Collection: Bhutan Festival

In 1991, I started work as a hydropower consultant in Bhutan. This work gave me deep and enduring friendships and unprecedented cultural and geographical access to Bhutan's "hidden lands." Soon I was sending monks to the East-West Center on the University of Hawaii's Manoa Campus and sponsoring their studies.

In 2014, my good friend Lopen Gembo Dorji, Secretary-General of the Monastic Body, helped me gain "backstage" access to the annual Lhamo'i Dromche, a grand religious ritual and mask dance dedicated to Palden Lhamo, the principal female guardian deity of Mahayana Buddhism. Every year the dance takes place in the Thimphu Fortress's courtyard, the ancient Tashichho Dzong. Conducted by the Zhung Dratshang (Central Monastic Body), the dance is Bhutan's most significant annual religious event—held just before the monastic body leaves for summer residence in Punakha Dzong.

I made these photos in a tent just off the courtyard where the dancers warmed up and made last-minute adjustments to their costumes. My good friend Lopen Gembo Dorji, then Secretary-General of the Monastic Body, arranged my access. Six years later, Richen Wangyel, another dear friend and monk-scholar now working in mental health, helped me write these captions. Both men lived with us in our house on Na Pua'a Place along Manoa Stream while studying at the East-West Center.

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