Jul 052017

On our fifth day of this trip, July 2nd, we drove up to the Nyimalung Monastery, for the Bumthang summer festival. We are treated to a day of dancing, shopping and the pleasure of meeting many people from the area.

I love the informal and the sacred, weaving together. The Bhutanese paint sacred symbols on their houses, walk around stupas and chortens (and just about anything) in a clockwise direction. One does not point with the finger, you learn to gesture with your hand, palm up. And here we have the Mahakala dancers walking among the crowd, blessing each of us, as families and children and dogs walk through the dance space. Everyone is dressed in their finest. Everyone is smiling, and my friend Tina engages one of the jesters to the amusement of all.

Here you see Mahakala dancers in action, with jesters poking their phallic dorje wands, the blessings of the dancers moving through the crowd tapping our crown chakras. The eligible unmarried women in the community dance together, giving all the unmarried men an opportunity to weigh their prospects.

July 3rd, we go back to Kurjey to witness the annual unveiling of the largest thangka in the world, of Guru Rinpoche.

There is some doubt that the ceremony will happen, as it was a very rainy night. But the weather breaks, and people start to arrive for this auspicious event.

A very high Lama arrives with entourage, there are some soldiers with weapons, but everything feels serene. The festival continues with more dancing. Some are very modern, even militaristic, like nothing I’ve seen here before.

The next day (4th of July, who cares?) has us exploring a retreat site up on a cliff, where Guru Rinpoche (also known as Padmasambhava, who brought Buddhism to Bhutan 1300 years ago) sheltered. We also spend time in a nearby monastery, whose name I can’t remember, where we have an opportunity to meditate, view sacred relics close up, and rest.

I have a very special evening planned. Back around 2012, I got a very odd Facebook friend request from someone named Ngedup Om, in Bhutan. I accepted it, and it turned out she is a teacher in Mongar, about 8 hours drive to the east of Bumthang. We have been corresponding for five years, and when she finds out I will be that close (during the summer school break!), she and her husband and two children decide to go on a trip to Thimphu, and stop here on the way.

They come and pick me up and take me out to dinner in the nearby town of Chamkhar. There is a huge amount of food, including the national dish – ema datshi (stewed chilis and yak cheese, incredibly hot), rice, and some rabbit. Since they are both teachers, they and their children all speak very good English, although the kids are very shy. I am delighted and honored to finally meet them all.

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