Festival Dance in Central Bhutan ©Solange Hando
Festivals are held across Bhutan throughout the year, giving everyone a chance to watch sacred dances (above), earn merits for the coming months and laugh at the antics of medieval-style jesters. People walk for days to attend such celebrations and no visit to Bhutan is complete without a festival.
Best known are the five-day long tsechus when in their monasteries, masked dancers sway and twirl on the flagstones to the sound of horns, cymbals and drums. Senior monks and novices take part in the proceedings and the air is full of vibes which echo right across the mountain tops .
Young Monks in Bumthang Festival ©Solange Hando
But most amazing of all are the festivals held in the central valleys of Bumthang. I missed the Naked Dance performed by masked men by just a few days (such a shame, I know), but I was there for the Thangbi Mani, or Fire Blessing, when after days of prayers, scores of people run through burning hay to purify their souls.
There were women and children, friends dragging each other through, men pulling up their collar to protect their hair, farmers and city folks, all in national dress, hoping to make it three times round to ensure good health and good crops.
Thangbi Mani Festival, Fire Blessing ©Solange Hando
Now, would you dare? I must admit I wasn't brave enough and decided to keep my sins. Hopefully there weren't too many...
Fire over, there were picnics by the river and more blessings in the monastery. Crowds gathered in the courtyard or clambered up steps and walls for a better view of the dancing girls clad in the finest traditional dress.
Festival Dance after Fire Blessing ©Solange Hando
Later, they held out their hands for sacred chapattis cooked by the monks while the dark-eyed toddler next to me played with a pink mobile phone.
You could still smell the ash in the air but by then, everyone was relaxed and smiling, as fresh as new, ready for an auspicious year. These young monks said it all, happy to pose for the camera as they sheltered from the sun.
Festival Time in Central Bhutan ©Solange Hando
So if you plan a visit to Bhutan, do check the festival dates, it's a must in this colourful Himalayan kingdom. http://www.bluepoppybhutan.com/about-bhutan/festivals/festival-dates-for-2014/
And if you think Bhutan is expensive, I hope to show you otherwise, in the next blog.