Bhutan is the mysterious country in Asia, and only traveling there is the way to witness all that the country has to offer. Off the radar for tourists until many years, Bhutan has now been welcoming the travelers from all over the world. And not just the places, but the festivals of Bhutan also are just as grand and magnificent, giving the travelers a peek into Bhutan’s rich tradition and history of many centuries.
Festivals are the time to witness the cities and towns in Bhutan come into life totally. People dress in their finest, and colours fill the streets and the valleys. There is music, laughter, joy, lots of delectable cuisines, traditions, chants, prayers, and not to forget, the energetic and mystic dance performances that give goosebumps.
Bhutan festivals are all Based on the Lunar calendar. There are many festivals in Bhutan which are celebrated throughout the year, but the Bhutan festival names mainly categorise Tshechu and Drubchen. Let’s find out what they signify first.
What does Tscheu in Bhutan mean?
The Tsechu is held in almost every region of Bhutan at different times throughout the year. It is a festival in honour of the Buddhist Guru Padmasambhava, popularly known as Guru Rinpoche, who is revered in Bhutan. It is believed that people can gain good luck and prosperity by taking part in the Tsechu festivals, which also involve many religious practices. Held on the auspicious days of the Bhutanese calendar, Tscheus typically last for 4 days and they occur in monasteries and fortresses (Dzongs).
The most significant and the richest traditional element of the Tscheu are the series of stylized dance rituals performed by the monks wearing special attires. The monks undergo rigorous meditation to carefully prepare for the dances for many days prior to the festival. Watching these grand performances with music is considered sacred, with the locals believing that it is an essential part of the journey to enlightenment.
Drubchen means meditation, and along with the Tscehu sometimes or without, during the Drubchen festivals, prayers and meditations are carried on at homes as well as monasteries.
Here are the top 10 festivals in Bhutan that you should attend
The Best Festivals of Bhutan
01 | Paro Tshechu
The religious festival of Tscheu is held across all of Bhutan, but the one Paro is the most celebrated and the popular carnival depicting the culture in Bhutan. Occurring at the beautiful Rinpung Dzong, it is a festival celebrated with much pomp and glory. The whole town of Paro comes together to enjoy, where people dress in their best, the city looks vibrant and the town gets in the mood for celebration with folklores, food and music. The mask dance performances attract thousands of people including many tourists that come to capture the stories and the traditions behind the dances. On the last day, which is the 4th day of the celebrations, the monks display a huge painting of Thangkha of Guru Rinpoche marking the end of celebrations.
Given that Paro has the international airport and great connectivity by road as well, Paro Tscheu attracts the highest number of international travelers.
Recommended read: A Hike To Tiger’s Nest in Paro
02 | Thimphu Tshechu
The capital of Bhutan Thimpu witnesses its major festival when it celebrates Thimpu Tscheu at Tashichho Dzong. The otherwise quiet city comes to life during the Tscheu. People from various regions of Bhutan arrive at Thimpu to take part in this festival that involve many prayers and rituals performed by the monks. This is the second most attended festival by the travelers in Bhutan after Paro Tscheu.
03 | Jambay Lhakhang Tshechu
Held in the secluded and far away part in eastern Bhutan in Bumthang Jambay Lhakhang Tscheu is one of the most celebrated festivals in central Bhutan. The 4-day carnival is held at Jambay Lhakhang, one of the oldest temples in the kingdom of Bhutan. People dress in traditional attires, families gather to prepare and savour specially made lunches and dinners. A lot of unique traditional performances occur during the Tscheu, one of the unusual ritual being the naked dance ritual around a fire at midnight.
04 | Punakha Drubehen and Tshechu
Held at picturesque Punakha Dzong on the banks of the river in the quiet town of Punakha, Punakha Drubchen and Tscheu is when the entire town bustles with activities and colours. Prayers and rituals mark this ceremony, which also consists of a dance performance related to Bhutan’s ancient history dating back to the 17th century. Most locals make a trip to Punakha as a holiday or a getaway during this time, creating an ambience of the feast.
05 | Ura Yakchoe
Celebrated in eastern Bhutan region of Bumthang, Ura Yakchoe is a traditional local festival dedicated to a Lama who is worshipped for seeking blessings. According to the legend, the Lama visited a woman’s home and asked for water, and when she appeared with water there was no sign of the Lama but instead found a statue. It has been passed down many generations and people worship it during Ura Yakchoe in the form of dance performances in the Ura Valley in Bumthang.
You might have to consider traveling for a week if you insist to visit the remote Bumthang to witness Ura Yakchoe.
06 | Wangdue Tshechu
Wangdue is one of the oldest places in central eastern Bhutan with a rich history, culture and tradition. This region celebrates its own Tscheu too, which involves unique dance performances, including an exquisite performance called Raksha Mangcham, or the ‘Dance of the Ox.’ Apart from witnessing the lush beauty of this mountain region Wangdue, you get to witness the locals celebrating this Tscheu up close.
07 | Tamzhing Phala Choetpa
Celebrated at Tamzhing Lhakhang in central Bhutan in Bumthang, Tamzhing Phala Choepta festival is one of the important festivals in that region. It is celebrated by the Nyingma sect of Buddhists and is dedicated to the 15th century Lama Pema Lingpa. This festival is also characterized by mask dance and cultural festivities. It is believed that attending this festival wards off evil spirits, brings good luck and prosperity.
08 | Kurjey Tshechu
The festival takes place in the Chokhor Valley at Kurjey Lhakhang in Bumthang and is similar to the others that are celebrated in the rest of the country dedicated to Guru Rinpoche, whose imprint is present in the temple.
09 | Nimalung Festival
Held in Nimalung Dratshang in Bumthang, the Nimalung Festival is a 3-days event which is celebrated with grandeur in the town. Elaborate traditional murals are worshipped during this festival where many mask-dance performances also take place.
Recommended read: 4 Things You Shouldn’t Miss Trying in Bhutan
10 | Jomolhari Mountain Festival
An initiative by the local community to protect the endangered snow leopard found in the parts of Bhutan in the mountains of Jomolhari, Jomolhari Mountain festival is now one of the popular celebrations in Bhutan. Festivities include sports, snow leopard themed folk songs and dance performances. Many exhibitions are held during the festival where the handicrafts and the artworks of the locals are displayed and sold.
11 | Black Necked Crane Festival
Celebrated in the Phobjhika valley or Gangtey in eastern Bhutan, the Black Necked Crane Festival is more of another awareness festival to protect these rare species that arrive during the late November as a part of their annual migration from the Tibetan plateau. To welcome the birds that form a major part in the lives of the people of this community, many plays, dances and songs are performed by local children and adults.
Bhutan Festival Calendar 2018
Half of the year might be over, but if you are planning your trip to Bhutan during the next half, which includes the best time to visit Bhutan, here are the Bhutan festival dates 2018 details.
Paro Tscheu – March 27 to 31
Thimpu Tscheu – September 19 to 21
Jambay Lhakhang Tscheu – October 24 to 26
Punakha Drubehen and Tshechu – February 25 to 27
Ura Yakchoe – April 27 to 29
Wangdue Tshechu – September 17 to 19
Tamzhing Phala Choetpa – September 18 to 20
Kurjey Tshechu – June 23
Nimalung Festival – June 21 to 23
Jomolhari Mountain Festival – October 14 & 15, Thimpu.
Black Necked Crane Festival – November 11
For an exhaustive list of details, refer this website which has the dates for all the events and festivals in Bhutan.
Recommended read: How To Travel To Bhutan From India?
Tips To Attend The Festivals in Bhutan
If you are planning to attend any of these festivals on your Bhutan trip, it is required to plan your accommodation and travel ahead. Most of these festivals are holiday time for locals, hence transport could be disrupted and hotels could be full since people arrive in towns in large numbers.
If you are a photographer or a storyteller looking for stories, then festivals in Bhutan are the best to attend. Make sure to befriend locals to get to know about their folklore and legends
Most people wouldn’t oppose to them being clicked, but if you want to capture monks and older priests, it is better to check with them for the permission. Also, monks aren’t supposed to touch women, so you might want to keep a safe distance if you are a woman photographer/traveler.
These festivals of Bhutan are considered sacred, and most of these are held in monasteries and fortresses, which are religious places. Hence dress appropriately covering your shoulders and legs when around here.
So that’s it about the festivals of Bhutan! If it is possible to plan your trip to Bhutan around these festival dates, you are going to have an awesome experience for sure. Attending these festivals of Bhutan at least once is surely worth it.
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