Bhutan 8—Drupchen festival at Punakha

As the crow flies, Phobjikha is not far from the valley of the great Sankosh River. But teh altitude drops from 3200 to 1200 meters; we are in a different world. And a different season: from winter to spring. (It’s March 3).

Our first stop is in the village of  Lobesa, to visit another famous shrine. This one is really unique, though. The Chimi Lhakhang was the temple of the “Divine Madman,” 15th-century monk Drukpa Kunley. This monk was famous for, among other convention-defying practices, bringing enlightenment to women by having sex with them. His penis was regarded as a source of great power and protection, and to this day the entire village is decorated with images of erupting penises.

We walk through the valley to the temple site. The fields are lush with new-sprouted wheat, cabbage, peppers, and other produce. The little village among the fields is a solid row of souvenir shops (mostly selling decorated phalluses). Obviously the tourist business is big, here.


The temple itself doesn’t look like much, but inside we each get a standard-issue fertility blessing from the monk in charge of the place: a whack on the head with a wooden phallus and with a metal bow-and-arrow. It seemed pretty perfunctory for fertility magic, but then again the 19-year-old (or so), presumably celibate monk probably doesn’t know much about real fertility magic, and there are no fertile women among us anyway.

Nonetheless, the place was fairly crowded with (mostly Indian) visitors coming to seek this blessing.

A little farther up the river, we come to Punakha, with its beautiful Dzong. Every other dzong seems to be built up on a cliff, to serve as a fortress; this one is situated at the confluence of two rivers, and has a completely different sensibility–notwithstanding its adherence to the same architectural stndards. In this soft light of springtime, at the picturesque riverside setting, it’s just lovely to look at.

But the dzong is not just an art object; it’s an important seat of both government and religion. And today is the last day of the festival which celebrates an ancient military victory, when Tibetan invaders were repelled by local volunteer forces. Volunteer, because Bhutan had no professional army, and still doesn’t. At the festival, the stars of the show are honorary “soldiers” dressed in ancient battle garb. Fittingly, the uniformed men who work crowd control for the event are also volunteers.


Before the formal ceremony, the Warriors build a strong esprit de corps with rowdy marching, singing and dancing.

When the formal program begins, it is a community welcome dance.

Then a long series of ritual dances by the warriors, telling the story of their historic victory, and the protection of the realm. This is just a snippet.

When are exhausted from all the excitement, we retire to the hotel, with its fabulous views overlookiing the entire valley.

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More to come!





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