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Buddha Dordenma

In the morning of 2 Oct, our group woke up early and was ready by 4:30 am to go to Tashi Chhoe Dzong to witness the unveiling of a large thondrol (a large religious painting that can be as large as a 5-storey building, normally of Sakyamuni Buddha or Guru Rinpoche).

Upon arriving at the Dzong, we realized that the unveiling was not happening that morning because the Chief Abbot was at the Buddha Dordenma, a huge Buddha statue that overlooks the Thimphu Valley. We proceeded to the large Buddha. I personally was very excited cause I could see this Buddha looming on the hill in the distance from my hotel room.

As we drove on the snaking road towards the top of the hill, we could see Thimphu city lights glittering in the distance. (I’m such a sucker for city lights).

As we get closer to the top, the road started to get crowded with pilgrims and monks making their way to the Budha in the pre-sunrise morning. Thick fog (or clouds) surrounded the hill, making the 51m-tall Buddha a beautiful mysterious captivating sight.


Our group stood on one side feeling the chill of below 10-degree weather, while also being mesmerized by the sight in front of us. There were up to 5000 pilgrims and monks, clad in saffron threads, making their way that morning.


Upon reaching the side facing the front of the Buddha, the pilgrims performed their prostrations.


Our group, already feeling the energy of the people and the site, followed soon and went into our meditation. I’ve visited many giant Buddha statues, but this was the first time I could feel the presence of an actual large Divine presence, sitting atop the hill, overlooking the valley below.


Large tents were put together for the thousands of pilgrims. They were there that morning to listen for the last time to the 70th Je Khenpo, Chief Abbot, readings of the 108 sutras before he’s replaced by his next successor next year.


Pilgrims continued to come by ascending the main steps overlooking the valley. The shy morning sun and the low-hanging clouds made the sight a magnificent one.


A Bhuthanese prostration involves a series of movements. They clasp their hands in prayer position and place them above the forehead, in front of the throat, and the heart while standing, and bending all the way down in prostration with the head on the ground. This is repeated 3 times.


The 3 levels where the hands are placed represent the ultimate desire to attain the body (ku), speech (sung), and mind (thug) of a Buddha.


Butter lamps are lighted so that wishes may be fulfilled, just like prayer candles.


The 51m-tall Buddha Dordenma statues are surrounded by Dakinis or celestial beings. The statue is made in China, separated into pieces, shipped to Bhutan and assembled in Thimphu.


This gentleman was one of the few gentlemen who went around the grounds with a tin can of burnt Juniper Leaves and local hand-rolled incense. People come up to him to cleanse their malas and themselves in the smoke of this natural incense. This burnt Juniper leaves is probably the strongest incense I’ve ever experienced. The vibration of my mala was greatly increased after a few seconds of being immersed in the smoke. The gentleman was such a lovely soul. He commented on my camera and we exchanged a few words before parting ways. Small connections like this is why I love traveling.


At the end of our visit, we descended down the hundreds of steps, seemingly to go down below the clouds.


My heart was already so full and enchanted by the beauty of this country, and it was only Day 2. To be in Thimphu on that day and to have the opportunity to listen to the Je Khenpo reciting the sutras among the thousands of Bhutanese pilgrims was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience.



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Thimphu Tsechu

The Thimphu tsechu (religious festival) is probably the most grand and popular tsechu in Bhutan. It takes place once a year, over the period of 4 days.

As our group landed in the Paro airport that midday on Oct 1, I was already so eager to witness this festival, see all the colors, and simply be among the people.

As we arrived on the ground of the Trashi Chho Dzong (more familiarly known as the Thimphu Dzong), we were immediately surrounded by the vibrance of colors from the locals’ beautiful Gho (men’s traditional dress) and Kira (women’s traditional dress). A celebratory vibe is in the air! Extremely large and beautiful roses bloom along the little patch of garden on the perimeter of the Dzong. I see smiles all around.

The amazing Trashi Chho Dzong is built in the typical Bhutanese way of no nails and no blueprint. One can see how the building is sagging and curved at some places. Yet, it is still standing strong since the 17th century! Currently the Dzong (just like all the other Dzongs in Bhutan) houses both the administrative government and the monastic quarter.


Our team made our way to the dochey (courtyard), and I was struck by the sheer number of people in the courtyard and the amazing colors worn by the people attending the tsechu.


People gathered on all 4 sides of the courtyard as police and government officials did their best to perform crowd control.

Our group quickly found seats in the area facing the main utse (tower). I sat myself on the ground behind rows of the audience that had made themselves comfortable.


A cham (religious dance) is being performed in the main performance area. Cham dances tend to be very long. One takes about an hour to complete. I thought this was a perfect reflection of life in this beautiful country. People take their time, a luxury that we often take for granted and had slowly forgotten. Cham dances originate back in Guru Rinpoche days or the few centuries shortly after that. Some of them are created in honor of Guru Rinpoche, the yogi that brought Buddhism into Bhutan in 12th century.


The Thimpu tsechu was filmed and broadcasted live on national television as well. When we were there, the cham told a story of the 48 days that take place between a person’s passing and before the next stage of hell or heaven.


At one point in the dance, a group of dancers as dakinis or celestial beings came and performed their dance. All cham dances are performed by the monks. So that means the males also play female roles like the dakinis. I loved watching these dances. At one point, I was so enchanted by the animal-headed dancers. Their circular jumping movement went on and on. I could feel how difficult the movements were, yet I also understood how meditative the movements are. What a privilege to witness that.

As the cham was performed, devotees line up patiently in long lines to pay their respect to Yama, the god of death, whose statue is displayed in front of the main utse beyond the performing area. (See the lines of people in the photo above, flanked by officials in orange jumpsuits).


It’s impossible to not people-watch during the tsechu. The vibrant national dresses just make one wants to look at all of them. Men, women, children – all looked so beautiful in their best outfits.


The colors, especially the reds of the monks’ outfits and the traditional dresses stood up beautifully against the green mountains and the blue sky.


But the ones who had the most fun had to be the kids. A couple kids had so much fun following the cham dances that some of them had to be told to sit down by some of the security guards. Some boys were playing football with empty bottles near our seats. And this little kiddo took my friend’s camera and went to town with it. Going to his family and other passerby and happily took photos of them.


To be able to witness this beautiful and vibrant tsechu and being part of the people’s celebration was truly a privilege. Great reminder to always live in colors being part of a community and make togetherness a part of our lives.


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