Monday, October 28, 2013

Lhabab Duechen

Bhutan has many public holidays, and when they fall on a Saturday like this week we are rewarded with a real two day weekend. The public holiday was to celebrate the Descending Day of Lord Buddha, or Lhabab Duchen in Dzongkha.

Bhutanese believe that by making a pilgrimage and performing prayers and other rituals on a sacred day like this they will gain 10 million times the usual merit, so a number of hikes to temples were planned by school staff. I was invited to join some teachers on a pilgrimage to a temple in Tang that involved meeting at 2.30am for an early start. They lost me there: it is freezing cold here and the thought of leaving my bed so early in the morning was out of the question. May they accumulate vast merit for their willingness to brave the cold!

Bob received an invitation from Mr Lhabab the home teacher for class 4 to their class picnic. It so happened that Mr Lhabab was celebrating his birthday: he was named after the auspicious day of his birth! They planned to walk to the village of Hurjee 15 minutes from here and then hike beyond to Numbor Lhakang high on a hill. Bob had done some off road biking in that area and knew where the temple was, and thought it would be achievable for us and the boys. The fact is that Remy and Xavier have developed a wonderful ability to hike now and rarely complain, even after walking for hours. They love going for hikes with local kids who hold their hand and entertain them on the way.

So we met Mr Lhabab, his family (including daughter Kuenzang who is in my class) and students at 8.30am and set off for Hurjee. It was an amazingly beautiful morning. Now the monsoon is over, the days are bright and clear and warm. It only takes a little walking to need to strip off the outer layers. The sunshine really accentuated all the colours of nature around us: the vivid blue sky, lush green grass, red stalks remaining after the buckwheat harvest - we marvelled at the beauty in all directions.

Xavier and his buddy Tshewang.

Yeshi holds hands and walks with Remy.


What remains of the buckwheat crop after the harvest.

To celebrate in true Aussie style I made an orange spice cake with icing and had candles to light -  birthday cake, singing and blowing out candles is an uncommon ritual here in Bhutan. Mr Lhabab seemed to enjoy it all immensely and the cake was quickly gobbled up by eager mouths! One student's grandmother had sent along a bottle of home-brewed singchang and we were offered a taste (a bit sour and rustic for my liking I'm sorry) before Mr Lhabab and his mother-in-law polished off the rest.

Happy Birthday!
How's that Singchang Mr Bob?
Sonam had a very pretty shiny taego (blouse).

The girls made beautiful headbands from wildflowers.

The boys made more avant-garde headwear from fragrant wild herbs!



Onwards through forest on a steep narrow path which reminded me of walking in the Australian bush, and we finally arrived at the temple. We were immediately greeted by Kuenzang from class 6 offering suja (butter tea) and zhow (crispy rice mixed with butter and sugar). Familiar horns, cymbals and the sound of prayers emanated from inside. Bob commented on how these sounds are now comforting and make him feel relaxed and calm. A number of my class 2 boys were there, climbing trees, breakdancing and wrestling, but took a break to show us around the temple.

If it wasn't for the girls wearing kiras, walking in the hot sun here felt like walking in the bush at home.

Remy and Mr Lhabab's son Ugyen.

I have a very soft spot in my heart for this little fella, Ugyen Tobgay. How will we say goodbye?

Boys being boys.

Be careful up there!

What a cutie! Love his colourful gho and shoes and socks!

Before leaving Numbor Lhakang Bob and I were ushered into a ground floor room of the temple for a cup of ara (rice wine). Woah! It was strong and I must say I left there feeling quite light headed in the midday sun. These Bhutanese don't muck around with  their drinks - a standard beer is 8% and I don't want to know what percentage alcohol ara is!

Tashi Delek!

It was time for lunch so we returned to the field where we had our cake before and sat in a circle to share around the curries. I love this style of picnicing in Bhutan - so friendly and always so tasty. Today the offerings were all vegetarian, and there was some particularly fiery ema-datsi going around. Its amazing that even young children are obsessed with hot chilli!

Mr Lhabab's wife Yangchen serves tea to thirsty trekkers.

Lots of smiles and laughs and games after lunch.


It is not a lie to say Kuenzang did not stop talking all day!
Remy loves days like these in the great outdoors.


On the walk home we heard that the Chumey Pong tshechu that we've been hearing rumours about was scheduled to begin at 3pm, just giving us time to pop in at home to put on some warmer clothes for the evening. Chumey Pong is the temple about a fifteen minute climb straight up the hill behind our house.

It turns out this was a short version of a tsechu, lasting only a couple of hours. I snapped a few pics before we were asked not to take photos. Due to the very short notice, only a small crowd was gathered. Mr Lhabab said the whole tshechu was to honour the 5th King of Bhutan.

The boys enjoyed throwing sticks and branches on the purification fire.

The tshechu begins.

Monks in a haze of smoke and late afternoon sunshine.

Monks in warrior costume at the front of the very impressive Chumey Pong monastery.

Monks dressed in warrior costumes performed a modern and theatrical series of dances unlike any other tshechu we've seen. In the centre of the circle of dancers was a mound of grass with black flags that represents 'the demons' which I think represent the defilements of our mind. In turn the monks used bows and arrows, swords and spears to 'kill' the demons. Finally they danced a victory dance with modern sounding Bhutanese music. It was a really fascinating show that was easy to understand. As the monks left the courtyard, other monks came with large boxes filled with tsog (blessed offerings). Children lined up with plastic bags and monks came and filled them with handfuls of rice crackers, cornflakes, and packaged sweets, chocolates and chips. Just like a Bhutanese halloween!

In the last minutes of light we ran down the hill to the warmth of home - as Bob said, we couldn't have fitted more into this day if we'd tried. And by watching tshechus, making prostrations and spinning prayer wheels we hopefully accumulated much merit (not sure what the singchang and ara will do to our tally though ;))