The Rhythm and the Colour of Bhutan’s Masked Dances

August 7, 2014 Peter West Carey

The dances start slow and don’t often pick up speed. They are not the highly choreographed numbers you see in music videos. They sometimes last two hours or more. Yet they are simply mesmerizing.

Masked dances in Bhutan date back hundreds of years, and are most often performed by monks from local temples. One of the largest festivals to showcase these dances is the Paro Tsechu (Festival), located in the city of Paro, home of the only international airport in the Himalayan country. Festivals of this nature are spread over three to five days with the highlight being the sacred Cham Dances, in which dancers don masks depicting historic Buddhist religious characters and reenact local legends.

As a photographer, I see the dances as a riot of colour. With their slow, methodical movements, the dancers are easy to capture through the lens, and an array of options are available for creative image creation. I enjoy slowing my shutter and blurring the action to accentuate movement and to show the flow of the costumes.

Mixed in with the images of the dancers at this tsechu are photos of the atsara – more commonly known as a jester in English. They walk the perimeter and tease the crowd, and sometimes have routines of their own.

 Bhutanese Masked Dances

crowds at the  Bhutanese Masked Dances

dancers gathering at the  Bhutanese Masked Dances

twirling dancers

The Jester, Paro, Bhutan

A Bhutanese monk spins in a circle while performing a masked

A Bhutanese monk spins in a circle while performing a masked

man holding mask standing talking

dancers spinning and the image is blurred.

dancers in a circle while crowd watches

Getting There

G Adventures runs a number of departures to Bhutan encompassing a wide range of departure dates and activities to cater for different tastes. We’re thrilled at the prospect of showing you this Himalayan kingdom— check out our small group trips here.

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