Choki Wangmo

Fifty-five-year-old Damchoe from Laya recalls waiting for December 17. The day ignited in his heart a strong patriotic joy. For the past 18 years, Damchoe celebrated the national day in Thimphu. He has been a singer and a choreographer of the reputed Auley from Laya. Dressed in Laya’s traditional attire—brocade rimmed thick cover, Thru Khenja—pinned with the badge of The First King, he’s got a black skirt on known as Zim, and boots, the Jache Lham.

A replica of the Dochula Choeten at the Coronation Centenary Park, Thimphu

A replica of the Dochula Choeten at the Coronation Centenary Park, Thimphu

Brimming with pride, Damchoe said: “I had the good fortune to lead the Auley group from Laya during His Majesty’s coronation in 2008 and also during the Royal wedding in 2011. I feel blessed.”

This day he is here, not as a singer or a choreographer. He is among 11 other Layaps and three yaks to celebrate the 112th national day in Thimphu. Damchoe and his team joined the three-day exhibition along with hundreds of people from across the country who gathered at the Centenary Park in Thimphu to exhibit their local delicacies and tradition in the lead up to the 112th National Day celebrations.

“We are here with the prayers and good wishes of more than 1,000 Layaps for His Majesty The King. Yaks symbolise highlanders’ pride. It is our honour to exhibit the highland lifestyle,” Damchoe said.

Thousands of people flocked to the park to celebrate the Bhutanese way of life—cuisine, arts and crafts, Buddhism, traditional healing practices, and to relish the audio-visual gallery dedicated to the monarchs among others.

Delicacies from 20 dzongkhags were displayed. There was Buk-sa-mar-khu from Samdrupjongkhar, Bum-pi-cha from Zhemgang, and Mengay from Wangdue, too.

“I had never heard of these names. It is overwhelming and at the same time gratifying to come face to face with our rich culture and tradition,” said Kinley Choden.

At the local healing stalls, 73-year-old Dorji from Wanakha, Paro, 75-year-old Namgay from Thimphu, and Aum Kuenga Lhaden from Punakha attracted the biggest crowd. They are local healing experts, specialising in treating fractures, dislocated joints, and toothache.

Namgay started treating skeletal problems since he was 19. He has treated more than 300,000 people. His clients include even the members of the Royal family.

“I feel fortunate to be able to provide free services to the people. It is a special day today because we come together as a nation and what is uniquely Bhutanese,” Namgay said.

Namgay and Dorji could perhaps be the last practitioners of the art of traditional healing.

Dorji, who has been treating people for the past 50 years, said that young people were not interested to learn the art due to rapid modernisation and increasing influence of western medicine.

“I feel fulfilled at the end of the day because I can help people with problems with their joints. But this vitally important art is dying fast,” he said.

An official from Traditional Medicine Services said that there was an initiative to register genuine traditional healers to keep the art alive in the country.

Similarly, Damchoe said that the practice of rearing yaks in the highlands was decreasing due to cordyceps business. “Occasions such as this help create awareness on the importance of preserving unique Bhutanese lifestyles.”


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