The festivals are generally the showcase of the ancient wars, dances, and other events for the visiting guests. Even though their stay I Bhutan might be short, we ensure they experience all things Bhutanese within the short span of
time. The old medieval romance comes alive through the country’s well preserved and promoted culture and tradition.
The festival has to be taken place not by the desire of authority’s wishes and people convenient. But it has to be in time and period been already incurved in the books of religious calendar annually irrespective of any hindrances or
circumstances to be encountered. Our living festivals, tsechu, feature spiritually uplifting masked dances where the omnipresent sad old wise clown interprets life through jokes, banters and pranks.
Mushroom Festival – Genekha, Thimphu: 15th-16th August 2018
Every year during August, Genekha bustles with activity as the villagers prepare to harvest Matsutake mushrooms. These mushrooms are endemic to this region and a major source of income for the villagers. Known for their delicious aroma and spicy flavours, Matsutake Mushrooms are highly coveted by gourmands in Japan and Europe. Depending on the aroma and quality, these mushrooms can fetch $200/kg in international markets. The festival aims to educate visitors about mushroom cultivation in the region and also provides an opportunity to enjoy some delectable dishes. The festival especially focuses on conservation of the forests for sustainable harvesting of the mushrooms. It also promotes tradition agrarian practices and encourages visitors to appreciate rural Bhutanese way of life. For two days, festival grounds are decked in colourful prayer flags and informative displays are set everywhere. A special stall displaying the nutritious and poisonous mushrooms attracts maximum visitors. The villagers put together special performances for the guests and sell delicious mushroom broths. The visitors can also join the villagers on mushroom-picking excursions and learn to identify this elusive fungus.
Thimphu Tshechu – Thimphu: 19th -21st September 2018
By the time Thimphu Tsechu begins, festivities are already in full swing. The Tshechu follows Thimphu Drubchen, a 5-day extravaganza dedicated to Palden Lhamo, one of the three protective deities of Thimphu Valley. According to the legend, Palden Lhamo appeared before Kuenga Gyaltsen – the reincarnation of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal’s son– and performed several sacred while he was deep in meditation. While Thimphu Drubchen is more of a religious affair, Thimphu Tsechu is has a more festive air. The centre of this cultural spectacle is Thimphu’s Tashichhoedzong where religious rituals and masked dances are performed for three days. Vendors from all over the country flock the capital to set up stalls near festival grounds, local flaunt their best traditional garbs and the air of festivity permeates throughout the city.
Jomalhari Mountain Festival – Jangothang: 4th -5th October 2018
Among wildlife enthusiasts, spotting snow leopard is equivalent to finding Holy Grail. This elusive creature has a dedicated festival of its own in Bhutan. Every year the residents of Jomolhari region congregate at the foot of the mountain at Jangothang to celebrate Jomolhari Mountain Festival. This community- based festival aims to promote conservation of this delicate eco-system and provides opportunity interact with semi-nomadic communities of the region. The focus is on mountain lion. Several displays in the festival provide information on this elusive creature and other Himalayan fauna of the region. Nature walks are organised for those who wish to explore this pristine region. Yak races and archery tournaments lend rustic charm to the festival. The locals set up stalls to sell home-brewed liquor, local cuisine and handmade trinkets.
Jambay Lhakhang Drup – Jambay Lhakhang, Bumthang: 24th -27th October 2018
Celebrated in the courtyard of the oldest and most sacred religious sites of the country, Jambay Lhakhang Drup is the most spectacular event of Bumthang Valley. The festival is known for its distinct ritual dances not performed in other Tshechus. Long ago, some monks started constructing a monastery near Trongsa but demons destroyed their work every night. To distract evil spirits, terton Dorje Lingpa ordained the monks to dance naked every night. Somehow, the trick worked and monks managed to finish the task. When Dorje Lingpa established Jambay Lhakhang Drup in Bumthang, he added this distinct ritual to the repertoire of chaam dances. Today Tercham (naked dance) is the highlight of this spectacular festival. Another important ritual is Mewang in which people jump through a burning archway to receive sacred fire blessings. Apart from these sacred rituals, the dancers perform whirling chaam dances.
Punakha Black-necked Crane Festival – Gangtey Monastery, Phobjikha/Gangtey: 11th November 2018
In November, people of Phobjikha Valley assemble in the courtyard of Gangtey Gompa to welcome their most cherished guests – Black-necked Cranes. Every year these birds migrate from Tibet to Phobjikha Valley and people of the region host a one-day festival in the honour of their avian friends. The people of Phobjikha Valley call them thrung thrung kam (heavenly birds) and consider their arrival a good omen and a sign of longevity. People believe that as long as the cranes keep returning, the valley will remain fertile and flourish. The monks at the monastery perform whirling chaam dances. But the schoolchildren steal the thunder here with their charming costume dances and plays. Royal Society for Protection of Nature(RSVN) exhibits information on the birds and other flora and fauna of the region.
Druk Wangyal Festival – Dochu La: 13th December 2018
Every winter, the royal family, royal army and locals assemble at Dochu La to honour the soldiers who died in a military operation in 2003 to flush out Indian militants from Bhutan. Although this festival is a relatively new addition to the calendar, it has gained immense popularity among locals and visitors. It is perhaps the only festival in Bhutan that does not revolve around the religious themes. The dances are performed by the Musical Band Troupe of Royal Bhutan Army instead of monks. The venue for the festival is not a Dzong or a monastery but stunning Dochu La. Amid the rhododendron forests with stunning snow-capped Himalayas in the background, the performers brave the chill to put together an exciting show. The highlight of the festival is the 3-part Dance of Heroes in which the performers pay homage to the martyrs. Another interesting dance is dedicated to the famed Tibetan poet Jetsun Milarepa. According to the legend, five demons tried to distract Milarepa while he was on a spiritual quest but the bard subdued them with his poetry.
Trongsa Tshechu – Trongsa Dzong, Trongsa: 15th -17th December 2018
As the first snow of the winter covers the Northern and Western corners of the country, balmy Tronsa prepares for its annual festival. Trongsa Tsechu is the oldest festival in the country. Most of the Tsechus of Bhutan trace their origins to this festival. The centre of this 5-day religious extravaganza is mighty Trongsa Dzong, the largest fortress in Bhutan. Dancers perform whirling masked dances throughout the festival while locals, flaunting their best dresses, throng the fortress. On the fifth day, a giant Thongdrel (painting of Guru Rinpoche) is unfurled. People believe that mere sight of this sacred painting washes away the sins.
Punakha Tshechu: Punakha, 14th – 17th February 2019
While the snow still blankets the upper regions of Bhutan, balmy Punakha prepares to host its annual cultural extravaganza. Punakha Tshechu marks the culmination of 4-day long Punakha Drubchen, a ceremony that has been celebrated since the 17th century. The 3-day festival commemorates the watershed victory of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal – the unifier of Bhutan – over Tibetan army. In the 17th century, Tibetans invaded Bhutan to seize its holiest relic Rangjung Kharsapani – a self-manifested statue of Avalokiteshvara. With limited resources and a band of determined warriors, Zhabdrung led the defence from Punakha. Near the banks of Mo Chhu river, he pretended to throw the statue in the river but tossed two oranges instead to mislead Tibetans. The invaders fell for the ruse and retreated.
For 3 days, Punakha Dzong, draped in colourful flags, reverberates with the sound of drum and cymbals. The monk body performs whirling chaam dances and a steady stream of visitors pour into the Dzong. The highlight of the festival is Maachham a performance by the traditional militia, Pazaps, who re-enact the scenes from the battle. On last day, Je Khenpo – head of the monastic order in Bhutan – performs a ceremony to appease local deities and throws oranges in the river as a symbolic gesture. The visitors can also witness some unique ceremonies performed to propitiate Yeshey Goenpo, the protective deity of Bhutan.
Talo Tshechu: Talo Village, Punakha, 14th – 16th March 2019
High above Punakha Valley, amid pine and alpine forests, Talo Gompa and the adjoining Talo village remain undisturbed for most of the year. As the snow starts melting on the distant hills of Gasa, the village and the monastery prepare to host annual Talo Tshechu. The festival is famous for Zhungdra, a recital by Talop women. Women practice for months and, during the festival, don their spectacular traditional robes for the recital. Three songs – known as Mani Sum – are the pride of Talops. According to the locals, the songs are part of the rich oral tradition of the village and monastery and no outsider can perform them. The monks and laymen perform scintillating chaam dances and the whole village resonates with the sounds of drums and horns for 3 days.
Paro Tshechu: Paro, 17th – 21st March 2019
As the first crisp air of spring washes over Paro Valley, Rinpung Dzong buzzes with activity as the preparations for Paro Tshechu begin. The most spectacular and famous festival of the country, Paro Tshechu attracts visitors from all over the world. The first Tshechu was held in the 17th century to consecrate the Dzong and has been organized ever since in an unbroken line. The festival honours Guru Rinpoche – the protector saint of Bhutan – and performers, in colourful costumes and ferocious masks, enact scenes from Guru’s life. Particularly interesting are those episodes where Guru took a wrathful form to defeat evil spirits. Astaras (jesters) add a dash of fun with their slapstick acts. On the last of Tshechu, a 300-year old Thongdrel is unfurled at the dawn and people throng the fortress to receive the blessings. They believe that mere sight of the painting washes away the past sins of devotees.
Chorten Kora: Trashiyangtse, 21st March-5th April 2019
Standing next to tumbling Kulong Chhu in Trashiyangtse, whitewashed Chorten Kora stands in splendid solitude against the backdrop of rugged green hills. This pastoral setting along with rows of makeshift stalls selling a wide variety of goods give the Chorten Kora festival an air of country fair.
Towards the end of the winter, Chorten Kora is repainted and draped in coloured flags for festivities. The annual Chorten Kora Festival takes place in two phases. In the first phase, people of Dakpa Community from neighbouring Arunachal Pradesh in India throng the stupa to perform the sacred circumambulation of the chorten. The ritual honours an 8-year old girl who, according to the legend, sacrificed herself to save the people of Trashiyangtse from a demon. In the second phase, people from all over Bhutan visit Trashiyangtse to perform the sacred ritual and obtain blessings during the unfurling of Thongdrel.
Rhododendron Festival: Royal Botanical Park, Lampelri, Dochu La, 19th – 21st April 2019
During spring, Bhutan’s hills and valley floors burst in a riot of colours. Hanging from lush green trees, the red and pink rhododendrons are a sight to behold. Among all the floral wealth of Bhutan, rhododendron holds a special place. Although ethereal and elusive blue poppy is the national flower, rhododendron is the true symbol of Bhutan’s natural heritage. The most famous site to explore these ubiquitous flowers is Dochula Pass. Every year during spring, the sleepy Lampelri Botanical Park comes to life when it hosts Lampelri Rhododendron Festival. Visitors can observe 50 varieties of rhododendrons on display and other Himalayan flora. Those who wish to see the flowers in their natural habitat can hike through rhododendron forests surrounding Dochula Pass. We recommend a refreshing hike to Lungchutse Gomeba coupled with a trip to Lampelri Botanical park to enjoy this floral fiesta.
Ura Yakchoe: Gaden Village, Ura Valley, Bumthang, 16th – 20th April 2019
Ura Yakchoe is an excellent place to observe rural festivities and agrarian way of life. Yaks, hawkers and home-brewed liquor lend this festival a distinct rustic charm. The star attraction of Ura Yakchoe is moonshine. Two days before the festivities, people from all over Ura Valley descend near Gaden Village and start brewing Ara. A man in a black mask with a wooden phallus in hand is appointed the host of the festival and has the sole responsibility of running a smooth show for 3 days.
According to a legend, evil spirits once unleashed a deadly plague throughout Ura Valley. With no relief in sight, people prayed for divine intervention. One day, a monk came to Gaden Village and asked an old woman for some water. When the woman returned with water the monk was gone but left behind a sack containing a statue of Chodor (Vajrapani). Once the statue was enshrined inside Gaden Lhakhang, the plague vanished from the valley. Every year during summer, people of Ura Valley take a break from their routine and gather near Gaden Monastery to participate in the festivities. The famous statue of Chodor is brought down from the monastery to the festival grounds where monks perform spectacular dances.
Nyimalung Festival – Chumey Valley, Bumthang: 10th – 11th July 2019
Situated in Chumey Valley of Bumthang, Nyimalung Monastery is an important religious centre of this area. The focal point of the worship here is the beautiful statue of Guru Rinpoche inside the richly decorated chapel. At the onset of monsoon, residents of Chumey Valley ascend to the Gompa to participate in Nyimalung Tshechu. Nyimalung Tshechu is an ideal occasion to observe rural festivities and interact with rural communities. It also provides great opportunity to enjoy the rain-drenched landscape of Central Bhutan. The festival takes places from 8th to 10th day during the 5th month. It starts with chaam (masked) dances and culminates on the 3rd day with the unfurling of a giant 12-meter Thongdrel (painting of Guru Rinpoche). People believe that mere sight of this holy scroll cleanses the soul. The monks of Nyimalung are well known for their musical skills and they put together a scintillating show during the festival.