Festivals in Bhutan are a great way to be immersed in its culture! The land of the thundering dragon, also has thundering performances and a vibrant culture that comes alive during its festivals. Each region has something spectacular to offer and the only way to really experience it is to immerse oneself like a local and be swept up in the joy.
Festivals in Bhutan you must attend –
THE TOURIST DRAWS
Tsechus, meaning Day 10, are held close to the tenth day of the lunar calendar. These are the most popular festivals in Bhutan and the locals dress up in their finest clothes and make their way to the festivities. The Thimphu Tsechu in Trashi Chhoe Dzong involves spectacular dancing by the monks. The Cham dance is the highlight of this festival and it involves colourful costumes and masks with depictions of life incidents of Padmasambhava and other famous Buddhist figures. The festival attracts large crowds, especially from rural areas as the people who live in these remote regions break away from their mundane farm life and come together to observe and partake in the joyous celebrations. Although crowded, the atmosphere is so vibrant that one can’t help but be swept up in it. We advise you to reserve your seats in advance to get a good view!
One of the biggest festivals in Bhutan, the Paro Tsechu is famous for the unfurling of the world’s biggest Thangka or Thongdrel, which is a religious picture. Seeing the thongdrel is supposed to provide freedom from all sins. During the Tsechu, monks and laymen perform masked dances in honour of Guru Rinpoche. The dances are meant to invoke deities to bestow blessings and absolve sins. The sheer energy of the city surrounding the festivities make this an enriching experience and one can witness the spiritual vibe reverberating throughout its proceedings. Dress in the traditional Gho or Kira and sit in the crowds and maybe even dance along!
Held in the valley of Punakha, the Tsechu is preceded by a two days of Drubchen (deep meditation to eradicate the evils of the world). What makes the Drubchen so special is the dramatic enactment of the 17th Century battle when Tibet invaded Bhutan to acquire a famous relic. A man named Zhabdrung pretended to throw it into the river and the Tibetan Army receded. The festival involves some monks walking to the river and throwing some oranges as a symbol of the relic. The entire enactment is performed with much vibrancy and fervour. The unfurling of the Thongdrel at the impressive Punakha Dzong is the most important part of the festival and holds much significance amongst the Bhutanese. This is one of the most important festivals in Bhutan.
THE OFFBEAT EVENTS
The little-known Bhutanese culture is rejoiced and celebrated through the Nomad’s Festival. Held in the Upper Bumthang valley, the festival attracts people from far reaches of the country. There are people selling all sorts of things, from the conical hats of Laya to the fermented cheese from Sakteng. The locals living herder lives all get together at this festival and it is an experience to be dressed like them and participate in the local games and relish the local food.
The Ura Valley in Bumthang hosts this three-day festival. Legend has it that a lama asked an old lady sitting outside her house for water. When she returned with a glass of water, the lama had vanished and left a bag containing a statue, which is now an important relic. It is still owned by the descendants of the woman and is the object of prayers during the festival. There are typical colourful dances but a much more authentic vibe to this festival. It is one of the more local festivals in Bhutan. The grandeur of the bigger western cities may be missing but if it is the grassroot Bhutan you seek, this festival will provide you a picture of just that.
While one needs no other excuse to visit this picturesque valley, the summer festival only adds to its charm. The otherwise sleepy valley really wakes up during the festivities. Enjoy the hospitality at a homestay while you absorb the unique amalgamation of the sumptuous food, traditional handicrafts, religious performances and traditional sports, all in one exuberant festival. The Haa Festival is one of the warmest festivals in Bhutan.
As is evident, most festivals of Bhutan involve the same religious tenets and performances. However, each is unique for its setting, local influences and indigenous ambiance. We highly recommend taking in atleast one festival to witness the zest with which locals celebrate them. It is an experience that will add that little something to your trip and give you a happy insight into the culture of this little land.
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