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Khaling: Tshechu for the Brokpas (Merak and Sakten)
Dawn has not yet broken and 40-year-old Zangmo has finished her household chores. Quickly sending off the yaks to graze she and her family, attired in their best costumes, set off for Khaling, Trashigang, on foot.

After a two-hour descent through pine forests they reach Tsendar Dubzhi, where the Khaling tshechu is being held. Friends and relatives from the nomadic Brokpa community of Merak and Sakten who are already there greet them.

The Khaling tshechu is unusually popular among the Brokpas. In fact, Khalingpas say that it is the only tshechu that the majority of the brokpas from Merak and Sakten witness. "This is the only tshechu me and my children have attended in our life time," said Zangmo. "Forget about other places, we cannot even make it to Trashigang tshechu because of the distance and the expenses involved".

The tshechu is popular with the highlanders
Chams (religious dances) like the Peling Rigsum, Drametse Ngachham, Sha Zam, and Chug Zam are performed and the thongdroel bearing Tenpa with Chagtong Chentong and Guru Rinpoche is displayed on the last day of the tshechu.

Lobzang, a father of two, said that except for the occasional business trips, they could not really stay back for the tshechu in other places.

However, it was convenient for the Brokpas to attend the Khaling tshechu as it coincided with their migration to the warmer valleys in winter. Khaling was a couple of hours walk from where they pitched camp.

"As we are much nearer to the place, we can take our children along who needs exposure and blessings," said Lobzang.

Many said that there were religious performances like Acha Lham and Yakchham back in the village but never a tshechu with complete set of performances.

While most of the families brought packed lunch and returned in the evening to their herds, some pitched tent near the Lhakhang and stayed until the last day of the tshechu.

Some also took the opportunity to sell cheese, butter, and yak meat. "We can sell more of our produce during the tshechu," said 34-year-old Dorji Tashi of Merak.

According to Khaling chimi, Sonam Dorji, the tshechu was previously held in August but was later shifted to October to correspond with the migration of the Brokpas.

Sakten town
He said that earlier there was an agreement with the yak herders that they would come down in the month of September and return to their villages some time in April.

"This arrangement gave Brokpas an opportunity to attend the tshechu," he said, adding that the tshechu timing was also altered because it earlier fell during the time of 'La Dham'. "It is believed that one is not supposed to travel to the hills as it disturbed the deities and brought rain that destroyed crops," he said.

Meanwhile, Sonam Dorji said that there were at least 30 Brokpas attending the tshechu in a day.

"Some come here to establish businesses but most are drawn by the tshechu," he said, adding that Brokpas also made offerings in the form of butter and cheese.

Contributed by Kesang Dema, KUENSEL, Bhutan's national newspaper, 2006
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