It was 1999 when Dago first took part as a pazap or warriors at Punakha Dromchhoe. He was 19, shy and hesitant. But he was determined to wear the red pazap gho, the khamar kabney (scarf) and iron helmet of the traditional warriors. In tshoglham (traditional boots) and with a patang (sword), he really looked and felt like a warrior.

He was also one of the pazaps selected to perform the Bay (ceremonial dance) at the courtyard of Punakha dzong.

“It was a great experience,” says Dago.

Today, Dago is 49. He is from Tshokona village in Punakha. He is still a pazap.  “It is just a matter of one to two years. We get the confidence and we feel like real worriers.”

Dago remembers the first time he became a pazap. It wasn’t easy. His father had to run from one house to the other looking for dress, helmet, khamar, patang and everything that Dago needed to become a pazap.

“People give these things only to those they can trust,” says Dago. It is a proud moment for a family to be able to send their sons and grandsons to Dromchhoe as pazaps.

“We receive blessings from Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel himself,” said Dago.

Dophu, 68, is one of the oldest pazaps. He is preparing for Dromchhoe in Tsachuphu, a village far away from the dzong. For Dophu, attending the Dromchhoe as pazap is the greatest respect one can give Zhabdrung. “I want to be a pazap for as long as I can. I always tell younger people not to miss Dromchhoe. It is a celebration of superiority and trust.”

Pazaps are selected based on requirements and an individual’s interest. Those acting as zimpons or makpons (generals) can continue to do so unless he desires othersiwe,” says Baap Gup Wangchuk. Tshogpas select two pazaps from each chiwog and a zimpon from each gewog. Sometimes, students are selected to be pazaps to make sure that the tradition is kept alive.

“We try to give equal opportunity to everyone because unlike olden days, pazaps today don’t have to take the trouble of finding dress and other requirements,” says Wangchuk. “They just have to carry their plate and beddings.”

After the Dromchhoe, local leaders collect garbs from the pazaps, count them, fold and lock them inside metal boxes that will not be opened until the next Dromchhoe.

By Dawa Gyelmo, Punakha