No Image Available — A lesson from Bhutan

It was our first week in our village Rangjung in Rural Eastern Bhutan. The town was having its annual Tsechu (Buddhist Festival) and the whole village gathered together at the monastery. Being a photographer, I was extremely excited to document this festival. Tourists hardly ever go this deep into Bhutan and perhaps only a handful of foreigners have ever had the privilege to witness this.

Megan and I met up with her vice principle and we joined the rows of people sitting on the ground in the courtyard. Just then, a group of Black Hat dancers started walking out to perform their dance. I took my camera out of my bag, and I looked towards Megan’s colleague and asked : “is it okay if I take photos?” .

I assumed she would say yes but to my horror she shook her head.

What?! No?! I can’t ? I’m all this way in deep Bhutan and I can’t photograph this unique event happening right in front of me?

I didn’t want to be disrespectful and start taking photos regardless as I was new there and didn’t know all the customs. It kept nagging me that it would probably be fine and maybe I should just walk away from them and then start taking photos from somewhere else. Id seen photos of these festivals online so I’m sure it would be fine to photograph it.

My heart sank when I saw a local guy with a camera walking around and taking photos! Surely she will see him taking photos and realise she told me I couldn’t and then fix it? Nope. At one stage he walked right past us taking photos and she didn’t say anything. I looked up at the clouds in disbelief .

And like a light switching on, I suddenly had this overwhelming realisation. I was there. Here. I’m here. I can witness this event first hand through my eyes. Even if I couldn’t take any photos, it doesn’t take away from the fact that I’m here right now experiencing this. Why was I so eager to take photos — so that I can get likes on Instagram or post it on Facebook and get lots of comments? Have bragging rights? Would I think when I die one day, “Ah I just regret I didn’t take photos at that festival?”

How strange it was to see the pointlessness of it all, all at once!

I realised that the only thing that matters is being present. Just be. I can only think I would regret not being ‘awake’ during the festivals. Sure, I can’t show anyone what it looked like. But I was there and really enjoyed it . I will cherish that memory and lesson for the rest of my life.

*Side note lesson : “Rather ask for forgiveness than permission”

Written on the 17th of Feb in a coffee shop in Montezuma, Costa Rica. It sure is beautiful here.