Pensoc and Sangay were an hour late getting up and ready which annoyed us as it meant that we missed the opening procession of the festival which Pensoc had suggested would be really good the night before. The Teschu (Buddhist religious festival) was what we were here to see although with the late departure we made the most of being on the farm, and played with the dog a bit more and got to know Tensin the little girl a bit more, who despite no encouragement whatsoever was happy to stick her face in front of the camera and have her picture taken.
Offering a small gift of some prayer flags and some warm words we hung around and took in the fresh mountain air. This was our only real taste of what it would be like to travel independently here (with the guide and driver tucked in bed). We have really struggled throughout the whole trip to Bhutan to let go of our desire for freedom and accept that here, like it or not, you are a tourist. We realised the reason why we just hadn’t got into our usual traveller mood in the way we usually do after a couple of days of being here. Ironic that in one of our recent blogs we had tried to describe the experience of a traveller versus a tourist. In Bhutan you get ferried from sight to sight in a bubble of a car, you don’t meet people on the local bus or breathe their germs, you don’t buy at the markets, you don’t negotiate, problem solve and find new ways to communicate, and we can’t do anything without our guide ‘helping’, and you don’t see it all. You can’t be open to it all because here you are someone with a label and you are placed in a box. as someone who is loaded with cash, doesn’t want to see rubbish at the side of the road, or see poor people or eat local food. That is the view of who you are.
Once the boys were finally up we headed down to the Wangdue Teschu, which is normally like other festivals, held in the Dzong. It is a very significant annual event bringing together people from all walks of life from the surrounding villages and settlements. This is no once a year piss up though, the festivals are formal occasions with entry permitted only to those in traditional formal dress (tourists excluded thankfully as we are looking a bit shabby) and the focus is on looking your best as a sign of respect. Pensoc tells us that before they got access to the internet it was the place to go to pick up girls’ phone numbers.
The army ground was home to the festival this year as earlier in the year the Dzong had been burnt down due to some dodgy wiring on some machinery being used (ironically) to do some renovations. It’s now a sad pile of brick ruin. The drill ground was a perfect patch of grass for it though and another festival area was set up as a big square shape. Pensoc has a bad habit of standing us in the sun (when it is out) and with the kiwi sun code kicking in Emma jumped for her hat having seen the locals cover their heads with their sashes, kabneys and cardboard boxes thinking that would be ok. Pensoc jumped on her saying it was not allowed so we darted to shade and sat watching the dances with Emma still confused as to why her hat was worse than putting a box on your head.
We sat and watched the mask dances for about 2 hours. The dances were much more energetic than others we have seen and went on for a good 35-40 minutes each punctuated by some women singing folk songs and some clowns messing about. Pensoc disappeared so we had no explanation of the the dances but eavesdropped our neighbours and got a good idea.
During the dances rice wine, butter tea, rice and chillies were offered- we declined. We watched the three old American women next to us accept a betel-nut (without the lime of the leaf) only to look totally bemused as to what to do with it. It was kinda sweet they had no idea what it was as they nibbled at it before giving up and putting it in their bag. We were surrounded by other shade dwelling, seat loving tourists.
The clowns who were there to entertain and lift the spirit of the audience came around asking for money and we just could not believe the amount that was being handed over regardless – some tourists were taking photos of themselves doing it to show off. We offered a donation which the clown turned their nose up at saying ‘give me more’. Bearing in mind the high ranking military officer (who we guess is the boss) had come along the crowd saying that it was not compulsory Emma shoved her money back in her pocket with disbelief. It is not Buddhist to shun an offering no matter what it is and certainly not to say it’s not good money and it’s not enough. We sat in disbelief about what was happening around us as a second clown came along and again people just threw money at him and when he took the piss saying it wasn’t enough, just gave more. What a weird mentality…
As Pensoc was off somewhere and hadn’t bothered to check on us the whole time we decided to go wandering off around the stalls. The big square housed makeshift restaurants, toy stalls, many gambling stalls that involved spinning a wheel, throwing a dart or a ball. There were more gambling stalls than anything else and we were quite disturbed to see so many kids including young monks getting over excited by the games – we’re not talking 20 cents here either.
There were endless streams of boys with toy guns – the toy stall surely made the best profits that day. In our own time we wandered back towards the dance area and found Pensoc who was telling us he had been around and up to the gate 4 times looking for us; we’d been gone 10 minutes.
After lunch up near the village where the Divine Madman’s temple is located we started the long drive back to Paro. The weather remained beautiful and so during the journey back we could see the mountains around us and with the distant waft of freedom we enjoyed the sunroof open and warm breeze flowing in. We arrived in Paro late afternoon, stopping on the outskirts to watch a womens darts game and went to the hotel we first stayed at getting a room in the main part of the hotel this time.
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