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Posts Tagged ‘Beautiful Bhutan’

Bhutan’s Fascinating Festivals

Landlocked between India to the South and China to the North, this small Asian country has a cultural presence much larger than the country itself. Staying completely independent over its history, the Bhutanese people have a strong devotion to their faith, with almost 75% of its population practicing Buddhism. To represent and revel in this devotion to their beliefs, locals of Bhutan participate in many festivals—all throughout the year—to flaunt their bright and vivacious values. Every one of the departures of our Beautiful Bhutan small group tour is scheduled around a real Bhutanese festival or authentic festival performance. So check out some highlights below from the festivals we visit in one of the world’s happiest countries, then take the road less traveled and experience Beautiful Bhutan for yourself!

Bright masks accompany almost every Bhutanese festival! © Arian Zwegers/Flickr

What are Teschu festivals?

All the festivals we have on our departures are called Tsechu festival (Tse-Date Chu–Ten). These festivals are celebrated to commemorate the great deeds of 8th century Tantric master Guru Padmasambhava who is credited in spreading of Mahayana Buddhism in the entire Himalayan region. So it is commemorated on the 10th day of every month (according to the lunar calendar) in different states.

These Tsechu festivals are dominated by ancient old religious Mask Dances that are performed by both monks and lay person in brilliant costumes re-enacting the legendary events, accompanied by blaring horns, booming drums, and clashing cymbals as they whirl and leap around the ancient old courtyard of a Dzong (Fortress) or in a small temple at a village. Crowds gather in their finest hand woven dress, brightly patterned for which Bhutan is renowned, creating an intensely colorful and exciting atmosphere that had remained unchanged in its traditional purity for centuries. Locals believe that by dressing in their finest is another form of offering that could bring them blessings, give them an opportunity to please the deities which in return bring them merit, luck, prosperity and also an occasion to see people and to be seen. The dance itself is believed to be the representation of the deities that are encountered during the intermediate period of death and rebirth.

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Hiking the Tiger’s Nest

Tiger’s Nest, Bhutan ©PROGöran Höglund (Kartläsarn)/Flickr

Last year we received this wonderful letter from one of our travelers, John Monahan. His beautiful story about a trek to The Tiger’s Nest Monastery—a famous Himalayan Buddhist sacred site and temple perched high on a cliff in Bhutan—reminds all of us here at Friendly Planet why we do what we do! This experience will stay with John the rest of his life, and we’re humbled to be a part of it.


Dear Friendly Planet,

I am sending you this because I want to share an experience that I had hiking to Tiger’s Nest monastery high in the Himalayas, the Mecca for Buddhism in this part of the world. I had many good experiences in Bhutan, but this one in particular was really special. You see, I was supposed to spend the last two days in Paro, the town below the monastery, before leaving Bhutan for Bangkok. But my flight in Bumthang was cancelled because of rain and the only road was not passable because of rock slides. Luckily, I was able to get on a late afternoon charter the following day, but that also meant I only had one night in Paro. Turns out, this was not enough time to visit the Tiger’s Nest, because my guide, Karma (I hope that I am spelling his name correctly), said that we would need at least five hours to complete the hike; the flight to Bangkok was at 1PM. So I asked if I could do the hike at 5AM. He agreed, even though he didn’t think that we would make it to the top in time.

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Beautiful Bhutan – Festivals Tour

In yesterday’s post, I started to tell you a little bit about the untouched beauty and fascinating culture of the Kingdom of Bhutan.
FP_Himalayans.jpgBhutan is a destination that even the most experienced travelers consider a privilege to visit. Perched high atop the mighty Himalayan range, the Kingdom of Bhutan has defied globalization and chosen to remain a hidden paradise. As I mentioned, even though it consistently ranks as one of the world’s top destinations, its remote location and strong preservation efforts make it accessible to only a fortunate few, and Friendly Planet Travel is honored to be included.
Our Beautiful Bhutan program makes it possible for our travelers to not only visit this exotic land, but also immerse themselves in its rich cultural traditions. Throughout the 18-day tour, Friendly Planeteers experience the enchantment of Bhutan’s ancient fortresses, monasteries, and temples; the richness of its artisan traditions; and the beauty of its pristine natural landscape as you traverse the country’s mountainous terrain.
FP_Bhutan.jpgOur unique program gives travelers plenty of time to interact with the friendly people of Bhutan, including a very special opportunity to join hundreds of Bhutanese in their celebrations of the spiritual festivals of Ura (April departure), Nimalung (June departure), Tamshing (September departure), Jambay Lhakhang (October departure), and Trongsa (December departure).
Vacationers gain an enlightened understanding of the country’s national philosophy of Gross National Happiness. But be sure to reserve your space quickly, as this once-in-a-lifetime trip is sure to sell out quickly! There are four 2009 departures left, which are listed below. For more information, be sure to have a look at our Web site.

Remaining 2009 departures:
June 23 – July 10
Sept. 18 – Oct. 5
Oct. 26 – Nov. 12
Dec. 17 – Jan. 3

An incurable optimist in Bhutan

Last week, Michael J. Fox’s "Adventures of an Incurable Optimist" aired on ABC. The special chronicled his decision to battle the effects of his Parkinson’s disease through optimism and hope. And it coincides with the release of his new book, "Always Looking Up: The Adventures of an Incurable Optimist."

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Nick, one of our Friendly Planet Travel team members, saw the special, and wanted to share some thoughts with the entire Friendly Planet team. And I thought those points would be wonderful to share with you here on the blog.

During the program, Michael J. Fox travels throughout the country speaking with people from all walks of life, each choosing to live a life full of hope, even in the face of various forms of adversity (such as the small dairy farmers struggling through the economy).
His journey eventually takes him to the Kingdom of Bhutan, which lies between China and India, atop of the Himalayan Mountains. Bhutan is an extremely unique country, basically cut off from the rest of the world due to its remote location and desire to keep its culture and environment "unspoiled" by modernization and globalization.
While Bhutan does track its Gross Domestic Product (GDP), it value its Gross National Happiness (GNH) even more. GNH measures the quality of one’s life in terms of happiness, as opposed to wealth and material goods.
The King of Bhutan proposed the Gross International Happiness Project (GIH), based on the insight that conventional development concepts such as GNP and Per Capita Income do not properly reflect the general well being of the inhabitants of a nation. With this project, Bhutan puts the well being of individuals on top of the national development agenda.
While in Bhutan, Michael J. Fox noted that the symptoms of his Parkinson’s disease had greatly subsided, attributing it possibly to the altitude sickness medication he’d taken, or just being in Bhutan in general, which he referred to as "happiest place on Earth."
Parkinson’s affects the brain’s communication with the body, greatly impairing one’s motor skills. I watched as Fox walked throughout the rugged terrain of the country in a manner that showed no signs of his disease. It was quite amazing. Fox attended the Punakha Festival, one of the many festivals held in Bhutan throughout the year.

Bhutan allows only a small amount of travelers to enter the country each year, and Friendly Planet Travel is honored to be one of the few U.S. tour operators that offer Bhutan as a destination, with each departure including the opportunity to witness a different seasonal festival. Make sure you come back tomorrow for the full scoop on Friendly Planet Travel’s Beautiful Bhutan vacation.