The mystic land of Bhutan celebrates many festivals, including the Bhutanese New Year, the summer solstice, National Day and more. But the most important of them all, is Tshechu, a religious festival that is observed all across the country, at various times throughout the year. You could easily catch the experience, no matter when you choose to travel.
Aside from the main festival of Bhutan, you could opt for the more offbeat festival experiences. Jambay Lhakhang Drup held at the Jambay Lhakhang monastery includes a stunning fire ceremony. Or the Punakha Drubchen that does a dramatic reenactment of a 17th Century battle with Tibet, as a build up to the Punakha Tschechu. Yet another Bhutan festival you can visit is the Haa Summer Festival, set against a sensational Himalayan backdrop, and is a joyous celebration of the nomadic lifestyle of the Haa Valley locals. Forget the fancy bucket list, this is your chance to experience truly one-of-a-kind moments like riding a yak!
For the eco adventurer in you, the Black Necked Crane Festival is unmissable. Visit the courtyard of Gangtey Goenpa in Phobjikha Valley and join the locals in celebrating the arrivals of this iconic endangered bird and native winter species of Bhutan, through dances, environmental dramas and folk songs.
For the Tshechus, the dates are set as per the lunar calendar, usually the tenth day of the month, corresponding to Guru Rinpoche’s birthday. The exact month will vary between regions, temples and towns. The next one in Paro is from 17th to 21st March, while the Thimphu Tshechu falls on 7th to 9th October 2019.
The other Bhutan festival dates are 13th to 16th November for the Jambay Khakhang Drup, while the Punakha Drubchen and Tshechu are on 12 to 14th February and 15th to 17th February, respectively. Meanwhile the Black Necked Crane Festival is scheduled for 10th and 11th November, right as winter sets in.
You can also go for the renowned Jomolhari Mountain Festival on the 14th and 15th of October 2019, an enlightening experience celebrating the renowned Jholmolhari trek and the yak herder communities, that have dedicated their lives to protecting that precious ecosystem and all its inhabitants. The Matsutake Mushroom Festival held by the Ura people in Bumthang is another extraordinary festival experience Bhutan offers you, on the 23rd and 24th of August. Spend days understanding and relishing the sustainable harvesting of native mushrooms.
Choose from one of SOTC’s tailored Bhutan tour packages and get ready to experience spiritual bliss. Whatever kind of Bhutan festival you choose to experience, what you will come away with is an awareness. Of beauty, life, spirit, community, land. Even if for just a fleeting moment, you’ll become one with the earth, just like the people of Bhutan always are.
Like all things Bhutan, Tshechu is steeped in culture and Buddhist spirituality. It is an occasion to honour and revere their most iconic saint — Guru Rinpoche. The story can be traced back all the way to the 8th century, when the “one who was born from a lotus flower” formally introduced Buddhism to the land. Centuries later, this main festival of Bhutan is now a part of the fabric of the country and a must-have experience for all visitors. After all, there aren’t many places you can witness monks performing incredible masked dances of devotion, the steps of which are said to come from meditative visions of past Buddhist masters, passed down the generations. Even today the choreography is exactly the same, invoking a sense of deep spirituality just by watching.
You can experience this Bhutan festival across different temples, dzongs and monasteries in the country. While the dates vary, what stays the same is the grandiosity of the occasion, the coming together of communities, the joy and reverence, and to top it all off, some spectacular Bhutanese traditions that are millennia old. Witness monks and local village men dressed in authentic wooden masks, soak in performances that each tell a story of their own about the history of Bhutan. See parts of Guru Rinpoche’s life and times come to life through these dances, giving it so much more meaning than only seeing a statue or a painting.
The biggest Tshechus (an annual religious festival meaning "tenth day") you can go for are the Paro and Thimphu Tshechus, where the celebrations are more expansive and the tourists always flock. The one at Paro is held at the Rinchen Pung Dzong, across 5 days, usually in late March or April. Each day has a series of performances and colourful displays, with neighbouring communities all coming into town to participate. Some of the highlights you’ll get to see are the sacred dances like “Black Hat Dance” or “Dance of the Terrifying Deities”. Don’t be startled by the “Atsaras” or clowns, with their big red masks and spooky grins — they are like the guides of Tshechu. Making jokes, translating the performances, interacting and joking with the crowd. Their appearance is a mere reminder that there is no guarantee what physical form your next life will take.
The celebrations in Paro culminate with the unfurling of a 4-storey high “thangka” or religious scroll before dawn, a sight to behold! But even if you can’t make it to Paro, you can always catch the national festival of Bhutan in the capital, Thimphu. Established in 1670, this Tshechu is celebrated in the 8th month of the Bhutanese calendar, usually between September and October. Expect to see similar sights as in Paro, on just as large a scale. At this 3-day spectacle, locals dress in their finest, as thousands flock to the fortress courtyard of the Tashichho Dzong. Follow them and find a comfortable spot to soak it all in.