Travellers and Magicians

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Travellers and Magicians
Travellers and Magicians VideoCover.png
Travellers and Magicians film poster
Directed byKhyentse Norbu
Produced byRaymond Steiner
Malcolm Watson
Written byKhyentse Norbu
StarringNeten Chokling
Tshewang Dendup
Lhakpa Dorji
Sonam Kinga
Sonam Lhamo
Deki Yangzom
CinematographyAlan Kozlowski
Edited byJohn Scott
Lisa-Anne Morris
Distributed byZeitgeist Films
Release date
Running time
108 minutes

Travellers and Magicians (Dzongkha: ཆང་ཧུབ་ཐེངས་གཅིག་གི་འཁྲུལ་སྣང) is a 2003 Bhutanese Dzongkha language film written and directed by Khyentse Norbu, a reincarnate lama of Tibetan Buddhism, who is also known as Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche. The movie is the first feature film shot entirely in the Kingdom of Bhutan. The majority of the cast are not professional actors; Dendup, a well-known Bhutanese radio actor and producer, is the exception. This movie is among the first to take a Himalayan Buddhist perspective.


A young government official named Dondup (played by Tshewang Dendup) who is smitten with United States (he even has a denim gho) dreams of escaping there while stuck in a beautiful but isolated village. He hopes to connect in the U.S. embassy with a visa out of the country. He misses the one bus out of town to Thimphu, however, and is forced to hitchhike and walk along the Lateral Road to the west, accompanied by an apple seller, a Buddhist monk with his ornate, dragon-headed dramyin heading to Thimphu, a drunk, a widowed rice paper maker and his daughter Sonam (played by Sonam Lhamo).

To pass the time, the monk tells the tale of Tashi, a restless farmboy who, like Dondup, dreams of escaping village life. Tashi rides a horse that goes into a forest. He immediately becomes lost in remote mountains and finds his life entwined with that of an elderly hermit woodcutter and his beautiful young wife. Tashi's wish of escape granted, he finds himself caught in a web of lust and jealousy, enchanted by the beautiful and yielding wife, but fearing the woodsman and his axe. Tashi finally tries to murder the woodcutter, aided by his wife who is pregnant by Tashi. He runs away, however, while the old man is near death, burdened by his guilt. Deki, the woodcutter's wife calls and runs after him, but drowns in a mountain river while giving pursuit.

Tashi's adventures finally turn out to be hallucinations induced by chhaang, a home-brewed liquor. The monk's tale merely parallels Dondup's growing attraction to Sonam. During a dilemma similar to Tashi's, Dondup manages to hitch a ride to Thimphu. The film ends without showing the final outcome of Dondup's journey - his visa interview and his trip abroad. The audience is left to wonder whether the trip changed his attitude toward the village and Bhutan, and if he returned to the village.


In keeping with the production of Norbu's previous movie The Cup, no professional actors (save Dendup: a radio actor) were used. Auditions were held to select the cast from all walks of life including farmers, schoolchildren, and employees of the Bhutan Broadcasting Service, Government of Bhutan, and the Royal Bodyguard. Many production decisions, including casting and fixing the date of release, were chosen using Mo — an ancient method of divination.[1]

New aspects[edit]

According to the director, the story of Dendup was inspired by Izu No Odoriko (The Dancing Girl of Izu), a story by Yasunari Kawabata about a group of travellers and an infatuation between a dancing girl and a schoolboy. The story of Tashi was inspired by a Buddhist fable about two brothers, one of whom aspires to become a magician.[1]

In making this movie, Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche, an internationally renowned Buddhist lama, sets the standard for the nascent Bhutanese film industry. The story depicts traditional Bhutanese folklore and storytelling techniques. Travellers and Magicians is a profoundly Bhutanese film, with a theme and vocabulary that reflects the culture of Bhutan.

The storytelling technique employed in the film is the one of a story within a story, as the monk narrates the story of Tashi. The nesting of worlds goes three levels deep, as Tashi hallucinates/dreams after consuming chhang.

Traditional and fusion music is used, with Western rock and Western-influenced music being heard via Dondup's music system and traditional music from the dramyin of the monk and as ambient music. The noted chant music advocate David Hykes contributed music at the invitation of the director. A soundtrack of the movie has been commercially released.[1]

Since only a quarter of the people of Bhutan have the mother tongue of Dzongkha, one of the cast members — Sonam Kinga — acted as dialog coach to the cast.[1]


Travellers and Magicians was met with overwhelming critical acclaim, earning a Rotten Tomatoes approval rating of 93% of critics who rated it out of 59 critic reviews giving it a Certified "Fresh" rating.[2]



  1. ^ a b c d US Press Kit, Travellers and Magicians website
  2. ^ "Travellers and Magicians". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved May 7, 2013.

External links[edit]