Posted on October 5, 2012 by Margot
We were fortunate enough to be in Thimpu the capital city for the whole three days of the local festival or teschu. Think Royal Easter Show, Melbourne Cup and the Byron Blues and Roots Festival all rolled into one and you’ll get some idea of the atmosphere that pervades the whole town during these three days. There are some notable differences however, including no smoking and no alcohol, a multitude of red robed monks, and not a lot of flesh showing.
All the local people were dressed in their national costume – actually mandatory when they are in any official precinct. We had to wear respectable clothes – long pants for the lads, no mini skirts for the gals, and both sexes had to refrain from wearing hats – something many of us felt quite uncomfortable about, particularly those with balding pates. (We older Australians have become very sun averse these days!) The dress police were out and about and one of our party who had put his hat back on was actually asked to remove it.
The dhzong (fortress cum temple cum administrative centre) in which the main event was held is very official indeed – we actually had to go through security to get in. Once in however, there were no restrictions on where we could go, apart from the main square where the performances were taking place.
The dhongz itself was very impressive and was worth visiting in its own right, but having the performance and the crowds and the masked dancing as well was a real bonus. The dances are in honour of Guru Rinpoche, a highly revered Bhuddist saint who introduced Bhuddism to Bhutan from Tibet in the 8th century.
There is a lot of religious significance attached to the dances, and the people obtain merit just by attending. However it is not all serious by any means. There are grotesquely masked clowns who make their way through the crowds harassing them for donations and pointing what I first thought were some sort of toy pistol at people. Turns out to be a giant phallus, about which I will tell you more later. Suffice to say at this stage the phallus is a very powerful symbol in this country and appears in all sorts of places – from paintings on house walls, to hanging off the rafters, to row upon row in “handicraft” souvenir stalls!
The Teschu brings people from all ranks of society together, from the poorest peasant to the movie star glamourous royal couple – not that we actually get to see the latter as they view proceedings from the Royal Box which is not open to the commoners gaze. Families make a day of it, picnicking and catching up with friends, monks watch from the balconies and middle aged men hang out together doubtless discussing the state of Gross National Happiness. It is an occasion of sartorial splendour when people dress in their finest and even the dogs don’t look too shabby!
Ross and I really enjoyed just hanging about in the crowd – you stay in one place long enough and someone will start talking to you. I made friends with two little boys, after I had commented on the beautiful boots that one of them was wearing. They shared some apples and walnuts with me and confided their dreams – one of them wants to swim with the dolphins while the other wants to go to London.
Ross got chatting with a bunch of recent graduates in Maths, physics, chemistry etc who were preparing to sit the Public Service Entrance examination next week. Their level of English was fantastic, but not surprising when we discovered that English is actually the medium of instruction in the education system.