“Sometimes it can take up to four days, including the days sitting atop a horse, to reach here,” said one of the petite girls with little creases around her eyes, dressed in a straight ankle-length skirt and a well-fitted full sleeve shirt. “But we like it here,” added another chirpily. “How about one more dance? Please?”she added and promptly pressed forward her notebook onto my lap. It was a bit tough to say yes to her, while so many other girls were vying for our attention.
My partner and I were inside a dance bar, in the heart of Thimphu, Bhutan. The girls were the performers. They wanted us to make a request note in their individual diaries for paid dance performances. Located inside a nondescript residential building, without any sign-boards, this local dance bar called Tashi Tagay Drayang broke away from all stereotypes thrust upon me by Bollywood movies. There was no bosom-heaving, no raunchy numbers, in fact, no sleaze at all. It was perfectly okay for me, a woman, to go in, order a beer and watch the dance performances.
Before the trip to Bhutan, I found out from various local media reports that Tashi Tagay actually started off as a philanthropic step by a local folk singer Namgay Dorji. He employed physically disabled girls and boys from remote corners of the country after giving them training in music and dance. Due to a lack of financial support and apathy from the local community, he had to relieve many of them. When I went to Tashi Tagay Drayang towards end of 2013, there were only two visually impaired singers and 7 to 8 dancers left.
I was surprised when it took us over an hour to locate the drayang though it was supposed to be in the city centre. No one seemed to know anything about it. Those who had heard about it, didn’t know its exact location. For most locals, it was sort of an urban legend. We eventually ended up at a local grocer who told us to take the back entrance of the same building as his shop and go upstairs. Once inside the building, it was hard to imagine a dance bar in that setting. It was like any other urban housing complex. We pushed open a wooden door, passed through a small common area and led ourselves into a dimly lit hall decorated with Bhutanese artworks, paper lamps, kitschy decorations, the quintessential image of the King and the Queen and a brightly lit stage on the other end.
It was Friday evening and we were the first guests to arrive. After a little commotion, Bhutanese folk music played in the background while a few girls hopped onto the stage and swayed delicately. Some smiled while some gave a straight face. After about 20-25 mins, they realised that we weren’t like regular tourists only interested in getting a peek inside. They felt encouraged to approach us for a quick chit-chat and coax us gently into making paid requests in their diaries.
One cannot help but think about probable exploitation and prostitution thriving at such a place. It’s difficult to say what’s actually happening behind the scenes. But from what I saw, I felt this place and these people were special. With some financial support, and acceptance from mainstream society, this could well be a hub for youngsters from remote corners of Bhutan to learn various artistic forms and grow independent.
But, before I could delve further in my reverie, there was another nudge. We only thought it fair to request performances from everyone. So, without burning a hole in our pockets, we decided to make group requests and asked 2-3 performers to perform at one time, including a song performance from a visually impaired couple. Look what we got treated to in the end, a Bollywood number! So what, if it’s over a decade late.
Get Happy Tripping in Thimphu, Bhutan!
Best time: March to November
a) By Air: Druk Air (Bhutan’s National Carrier) is the only airline operating out of Bhutan and has flights at regular intervals from New Delhi, Kolkata, Bagdogra, Kathmandu & Bangkok.
b) By Road: Entry to Bhutan is through border towns of Jaigaon (Indian side) and Phuentsholing (Bhutanese side). Depending where you’re traveling from within India, two routes you can choose from:
i. Fly to Bagdogra, West Bengal. From airport hire a reserved taxi to Jaigaon costing approx Rs. 1900 and about 3 hours.
ii. Train to New Jalpaiguri Jn., Siliguri, West Bengal. Then a further train to Hasimara (3 hrs). Upon reaching Hasimara, one can take shared or reserved auto/ tempo to Jaigaon.
HT Do. Not. Miss.
Authentic Bhutanese food at Folk Heritage Museum’s Restaurant. Do book a table there in advance at +975 17600736 (10 am to 10 pm)
A former fashion business manager in New Delhi, is now a travel writer based in Mumbai. Her passion for offbeat and responsible traveling made her take the leap. On her travels, Richa likes to engage with locals, their lifestyles and tries to bring forth their issues through her blog Travel and Stories.