Bhutan Cross Country Cultural and Festivals Itinerary

Day 14 — {date14}

Exclusive! Brokpa Cultural Program – Second Night at Trashigang

Robin and the Brokas of Bhutan
On day 14 you will meet these yak herders, the Brokpa people from Sakten and Merak, when the tour sponsors a special festival in the far eastern side of Bhutan. You will be the only foreign visitors there and after the festival dances you will be asked to help serve lunch to over 100 local villagers.
Festival Dancer Bhutan
Exclusive Brokpa Festival in Phongmey, Bhutan.

Today is a very auspicious day for us as we rise early and drive eastward through Rangjung and Radi to Phongmey village.  Sonam is a Brokpa by birthright--her father was the hereditary lama there and she is treated like royalty whenever she visits. Sonam and her company, Rainbow Tours and Treks of Bhutan, have organized a special cultural program by the Brokpa people of Merak and Sakten, that our group hosts in the ancient temple courtyard at Phongmey. A group of fourteen Brokpas will make the two-day walk from Merak and Sakten, a district that foreigners were not allowed to visit until 2010. They will bring by horseback all of their cultural trappings as well as festival objects and costumes. Local villagers hear the noise and turn out for the free food and festivities--we usually feed 150 people. We bring a large portion of pork, sacks of rice, chilies and vegetables and cook it all up over an open fire in huge black cauldrons in a typical Bhutanese style. (We eat Western food brought from the hotel.)

Festival Bhutan
Bhutan tour participant Sid Cook clowns around with an Atsara, the jester at our private festival.

As in Ugen Choling, we will seek the services of a local lama to ensure that the sanctity of anything religious is protected by prayer and ritual. The Brokpas are yak herders from this remote region and have a language, culture and lifestyle that is unique even in Bhutan. An example of cultural uniqueness is the burial process--the body of the deceased is hacked to pieces and allowed to float down the river to be eaten by scavengers. Also, the dating process is something that young suitors call “night hunting”--we’ll try to get to the bottom of that when we meet them in Phongmey.

Of this unique and exclusive event, Sonam writes:

They will perform the Yak Dance, the Achi Lhamo in honor of Goddess Penden Lhamo and Lady Jomo, folk dances by Maidens, other dance with songs by Maidens, and other cultural items to be discussed with the Brokpas. The dances and singing are not done as in a stage but what they normally do in their village during festivals. It will be a recreation of the festival on a smaller scale the events will not be timed as such but can roll on the whole day with breaks for rest, festive drinking and eating, and posing for photographs. Your tour group will not be seeing the event merely as spectators but participating actively in the festivities – dancing, singing and drinking, etc. The idea is for guests not only to see the cultural performances as such but to experience a crash course in a part of Brokpa culture.

Bhutan Festival Dancers in dressing room
The temple serves as a dressing room for the dancers and we are allowed to take pictures there.

We will have the distinct honor of being some of the first Westerners to witness Brokpa folk dances, including the famous Yak Dance which narrates the story of how the Brokpas first arrived from Tibet led by Lady Jomo, revered as one of the most powerful deities of the region. Included too is the Achi Lhamo, a lion dance performed in honor of Goddess Penden Lhamo and Lady Jomo. Brokpa maidens will also sing and dance as they do during festivals in their highland home.

The Sakten and Merak region remains mostly unexplored by tourists—only about 50 trekkers made the journey in 2010 when the region was first opened to foreigners. Sakten and Merak were previously closed to foreigners in an effort to stall modernization of one of the world’s last remaining “living cultural museums.” Sonam has tried for years to get the government to open her ancestral home as she feels her people should not be denied the modernization that has come to the rest of their countrymen in the form of electricity, roads, schools, and hospitals. Now that the constitutional government is in place she feels strongly that the political representatives of her region will soon convince the government to build the road that is so important to modernization. One can only imagine that Westernization that will take place once the road and electricity are in place.

Overnight Doethjung Resort.

Mask Dancer Bhutan
Bhutan photo by tour participant Ken Lunder
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Blue Poppy Bhutan
The blue poppy is the national flower of Bhutan. Photo by past participant Joe Breen, five-time visitor to Bhutan.