Friday, October 17, 2014

Bhutan 2014: All Around Thimphu, and Especially Choki School

Today (May 16th) was a busy day, a serendipitous one. Joan and I called it lucky, but Tshering, our guide, assigned it to good karma.

We first visited the Buddha Dordenma, one of the largest Buddha statues in the world, complete with a meditation hall in the pedestal. It's not quite finished, but worth a visit just to see the extensive pavilion and the statue itself. The web site for the project is here.

Arriving at the site, on a hill overlooking the southern entrance to the Thimphu valley, we discovered that construction forbade parking close to the pavilion.
Kaka was able to park the van a short walk below.
The Buddha played peek-a-boo with us as we climbed.

The pavilion is huge, meant to accommodate large events and extensive religious ceremonies. Click on the photo to enlarge.
Let's get closer, in stages.
Closer. Note the size of the staircases and the entryways. It's difficult to grasp, from a photo, how large this statue is (the throne is 62 feet tall, and the statue itself 138.6 feet).
Closer. And pointing up.
A side view.
The Thimphu valley, as seen from here.

Tshering took our photo in front of the Buddha. Joan and I dedicate any merit from this to the benefit all sentient beings.

We returned to the van, and encouraged other visitors with the news that the walk up was easy. Tshering was on the phone to arrange a visit to the Choki Traditional Arts School. Surprise -- today was their annual Founder's Day Celebration! Joan and I were assured that we were welcome to attend, even in our hiking clothes.

Kaka drove us from south of Thimphu to north of Thimphu, arriving about 10:30.
The Choki school was established in 1999 by Dasho (a noble title, often translated as "Lord") Choki Dorji, to provide an education in the traditional arts of Bhutan to disadvantaged children. Classes, food, and lodging are all free to those who are accepted. From the USA, tax-deductible donations to this school can be made through the Himalayan Youth Foundation. The Foundation supports several projects, so be sure to specify for the Choki Traditional Art School.

We were greeted at the entryway by this marvelous Guru Rinpoche. Click on the photo to enlarge.
Tents had been set up at the edge of the amphitheater for the VIPs and the lunch service. Joan and I felt under-dressed, even if we sat on benches on the periphery.
Before the festivities there was an opportunity to visit the classrooms. We started with the painting classes.

In the first year, the students learn the basic forms of traditional Bhutanese art. Here is a page of a student's workbook.
Once the components are mastered, the student moves on to the prescribed overall proportions of the image.
Here is an advanced student's current project, in progress.
Then we visited the textile classes.
As you might expect, small fingers help.
The classes cover all aspects of textile production, not just the weaving.


More tools are involved than I suspected!

Woodcarving is one of the traditional arts. It includes making the masks for traditional dances, so these are more solid and heavier than you might expect.
Woodcarving takes many forms in addition to masks. Both the interior and the exterior of monasteries, local offices, and public buildings may be elaborately decorated with carvings, often painted.
Works in progress were open to our inspection.

Then it was time to go through the serving line for a hearty Bhutanese lunch. Once the pavilion was clear the students began performances; first, dancers (men).

The fellow sitting on the bottom level in the above photos is the cymbalist.

This young boy alternated between watching the dancers and playing with a whatever-it-was.

Next some of the women students performed for us.


The emcee made several announcements and acknowledgements.

The third "act" was a traditional masked dance.

Those wooden masks demand strong neck muscles.
The horn players are in the back.

There were at least two more student performances, one by the boys and one by the girls, but this post has become rather lengthy already. I'll jump ahead to the traditional "farewell" dance, where everybody is expressing the wish for a good journey and to meet again. I'm the tall chillip (foreign tourist) who is always a beat behind anyone who knows what he or she is doing.


Joan and I were overwhelmed by the hospitality offered to us after our sudden appearance at the celebration. At the end of the farewell dance Dasho Choki Dorji came up to me, grabbed my hand, and, through an interpreter, wished me a good journey home.

On the drive back to Thimphu we stopped to take a picture of this sign.
We believe the owner confused the terms 'glossary' and 'grocery.'

Our next stop was at the new Royal Textile Academy and Museum. From the parking area, I could see up to the Buddha Dordenma, as one can from many spots in Thimphu.
The Academy is being constructed in several phases as funding permits. It was instituted in May, 2005 and  inaugurated on June 5, 2013.
The exhibits on the upper floor were closed for rearrangement, but we were able to view many historical textiles (no photos allowed). The clothes commissioned by the royal family were stunning.

We next visited the textile school that is part of the academy.
Here's a closeup of one weaving, slightly out of focus.

After leaving the textile academy Joan and I headed on our own to a bookstore Tshering recommended, DSB, and ended up purchasing three books about Bhutan. (We have a shelf-full now.) In the checkout line we were just behind Princess Benedickte of Denmark!

On our way back to the Taj Tashi to freshen up I took this photo of bamboo construction scaffolding.

Tonight we had a dinner engagement with Ugyen Thinley, the guide on our first visit to Bhutan, in 2005, and his wife, Jigme. We met in the lobby of the Taj Tashi, and Ugyen drove us first to his mother's place, stopping on the way for a bottle of wine. He knew we were wine drinkers, bless him.

Here are Ugyen and his mom.
She posed more formally with us chillips.
After some light refreshments we parted from Ugyen's mother and moved on to his and Jigme's place. There we had a wonderful dinner that included beef jerky, chicken, eggs-and-cheese, and potatoes. The beef and cheese had been produced by Jigme's family, in Paro. It was a locavore feast.

Here are Jigme, who was expecting a baby, and Ugyen.

Some weeks later Jigme gave birth to a daughter, Kuenzang Namgyal Wangmo.
The four of us drove back to the Taj Tashi. Ugyen stopped the car at a scenic overlook, revealing the illuminated Tashichho Dzong, the seat of the government since 1952.
Using a concrete abutment to steady the camera, I got a decent zoom shot as well.
We said our goodbyes at the Taj Tashi, and Joan and I turned in. Tomorrow would be our last full day in Bhutan.