Festivals in Bhutan are typically known as Tshechu (meaning 10th day) and they are celebrated with great fervor across the many monasteries, dzongs and temples dotting the Dragon Kingdom.
The tenth day of the Lunar calendar has a special significance for the Bhutanese as they consider this date to be extremely auspicious. They whole heartedly believe that every human being should witness the Tshechu and the masked dances to wash away all past sins.
Each Tshechu has an array of dances that relate to folklore and religious stories (mostly originating in the 8th century or the life of Padmasambhava).
The festivals in Paro and Thimphu are the most popular as they happen in the Western part of Bhutan and both cities are an hour’s drive away from the airport
Thimphu Tshechu (10th day of the 8th month of the lunar year)
The capital city of Bhutan hosts its most popular festival Thimphu Tshechu which draws in people from across the world. The festival began in 1867 and since then many forms of dance like 21 black hats dance, Zhana Chham, Tungam Chham (dance of angry dieties) and Durdag (dance of the cremation Ground) are performed in this festival. The Alsaras who are a cross between jesters and spiritual gurus also engage in a dance which is supposed to drive away evil forces.
Just 3 days before the Thimphu Tshechu, a smaller festival named Thimphu Dromchoe is celebrated. Holy dances dedicated towards the governing deity Palden Lhamo are practiced here.
Paro Tshechu (April 7th to April 11th 2017)
The Paro Tshechu is held every spring and consists of two fun filled days of song, dance and merriment apart from religious activities. On the last day of the festival a huge Throngdel (locked away from the eyes of the public for the rest of the year) is displayed and the intricate artistry of the Throngdel always fascinates the onlookers. It’s believed that one look at this sacred Throngdel can absolve all sins.
Punakha Drubchen (March 2nd 2017 to March 6th 2017)
A festival enacting the glorious war and the subsequent victory if Zhabdrung Namgyel against Tibetan armies is still celebrated in Punakha. Warrior dances revolving around the battle are displayed in the festival.
Punakha Tshechu (7th March 2017 to 9th March 2017)
This is one of the most famous festivals of Bhutan and it happens right after the Punakha Drubchen. The rolling out of the Throngdol of Guru Rinpoche is the central attraction of the festival besides the many colorful masked dances.
Gasa Tshechu (April 3 2017 to April 6 2017)
The largest festival dominating the quiet little district of Gasa in Northwest Bhutan, there is much to look forward to in the Gasa Tshechu. There are a variety of indigenous dance performances which are not found anywhere else in the world. The venue is the Gasa Dzong.
Tsirang Tshechu (April 03 to April 06 2017)
Arguably, the biggest festival in Southern Bhutan the Tsirang town is packed to the hilt during this festival. The focus is again on masked dances with local music and traditional costumes (some of them have skulls fixed on them). The 8th century Throngdol of Guru Padmasambhava is displayed on the last day of the festival.
Zhemgang Tsechu (April 04 to April 07 2017)
One of the more inaccessible areas of Bhutan, Zhemgang gains a burst of new life when the annual Tshechu is held there. Along with many different dance performances, a highly revered Throngdol belonging to Guru Rinpoche is unfurled and displayed.
Gomphu Kora Festival (April 4th -6th 2017)
Gomphu Kora is in the centre of East Bhutan. It is merely 24 km away from Trashigang that is Bhutan’s most populated district and about 2 km away from Duksum. The name Gomphu Kora literally translates into Meditation Cave and Circumambulation.
The name gets its inspiration from a cave fashioned out of a rock cave. The presiding deity of Gomphu Kora is Myongkhapa who had vanquished evil spirits at this very spot. From the 10th to 15th centuries, the Gomphu Kora saw a lot of construction and addition along with mural paintings.
The Gomphu Kora festival is held between 23rd to 25th march every year and almost the whole of Eastern Bhutan congregates around Gomphu Kora to perform circumambulation (the theory is “go around Gomphu Kora now as tomorrow may be too late”).
The Gomphu Kora is one of the most sacred festivals of Bhutan and its specially touching to see the dedication of the Dakpa tribes of Arunachal who walk through the rough terrain for days with their whole families, to reach the Gomphu Kora during festival time. The Dakpa’s have supposedly been doing this since the 8th century.
Merak Tshechu (2nd to 3rd August 2017)
The Eastern Bhutan Merak Valley lies inside the Trashigang Dzongkhang (altitude 3000 meters). Semi nomads named Brokpas inhabit this valley and they exist close to nature with unchanged customs and rituals that they have been practicing for thousands of years.
The Brokpas do not use currency; they use the barter system. Their clothes are made completely out of skin, hair and wool of the Yak. The women practice polyandry and the whole community loves dance and music. In the 3 day long Merak Tshechu, Brokpas perform the rare Ache Lamo dance along with the Yak dance (also practiced in Sikkim). If cultural immersion is one of your interests, then this festival will surely appeal to you.
Matsutake Festival (4th weekend of August)
The Matsutake festival is a food festival and brings with it the great opportunity to sample the unique varieties of mushrooms found in Bhutan. Identification, harvesting and tasting the wild Matsutake mushrooms of Bhutan is the highlight of this festival and thousands of tourists comb through the trails of the valley to discover lush patches of mushroom.
The festival happens in the Ura Valley and tourists generally stay in local homestays (tour operators will arrange accommodation). Visitors learn to dance and sing with the locals, wander through the beautiful Ura Valley and learn to cook mushroom recipes.
Jomolhari Mountain Festival (14th-15th October 2017)
Jomolhari Mountain Festival is a beautiful 2-day celebration held in the base of Mount Jomolhari. The festival is inspired from the different communities peacefully co-existing with nature and animals.
The graceful snow leopard is the focus of this festival and communities like Jigme Dorji National Park, Nature Recreation and Ecotourism Division (NRED) along with SLC (Snow leopard conservancy) all get together to create harmony and build awareness about the leopard. The festival activities consist of trekking, photography and nature sensitization.
The Annual Black Necked Crane Festival (11th November)
This is again an ecology oriented festival held for sensitising and strengthening efforts for conserving the Black Necked Cranes. Cultural programs, folk dance and masked dances along with music are a part of the festival and school children are active participants.
The PEMC or Phobjikha Environment Management Committee (PEMC) and the RSPN (Royal Society for Protecting Nature) are responsible for the initiation of this festival.
HAA Summer Festival (July 5-6th 2017)
The HAA Summer festivities provides a unique glimpse into the lives of Bhutan’s nomads who exist in this famous valley. Travelling to HAA Valley takes only 2 hours from the Paro international airport and on the way, you will cross the well-known Chele La Pass.
With luxuriant green cover and jagged mountains, HAA Valley is one of the best hiking destinations. The HAA festival encompasses several activities like flower gazing, hiking, nature trails, songs, dance and music. Tourists will get the opportunity to see the extremely rare white poppy that grows exclusively at high altitudes in Bhutan.
Jambay Lhakhang Festival (March 2-6th 2017)
Jambay Lhakhang is one of the most famous temples of Bumthang and its just 10 minutes away from the town of Chamkhar. Jambay is the oldest temple in the Kingdom and was built by 7th century king Songsten Gampo on the same day as 107 other temples. there is a 5-day festival that is organized at the temple premises and it draws a lot of local as well as tourist attention. The highlight of this festival is the ritual of the naked dance.
Drochula Druk Wangyel Festival (December 13th 2017)
This is amongst the newest batch of festivals in Bhutan (the first edition was held in 2011). Held in the picturesque Dochula pass, the festival is a daylong session of revelry and merry making in the background of the Druk Wangyal Lhakhang. The goal is the festival is to celebrate the victory of 4th king of Bhutan against insurgent Tibetans.
Nomad Festival (24th June 2017)
This is a yearly congregation of nomads of Bhutan’s who span across the north east and north west Himalayan vistas. This festival is a unique opportunity for tourists to imbibe the local customs of the nomads like trying on indigenous dresses, food and conveyance modes (yak riding) along with harvesting and tiling fields. If you have an interest in exploring tribal customs and culture of Bhutan, then this presents a unique opportunity.
Mongar Tshechu (November 2017)
Mongar lies in East Bhutan and is quite well known for its exquisite wooden carvings. In November, the Monggar Thechu festival is held for 3 days with much fanfare. The highlights of the festival are songs, dances and masked parades which are unique to the region of Monggar.