Bhutan 2012 Trip

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Bhutan 2012 Trip

Jakar Dzong

Thursday 25 October 2012

I wondered if our run of good weather had come to an end as there was low cloud in the morning, but on a distant slope I could see bright sunshine and so I figured it would burn off eventually.

The light cloud cover wasn't a problem for our trip back to the Jakar Dzong. To mark the end of the festival, the monks were unfurling a giant thongdrel (tapestry) which completely covered the end wall of the inner courtyard. Surprisingly after the previous day, there weren't so many people around, the unfurling not as important as walking past the thongdrel and receiving a blessing. We watched the monks raise the thongdrel on bright yellow ropes.

In the courtyard, the head lama presided over the ceremony which included food, drink and offerings. When complete, the dignitaries filed past the thongdrel first and then the general public next. There was a long queue all around the courtyard, but what I didn't realise until later when I left was that this queue extended all the way outside the dzong and down the path to the village below. There must have been 10,000 people lining up for their chance to view the thongdrel and be blessed.

Photographically, the overview of the thongdrel in the courtyard was great, but it was the portrait opportunities that made the morning. Everyone was so focused on proceedings that a tourist with a camera was of little consequence. I used my 50mm f1.4 and 85mm f1.8 at their widest apertures, focusing on the eyes and letting the background drop out of focus.

 We returned to the hotel for a late breakfast and mid-morning visited Jambay Lhakhang, the oldest temple in the area. Once again, no photos were allowed, but it almost seemed right that the only images we could take away were in our imaginations. The statues of Buddha and the bodhisattvas in the dimly lit inner sanctums were almost divine. The light in these locations and the way it falls on the religious artefacts seems to be carefully orchestrated for maximum impact, even in a modern world.

 After lunch, the group had free time to do as it pleased. Some visited town and wandered around the shops, some took time off for a snooze, and I grabbed our driver Rinzen and went looking for views of the Jakar Dzong. When it comes to landscapes, I wanted a view that isolated the dzong against the heavily wooded mountains behind. Namgay suggested climbing up the mountain behind us, but I was concerned this was a contra-jour angle and that the foreground could be too busy, but we went to have a look anyway. Before the climb began, the angle from the valley floor seemed perfect. With a 70-200mm zoom, I could frame the dzong against a deep green background. The town in the foreground was easily cropped out.

 As we climbed the hill, the angle on the dzong improved, but the town surrounding it came into distracting view. However, as we drove back down the mountain, a bank of clouds gathered over the horizon, creating some wonderful beams of sunlight in the hazy atmosphere. This created some great opportunities.

And it also spelt the end of shooting for the day because as the clouds came closer and the sun dropped, it killed the light. Rinzen and I crossed the river and searched around the two small hills either side of the dzong, looking for interesting camera angles. We found several, some behind barbed wire fences (for the cattle, not humans as we could easily jump them), some in a school ground and another behind a row of prayer flags. All they needed was great light, so next time I visit...

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