Festival Tour

This annual gathering of Bhutan’s nomadic highlanders in the central valley of Bumthang is your unforgettable opportunity to learn and experience how the nomads of Bhutan’s northwestern and northeastern Himalayan frontiers live. Gain insights into how these proud communities which form a rich part of Bhutan’s ethnic diversity have survived with their cultures intact to this day. Witness the grand pageantry of the Chipdrel, a ceremonial procession reserved for royalty, see some of the toughest highlanders in the country demonstrate their skills in keyshey or traditional Bhutanese wrestling and participate in friendly contests of archery, khuru (wooden dart throwing), soksum (a light spear or javelin) and dego (similar to horseshoethrowing but with rocks). Sample some nomadic cuisine, and if you’re truly brave, try the fiery hot national dish of Ema Datshi to the accompaniment of highlander staples prepared from maize and buckwheat flour.

Regional Background
The two major nomadic tribes in Bhutan, the Brokpas of the east and the Layaps of the west, inhabit some of the most rugged terrains in the country. Their economy depends heavily on yaks, evident in the many ways in which these animals feature in their celebrations, and although both communities are gradually entering in the cash economy, a greater part of their livelihood still depends on ancient bartering practices. This journey into the sacred heartland of Bhutan also provides the added bonus of access to a series of the most exquisite temples and monasteries in the entire kingdom.

Things to See and Do atthe Gathering
Dress like a Bhutanese highlander and try on an entire ensemble spun from yak hair, including the Brokpa black hat with the five long fringes down the front or the conical bamboo Layap headgear. For the ladies, try your hair done in traditional plaits and brightly colored ribbons. Or wear the wide beautiful apron that is tied at the waist and decorated with colorful motifs of flowers and animals.

Step into a yak herder’s tent and enjoy a meal as a traditional nomadic family would, in a cross-legged circle around the stone hearth in the middle. Shop for some of the finer examples of Bhutanese arts and crafts, catch an artisan breathing life into a bronze statue, a blacksmith forging a sword, a demonstration of a potter’s molding skills, the spinning of yak hair into weaving yarn.

You may also be interested in the festival-wide demonstrations of traditional Bhutanese village life. See how ancient millstones are still used for grinding maize, how rice harvests are pounded to separate the grain from the husk and ox-drawn ploughs are used to till the fields. All this and so more provides an intimate glimpse of the nomadic life.

Getting There
On arrival at the International airport in Paro, drive to the capital, Thimphu. Continue to Bumthang on the national highway that links Eastern Bhutan to the west. The drive along the winding mountain roads will take you over three high passes with incredible Himalayan views. From Wangdue, drive straight to Bumthang or overnight in Trongsa, with the longest fortress in Bhutan. Expect a total eight hours on the road from the capital to Bumthang with plenty of time to take in the stunning sights.

For event details/date, Please contact us at:info@bhutanwilderness.com

Location:Town festival ground, Haa District
Festival date: 4th & 5th July
Alpine Festival in the Mythic Valley of the Guardian Spirit
Mythic Valley of the Guardian Spirit
Explore the high alpine valleys of Haa, a region blessed with glittering peaks and pristine lakes. Learn about the nomadic life and tap into the ancient cultural rhythms of Bhutan with the sanguine Haaps, as the regions people are known. Among the highlights of this journey will be an opportunity to sample home-cooked delicacies favored in the region, washed down with the fiery ara brew that the locals love to drink. Take a ride on a yak (or a horse), compete in a traditional game of khuru, archery and soksum, Bhutans answer to the Javelin throw (albeit a light one) and enjoy the folk songs and mask dances which underpin the seasonal celebration in this colorful part of Bhutan. Be among the few travelers to discover the Mythic Valley of the Guardian Spirit, a region that is a journey in itself or a wonderful gateway to your Bhutan experience.

Regional Background
Ancestral home to the Dorji family, the people of Haa inhabit the high valleys above 3,000 meters. Strong-boned and resilient, the people of Haa are devout and hardworking yak herders and farmers who cultivate high altitude crops such as wheat, potatoes, barley and millet. Their religious life revolves around the appeasement of Buddhist and Shamanic (Bon) deities and entities including Ap Chhundu, their guardian spirit, believed to protect all people born in Haa.

Things to See and Do
Like most Bhutanese people, the Haaps love their food. At the Alpine festival, look for Haapi Hoentoe, the hearty dumplings made from buckwheat and filled with pungent grated turnip, dried turnip greens, mushrooms, garlic, onion, and chopped cabbage, with flavours enhanced by ginger, ground walnut, chilli-powder, salt butter, sesame, and poppy seeds. Among other recommended delicacies: the fiery national dish, Ema Datshi, which is served in Haa with a regional twist that features yak cheese instead of regular diary; and, if your diet doesnt restrict it, tender slices of yak meat served prosciutto-style with local drinks.

In song and dance, the Haaps have especially honed their skills on the long and sonorous Haapi Ausa, which extols the virtues of their yaks. Generally sung while tending yaks, they are also performed as a wistful farewell to family members embarking on long journeys. The people of Haa are also passionate about archery and the competition between village teams can be fierce. Dont expect to see silent moments of concentration with polite clapping for a keen shot; instead laughter, singing and friendly taunts prevail. At the Alpine festival take the opportunity to dance with the lively Haaps or test your skills with the traditional bows and arrows.

Stop by the temple dedicated to Ap Chhundu and hear the caretaker recount timeless tales of the old guardian or visit the fortress of Wangchulo Dzong. Another interesting monument, the five-storey Dobji Dzong, sits perched on a dramatic hill on the old highway to Haa, near the confluence of the Wangchu and Paachu rivers.

Other places of interest include Lhakhang Karpo, or Temple of the White Dove, and Lhakhang Nagpo, the Temple of the Black Dove, both of which date to the 7th century, forming part of a larger complex of temples at the foot of three mountains collectively known as Rigsum Gonpo.

Schedule your visit during annual Haas Alpine Festival tosee the weaving and making of a yak hair tent from scratch! Expect to see a variety of yak products on display including coveted bundles of white yak tails (which are believed to bring good luck to ones home), learn about the traditional process of yak shearing and wool-making, and see how yak dairy is turned into delicious traditional meals that showcase the culinary traditions of Haa. Since people of Haa are also known for their skills in the traditional 13 Arts and Crafts of Bhutan, you are also likely to stumble on beautiful one-of-a-kind bargains crafted from gold, silver, bronze, clay, slate, and wood.

As an added highlight, be sure to catch the Nublang Cattle show at the Alpine Festival. A breed of cattle unique to the Haaps, the Nublangs trace their origins to a legendary lake called the Nub Tshonapata, located in the western mountain ranges. According to a local myth, this special breed of cattlewas granted as a present to a herder from Haa for his kindness to a deity of the lake.

The Haa valley is also great for hiking and nature sightseeing. Walk along one of Haas centuries-old trails to see mountain slopes covered with Primula Pedicularis, Ranaculus, Aster, and several types of ferns. Also expect to see white poppies and beautiful fir trees and crystalline streams filled with rainbow trout.

River kayaking, an emerging sport in Bhutan, and the Haa chu river provides one of the few opportunities for a great paddle in Bhutan suitable for most skill levels. A sojourn in Haa provides the perfect opportunity to experience life in a traditional Bhutanese home. A small collec-tion of traditional farmhouses, each able to host four to six people, have been identified to provide travelers with accommodations while enabling them to have a taste of Bhutanese life up close. Camping under the stars is the other option in this region.

Getting There
Haa is literally a hop and a skip away from the international airport in Paro. Following your arrival, either spend the night in Paro or drive the same day to Haa, a mere two hours over the Chelela Pass.

We have designed this program to experience Bhutan from the historic west to the spiritual central valleys and to the remote and the least explored regions of Far East coinciding with local festival( Wangshing Rabney in Lhuntse – one of the most isolated districts in the country famous for its weavers, and their distinctive textiles and the ancestral home of the kings.

As we travel from west to east, we can have varieties of experiences. It has everything in it; from picturesque farmland and ancient forest, to alpine pasture and high passes which offers panoramic views of eastern Himalayas are amongst its many highlights. Whilst, a number of strategically located fortress-monasteries and scattered settlements, provide a full measure of cultural interest.

At the festivals, you can see the ancient old religious mask dances that are performed by both monks and laymen in brilliant costumes re-enacting the legendary events, accompanied by blaring horns, booming drums, and clashing cymbals as they whirl and leap around the ancient old courtyard of a Dzong (Fortress). Crowds of people gather in their finest hand woven dress, brightly patterned cloth for which these regions are renowned for, creating an intensely colorful and exciting atmosphere that had remained unchanged in its traditional purity for centuries.

For event calendar and trip cost, Please contact us at: info@bhutanwilderness.com

Merak and Sakteng: Twin Jewels of the East
Long closed to outsiders, the beautiful far flung regions of Merak and Sakten present Bhutan travelers with the unique opportunity to see two of the least known valleys in the kingdom. Take a trek to the sacred mountain of Jomo Kuengkhar in Merak (from where it is said the plains of India are visible a clear day) witness the yak dances unique to the region or catch a performance of the famous nomadic opera, Ache Lhamo. Experience the stark wilderness and the simple generosity of the Brokpa people, learn how their traditional garb is still fashioned from yak skin and listen to timeless tales of the yeti which form an inseparable part of Brokpa lore. Journey into the hidden valleys of Merak and Sakteng and discover the exquisite eastern wilderness of Bhutan.

Regional Background
Situated at an altitude over 3,500 meters, the exotic valleys of Merak and Sakten have been home to the Brokpas for centuries since their displacement from Tsona in Southern Tibet. The nomadic indigenous group of eastern Bhutan, the Brokpas seasonally move their herds of livestock from the lower valleys in the winter to the higher pastures in the summer. While polygamy is a prevailing practice as well, marriage among Brokpa couples is a convergence of practical consideration and sacred responsibility, with elaborate rituals to seal the union. Like the rest of Bhutan, they are fond of archery and are skilled in games of accuracy. Women are particularly well-known for their singing and they love to perform from their wide repertoire of festive songs dedicated to gods and goddesses, as well as the universal themes of nature, youth and old age.

Brokpas prefer to wear their traditional attire spun from yak hair. Traditional wear for men comprise a black hat with five long fringes hanging from the sides. The upper part of their body is covered by a thick jacket with a vest of animal hide tied at the waist by a long belt known as a kera. For the lower part of the body, traditional fashion dictates a knee length pair of shorts called kongo. Women usually wear their long hair tied up in plaits with colorful ribbons. An apron reaching to their knees is tied at the waist. Woven out of raw silk, the women’s dress is designed with colorful motifs of animals and flowers. Fond of jewelry, they wear long strands of corals, cat’s eyes and necklaces of semi precious stones.

Things to See & Do
The diverse rituals and customs of the Brokpa people make Merak and Sakten an interesting place to visit, especially each autumn when they honour their mountain goddess Jomo Kuengkhar by observing a two-day festival to seek her blessings for prosperity. The festival is also an occasion to witness the annual naked terchaam dances of the Brokpas and the cultural splendor of the AcheLhamo dances performed by herders annually tohonour another feminine divinity sacred to their people.

There are several interesting temples and monasteries in both valleys: The Borangtse Lhakhang, the Guru Goemba and Labrang Lhakhang. At the Gengo Tashicholing temple in Merak, established in the 15th century, it is possible to see the remains of its founder. In the Samtencholing Lhakhang it is possible to view what is purportedly the ancient saddle and the phallus of goddess Jomo’s horse. The Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary is spread over 650 sq. kilometers and is the only reserve in the world dedicated to protecting the habitat of the yeti or abominable snow man. The sanctuary is mountainous and rugged and boasts a diverse variety flora and fauna. Populations of snow leopard, red panda, Himalayan black bear, barking deer and the Himalayan red fox have been recorded in the region. The park also has rare blue poppies, Bhutan’s national flower. Primulas and gentiana that explode in a riot of colors in the spring. The avian population of the park includes hoarybellied Himalayan squirrel, Assamese macaw, blood pheasant, grey backed shrike, grey-headed woodpecker, the common hoopoe, rufous-vented tit and dark breasted rose finch.

Getting There
Merak: On landing at the International airport at Paro, drive to Thimphu, the capital. The next day transfer to Bumthang in Central Bhutan and from there to Trashigang, the furthest eastern region of Bhutan. Overnight in Trashigang, and the following morning take the road further east to Chaling village. After Chaling you may either camp for the night at Dangmochu campsite, a wide open meadow or continue the trek a further two hours to camp by the Dangmochu river. From here Merak is an easy walk along the Merak river, also called the Ngera Ama river.
A quicker alternative is to take the domestic flight to Yonphula, an hour’s flying time from Paro. From Yonphula you may drive down into the Trashigang valley some 30 kilometers and then to take the road to Chaling.

Sakteng : Sakteng is better approached from Merak than vice-versa as this route avoids a steep climb over the Nakchungla pass. From Merak a full day’s trek brings you to the riverside campground at Miksa Teng, from where it is a gradual three hour walk through some pleasant woods until your arrival in Sakteng.

For your exit from the twin valleys, hike from Saktengto Jonkhar village down the deeply forested slopes. Hike another three hours from Jonkhar to Phongmey and then drive to Trashigang, passing the famous Ranjung Monastery and the rice terraces of Radhi village, often called “the Rice Bowl of the East.”

For detail itinerary and trip cost, Please contact us at: info@bhutanwilderness.com

This is one of the rarest and most unique local festival in Bumthang. This three days festival offers the experience of the Buddhist tradition in a setting of unique architecture, and breathtaking Himalayan landscape. The friendly Bhutanese people share with you their traditional lifestyle untouched by outside influence. A trip gives you unique opportunity to experience Himalayan Buddhist culture.

Day 01: Arrive/ Paro
Flying in to 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 Wilderness Travel will welcome you and transfer you to the hotel. In the evening, you can stroll along Paro downtown to see the people and the local stores.
Overnight- Tandiling Resort

Day 02: Taktshang Hike
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.

As you know, normally we go up to the Tiger’s Nest and then turn back but if you like I don’t mind walking extra miles with you. After Tiger’s Nest, we can climb to the temples that are on top of the ridges further up. It’s so peaceful on top and the views are stunning. A perfect place of contemplation! Here you will come across some monks who have not gone down to town for ages – knowing the real nature of this world. There is one elderly monk in particular who had been living here for 25 years in solitude. Perhaps! Depending on if he is not under meditation, we can take some prayer flags and request him to perform a consecration ceremony. To come back, we follow a different path that takes us through the pristine thick forest of oaks and rhododendrons festooned with Spanish mosses.
Overnight – Tandiling Resort

Day 03: Paro/ Thimphu
This morning, take a drive to Thimphu following Pa Chhu downstream till Chuzom where the two rivers meet, and here you can see the three different styles of stupas or chorten commonly found in Bhutan: Nepalese, Tibetan and Bhutanese. The chortens 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, the road follows Thim Chhu and slowly the valley begins to widen as you get nearer to Bhutan’s capital city. 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.You can have free afternoon on your own to walk along the street to see the people and the local stores.
Overnight – Hotel Jhomolhari

Day 04: Thimphu/Punakha
Visit weekend market which takes place from Friday till Sunday evening. This certainly offers the best opportunity to see people from remote places come to sell their agricultural products.
Later, drive to Punakha and one of the highlights of the journey is at Dochu La (3050m), the highest point between Thimphu and Punakha. It provides a spectacular view of the Himalayas to the north when the sky is clear, and it is marked with numerous chortens. In Punakha, we will visit the Dzong that was built by Shabdrung, in 1637, on a strategic place at the confluence of Pho Chhu and Mo Chhu 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 embalm 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 YT

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 the slate which is mined up the 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 Dewachen

Day 06: Gangtey/Jakar
Today we drive across Pele-la (3,300m), the traditional boundary between western and eastern Bhutan right on the western edge of Black Mountain National Park. Further down the road, stop to visit Chendebji Chorten erected in the 18th century by a Tibetan lama to cover the remains of an evil spirit that was subdued at this spot. It is built in the Nepalese style, with painted eyes at the four cardinal points.

The landscape around Trongsa is spectacular and its impressive Dzong, stretched along a ridge above a ravine, first comes into view about an hour before the winding road suddenly leads you into the town. We will visit the massive Tongsa Dzong. It was Shabdrung’s great – grandfather who founded the first temple at Tongsa in 1543. In 1647 the Shabdrung had begun his great work of expansion and unification, realizing all the advantages that could be gained from Tongsa’s position; he constructed the first Dzong at the place where his ancestors had erected the temple. The Dzong was called Choekor Rabtentse. In 1652, Minjur Tenpa, the Penlop of Tongsa, had the Dzong enlarged. The Dzong is built in such a way that in the old days, no matter what direction a traveler comes from, he was obliged to pass through the courtyard of the Dzong. This helped to make the Penlop of this Dzong as powerful as it had a complete control over the east – west traffic. The watch tower above the Dzong further strengthened its defense. The father of the first king known as the black regent and the first king served as the Governor of Tongsa before the emergence of the Bhutanese Monarchy, since then it has become a tradition for the young crown prince to serve as the Governor of this place before he is crowned. After visit to the courtyard of the dzong we continue our drive to Yotung La (3425m). With half an hour drive we reach Chumi, the first of the four valleys in Bumthang, and find out a nice spot to have picnic lunch. On our further drive to Bumthang, we will make a brief stop at Zugney Village, where we will see the weavers weaving the famous Bumthang fabric known as Yathra.
Overnight – Mountain Lodge

Day 07: Day at the festival
This festival is celebrated annually in the fall in honor of Guru Padmasambhava, popularly known as Guru Rinpoche to commemorate his great deeds. Both lay people and monks perform the dances of the Tsechu. The dancers take on the aspects of wrathful and compassionate deities. The dances known as Cham bring blessings upon onlookers, to instruct them in the teachings of the Buddhist Dharma, to protect them from misfortune, and to exorcise evil influences. Deities are invoked during the dances; through their power and benediction, misfortunes may be annihilated, luck increased and wishes realized. It is also a social gathering where the people rejoice together, dressed in their finest clothing and jewelry.
Overnight: hotel in Jakar

Day 08: Jakar
Today, we will hike up to Tharpaling Monastery perched way up on the ridge above Jakar. The path goes up through beautiful and virgin conifer forest with occasional view of snowcapped mountains in the north. It’s a treat, to be on top of the ridge after the long climb. A perfect place of contemplation!
Overnight – Mountain Lodge

Day 09: Jakar/sightseeing
Bumthang is the general name given to a group of four valleys – Chumey, Choekhor, Tang and Ura, with altitudes varying from 2,600 to 4,000m. In the morning we will visit Kurje Lhakhang, one of the most sacred places in the kingdom as Bhutan’s “patron saint”, Guru Rinpoche (Padmasambhava) meditated here. From Kurje monastery, a tarmac road heads south along the right bank of the river to Jambey Lhakhang. This temple, erected by the Tibetan king Songtsen Gampo in the 7th century, is one of the two oldest in Bhutan (the other being Kyichu Lhakhang in Paro).
After lunch, we will visit Tamshing Lhakhang, founded in 1501 by Pema Lingpa. It contains interesting and ancient Buddhist wall paintings. Later, we will visit Jakar Dzong, “the castle of the white bird”, and then take a stroll through Bumthang’s market area before returning to the lodge.
Overnight – mountain Lodge

Day 10: Jakar/ Punakha
After breakfast you will resume your journey to Punakha from the same road you had come. We will have several stops for pictures or sightseeing if we had missed any during our incoming.
Overnight; Hotel YT

Day 11: Punakha/ Paro
After breakfast resume your journey to Paro. Crossing Dochula Pass you will arrive at Simtokha dzong, visit the old fortress, now used as the Institute for traditional studies for lay men and women. Continue your drive to Thimphu, lunch will be served here. After lunch resume your journey to Paro, en route visit the 15th Century Tamchogang Temple.
Overnight: Tandiling Resort

Day 12: Departure
After breakfast in the hotel, drive to the airport in time to catch up your onward flight. Your escort from Bhutan wilderness travels will bid you farewell, and soon the remote and legendary Dragon Kingdom disappears again behind its guardian mountains.

At different times of the year, annual festivals known as “Tsechus” take place in different locations around the kingdom. Tsechus are festivals extolling the great deeds of the Buddhist saint Padsambhava, who is also known as “Guru Rinpoche”. As these great deeds are believed to have all taken place on the 10th day of a month in the Bhutanese lunar calendar, so all Tsechus take place around the 10th day of the month – in fact, the word “Tsechu” means “the 10th day”. All districts, and a large number of villages in the east, have annual Tsechu festivals which attract people from various places. Tsechus are celebrated for several days (three to five).The dances at the festival are being performed by monks, laymen or Gomchens, and the repertory is practically the same everywhere. Some Tsechus end with the displaying of a huge appliqué Thanka called “Thongdroel”. The Thongdroel is unveiled at first light to bring enlightenment to all who view it. The faithful believe that by simply viewing this Thongdroel, they can be delivered from the cycle of reincarnations. For the Bhutanese, religious festivals offer an opportunity to become immersed in the meaning of their religion and gain much merit but they are also occasions for seeing people, and being seen.

People wear their finest clothes, their most beautiful jewels; they take out picnics rich with meat and alcohol. Men and women joke and flirt. An atmosphere of convivial, slightly ribald good humor prevails. Some trips focus on a particular festival while others incorporate a festival into a longer itinerary. Attending a festival can be an interesting way to observe Bhutanese culture as they are joyous and very colorful occasions. The larger festivals in Paro, Thimphu and Wangdiphodrang are now attracting so many people, be it foreign visitors or locals. If you visit Bhutan when these festivals are taking place, you should expect to see many other travelers. Actually, if you are here for a smaller village festival, the atmosphere tends to be more relaxed when the tourism infrastructure is not operating at its maximum capacity.

DAY ONE

Dance of the Lord of Death and his Consort (Shinje Yabyum)
Costume: Brocade long dress, buffalo mask.
Dance of the Black Hats (Shana)
Costume: Large black hat, felt boots, colorful brocade long dress, no mask.

The black hat dancers assume the appearance of yogis who have the power to destroy and create life. They protect the good and destroy the evil. The Black Hat dancers perform the ritual firstly by building a tantric mandala and then cutting the demons into pieces. Thus they take possession of the earth in order to further protect it, and they dance the thunderbolt step to impress their power on it.

Dance of the Black Hats with Drums (Shana Ngacham)

When the black hats dancers have destroyed the malevolent enemies of the Doctrine, they beat the great drums of Buddhism. The sound of the drums represents the religion, which cannot be represented in any other way because it has no visible form.

Dance of the Four Stags (Shacham)
Costume: Knee length skirts, deer masks.

When Ugyen Rimpoche subdued the King of the Wind (also the Lord of the North/West Direction) who was creating misery in this world, he rode the stag (the mount of the Lord of the Wind) and established peace and happiness. As a blessing, the first of the incarnations of Nam Nying (Namkhe Nyingpo), who was the Guru’s disciple, found the effigy of the face of a stag and so the dance of the White stag came into being. During this dance, the gratitude of the pious people is demonstrated to all the beings destined to be converted in the future. After all the agitations of the world have been overcome, happiness and peace will reign supreme.

Dance of the Three Kinds of Ging (Peling Ging Sum)

Costume: The Ging wear knee length skirts. For the dance with the sticks they wear animal masks. And for the dance with the drums and for the dance with the swords they wear colorful terrifying masks.

The demon Nyulema wears a human yellow mask and appears with the atsaras (clowns) before the dance. The origin of the happiness of all beings in the three worlds is the religion of the Buddha. To propagate this religion in the world, one must listen to the teaching and then practice thinking and meditating. Any kinds of demons who create obstacles are called Jyungpo Nyulema. There are many means by way of magical formulas to subdue these malevolent beings. The great “treasure discoverer” Pemalingpa saw the three kinds of “Ging”, who are emanations of Ugyen Rimpoche. This was the blessing received which explained how to subdue the Nyulema by magic.

Although the Nyulema fled anywhere in the Three Worlds, the Ging with sticks can find them thanks to their foreknowledge. They catch them with the hook of compassion, beat them with the stick of wisdom and tie them with the noose of compassion. The Ging with the swords purify the atmosphere from bad deeds such as killing, robbery or the separation of oneself from one’s tutelary deity (Yidam), caused by the Nyulemas. The Ging with the swords send minds to the paradise of pure consciousness, while they use as sacrificial offerings their body of flesh and blood. After these Demons have been vanquished, the Ging with the drums dance with happiness. They beat the drums of the religion, which is thus propagated.

Accompaniment Dance (Kyecham)

Costume: Knee length yellow skirt, bare feet, and animal mask with sword in the right hand.

Dance of the Noblemen and the Ladies (Pholey Moley)

Once upon a time in a Kingdom called Nadem in the north of India, there was a King called Norzang who had five hundred queens. One day the son of a hunter received a favor for saving the life of a serpent deity: he could borrow from this deity the noose that could catch anything. With it he caught the daughter of King Driza, called Yodrongma, who was blessed with incomparable beauty and offered her to King Norzang. He became so passionately attached to her that the rest of the queens felt ignored, so they plotted with Hari, the scarificator, to kill her. Hari caused King Norzang’s father to have a dream prophesizing that if the enemies in the North were not vanquished immediately, the Kingdom would not survive. Obeying this command King Norzang was forced to leave his beloved queen, for he was not able to take a lady with him to war. After a tearful farewell she gave him her ring, the white silk covering her head and other souvenirs. He then left for the North and conquered the enemies. When he returned victorious to his country after many battles, he was full of remorse to find that his Yudrongma had fled to her father’s due to the cunning evil schemes formed by the other queens. After many obstacles on the lovers’ path, they are finally united to live happily ever after.

Accompaniment Dance (Kyecham)

Dance of the Stag and the Hounds (Shawa Shachi) – 1st Part.

Long ago, Jetsun Milarepa (1040-1123) was deeply meditating in a hermitage called Nyichangkurta on the border between Nepal and Tibet, when he heard a dog barking and a man shouting. He went outside and saw a red haired stag sweating and trembling with fear. The compassionate Milarepa soothed the stag by singing a religious song, who then forgot all his fear and sat down to the right of Milarepa. Following fast behind, a red dog arrived full of fiery wrath and Milarepa too calmed the temper and allayed the passion of the dog, who then lay down on the left of the great saint. Then the hunter, called Gonpo Dorji came close behind. He was a fierce and strong man carrying a bow and arrows. When he saw the stag and the dog all sitting peacefully by the great saint, he wondered if Milarepa had cast a spell on them, and in his rage he shot poisonous arrows at him. But Gonpo Dorji’s arrow bow broke into pieces, the string of the bow got cut and the arrow turned against him. Gonpo Dorji was full of incredulity and Milarepa told him, “Gonpo Dorji, your arrow is returned, now listen to my song”. As Milarepa was singing, Gonpo Dorji felt remorse for all his actions and confessed all his bad deeds. He promised to take an oath not to sin again and he practiced the religion and gained full realization.

This dance is generally performed like a play in two parts. The first part takes place the first day while the second part is on the second day of the Tsechu. Usually two dogs are portrayed instead of only one. The first part is comical: the hunter’s servant enters and jokes with the clowns. Then comes the hunter crowned with leaves and carrying a bow and arrows, accompanied by his two dogs, dancers wearing knee-length yellow skirts and dog masks. The servants joke very disrespectfully with their master who is preparing to perform a good luck ritual for his hunt. The priest called to perform the ritual does it in ways contrary to the Buddhist tradition, while the atsaras and the servants to go on with their jokes. The second part has a more serious and religious tone. Milarepa appears, wearing a long white dress, a tall red hat and holding a pilgrim’s staff. He sings with a soft voice and has his right hand near his ear. The two dogs, the stag and the hunter arrive in Milarepa’s presence and he converts them with his song. A rope that the dogs and the hunter have to jump over symbolizes the conversion.

DAY TWO

Dance of the Lords of the Cremation Grounds (Durdag)

Costume: White short skirt, White Boots, White Skull Masks.

On the external edges of the Mandala, where the assembly of the secret Tantric deities are residing, there are eight large cremation grounds. Living in the cremation grounds are numerous protectors of the religion (Chokkyong) who are bound by an oath, and among them are the Lords of the Cremation Grounds who protects these areas. Because of a promise they had accepted before, and from which they cannot be diverted even for an instant, these Lords render powerless the assembly of demonic enemies who have violated their oath of not harming the Doctrine. They offer them to the Gods of the Mandala and they reduce them to a mere name. They also help to develop a monk body that follows the doctrine, including teaching and meditation. They show all the beings that revere the doctrine how to perform actions leading to a good rebirth.

Dance of the Terrifying Deities (Tungam)

Costume: Beautiful brocade dresses, boots and terrifying masks.

This very spectacular and dramatic dance has a very deep symbolic meaning. A sacrificial murder is performed. First the dancers representing the Gods try to enclose the evil spirits in a magic circle and then hold them in a box. Then the leader of the Gods uses the sacred dagger, the Phurbu, killing them and delivering them into salvation. He thus saves the world from them. The men and the asuras (demi-gods), who became the enemies of Buddhism and who are impossible to be converted by peaceful means, are converted by Ugyen Rimpoche, who takes the form of Dorji Dragpo “Fierce Thunderbolt”. By slaying these enemies he liberates them into a superior sphere of bliss. By performing such an incredible feat, resulting in the happiness of the human world, he thus helps increase faith in non-illusionary acts.

Dance of the Raksha from Dole Monastery (Dole Raksha Cham)

Costume: The Raksha has a black mask with horns and yellow skirts.

The 4th Temporal ruler of Bhutan, Tenzin Rabgye (1680-1695), wished to do good to his subjects of Shar and Wang. He ordered a bridge to be built on the Wangdi river by a mason named Dragpa from the Village of Rinchengang. In 1685, this builder, along with the people of Shar and Wang, began the construction of the bridge. But what the people built during the daytime the demons undid at night. As the bridge could not be completed the people were left in a fix. The 2nd Je Khempo, Seunam Oezer (1672-1689), who was at that time residing in the Wangdiphodrang Dzong, dreamt of a black man who told him that to overcome the obstacles created by the demons a new dance which had never been performed before had to be created. When everyone came to see the dance, the demons too would be attracted to come and watch, and then when the demons had their attention on the dance, the middle pillar of the bridge must be established and the consecration performed immediately. In this way the demons would not be able to harm the structure.

The Je Khempo remembered that during the construction of the Wangdiphodrang Dzong, there had been a prophecy given by Yeshey Gonpo to the Shabdrung. The Je Khenpo realized that this was also a prophecy from Yeshey Gonpo. He immediately sent for the dancers, masks and costumes from the monastery of Dole. The festival began, many people came and among them was the water deity of the Wangdi bridge and his retinue of demons. As their attention was turned away from the river, the pillar was built in the river and the consecration performed at once. While at the Dzong all the other dances were finished, the Raksha dancer alone went on performing a number of dances such as the Bja Cham, Teucham, Gyucham, Kansi and Gosi, until the work on the bridge was completed. As soon as the bridge was completed the dancer disappeared without a trace. By the time everything was over, the demons realized that it was too late and they were powerless. For the happiness of the Bhutanese people, and in order to prevent any other harm, a mandala dedicated to the Buddha Mitrupa (Akshobya) was placed in the middle of the bridge.

Dance of the Judgment of Dead (Raksha Marchm)

Costume: The Raksha has a black mask and a yellow skirt

Dance of the Drum Beaters (Dramitse Ngacham)

Costume: Knee length yellow skirts, animal masks, big drums and drumsticks.

Dance of the Stag and the Hounds (Shawa Shachi) – 2nd Part

DAY THREE

Dance of the Heroes (Pacham)

Costume: Knee length yellow skirts and golden crowns (rina), no mask. They are holding a small bell (drilbu) and a small drum (Damaru).

The great “Treasure Discoverer” Pemalingpa arrived at the Zangdopelri, a marvelous palace of lotus beams which reflected his infinite wisdom as large and deep as the sky. There he arrived in the presence of Ugyen Rimpoche, the Lord who leads the beings of the Three Worlds, sitting with his disciples in the center of a limitless mandala made of lines of rainbow beams. Within the mandala, the assembly of sages, tutelary deities, heroes (pawos) and heroines (Khandoms pamo) were dancing in the form of the various emanations of the peaceful and terrifying deities. All sorts of dances were performed and every kind of harmonious melody was sung, with the sounds of the religion of the Great Path (Northern branch of Buddhism). Among this congregation, the assembly of the heroes and the heroines is the most important. They are as numerous as the moving clouds and their function is to lead the souls of the beings who follow the true faith into the presence of Ugyen Rimpoche, where eternal happiness is attained.

Dance of the Lord of the Cremation Grounds (Durdag)

Dance of the Tsholing and the Ging (Ging Tsholing)

Costume: The Tsoling have long colorful dresses and wear terrifying masks. The Ging wear orange skirts, terrifying black masks with a flag on top and hold a big drumstick.

Dance of the Eight Manifestations of Guru Rimpoche (Guru Tshen Gye)

Ugyen Rimpoche is the second Buddha and the incarnation of Avalokiteshvara (Thuje Chenpo), Lord of Compassion. When Buddha was about to Enter Nirvana he told his disciples, “Do not be sad, I will come again from the West”. Thus he reappeared as Ugyen Rimpoche, “Master of the Great Teaching Without Any Attachment”. All the virtues of Buddha’s body speech and mind were summed up in Ugyen Rimpoche, who vowed to guide the beings of this world through his eight manifestations.

1. Guru Tshokye Dorji meaning diamond thunderbolt, born from the Lake Danakosha on a blue lotus in Oddhiyana, and adopted by King Indrabhuti.

2. He renounced his Kingdom and went to receive teachings from the Master Prabhahasti in the Maratika Cave in Nepal. Thus he was called Guru Shakya Sengye “the Lion of the Shakya Clan”.

3. After having listened to all the teachings of the Vajrayana “the Diamond Path”, and after having mastered the Science of the Pandits, he obtained full realization and was able to see the Gods and the Tutelary deities (yidam). Then he was called Guru Loden Chogsey “Guru who acquired the Supreme Knowledge”.

4. After his marriage with the daughter of the King of Zahor, he was condemned by the king to be burnt. But Guru turned the pyre into a lake and converted the Kingdom to Buddhism. Thus he was called Guru Padmasambhava “Born from the Lotus”.

5. When he returned to Oddhiyana, the evil chiefs of the country wanted to burn him but the fire would not do so, so they offered him the Kingdom. Thus he came to be called Guru Pema Gyelpo “Lotus King”.

6. When he was preaching to the Khandoms in the eight cremation grounds, he caught the “life force” of the evil deities and made them the protectors of the Doctrine. Thus he was called Nima Ozer “the Sunbeam”.

7. He vanquished the enemies of the Doctrine by the Sheer power of his words and then brought down the thunderbolt and burnt them. Thus he came to be called Sengye Drathok “One who Conquers the Enemy with a Lion Voice”.

8. When he was at Sengye Dzong in Kurtoe and at Taktsang in Paro, he was in the form of “Dorji Dragpo”. He subdued all the evil force and came to be called Dorji Droloe, “Thunderbolt”.

Dance of the Sixteen Fairies (Rigna Chudrug)

These rare dances are performed during the annual two-day festival in December where family members from Samdang dung and Ngang Lhakhang Chhoejey lineage play a central role.
Before the start of the Tshechu the protecting deity, Genyen Jagpa Meloen, is received from the house of dung in Samdang village. The people of Thedung household lead the eight Zheps (noblemen dancers) and eight Pazaps known as Threps (tax bearers) to the lhakhang.
Enroute to the lhakhang the people from the Ngang Lhakhang chhoejey lineage receive the procession.
While members of the Ngang Lhakhang Chhoejey look after the mask dancers Samdangdung members take care of the Pazap and Zheps. During the festival a member from each lineage are required to attend the entire tshechu. Until and unless the festival dismisses for breaks, the representatives of the two families are expected to sit together. The festival starts on the night of the 15th day of the 10th month of the Bhutanese calendar. The Ngang Lhakhang was being built by Lama Namkha Samdrup who is believed to have come from Tibet in the 15th century.
It is said that when he reached the place where the monastery stands today, a beautiful swan or Ngang-ma came flying in circles and landed there. The Lam considered this an auspicious sign and decided to build his monastery there. The monastery thereafter came to be known as Ngang Lhakhang “Swan Monastery” and the valley called Ngang-bi (Swan valley). For centuries, Ngang Lhakhang has served as the seat of direct descendants of Lam Namkha Samdrup, whose ancestry can be further traced centuries back to a powerful monastic lineage in Tibet.

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 Wilderness Travel for the trip will receive you and transfer you to the hotel.
Overnight- Tandiling resort/similar

Day 02: Hike to Tiger’s Nest
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.
As you know, normally we go up to the Tiger’s Nest and then turn back but if you like I don’t mind walking extra miles with you. After Tiger’s Nest, we can climb to the temples that are on top of the ridges further up. It’s so peaceful on top and the views are stunning. A perfect place of contemplation! Here you will come across some monks who have not gone down to town for ages – knowing the real nature of this world. There is one elderly monk in particular who had been living here for 25 years in solitude. Perhaps! Depending on if he is not under meditation, we can take some prayer flags and request him to perform a consecration ceremony. To come back, we follow a different path that takes us through the pristine thick forest of oaks and rhododendrons festooned with Spanish mosses.
Overnight – Tandiling Resort/ similar

Day 03: Paro/Thimphu
This morning, take a drive to Thimphu following Pa Chhu downstream till Chuzom where the two rivers meet, and here you can see the three different styles of stupas or chortens commonly found in Bhutan: Nepalese, Tibetan and Bhutanese. The chortens 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, the road follows Thim Chhu and slowly the valley begins to widen as you get nearer to Bhutan’s capital city. 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. You can have free afternoon on your own to walk along the street to see the people and the local stores.
Overnight – Hotel Jhomolhari/Similar

Day 04: Thimphu
We will take a drive up the valley towards north along Thim Chhu (river) for a short hike to Cheri Monastery. The short drive through the countryside surrounding Thimphu brings us to the Jigme Dorji Wildlife Sanctuary, the largest protected area in the country. The park is home to several endangered species including the takin, snow leopard, blue sheep, tiger, red panda, and the Himalayan black bear. More than 300 species of birds have been cataloged within the park and it’s so rich in plants.
Our walk begins from the small village of Dodena as we go across the covered bridge over the Thim Chhu to climb up steadily to Cheri, a small monastery perched on the hill with a view over the Thimphu Valley. Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyel built this monastery in 1620, and this is where the first community of monks in Bhutan was established. The monastery is considered very sacred as it contains the ashes of Tempi Nima, the father of the first Shabdrung of Bhutan, and beautiful frescoes of Buddhist saints. Shabdrung also spent three years in retreat here and it’s a renowned meditation place even today. After our visit to the monastery, we descend back the way we came, keeping our eyes open for the goral (wild goat) that are often spotted on the cliffs. Back at the village of Dodena, we will have a picnic lunch along the clean and unpolluted Thimphu River.
Later, back in Thimphu, we will visit Tashichho Dzong, the beautiful medieval fortress/monastery. The massive fortress, whose name translates as the fortress of glorious religion, was initially a smaller structure but took the present form after expansion/reconstruction commissioned by Late Majesty King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck in 1965. Besides being the summer seat of Je Khenpo, Head Abbot, and the central monastic body, it houses some ministries, the secretariat, the Golden Throne of the King of Bhutan and His Majesty’s office. The National Assembly Hall initially in the Dzong has since 1993 moved to a new location directly across the river.
Overnight – Hotel Jhomolhari/Similar

Day 05: Thimphu/Punakha
We visit Thimphu’s weekend market which takes place from Friday till Sunday evening. This certainly offers the best opportunity to see people from remote places come to sell their agricultural products.
Later, drive to Punakha and one of the highlights of the journey is at Dochu La (3050m), the highest point between Thimphu and Punakha. It provides a spectacular view of the Himalayas to the north when the sky is clear, and it is marked with numerous chortens. In Punakha, we will visit the Dzong that was built by Shabdrung, in 1637, on a strategic place at the confluence of Pho Chhu and Mo Chhu 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 embalm 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 YT/ Similar

Day 06: 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 the slate which is mined up the 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 Dewachen

Day 07: Gangtey/Bumthang
To Tongsa across Pele-la (3,300m), the traditional boundary between western and eastern Bhutan right on the western edge of Black Mountain National Park. Further down the road, stop to visit Chendebji Chorten erected in the 18th century by a Tibetan lama to cover the remains of an evil spirit that was subdued at this spot. It is built in the Nepalese style, with painted eyes at the four cardinal points.
The landscape around Trongsa is spectacular and its impressive Dzong, stretched along a ridge above a ravine, first comes into view about an hour before the winding road suddenly leads you into the town. We will visit the massive Tongsa Dzong. It was Shabdrung’s great – grandfather who founded the first temple at Tongsa in 1543. In 1647 the Shabdrung had begun his great work of expansion and unification, realizing all the advantages that could be gained from Tongsa’s position; he constructed the first Dzong at the place where his ancestors had erected the temple. The Dzong was called Choekor Rabtentse. In 1652, Minjur Tenpa, the Penlop of Tongsa, had the Dzong enlarged. The Dzong is built in such a way that in the old days, no matter what direction a traveler comes from, he was obliged to pass through the courtyard of the Dzong. This helped to make the Penlop of this Dzong as powerful as it had a complete control over the east – west traffic. The watch tower above the Dzong further strengthened its defense. The father of the first king known as the black regent and the first king served as the Governor of Tongsa before the emergence of the Bhutanese Monarchy, since then it has become a tradition for the young crown prince to serve as the Governor of this place before he is crowned. After visit to the dzong, we drive to Yotung La (3425m) On our further drive to Bumthang, we will make a brief stop at Zugney Village, where we will see the weavers weaving the famous Bumthang fabric known as Yathra.
Overnight – Mountain Lodge/Similar

Day 08: Jakar
Bumthang is the general name given to a group of four valleys – Chumey, Choekhor, Tang and Ura, with altitudes varying from 2,600 to 4,000m. In the morning we will visit Kurje Lhakhang, one of the most sacred places in the kingdom as Bhutan’s “patron saint”, Guru Rinpoche (Padmasambhava) meditated here. From Kurje monastery, a tarmac road heads south along the right bank of the river to Jambey Lhakhang. This temple, erected by the Tibetan king Songtsen Gampo in the 7th century, is one of the two oldest in Bhutan (the other being Kyichu Lhakhang in Paro).
After lunch, we will visit Tamshing Lhakhang, founded in 1501 by Pema Lingpa. It contains interesting and ancient Buddhist wall paintings. Later, we will visit Jakar Dzong, “the castle of the white bird”, and then take a stroll through Bumthang’s market area before returning to the lodge.
Overnight – Mountain Lodge/ Similar

Day 09: Jakar/Ngang lhakhang
Today, we will hike to Ngang Lhakhang the “swan valley’ were we have two nights of tented camping to observe the local festival. The hike continues through Thangbi village and long the chamkhar chu.
Upon reaching our campsite we will have opportunity to explore the nearby villages and interact with local.
Overnight: Tented Camp

Day 10: Day at the festival
Before the start of the tshechu the protecting deity, Genyen Jagpa Meloen, is received from the house of dung in Samdang village. The people of thedung household lead the eight Zheps (noblemen dancers) and eight Pazaps known as Threps (tax bearers) to the lhakhang.
Enroute to the lhakhang the people from the Ngang Lhakhang chhoejey lineage receive the procession.
While members of the Ngang Lhakhang Chhoejey look after the mask dancers Samdangdung members take care of the Pazap and Zheps.
During the festival a member from each lineage are required to attend the entire tshechu. Until and unless the festival dismisses for breaks, the representatives of the two families are expected to sit together. There will be full day activities such as mask dances and folk dances perform by local village people.
Overnight: Tented Camp

Day 11: Ngang lhakhang/ Jakar
After thanking the local villagers for letting us to join their annual festival we retrace our journey to Jakar.
Overnight: Mountain Lodge/similar

Day 12: Jakar/ Punakha
After breakfast you will resume your journey to Punakha from the same road you had come. We will have several stops for pictures or sightseeing if we had missed any during our incoming.
Overnight; Hotel YT/Similar

Day 13: Punakha/ Paro
After breakfast resume your journey to Paro. Crossing Dochula Pass you will arrive at Simtokha dzong, visit the old fortress, now used as the Institute for traditional studies for lay men and women. Continue your drive to Thimphu, lunch will be served here. After lunch resume your journey to Paro, en route visit the 15th Century Tamchogang Temple.
Overnight: Tandiling Resort/Similar

Day 14: Departure
After breakfast in the hotel, you will be driven to the airport in time to catch your onward flight. Your escort from Bhutan Wilderness Travel bids you farewell, and soon the remote and legendary Dragon Kingdom disappears again behind its guardian mountains.

Visit Us On Facebook