Sunday, April 02, 2023

The Paro Festival

Since we chose to fly into Bhutan our trip began in Paro where the airport is located, but the real itinerary was set to begin at Thimphu. On the second morning, we met our guide, Phub, who happened to mention some traffic snarls on the highway. We had been told just the previous day that the highways in Bhutan were generally unacquainted with jams, and the news of today’s jam piqued our curiosity. The cause turned out to be the annual 4-day festival that happens at the fortress (Dzong) in Paro. We hadn’t planned this but somehow we were a few dozen kilometres from a special annual spectacle. What our guide described seemed significant enough to warrant a change in our original plan, and we chose toinstead accommodate a visit to the festival. 

The setting was the remarkable dzong at Paro. Streams of visitors - women in their colorful Kiras and the men in their stately Ghos - poured into the courtyard of the fortress, which was going to host a famous ritual called the Mask Dance this afternoon. As stunning as the spectacle was visually, there definitely was a cultural barrier that came in the way of appreciating the performance. The music didn’t seem particularly striking. The dance moves were underwhelming too. At one point, I thought the policeman in the intersection had more intricate moves than the dancers here. There were a few performers in joker masks that were cracking up the crowd, but of course we couldn’t understand them, even when our guide did his best to translate the jokes for us. The local audience, though, was lapping it up, and we were left to feed off their excitement. All said and done, we were glad for the serendipity that led us here, and we felt we were genuinely taking away an experience that was like nothing other.

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