Dancing in the square !
One of the most pleasant things that has evolved for the local community in Gyalthang (Shangri-la) after the Old Town’s (Dokher Dzong) restoration, has been the communal dance that takes place year-round (weather permitting of course) in the evenings on the two main squares in Gyalthang – one in the Old Town at Sifang Jie and the other at the Mandala Square or Tangchen Guangchang in the new town. Both these venues draw local communities from every walk of life and every ethnic and age-group and has now evolved into something that is completely spontaneous and a daily highlight in everyone’s lives.
The communal dance sessions first began in 2005 under the input of the Gyalthang Township Committee, shortly after the Old Town restoration work began, but later took on life of it’s own driven completely by the enthusiasm and energy of Gyalthang’s local community who just love to dance and sing and be together as a community. A local saying does much to drive home this point - “Our babies dance and sing before they walk and talk.”
The dance sessions which begins around eight in the evenings every day are open to all and have become a big hit for getting together with one’s friends after a long, busy day to wind down and catch up with each other. It’s also a great way to stay in shape and exercise. Every evening, after a nice family dinner at home, the dance one of the highlights for each and everyone in the family. It’s common to find entire families together especially on weekends dancing away. There’s no dress code at all but it’s the older ladies who stick with their traditional garb with their turbans and their trademark sheepskin capes. Pre 2005, the elderly only made it together in the Shidag (protector hills) on a lunar full moon and that too was difficult as it was two km away from town. Now, they can revel in traditional music and songs together right in the centre of town and every day if they want to.
For housewives and their neighbors it’s a great opportunity to meet up and exchange the new gossip in town after a long day of housekeeping, work or cooking duties in their homes and also an alibi to stay away from the mahjong tables in the evenings.
The surprise participants in these dance sessions are the youth from the local community. From office workers to tour guides to young parents, the young including boys and girls turn up in droves to these two squares to kick-off their evening. It^s a way for them to stay in the community and an opportunity to learn and appreciate traditional music and dance and in some cases to meet up with perhaps a Nashi sweetheart for a rendezvous.
All these elements come into play at the dance against the backdrop of a colorful ethnic variety in that is so typical of Gyalthang and the region, especially the Dokher Dzong with it’s history as an important hub along the ancient tea trading route. Whether it is the Tibetans who predominate on the highlands or the Nashi and Lisu from the lower river gorges, they all feel at home in the Old Town and the nightly dance sessions reflect that sense of together-ness and history.
For visitors, we highly recommend you to spend at least one evening out at Sifang Jie, the square in the Old Town. Although it begins only at eight in the evening, the region falls far west, so the days are much longer. Would be perfect after an early dinner in the Dokher Dzong.
Besides traditional folk songs such as Bashey accompanied by Pewang (string instrument) that are played on speakers, pop songs by Yadong and Kunga are a favorite even for the old. Local hits such as “Gashong Gashong-la” sung by Gyalthang`s Yangchen Lhamo and a kid-friendly number by Dadi are also popularly played out. Besides learning more about local Tibetan music and dance, if one becomes a regular here, you will also gradually get to know one or two of the endearing characters that make up the local community in Dokher Drong.