Friday, October 25, 2013

No Naked Men, But Two Inspiring Ladies (Three Tshecus in a Week Part 2)

Word had got around that naked masked dancing (tercham) would be at Jampey Lhakang on Friday night, around midnight. Many locals from Chumey made the trip and they weren’t alone – of all the tsechus that we’ve been to here in Bumthang, Jampey Lhakang tshechu far exceeds the tourist numbers at others by about 10 to 1 (by my estimate). I can't help think it is because of the lure of naked men dancing!

Did we go to see the naked men dancing? No. Why, when clearly hundreds and hundreds of tourists have made their way at great expense from the other side of the world to see it? Well, we live 50 minutes away, we don’t have a car, we have two little boys who like to be asleep at that time (and we don’t have a babysitter we trust), and it is freezing cold and rainy at night – that about sums it up. And I just don't get what all the fuss is about!

Reports from those who went are lacklustre – some say it was intriguing but also strange, poorly organised and a bit weird. A local friend however spoke of the sacredness of the dance, which is needed to chase demons away and allow for safety and prosperity in the year ahead. He told me that in recent years the dancing was banned by the tourism department, but had to be reinstated a year later due to all manner of calamities that occurred in the meantime. If naked men dancing subdues the demons then let it go ahead! Apparently it is a great honour to participate and men are chosen from local households to dance each year. For three nights in a row, they danced  around a fire to keep their naked bodies warm, wearing masks to remain anonymous.

We did attend the five day festival on Saturday afternoon – after leaving school in the morning and arranging to borrow a neighbour's car. Jampey Lhakang, built in 659AD must be one of Bhutan's oldest temples. It looked so different from the day we visited in February when it was deserted except for a few pious elderly folk who spend their days circumambulating and spinning prayer wheels. This time, the colour, festivities and pilgrims brought the whole complex to life.  
For us though, it wasn’t just about attending the festival but also a chance to finally meet two ladies we’ve been in touch with online for the past few months.

Heather and Krista are connected to us via Bob’s cousin Jason’s wife Corrie. For the past four years Heather has come to Bhutan to travel and trek and this year she and Krista took on the most dangerous and challenging trek of them all – the Snowman Trek through the high mountains of Bhutan, near to neighbouring Tibet. It is early autumn and yet even at this time they encountered a three day blizzard, avalanches and treacherous and icy conditions.

Corrie let her friends know about us living and working here and the ladies added my school to the long list of beneficiaries they were already fundraising for. In total they raised more than $17, 000 and have delivered via yak school supplies and warm clothes to children in the high mountains of Bhutan, far away from roads and other access. Heather said at one school they had literally run out of paper and pencils and had no way to buy more up there, so the supplies were particularly useful. In the past Heather has provided funds for bukhari wood heaters for school students in these areas without heating.
Warming up by the fire with Heather (left) and Krista at the Amankora.

Thank you so much ladies for the contribution you have made for my school – a box of fun teen novels for the library, a collection of favourite Steve Parish animal books for the little ones (who are obsessed with Australian animals) and a ream of printed achievement award certificates which I will distribute to teachers to encourage an atmosphere of positivity in the school. Other goodies like pens and stickers will also make great little awards for kids who do well in the upcoming final exams.


I am most impressed at the enormous effort that these ladies went to in advance of their trip – imagine if all of us who take a holiday in the developing world made even a fraction of the effort to give to the communities we travel to. Both women have made connections with organisations, communities and individuals which means they are going so much deeper than the average tourist. Heather is already planning her trip to Bhutan next year and devising new ideas for fundraising. I take my hat off to you and all your friends and colleagues who helped you achieve this. You are really making a difference.
First stop was lunch - most shops only had meat momos, but we finally found one with cheese. It turned out to be run by a Chumey family - this girl is in Class 1 and is responsible for the baby (not sure if he was a brother or not).

Slim pickings for vegetarians!

A few more options here, but no momos!

We do like to have a treat at the tshechu!

I heard that many Chumey folk went to the tshechu as there were many items available at a cheap price. Remy loves shopping - 'I want to buy something'.

Some of the wares available for tourists.

More things to tempt visitors.

Take a break from subduing demons and come and buy a fridge or a washing machine!

For small-town folk like us, going to the tshechu is a chance to buy household items.

If you haven't spent all your ngultrum, you can fritter it away at a row of gambling tents...

Hit the target...

Or try your luck at kuru (darts).

The rear of Jambey Lhakang.

Some Agays having a chat about those naked men!

"Do you think that was Dorji dancing last night?"
An oversize chair was a fun place to sit and eat the cakes a monk gave them.
Ancient doorways are a perfect place to pose.
And it wouldn't be a tshechu without an atsara with a phallus!


  1. It was lovely to meet you and your family Andrea and we were delighted to be able to help with your school supplies, if only in a small way. If it wasn't such a logistical nightmare getting anything to Bhutan we would love to have brought more. Enjoy your last few weeks in Bhutan - it is such a magical place e that, I'm sure, like me, you will be back! Heather

    1. I wanted to tell you that after having the books catalogued they arrived in my library yesterday afternoon. Two of my students asked me if I could lock them in the library all afternoon as they were so excited by the new books and wanted to read them all! The certificates were snapped up by the principal to use for academic awards at the end of the year. I know how hard it is to bring things here, so I really appreciate it. Look forward to a catch up with you and Krista soon x

  2. fantastic stories, Andrea. What a treasure all those books and certificates are!!

    1. Thanks, the kids really appreciate it all :)