Monday, 22 December 2014

The Dancing Monks of Bhutan |Tewfic El-Sawy

My first photo expedition to the Kingdom of Bhutan was in 1999, and was coincidentally the very first formal photo expedition I organized and led. The trip was over 20 days or so, and included India (Delhi, Dharmasala and Varanasi), Kathmandu in Nepal and finally Paro and Thimpu in Bhutan.

I returned to Bhutan in 2006, 2008 and 2009 and during these years, I witnessed the immense change (sometimes known as progress) that affected the country. In 1999, there were only a handful of hotels; two of the better ones were owned by Druk Air, the Kingdom's airline. And there was no television, no easy access to the internet and the Bhutanese women in the two main cities still wore their hair in page boy cuts, and hadn't yet been influenced by the daily Bollywood movies.

In 2009, in the small town of Jakar I had the pleasure of having cups of very good espresso and cappuccino, and had a wonderful Tibetan dinner of momos. That was 5 years ago, and I gather that more "progress" has invaded Bhutan...but at least, it has been at a slower pace than in other countries in the region.

Over these four trips, I gathered quite a large inventory of photographs and I recently decided to showcase a color selection focusing on The Dancing Monks of Bhutan on the Exposure platform, joining 8 other galleries of photographs from India, and Vietnam.

As many of my readers know, tshechus are annual religious Bhutanese festivals held in each district of Bhutan. They are also large social gatherings, and include large commercial markets as well. I've attended the large Thimpu tshechu in 1999, and even at that time, it was a tourist destination. Over my last three trips, I was fortunate to photograph a tshechu in the small village of Prakhar, and the interesting  Jambhay Lakhang.

I recall seeing a GEO magazine photographer at the Thimpu tshechu, who had gone to great lengths to set up a portable studio in a small corner of the grounds...and was photographing some of the dancers. I thought nothing of just standing behind him, and essentially 'poaching' some of the shots. I wasn't being surreptitious at all, and the German photographer didn't seem to mind...even waiting for me to finish a shot or two before asking for another dancer to pose.

It was a different world then.