Bowled Over by Bhutan - 2007

magnet pulling us to follow the sounds. We were allowed to go into the temple

(barefooted) but not to use cameras. We sat alongside the altar a little removed from it

while a yellow-robed lama on a raised throne and his fellow monks in red were spread on

the floor in rows in front of the altar, which was adorned with fruit, flowers and water


The monks were intoning in monotones while drums beat a cadence and the temples

bells were jangling discordantly. Kelzang explained to us that the monks were saying special

prayers for the head abbot who was in Bangkok undergoing surgery for a life-threatening

condition. We sat on the floor with our legs folded beneath us (uncomfortable after only a

short time) listening. At last, the monks began using the strange “throat singing” we had

heard before in recordings. At the same time, larger drums came out and the long (3 yards)

horns whose bells actually must rest on the floor were sounded. The throat singing is very

unusual and difficult to describe because it is so guttural yet musical. The tones

produced are very low, much lower than the lowest operatic bass you have ever heard,

and very throaty and almost growly.

But the ceremony must have produced something miraculous because as the cacophony

reached its greatest stridency, a flight of pure white pigeons rose up from the courtyard

outside and behind the lama and flew towards the heavens. Perhaps, the Chief Abbot was

blessed with a successful recovery. However, of course, we would never know the actual

outcome, but we preferred to believe that version of the experience.

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