Thursday, April 29, 2010

April 24 – Domkar Festival – Day One

We left the Yangkhil Resort at eight for the Domkar Festival. The power still had not returned. Outside of the power failures, the Yangkhil provided very comfortable and clean accommodations. The room was large and the bathroom plumbing in good shape. There was even one large bed in the room as opposed to the two smaller beds in many of the hotels. We will return to Trongsa and the Yangkhil for two nights on our return trip to Paro.

I was in the car with Robin as guide and Djordi as driver. Robin was not feeling well, he had gone through a bad night, waking up with chills, fever, and intestinal problems. He left the festival early and went to the hotel where he went to his room all day. Marcia, who is a nurse, visited him later and discovered that he had a case of food poisoning. However Namgay is very capable and is leading the trip as required.

Robin and our Bhutanese tour company, Rainbow Tours and Treks, have supported the Domkar Festival and the local temple, so we are treated as honored guests. When we arrive, there are several other groups of tourists already present, they watch as we are led into the temple of a welcoming tea with the lama. The dances and dancers are outside while we have tea and present some donations to the lama.

After the tea we go out to spend the rest of the morning watching the dances and photographing. This is a relatively small festival, compared to the ones in Paro and Thimphu, but as we find out, it provides excellent photographic opportunities. The festival is a holiday for the local area and families sit around watching the entertain ment. Everyone is free to circulate to get their desired camera angle and picture and there are many pictures of the audience as well as the dancers. As I said yesterday, the Bhutanese are in the main willing to have their and their children’s pictures taken, and their reward is ust being able to view the picture on the camera. The photographer’s first reward is the broad smile on the face of the subject when they see their picture.

Besides us there are perhaps twenty other tourists, some from Poland and some from Australia. There are maybe 100 – 200 villagers in attendance. We have very little problems taking good photos without tourists in the way. A couple of times during the day, one of the other tourists would stand in from of my position by the bandstand to take pictures of the band. I would then take a photo of them.

The Festival consists of a series of dances each about a half hour or more in duration. These are all traditional and handed down through the generations. There are the masked dances with men in costumes doing extremely physical gyrations, and these alternate with women in traditional costumes performing is a more restrained fashion. The women’s dances are really an intermission for the men to rest and change costumes for the next vigorous performance.

After about three sets of dances, it is noon and time for lunch. Again we are honored to have lunch with the lama in the temple. The other visitors must go offsite to a hotel or restaurant for theirs, or bring a packed lunch.

The afternoon continues with more dances men in costumes alternated with women in kiras. The men’s dances in costumes are depictions of the viewer’s journey after death to nirvana. The women’s dances are times for the men to rest and change costumes for the next act of the drama. During one of these “half-time” periods, we have an invitation to go up to the temple, where the men are dressing and take pictures.

We alternate taking pictures of the dances in their costumes with pictures of the villagers attending the festival. At 5:00 the last dance of the day is performed and we return to our lodging for dinner. We will arise early to attend the last day of the festival, when the ________, a large banner is unfurled and all the attendees pass by the lama to receive his blessing.

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