The Paro Festival is one of the most important in the whole of Bhutan. At this Buddhist festival masked dances performed by trained monks depict events from the life of the eighth century Buddhist teacher, Guru Rinpoche (Padmasambhava). This guru is revered because he founded Tantric Buddhism, which would gradually evolve into Tibetan Buddhism over the following 400 years. He established a number of temples and monasteries, including the famous Taktshang monastery built high on a cliff face above the Paro Valley, close to where the dancing occurs. Taktshang, meaning “Tiger’s nest,” is built around a cave in which Guru Rinpoche meditated. For the local people it is a place of pilgrimage and legend has it that Rinpoche flew to the site of the monastery from Tibet on the back of a tigress.

The Paro Festival provides Bhutanese from far and wide with a wonderful reason to dress up, gather together and enjoy a cultural experience in a light-hearted atmosphere. It is an occasion to renew their faith and to receive the blessing of a lama or Buddhist monk. This mixture of humour and faith is also reflected in the presence of atsaras in the dances. These clowns, who mingle on the periphery of the performance, sport fiendish masks, make lewd gestures, crack salacious jokes, and are entitled to mock both spiritual and temporal subjects, so bringing a lighter side to otherwise serious matters.

julian200Julian has written articles on Middle Eastern and European architecture for the US magazine Skipping Stones. He has written travel articles that were published in The Toronto Globe and Mail, Fate Magazine, National Catholic Register, and Northwest Travel. Julian has also written articles for the In The Know Traveler, Go Nomad, InTravelmag, and Go World Travel websites. He has also taken many photographs that have appeared in travel guides by National Geographic, Thomas Cook and The Rough Guides. Examples of his work can be found at http://www.photographersdirect.com/sellers/details.asp?portfolio=13734