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In Bhutan, the biggest draw for travelers is the annual religious festivals held in all districts. People from all corners of the country attend the festivities in their finest attires decorated with valuable jewels and ornaments. As much as festivals display the rich cultural and religious history of Bhutan, they are also a means for people to parade their collections of Bhutanese textile. Families gather and feast on elaborate packed lunches, picnicking in circles splayed out around the monasteries.
What appears as a gala fest of mask dances and people in bright attire is actually one of profound religious significance to the Bhutanese. These festivals are enactments of the teachings of Padmasambhava or Guru Rinpoche , devised centuries ago so that the laity would understand. To attend the festival is to be blessed. Among the solemn mask dancers, you will spot certain ones mingling with the crowds conjuring laughter. These are the Atsaras, the Bhutanese clowns. The timing of the festivals has also been set ingeniously after the harvest so that people can celebrate a year of hard work on the farm.
Performed at Jambay Lhakhang, an 8th century monastery, this festival spotlights several exciting dances. The fire ceremony, Mewang, is a unique dance performed under flames where crowds walk through a gate of huge fireworks as a means to drive away evil spirits. When night falls, we mingle amongst the locals to witness the Tercham which translates to ‘Treasure Dance’. This dance is the main feature of the festival where masked dancers dance naked at the outskirts of the monastery to purify sins and augur a good harvest.
Punakha Dromchoe Festival takes place in the Punakha Dzong or Fortress. The Dzong stands majestically anchored between the Mo Chhu and Pho Chhu rivers constructing a beautiful sight to see. To attend the festival, people have to walk through a wooden cantilever bridge built across the Mo Chhu river leading to the fortress. This festival is a commemoration of the Bhutanese victory over the Tibetan army in the 17th century. Storytelling is a powerful tool and the Punakha festival recounts the events of the battle. The ‘pazaps’ or local militia men, dressed in battle gear with a fierce war cry imitate the battle fought to safeguard this Dzong from Tibetan invaders.
The biggest festival conjointly the most popular festival of Bhutan is the Thimphu Tshechu. It is held in Thimphu Dzong, the capital of Bhutan. This tshechu sees the biggest crowd among any other festival in the country. Thousands gather adorned in their finest attires, embellished with extravagant ornaments to attend this festival and also as a means to exhibit the beauty of Bhutanese textile. People from all walks of life come to participate in the festivities and witness the elaborate mask dances. This national Tshechu is a must-not-miss as it is an accumulation of the unique textile, rich culture, and compelling religious history of Bhutan.
Paro: 04-08 April, 2020
Dongochang Village: 14-15 Oct, 2021
Wangdue Phodrang: 29 Sept - 01 Oct, 2020
Trashigang: 14-16 Feb, 2020
Haa: 11-12 July, 2020
Trashigang: 30 Dec - 01 Jan, 2021
Wangdue Phodrang: 11 Nov, 2020
Thimphu: 13 Dec, 2020
Trashi Yangtse: 15 March, 2021
There are festivals being held in different places in different times of the year. You can pick any one of your choice and customize with other trips.