Saturday, February 23, 2013

Into Battle! Puna Drubchen.

I was lucky enough to be invited by a local friend, a native of Punakha, and his family to that town last week, to witness what must be one of Bhutan's most famous and spectacular ceremonies.

My newly "adopted" grand-daughter, 8 year old Kuenzang, and her little sister Nikki, with dad Namgay (a famous and much respected movie director in these parts!)

 The annual Dromche or drubchen of Punakha is unusual because of its dramatic recreation of a 17th century battle scene, in which the Tibetan armies invade Bhutan to seize Bhutan's most precious relic, the Ranjung Kharsapani, a self created image of Chenrizing. It is said that Shabdrung concocted an elaborate ceremony in which he pretended to throw the relic into the Mochu River, after which the disappointed Tibetans withdrew. During the course of the festival, a procession of monks led by the head abbot Jekhenpo proceeds to the river, where he throws a handful of oranges symbolizing the relic. During the festival, the 'pazaps' or local militia men, dress in colorful battle gear, ride horses and showcase a battle scene.

Because of my friend's  long acquaintance with these "militia men" (actually, local villagers who take great pride in participating in the re-enactment), I was able to spend 3 days living with them in their camps as they rehearsed in the lead-up to the actual event.

Our road trip from Thimphu to Punakha was interesting, to say the least. It was freezing cold, raining and then the snow started.

This is how the famous 108 Chhortens at Dochula normally look...

 And this is them on this day...

 Bhutanese roads are precarious at the best of times, but this was extreme, albeit with beautiful scenery as always here...

We finally arrived, none the worse for wear. The soggy camp did nothing to dampen the enthusiasm of any of us.

This is the camp, right next to the dzong (fortress), and happily for me, surrounded by Australian Eucalypts ...

After a delicious traditional meal of dried-beef curry with red rice, washed down with suja (butter tea) and excessive amounts of ara (a locally distilled and strong liquor, made from maize and rice), our warriors were ready for action. But first, a prayer, followed by a pep talk.
And some more ara...

Then, off to the dzong for rehearsal...

Up the steps and into the interior, where other celebrations were taking place, to invoke success for the battle ahead...

Our warriors then lined up for battle instructions...and some more ara.

Then, suitably fortified, both spiritually and um, spiritually, back outside for more battle training...

Unfortunately, I couldn't wait around to witness the actual battle, because what I'd originally been led to believe was a one day festival, was now running into its 4th and 5th days, with no guaranteed end even then...the Bhutanese, like the Indians, LOVE a good festival. And I had work to complete back in Thimphu.

But I do have it on good authority that the Bhutanese repelled the invading Tibetan forces!

I'll be back next year to see (hopefully!) the same outcome.


  1. I loved reliving my visit to Bhutan through your wonderful images. I spent two weeks and saw many of the same places you did. I hope you keep going, it's too wonderful a place not to return. You can see my photos here:

  2. Thanks, Mitch. I've been here for two and a half years now, and have no plans to leave. I was working 7 days a week on a major project, and only now am finding the time to explore this amazing kingdom properly.

    Your photos are terrific, and put those from my little point and shoot Fuji camera to shame...maybe we'll meet up when you return to Druk Yul!

    Tashi Delek.

  3. I live in Nigeria. Sometimes I forget that the willingness to ignore deadlines is part of the reason I'm much happier here than most of the time in America. Pros and cons, anyway.