Travel Diary: Chasing Dancing Lamas

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Phodong is a small village in a tranquil and scenic region in the state of Sikkim that borders Tibet, Nepal and Bhutan. Rising early to make the 2-and-a-half hours trip from Gangtok, I ‘caught’ a glimpse of the gompa as the jeep took its few final sharp turns around the steep hills. Stopping abruptly at the top of the hill, I jumped off in excitement and made my way through the rickety gates guided by the sounds of  nga (drums) and rolmo (cymbal). 

Walking through the small temple grounds with a field surrounded by makeshift looking rows of wooden huts that serves as the monks boarding, I was surprised that Phodong Gompa is very simple and small by the standards of Tibetan Buddhist monasteries. The current structure I was told is relatively new and have gone through centuries of modernisation, and of course increasing followers (hence, funding) over the years. However, despite its size and ‘modern’ structure and somewhat exterior, Phodong Gompa’s interiors has retained some very old murals depicting the time it was established in 1844 by the Nyingmapa sect.

I had cracked my head for 4 weeks on research, logistics and permits arrangements prior to dragging my sorry {frozen} ass to Phodong recently to ‘chase’ dancing lamas, or Chaam – during the recent Losoong festivals. Unable to tell if I have been left mesmerized and spellbound by the heavenly scent of burnt juniper incense, the synchronized movement of the dancers, my easy acceptance by the Atsaras (jokers at intervals), exhaustion of ‘chasing’ dancing lama that includes days of travel and running around during the 8-hour dance ritual, or salted yak butter tea overdose … I am strangely feeling blissfully happy and had spent the last 4 days reading more on Tibetan Buddhism, politics and history.  
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Photo © {p}.Haque – All Rights Reserved – Phodong Gompa

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Picture: Me (middle) being ‘kissed’ by an Atsaras (monks dressed-up and playing the role of a ‘joker’) to the amusement of the village folks – {sigh} the ‘price’ one pays for shooting with prime and wide angle lens / the ‘benefit’ of instant and great access to the heart of the dance ritual. 
Yeah, yeah, I was told by The Travel Photographer to get a 70-200mm for this … but I have a prime and wide angle lens obsession.

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9 thoughts on “Travel Diary: Chasing Dancing Lamas

  1. Hillarious!Seriously, you are the only person I know who shoots only primes. Of course lah we all have the 50mm or the 35mm. But that is about all. Everyone else shoots 24-70, 70-200 but you just have to be different as usual! :p

  2. Thanks Serene. Not fun being 'kissed' by monks! lol Kindda ironic rite (?) though they are all still very much boys at heart living in a cloistered environment.Hope all is fine – loads of Xmas Joy , blessings and hugs to you and Jon!

  3. no lappie lah. the bitten off apple is very very heavy.to address your curiosity, i'm in a warm and fuzzy place now … in the comforts of home away from home with wireless broadband and a loan PC from CNN folks. you should work ya know! stop fb-ing!!! and reading blogs.ok – now i need to get back to my instant masala flavoured noodle. :pBTW, your timberland amat2 berjasa walaupun say masih sejuk! :)

  4. PG kena taken advantaged,lol. so, i guess Phodong is not as secluded as i thought from this blog entry and the possibility of u downloading pics…hehehe. the place i went, can charge battery at a price + u can see a small water turbine by the river…lol. dont tell me u brought along yr lappie? OMFG! lol.

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