she had chosen this life, replied “There is peace in thinking about others, apart from yourself.” Another said “If I was given back my youth, I would still choose this life but I would start it earlier. I have never been more at peace with myself.”
The walk down from here to the road is lined with small white chortens and it will take us about an hour.
Overnight – hotel in Paro.
Day 13: Departure
After breakfast in the hotel, drive to the airport in time to catch up your onward flight. Your escort from Bhutan Excursion will bid you farewell and soon the remote and legendary Dragon Kingdom disappears again behind its guardian mountains.
*Source : – http://www.bhutantour.bt/tours/cultural-tours
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Filed under: Bhutan, Cultural Tours, Travel | Tagged: Bhutan, Bumthang, Cultural Tours, festival of Bhutan, Jambay Lhakhang Monastery, monasteries, Paro, Punakha, Travel, Trongsa, Tsechu Festival, Wangdue |