The eight manifestations of Guru Rinpoche and other stories I cannot remember

Trashi Chhoe DzongLast day in Thimphu already. How dull! We have agreed to leave for the tsechu at 7 am to stand a chance against the expected crowd. This being the last day of the tsechu also means the most people will be present. I wonder how it can be possible to squeeze in even a single person more than yesterday and shudder at the thought of finding a good spot. We quickly check out from the hotel and I load all my surplus bananas Jasu’s friends gave me into the trunk of the car and we speed off towards the dzhong. The weather is looking up and the sun is shining on a blue sky. Over at the dzhong I realize I am still carrying the heavy metallic room key, how can you forget an item like that in your pocket? After a mild wait in line and some security checks we enter the courtyard and a quick look around confirms my fears, it looks crowded to say the least, and we only find some spots at the end of the farthest side of the courtyard. I will have to make good use of my telescopic lens. The highlights of the day Not exactly the best seats in the houseinclude the dance of the eight manifestations of Guru Rinpoche, but the performances quickly have to take a step back in front of crowd control.

There are maybe ten or fifteen rows of seated people in front of us, then follows a half a meter wide path for spectators to move along, and then we stand in the first line of a standing crowd which extends backwards towards the end of the courtyard. Problem is every now and then some moron decides to sit down in front of us thereby blocking the pathway and pissing of the policemen assigned to crowd control, and they then start pushing the rest of us backwards to reopen the lost space, while the frustrated onlookers behind are pushing in the opposite direction. This eventually returns the situation to a status quo until some new lazy bum decides to sit down in the pathway again, letting loose the mayhem and slowly but steadily pushing us farther and farther away from the performance.

While Tshering and I do our best to uphold our position our driver has gone to pick up Jasu and her niece to join us. I don’t really catch much of Old monk, bored monk, young monk, hot monk...what is going on at the scene, and let’s face it, on the third day some masks and costumes are starting to make a second appearance. Isn’t it amazing how quickly the novelty starts to wear off? I pick up my camera and pan around the audience instead, looking for intriguing or beautiful faces to snap, it doesn’t take very long, they’re everywhere around.

When Jasu and the driver return a little while later I realize that it won’t exactly be much of an interesting experience standing in a crowd and pushing and shoving, so we take a break and battle our way through the ranks and sit down and chit chat in the shadow of a temple in the vain hope that more people will grow bored and lessen the pressure a bit. As we hang around we notice a film crew from the Bhutan Broadcasting Service walking around looking for targets of opportunity, and it doesn’t take Tshering long time to set up an interview. I don’t really remember how it came about, but anyone really knows what happened yours truly is standing in front of the camera dropping useless comments about the tsechu, while some guy A penny for your thoughts?who happened to sit nearby is capturing the whole thing with my camera. That night I watched in vain for any appearance on the BBS newsreel, but there were no interviews present, guess they went straight into the cylindrical archive…

The weather has turned a bit cloudy and we sneak up and sit in the steep stairs of a temple facing the courtyard, finally a chance to see what is going on up front again. However, at this stage Tshering and I are deeply involved in a discussion about Bhutanese beauty ideals and we are zooming around the audiences with the camera to illustrate our opinions. We are joined by a pair of boy monks who take the camera for a spin as well.

I am reluctantly realizing that my time in Bhutan is starting to disappear fast. At noon we take Jasu and her niece with us for lunch at the usual Orchard Hotel. After saying farewell we pack our remaining gear and prepare for our drive back to Paro. Before we go Tshering has offered to show me his new apartment in Thimphu so we drive there first for a quick lookaround. He’s just acquired it Drum up some support!and haven’t begun moving in any furniture yet. We sit down for some quick tea and waste a few minutes talking more trash and then head back to the car again. As we walk past some wild bushes he asks me if I have noticed exactly what it is that is growing in vast quantities in the middle of the neihbourhood. Of course I haven’t. A closer inspection reveals very familiar looking finger-shaped leaves of the hemp plant. Apparently the government makes some half-hearted attempts at reducing these, but as can be seen there is still an extra mile to walk.

At half past four we are back in the car and our driver races along the hillsides in an improvised Bhutanese rally cross challenge towards Paro. The weather has turned to boring rain and the traffic is heavy, with lots of people commuting back home after the tsechu. We spend the time in the car talking about old times and our teenage years. Tshering has some amusing stories about his life in school as a fashionable hip-hoper and trouble maker. Outside though, it gets more and more dull and dark, and after passing the checkpoint for Paro region Faces in the crowdthe journey becomes uneventful. We reach Paro in the early evening and there isn’t much to do but sit down at the hotel and finally write all those postcards I have been putting off until the last minute, pretty much as usual… I go to bed fairly early to prepare for tomorrow’s insane early morning flight to Bangkok, nervous as usual that I will not wake up on time.

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