Khuju Luyang Folk Performance (Private Cultural Show)

The 3-day religious festivals held in fortress courtyards and monasteries throughout Bhutan are perennial favorites with Bhutanese and tourists alike. The traditional masked dances performed at these tshechu are particular favorites. Each region only hosts one festival a year, however, so if your visit doesn't coincide with them, you may miss out on seeing the dances.

The Khuju Luyang Performance Troupe fills the gap. The 12 dancers come out to hotels and public open spaces in Thimphu, the capital city, to perform selected authentic dances and songs that give a taste of those seen at festivals. Many of the dances in Khuju Luyang's set of 11 performances are also sung, and mostly accompanied by traditional Bhutanese instruments — the yangchen (dulcimer), lym (bamboo flute), and nga (drums), among others. All are rooted in traditions that date back hundreds of years. Khuju Luyang's set also offers a good cross-section taste: to see all of the dances and song in their original locations, you would have to travel the length and breadth of the country, at just the right times of year.

Khuju Luyang's performances are one hour long, starting with Joenpa Legso, a welcome dance performed at the beginning of any special occasion to welcome guests of honor. Many of the rest have religious themes based on Bhutan's unique form of Tantric Buddhism: the Zhungdra, one of the oldest classical Bhutanese songs, performed as an offering to the gods and goddesses; Drametse Nga Cham, a masked dance from Drametse in eastern Bhutan that UNESCO includes on its Intangible Cultural Heritage list; Nga Ging Cham (Dance of the Wrathful), featuring gings, the spiritual beings whose movements were revealed to Guru Rinpoche in a vision; Trung Trung, usually performed during the Black-Necked Crane Festival that celebrates the endangered bird that overwinters in several sanctuaries in Bhutan; and the Layab Dance and Sakteng Dance of nomads who live in high altitudes and herd yaks for a living.

The troupe performs in the dress authentic to each one — intricately carved wooden masks of wrathful aspect, hand-woven tunics made of yak hair — and with respect to the traditions they honor. The performance even includes a demonstration of archery (Bhutan's national sport). Bhutanese believe that watching the masked dances, in particular, is meritorious and auspicious. That they leave imprints on viewers' minds that can help them later in life and even after death. Whether you experience that or not, Khuju Luyang at least provides the opportunity to help preserve authentic Bhutanese culture in a very direct way — which surely is its own kind of merit.